19th March 2021

Build to rent means owning a lifestyle, not a house.

Farhan Urfi

Article originally appeared in BTR News

Whether it was a book, album or car, there used to be nothing like 'owning your own'. By the same token, home ownership was considered the ‘right’ thing to do – but not anymore. When it comes to where we choose to live, a lot has changed. Many of us are now asking ‘why do I need to buy at all?’ It’s a cultural awakening – and the BTR sector has responded.

The most successful operators know that even though they are not buying, tenants still want a sense of belonging. Where they live must be a reflection of them and their lifestyle. So, out have gone bedsits with 70s décor, now replaced by well-planned modern houses, or apartments in a building that with amenities that connects all aspects of the way tenants live today. They offer long-term rental tenures to create a sense of community, they give people the option to decorate, and of course, they’re pet-friendly.

Every BTR operator has a different blend of the three cornerstones — product, service and location — and offers a variety of price entry points. Which means flexibility in physical space, innovation in service, and evidence of investment in the wider place — retail and leisure offer, green spaces and public realm are vital.

And given the home is a context where the majority spend most of their time means BTR operators have a critical role to play leading the conversation about climate change. Doing ‘the right thing’ for our planet is becoming an attractive feature.

Why branding matters for BTR

So, what does this cultural shift mean for how BTR operators approach brand?

First, BTR operators have to understand that today’s tenants value the opinion of their peers (everything has a review) more than the brands they subscribe to, so understanding that dynamic is vital.

The relationship a brand has with its customers – and in a BTR context, brand can mean a company, a building, or a residential development – is traditionally defined by one party ‘selling’ and the other ‘buying’. But, in fact, it’s like any other human relationship – it evolves as circumstances change and like other relationships, it should be genuine and full of sensitivity, of listening and empathy. This has proved truer than ever this year.

Brands have taken off their ‘armour’ and transitioned to a more human tone, as they try and convey the idea ‘we’re all in this together’. Of course, people are cynical and this shift really only works if it’s genuine. People want to engage with brands they emotionally connect with, so showing empathy and nurturing relationships has a direct impact on business success.

It’s clear that brand is about much more that designing a logo a few weeks before a ‘building’ or BTR brand is ready to go to market.

To be successful, you have to shape a brand vision that clearly defines how you are going to differentiate yourself within what is fast becoming a crowded space. And in a world where your audience will discuss your performance openly with millions of others on social channels, it needs to be a promise that you can deliver on. It can be brutal otherwise – honesty defeated loyalty a long time ago. Ultimately, when all else is equal, every brand needs to be able to stand up and say ‘this is why I am different – and this is what it means to you’. In the context of BTR this is key.

Getting this right also means implementing a design strategy that grows with the portfolio to create value for investors as well as attraction for consumers. It can be easy to homogenise places and the associated brands. But at a moment in time where cities and towns are searching for identity and meaning, it pays to acknowledge the local landscape within place brands.

And when it comes to delivering your message – timing is everything. Call it phasing, planning or simply a calendar, the way people think about renting is alarmingly last minute, so timing ‘awareness’ vs ’sell’ is key.

BTR is still evolving and as the sector matures, the industry needs to keep having this conversation about place and experience. Getting brand right is vital for the success of BTR. Getting it wrong is a recipe for disaster.

Clearly there’s more to discuss here, lots more. If you would like to keep the BTR conversation going, please do get in touch.