How did Get Living make its entrance?
Get Living launched in May 2013, as one of the very first build-to-rent operating platforms following the Delancey/Qatari Diar acquisition of the London 2012 Athletes’ Village, setting out to challenge the private rental sector.
Supported by the Triangle Investment Partnership that now includes Dutch Fund APG and Oxford Properties in addition to the two original Investors, Get Living has championed the growth of the East Village community which is now home to more than 6,500 people and more than 29 independent businesses.
With the launch of a further 500 homes at East Village and 300 homes in Manchester this year, we now manage 3,000 operational homes and have a pipeline of a further 5,000 homes in planning or in development, including new planned neighbourhoods in Glasgow and Leeds.
What is Get Living’s approach to build-to-rent?
The vision from the outset was to change the way that people think and feel about renting a home, so that renting is considered a lifestyle choice and not a second option to home ownership.
We pioneered an attitude shift from tenants to customers, offering greater transparency between investor/operator and resident, to build trust, loyalty and advocacy. By a focus on delivering a great home, in a great realm, with exemplary service support, we offer a hassle-free and more rewarding renting experience.
At the beginning, that meant getting rid of fees and making a promise that we would only increase rent in line with the CPI. Then in May 2017 we scrapped security deposits and then returned these to our existing residents, putting almost £3 million back in their pockets. Not surprisingly, we saw an increase in customer retention and satisfaction.
When we look at building new neighbourhoods, we select opportunities where we can deliver 400 homes or more, preferably 700-800, as that scale gives us the public realm and ground floor retail and leisure activation, supporting amenity and the sense of place and community. Scale also gives us the opportunity to deliver greater operational efficiency which again feeds through to resident benefits.
In neighbourhoods such as East Village, we have everything from gyms and beer taprooms to cafes and laser tag, all of whom we work in collaboration with to curate events for our residents, which can take the form of supper clubs and what we call ‘Big Nights In.’ We also run regular events in the public realm for the wider community, for example food festivals and screening major sporting competitions.
What has Get Living learned as it has grown?
The short answer is a lot. And we’re still learning, although I like to think that the financial performance coming through now indicates we’re getting a lot right.
Success depends on choreographing many facets of the business well, but great people and a great team sit at the centre of nearly everything. We look for and train people to be hardwired with strong customer service principles and that has led us to often recruit from hospitality, members clubs and retail. There’s a great energy in our offices, which is pretty special.
It is becoming more accepted that people will be renting for longer and building for this kind of longevity comes at a higher up front cost than a build-for-sale model. Everything from our taps, to wardrobes, to flooring to kitchens tend to be of higher specification as the residual maintenance responsibility rests with us.
The financial model can be fairly finely balanced because rents are not always as elastic as people think. Rental levels are inevitably correlated to average salary levels for an area and what people can afford and whilst one seeks to offer a range of apartment types and specifications, not everyone can afford the high end, which is why Get Living looks to remain predominantly a mid-market proposition; in the long run, that is where the demand and sustainable resident demand lies.
The maintenance piece has been a key learning point for us. The speed of repairs is a vital and critical element of the resident experience. At East Village we undertake 35-40 works orders per day which involves quite a logistical operation. In response, aside from building a strong team and set of processes to manage this, we’ve also integrated Google Home into the repair request process and have sought out other ways to make our real estate smarter to improve resident satisfaction.
Technology has become an essential part of the whole resident offer - from the more obvious things like superfast broadband and keyless locks to a range of other data analytics which help us understand the needs of our residents better.
How will living patterns change in coming years?
We have seen the emergence of a ‘subscription society’ where people prefer to rent rather than own, from cars to music and now to homes and furniture. While Millennials are seen to be the generation driving this forward, we are already seeing a trend in older generations choosing to free themselves of home ownership for a more flexible lifestyle.
People are placing more value on experiences rather than things and so customer service will become even more important for the rental sector.
We are living in times of unprecedented change in so many ways. To participate in the build-to-rent sector right now is exciting and everyone at Get Living is energised to play their part in addressing some of the country’s housing issues; and part of that is to innovate in ways where we anticipate and respond to changing living patterns.