The Build-to-Rent market has faced unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic this year. During lockdown, the industry suddenly became responsible for the health and happiness of people living their entire lives out of one building. While some residents have returned to work, many remain working from home, and social distancing practices are unlikely to wind down for another few years. Second lockdowns are looming and we’re clearly settling into a new normal, and BTR has to be prepared. There are loads of new ‘best practices’ and ‘tips and tricks’ popping up in the industry, but it’s pretty overwhelming. Here, I’ll explain my knowledge by taking you through what I’d recommend to someone looking to design a new BTR property for the socially distanced era.
Protect the front-of-house
Entryways, communal areas and receptions are the obvious starting point for pandemic-proof design. These areas are where tenants, staff, and visitors will mingle, so they’ve got to be ready for social distancing and built to maximise ventilation and minimise chokepoints. One of the best ways to do this is to take advantage of natural ventilation by creating a wide lobby with many openings to the outside and integrating elements like living walls to purify the air and establish one-way traffic flow. High contact surfaces might benefit from emerging tech trends like materials with self-disinfecting properties, too.
Make sure to create contactless pathways in and out of the building. The pandemic has accelerated the development of touchless technology, and many providers are offering new solutions for access. Assa Abloy & NSP Security have both developed apps that turns tenant’s phones into their key for the whole building using Bluetooth as a proximity sensors. This also eliminates the classic issue of card/fob replacement and lockouts, decreasing tenant reliance on interaction with concierges and security staff.
Another key issue is how we manage communal amenities like gyms, laundry rooms, and conference rooms. I envision an easy-to-use app for booking out rooms (or at least for tracking entry/exit for these areas) that every tenant can access on the fly. This will guarantee adherence to social distancing guidelines and enable straightforward contact tracing in the event of a positive case.
Take control of parcel management
One of the biggest considerations of all has got to be delivery management. Online orders have spiked since lockdown – reaching everyday averages higher than the 2019 holiday season. Most UK buildings let concierges handle parcel storage, with tenants often queueing at peak hours to collect deliveries. This system can’t cope with the surge in deliveries. To protect tenants and staff, buildings must create a contactless pathway for couriers to access an unmanned room to safely deliver parcels.
Parcel SafePlace is one of the leading providers for contactless delivery systems. Parcel SafePlace attaches a kiosk to any accessible spare room with power and an internet connection where couriers can scan parcels to deposit them within the room for storage. Tenants receive an automated alert with a one-time access code and picture of their parcel to pick up at their leisure. This flexible system offers a totally hands-off solution for concierges and property managers while making sure that tenants never have to wait for their parcels.
Automate your building maintenance
Everyone is feeling the push to keep their employees safe and minimise the number of staff on-site at any given time. However, it’s vital to keep on top of maintenance and safety throughout the property – BTR and PBSA properties become vulnerable when key staff are no longer present to carry out their duties. Installing a monitored building management system (BMS) will allow thorough control and monitoring of almost every aspect of the property. Remote monitoring of fire alarm systems and lifts is vital. When the BMS, fire system, and lifts are all monitored remotely, the right personnel can be dispatched to respond to any issue immediately – often before staff on-site might even be aware of the problem. Through Fjeld’s Centralized Purchasing Service, you can insert SLAs into contracts to guarantee that vendors will deliver services on being notified by the remote management centre, essentially automating building maintenance. To make this as easy as possible, I’d recommend getting set up with a contract tracking system from the start. Keeping all contracts in a centralised database with clear SLAs, rates, and agreement dates makes it seamless to move to automated building systems.
To sum up, now is the time to take notes from what has worked and what hasn’t during the pandemic. This pandemic isn’t going to be the only one that we experience in the coming years, and it’s important for BTR to be prepared for these events. We’re entering a new era where the chances of being confined in your apartment for a few months is high, and we need to make sure that our BTR properties are appealing to tenants that might be dreaming of more open spaces. Feel free to get in touch with us at Fjeld Consulting if you want to discuss ideas for how to implement these concepts into your properties in a cost-efficient way.