“Build to Rent is Different; its very DNA Drives it to Create a Direct Relationship with its Renters.”

This is a guest article written by Brendan Geraghty and first appeared in our collaborative e-book “The Future of Property,” which features 17 thought leadership articles covering PropTech, property investment and housing. You can download your free copy here.

Brendan Geraghty is one of the founding members of Geraghty Taylor. He brings a broad range of senior level experience drawn from projects in the UK and around the world and received critical praise from the industry for many of his housing innovations. He is a member of the Residential Council of the Urban Land Institute and on the Housing Hub of Build Off-Site. Brendan leads Geraghty Taylor’s work in master planning, residential design and branding, as well as the practice’s ongoing R&D. He has been personally involved in the delivery of over 3,000 BTR units and development of BTR Design and Brand Strategies for various clients.


“Build to Rent is different; its very DNA drives it to create a direct relationship with its renters.”

The Build to Rent (BTR) market is a new and emerging part of the residential market with a different attitude to design, development and return on investment. It is very customer focused with a strong bias towards delivering a high-quality customer experience as a corner stone of the business model. Of course, it has some similarities with traditional ‘for sale’ residential developments, but BTR has many unique characteristics around which a new market culture will develop.

PRS or the Private Rented Sector is an umbrella term for privately owned property that is offered to the market as a rented product, ranging from single dwellings owned by individual landlords through to professionally managed portfolios. Build to Rent (BTR), is a specialised sub-sector of PRS, akin to Multi-Family Housing in the USA, but tailored to the UK market.

“There is unlikely to be any centralised management of the rental units nor a standardised relationship between tenant and landlord.”

The ‘residential for sale’ market, associated with the large volume house-builders, is transactional in nature; it is generally agnostic about whether the people occupying its homes are owners or tenants. It typically anticipates a mix of owner occupiers and buy to let investors, with potentially multiple landlords managing single or many rental units within the scheme. Any asset management or servicing is generally limited and aligned to the limited expectations of the owner occupier market and the absentee landlords. There is unlikely to be any centralised management of the rental units nor a standardised relationship between tenant and landlord.

Consequently, there are dramatic product quality differences and diverse service standards across the PRS patch. The lack of consistency is seen by many as a significant challenge for the residential rental sector. Thankfully, as more property and customer-savvy investors enter this market, the quality of the PRS offer is rapidly improving.

“Defining - and then designing and delivering the customer experience, is a critical part of the BTR business model.”

Build to Rent is different; its very DNA drives it to create a direct relationship with its renters and aims to keep them renting for as long as possible. To achieve this, it treats its occupants as customers. Defining - and then designing and delivering the customer experience, is a critical part of the BTR business model. One of its fundamental objectives is to create a relationship, preferably a long one, with its customers. This is one of the main points of difference that BTR has when compared to the transactional culture of PRS, and this relationship based dynamic underpins its revenue model and operating principles. This ‘invest for long term rent revenue’ model is attractive to institutional investors, but it does require scale.


Extract from Private Rental Sector Explained, Geraghty Taylor (November 2023)

Extract from BTR – A “How To” Guide, Geraghty Taylor (March 2024)

“BTR operators shift their view of the market away from simply signing up tenants to minimise short term void to one that focuses on the quality of their customer’s experience as the best way of securing long term revenue.”

BTR developments may be sold - not as individual or groups of units, but as a whole development. Given the cost of these acquisitions and the nature of the revenue stream, it will be the institutional markets that buy or sell these assets. There is a strong appetite amongst funds for BTR investments, but precious few products in which to invest.

In contrast to the PRS model, BTR operators shift their view of the market away from simply signing up tenants to minimise short term void to one that focuses on the quality of their customer’s experience as the best way of securing long term revenue. To be able to conceive, design, build and then operate a good customer experience, BTR operators must have control of every aspect of the development. Single ownership gives them that control and with it they can create a strong brand.

“Without a brand, rental property is just a commodity traded at the lowest price point. But a brand is much more than a logo.”

Brand is a complex proposition in this context and reaches far beyond the normal, everyday perception. Without a brand, rental property is just a commodity traded at the lowest price point. But a brand is much more than a logo; it must establish business goals, create consensus and connections between the design, delivery and operating requirements as well as set the expectations for service and product quality standards. A good brand will articulate and consolidate the physical, financial and operating objectives for a client.

The brand serves two purposes; to communicate the required outcomes, and to focus the activities of the professionals who must design, build and operate the development. Better information will help these teams make better decisions and contribute to de-risking the development for the investor.

Secondly, a brand is the platform from which the customer experience is articulated, helping to create and maintain relationships with customers before, during and after their occupancy. A focused and well-defined brand will create meaningful connections for the customer and ultimately achieve brand loyalty.

At Geraghty Taylor, we have created a BTR brand architecture to deliver a framework for investors to develop their own unique brand proposition. We refer to this as Me:We:Front:Back.

Me: My private sanctuary defined by the quality of its physical environment including the level of support infrastructure provided e.g. media, storage etc. and any service options delivered directly into this place.

“There is a strong connection between making friends and feeling part of a community and lease renewals.”

We: The physical quality and location of the communal or social spaces defined by the range of activities these may support, level of infrastructure and service options. These spaces come at a cost, but they have important revenue links as there is a strong connection between making friends and feeling part of a community and lease renewals. This is often referred to as amenity.

Front: The quality of the front of house services - the very public face of the brand. This talks directly to the customer experience and is both physical in the form of a reception or concierge services and virtual via delivery through websites and social media. ‘Front’ services provide access to in and out house information and services covering everything from personal purchases to community conversations and dealings with operations team.

Extract from BTR – A “How To” Guide, Geraghty Taylor (March 2024)

Back: The unseen, but important, back of house services. This covers everything from the speed at which a Facilities Management team can deal with a problem as well as the general efficiencies and performances of the building and operating methods. It will deal with the logistics of tenants moving in and out, waste management and minimising void turnarounds. It is the framework that allows the ‘front’ team to provide a defined quality of customer experience.

This framework has been flexible enough to develop and deliver schemes throughout the price point range from mid-market to high-end projects, like Sutherland House in Sutton to St. John’s in Manchester.

These questions will help you create a successful BTR offer.

How important is the customer experience? Extremely important. Your customer is your revenue source. Who are they and how do you want them to experience your product? Your scheme may pitch at the high-end of the market and may need to deliver a lot. Alternatively, you may be providing competitively priced space where expectation is lower.

How do I achieve my yield? In a long income model, yield driven design will help to lower costs and increase revenue.

Do I need a brand? Your brand describes your business and how it operates. Design your brand before your building. Design from the inside out. #BrandbeforeBuilding

What amenities and services should I include? Your brand, customer experience aspirations and location will influence these decisions. Provide quality over quantity. Be aware of your building typology – are you offering a stand-alone experience or a building sitting within an existing community.

How do I harness the digital revolution? Use smart technology extensively to create and own data that links customer habits, with design, construction and operations. Let them interact with their building digitally.

“According to PwC, 60% of the capital will be renting by 2025.”

In the third quarter of 2024, there are about 100,000 BTR units either completed, under construction or planned in the UK. Very broadly, half the stock is in Greater London and half in 6 other major cities across the UK. 17,000 units have now been completed. In 2000, 60% of Londoners owned their own home. But according to PwC, 60% of the capital will be renting by 2025. This is a dramatic cultural change and BTR will play a fundamental part in this over the coming years.

- Written by Brendan Geraghty
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