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To Create A Successful Build-To-Rent Community, Providers Could Learn From Co-Living


The UK’s build-to-rent sector has been growing steadily over the last few years. But, despite its growth, it could still learn a few things from an even newer sector of the rental market that is also growing: co-living.

While BTR provides self-contained apartments, co-living blocks offer studio-style bedrooms with a larger amount of communal amenity space such as shared kitchens. There are currently 24,000 co-living units constructed or in the pipeline across London and other major UK cities. 

Co-living was born out of a desire from older generations to tackle loneliness and create an active lifestyle, technology company, said Yorlet co-founder Max Cartwright, who works with co-living providers across Europe.

“The concept of co-living is now growing among younger generations as it offers something that other sectors currently don’t,” he said. “There are several lessons that the BTR sector could take onboard from co-living.”

Cartwright recently spoke with Bisnow and laid out some of the key takeaways that the BTR sector should be implementing from co-living. 

Build A Community Based On Feedback

First, a community needs to be built the right way. BTR operators generally aim to create a community within their building using tools such as resident apps and by holding events. In contrast, co-living developments are designed using feedback from previously created communities.

“Each building informs the design of the next,” Cartwright said. “This is based on data about how people use the space but also on what people want. Many co-living providers use town hall meetings as a way to let residents have a say in how buildings are designed. The result can be the creation of natural communities, which is certainly something BTR can learn from.”

Co-living company Balance Out Living co-founder Zafar Bhunnoo said that listening to feedback and understanding what residents truly want is the only way to create an authentic community that people want to be a part of.

“Curating a community is not a design-by-numbers game,” he said. “Providers need to understand what people want, taking less of an attitude that ‘if you build it they will come’. We engage residents in the design of new schemes.”

Choose The Right Amenities

A BTR operator looking to create a popular scheme could learn from the amenities that co-living operators generally provide, Cartwright said. This can include coworking space to allow people to work from home, as well as event space that could double up as a bar or exercise studio.

Swedish co-living provider Allihoop co-founder Samuel Gielis said that amenities need to provide more opportunities to foster a sense of community.

“A shared kitchen is the heart of the community,” he said. “Designing other spaces around this makes sense as it is where people naturally come together and connect.”

Use Technology To Streamline Processes

BTR generally follows an agency-style letting process similar to a traditional home lease. A potential resident books a tour, enquires about rates, goes through the leasing paperwork. In contrast, co-living uses a more self-service process using video tours or even digital access for an in-person tour. Letting a home is more like finding a hotel room.

“Younger generations in particular want to be able to manage their lives themselves, through technology,” Cartwright said. “When an operator gets this right, providing a simple, streamlined service, a resident is far more likely to recommend the brand. While creating a loyal customer base, this is also likely to kick-start a stream of referrals as residents share their good experience.”

Gielis said that while co-living residents value these tools, creating a digital journey for residents also benefits providers.

“It frees up our time spent on core business operations, which means more resources can be put into creating the right experience for residents,” he said. “This is improved even more by integrating core technology into your own touchpoints to build up your brand.”

Allihoop uses the time saved through digitised processes to curate the community that is being generated. 

“We go further than carrying out affordability checks to make sure that people who are looking to move in are like-minded and will complement the community,” Gielis said. “The general view in co-living is that the space is secondary to the people there. You need to have the right frameworks to support a community where people connect.”


Provide A Wider Experience

Generation Z is known to be extremely tech savvy, having grown up accustomed to carrying out almost every task on an app. The result is that they spend far less time speaking to people in person. Co-living and BTR can both fill in the gaps, bringing residents out of their tech bubble, Cartwright said.

“While mobile has made us hyperconnected, co-living is all about bringing humans together again,” he said. “As well as designing common areas to encourage people to mix, apps can suggest opportunities for residents to have real experiences.”

This can mean encouraging people to venture into the property’s surrounding neighbourhood, to book a local yoga class or visit a nearby restaurant. Bhunnoo said that co-living operators aim to understand both the internal community and the external community.

“The two communities need to exist harmoniously,” he said. “Why should a co-living or BTR provider compete with external amenities by providing things within the building? They should complement their surroundings, taking into consideration a five- to 15-year investment plan. Better community engagement can create better brand awareness.”

The Ability To Go Global

The pandemic revolutionised where people work. One result was that some coworking operators that have a national or even global portfolio offer a membership tier that allows people to visit any of their buildings.

Some co-living operators, such as Node Living, which aims to build a global network of communities, have developed such a strategy.

Residents are encouraged to move between locations and can communicate with other residents around the world. Creating a brand this way becomes almost like a membership club, Cartwright said.

“This could have real long-term benefits — if a resident moves city or even country, they are more likely to stick with a brand they trust,” he said. “For a brand looking to grow, this kind of loyalty is hugely beneficial.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between Yorlet and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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