Trevor Youens, Managing Director Residential Solutions, UK, MRI Software
The vast majority of landlords and property managers in the UK care about their residents and pride themselves on delivering a professional service, but there is a small minority of ‘rogue’ operators that have become a major scourge for renters. These types of landlords have managed to flourish due to a fiercely competitive rental market, which means many people have been forced to live in poorly maintained and managed housing.
Fortunately, things may be looking up for British renters. First, the UK government has stated that it is committed to tackling the problem, announcing earlier this year that it is boosting funding to aid councils in cracking down on ‘rogue landlords’ and more recently unveiling plans to abolish Section 21 evictions. These are hugely positive steps towards weeding out rogue landlords, but what promises to really drive them out is the rise of a new class of professional landlord – fuelled in the private sector by major growth in build-to-rent properties. Figures published in a recent research article by Savills showed the build-to-rent investment in the UK totalled to £2.6 billion in 2018, which is 11% higher than in 2017.
Likewise, MRI’s internal figures reveal a big rise in the uptake of software for build-to-rent properties over the past year, with around five times as many clients seeking capability to manage facilities for these types of developments as would have two years ago – with many seeking the functionality to run features and services such as resident portals, package delivery management, automated inspections of rental units changing hands, renter credit profile tracking and virtual tours. What’s more, a recently published MRI survey of CEOs, directors and top managers revealed that 82% expect the UK to continue to see more build-to-rent developments beyond the next 12-18 months.
Indeed, the growth we are seeing in high quality build-to-rent developments coming onto the market is helping to professionalise the rental sector. These developments often include community amenities such as gyms, event rooms, concierge services, free WIFI and dedicated maintenance teams. As a result, renters are enjoying a more positive experience with a new type of landlord that has adopted more of a “hotel-management” approach to private rental properties. The emergence of build-to-rent means that renters – especially young professionals – will begin to gravitate away from landlords renting badly run, subpar premises, as people realise increasingly that there are far better options available on the market.
The change in the build-to-rent market is not only impacting physical properties, but also the culture of development and property management. There has been a shift from a lease focus to a customer-centric approach. For example, if a tenant reports a leaking pipe, it will be entered into an automated system which will ensure the task is actioned in a timely manner. This is a stark contrast to previous ways of working where a tenant would report it and then it would often then be passed on verbally to numerous people, resulting in the leaking pipe not being resolved for days or weeks, in some cases causing further damage to a property the floor below.
This is also applicable to broken lights, hallways that need painting every two years and faulty locks on doors.
The availability of data and technology ensures that landlords create a clear audit trail of how any resident problems have been dealt with – documenting how and when each issue is logged, responded to and checked. So that when there is a broken light, a hallway that needs repainting or a faulty lock on an entryway door, the maintenance job never gets lost in the system. Creating this auditable trail is not only good business practice from a property management perspective, but essential for ensuring that compliance to today’s strict regulatory standards is met.
Resident portals are proving to be a critical element in all of this. Rental residents today expect the highest levels of service and to be treated less like simply renters and more like community members. Resident portals can be linked into property management and accounting solutions, utilising data from both landlords and renters to deliver more effective customer service to residents. Using this type of consumer-friendly technology also creates visibility for residents, ensuring they can see issues are being dealt with and have confidence in the property management team handling their housing unit.
Portals enable residents to flag issues with their property or shared facilities easily, 24/7 – and in most cases to get an automated response. The problem is then documented and tracked for reference throughout the process of dealing with it. For the resident, dealing with an issue simply becomes a matter of using a smartphone to take a picture of a fault and uploading it to the portal – which also provides the means for the property manager to respond in real time.
Taking this modern approach provides landlords and owners with a huge competitive advantage. As more modern, build-to-rent developments come onto the market, the expectations among renters for high-quality, effectively managed and well-maintained properties will begin to force out landlords that fail to keep up standards or employ modern property management technologies. Renters are becoming increasingly savvy and are starting to avoid questionable rentals and look for properties that are run in a professional manner – where they can be part of a well-maintained, ready-made community.
More landlords and property managers taking a modern, professional approach not only has a positive impact on the UK rental market by offering tenants more value for money, it ensures that we will finally see the back of the rogue landlord.