Dog Showers And Concierges: What Amenities Will Manchester's BTR Tenants Actually Pay For?
A U.S. investor is on the brink of announcing a $100M investment in Manchester's first gated build-to-rent community, according to BTR management specialists LIV Group.
The cost of a secure gated community amounts to a massive commitment to a still young Manchester BTR scene where the amenity offer ranges from gyms to dog showers to wine cellars. If it fosters a feeling of security and community, it will have been worth it.
Which amenities will work in the 11,000-plus BTR units now under construction in the city centre, and what will residents be prepared to pay for?
Listening to build-to-rent developers and management specialists talk about the amenities they might (or might not) include in Manchester BTR blocks can sometimes feel like drifting into a strange, trippy dream. Apparently what people crave are special dog grooming bays complete with showers for the swarms of designer cockapoos and labradoodles that tenants will insist on having.
Or they want temperature-controlled wine cellars to lay down some great vintages. Or they want micro breweries or yoga rooms or click-and-collect services, concierges or wellness suites or ... the list is endless.
But what will BTR tenants pay for?
According to the panelists at Bisnow's Manchester Build To Rent Boom event, that list could be a lot shorter than some developers and managers imagine. The conclusion seems to be that doggie may not get his luxury grooming bay, but instead his mummy and daddy might get some super-cool new invite-only apps.
So Many Silly Fads
How do developers decide which amenities Manchester BTR blocks need?
“You need a filter,” Far East Consortium Regional Manager Gavin Taylor said in a panel discussion moderated by Chapman Taylor Associate Director Michael Swiszczowski.
“There’s a lot of fads out there from wine cellars to dog-washing facilities, but developers are faced with the constant tension to find what is now on trend, but to recognise it may not be on trend in three years time when the building is completed," Taylor said.
“BTR amenity is about building in flexibility, not inflexibility, with the further tension that you have a customer base that ranges from international investors to empty nesters from Cheshire, and they want a quite different [amenity] offer. You have to tailor the building to that diversity which means it is all about flexibility.”
“Will developers get suckered into fads that have expired before [your BTR block] ever opens it doors?” Swiszczowski asked, and the answer from some panellists was a qualified, “Yes, if you’re not careful.”
“There’s lots of fads on amenity,” Allied London Residential Director James Sidlow said. “We pick up the brochures and you see bowling alleys and all sorts and its fine, it works, maybe it lets [the BTR block] on day one, but the issue is how you operate those amenity spaces. I’ve been to America and seen the white elephants [in multifamily blocks]. Those amenities become eyesores and deterrents and the exact opposite of what they were meant to be, if they are not properly managed.”
“That’s why our amenity offer is part of a wider masterplan, so we’re talking to people like Soho House about our residents using their facilities.”
Way of Life Managing Director Sowgol Zarinchang, who is involved in a 120-unit Manchester PRS scheme and a 200-unit scheme in Birmingham, agreed that poorly designed amenities could be a drag on a building.
“If you try to create lots of places, and you get high operational leakage, then landlords are not going to be happy. You need to future-proof, and you need low-maintenance amenities.”
Amenity Anxiety? Just Chill, OK
Of course some amenities are unavoidable if you want happy tenants to renew their leases. Security is one of them.
“The golden thread running through everything is that people want to feel secure, and if they don’t you can lose out,” Taylor said. The other panellists unanimously agreed.
Yet the consensus was that beyond good solid locked doors and a friendly face on the front desk, what mattered most was not so much amenity as community.
“People think it’s all about amenity, but really it’s not, it’s all about the overall proposition. If in five years down the line every [BTR] building has a gym, then it isn’t going to be a differentiator any more," LIV Chief Executive Graham Bates said. "What is more likely to be a differentiator is the way you look after the people who live there.
“Yes there is absolutely a place for high quality amenities — in larger blocks, with lots of people, and with premium products you need to offer more — but keep it simple. In one of our buildings we have no gym because there’s one 30 seconds walk away, so instead we are working with a health professional to develop a wellness programme for residents. Perhaps there will be a boot camp, perhaps yoga, help with healthy eating. It is words like wellness that matter, not a fixed gym, so we have plenty of building where they operate on a low amenity basis pretty successfully.”
Bates’ insistence that BTR is “100% about community” is widely shared. That extends to concierge services which, although maybe hard to justify on the basis of services provided, add an intangible something that residents are prepared to pay for.
“Community is not just about organising events, but about the people running the people. The thing that comes up most when we talk to people is comments like they love the guy on reception they see every single morning. They may never actually need that guy, but its part of the community.”
“Creating community isn’t a tick-in-the-box exercise,” Way of Life’s Zarinchang said. “You need to think about it right from the start, right from talking to investors.”
Announcements about Manchester’s first gated BTR scheme are expected any day, LIV’s Graham Bates said. As “amenity wars” begin between BTR landlords, it could be that the gates are less important than the sense of community in making residents feel safe.