According to a recent national study of the local private rental market co-authored by Choice Magazine, ‘thousands of tenants are being discriminated against and live in a climate of fear.’

Other headline findings included the fact that 83% of renters have no fixed-term lease or are on leases less than 12 months, and 62% of those surveyed felt that they’re not able ask for longer term rental security.

The report comments further that Australia lags far behind conditions in other developed countries where renters often enjoy secure long-term leases with strict limits on rental increases. Many renters it would appear, even when the quality of homes is not in question, end up living with such a degree of insecurity that this has been described as a culture of fear.

In my two earlier posts, I briefly outlined some options for the development of a long-term build to rent policy. Including the idea of offering for example much long-leases. If such ideas were embraced, then many of the problems outline above could be addressed.

Although, as has already been highlighted, policies will need to be well-considered along with a foundation of strong planning and stable government policy and considerable long-term investment support.

As I continue to look at the how a much bigger and more robust build to rent investment market can be created, including affordable rental accommodation, the end user should be taken into consideration and every effort made to address the points highlighted in the report.

With almost 25% of Australian households living in private rental accommodation (according to the ABS) this is already acknowledged as an important issue. While renting remains an inevitability for many people, given the numbers involved and the current fractured state of the rental market, there’s an urgent need for a national housing policy that includes long-term and affordable rental housing.

Establishing a Fair Rental Market Will Aid Investment

Reflecting a number reports and projects examined in the UK, four key points (mainly tenant focused) when planning build to rent developments are emerging, and these include: design and layout, management, amenities and tenancy terms.

In combination, each of these key areas can help to deliver projects that appeal to those who live there, and the same factors are also key to making them commercially very viable and stable investments.

In what has been described as a ‘new wave’ of projects, the focus is on functional design, bespoke management (a topic we just can’t get away from) and greater tenure security.

Projects also offer different price tags that reflect local conditions and amenity and they suit varied demographics. From these same examples, it’s clear that build to rent buildings require as much detailed planning as any project taken to market for sale, and possibly even more planning.

As most people, it seems, would still choose homeownership over renting, the first step is to have a robust strategy covering each of these topics covered in detail.

Good Design

With long-term thinking at its core, the topic and value of good design is a logical starting point, creative design will assist projects to have a positive impact on neighbourhoods, helping to shift what can sometimes be negative views of rental accommodation as somehow inferior, which it is not.

Design also fully extends to the interior layout of each rental apartment including layouts (reflecting the sales market) that have as a minimum: equal-sized bedrooms, with en-suite bathrooms, open plan living/kitchen areas and lots of natural light and good-sized balconies.  All logical points long associated with good apartment design.

Overseas examples also include buildings specifically designed for renters with evidenced-based information from consumer surveys and focus groups used to inform the design and build process.

Some of the outcomes highlighted have included hardwearing floors, quality fittings and fixtures. Beyond the individual homes other aspects include on-site property management, a community coffee shop, prompt rectification of repairs and additional storage for units available.

Management

Well trained and experienced on-site management teams, including a dedicated property manager, having an entire building in single management, of relevance with strata mixed-use projects and management fostering a sense of community are key goals.

Amenities

Amenities could include an on-site concierge, community social spaces, amenity add-ons that fit the tenant profile and rental values. Amenity also extends to location and importantly connectivity to transport and employment.

Tenancies

The structure and terms of tenancies need to be all-inclusive, so that tenants feel secure, and possibly fixed rental increases, long tenancy options of 3-5 or even 10 years.

So that this achieves a degree of stability and takes away the volatility of some rental markets. It’s reasonable to suggest if tenants are happy, stable and the income secure, then in the simplest terms the investor will be happy.

Other aspects of tenancies could include purpose built rental projects built for families, with features like on-site child care, additional acoustics insulation and balconies enhanced for child care safety and play.

While for the wider community the flow-on impact of younger families, could help boost the local economy and enrich the demographic mix.

Many of the outcomes nominated will benefit from research, a factor that is currently missing, resulting from the highly fractured and individual nature of residential investment properties. The need for quality research to inform all aspects of the market and address the key issues warranted. This would include doing regular tenant satisfaction surveys and research both to produce better product and to demonstrate a positive outcome.

Making renting hassle-free would appear to be a logical way in support a bigger built to rent market.