I attended my first property event of the year last week, in one of the most initialised sectors I have come across – the Private Rented Sector (PRS) encompasses both Build to Rent (BTR) and Buy to Let (BTL).
Place North West’s PRS Event 2020, took place on the 16th of January in Manchester’s Science and Industry museum. A place I haven’t been to since I was at primary school over 20 years ago – unfortunately this time round I didn’t have chance to take in the history of textile machinery.
I wasn’t alone on this opportunity for networking and education, I had the pleasure of newly promoted consultant Sophie with me to learn the whys and the wherefores of the PRS market.
After finding our way upstairs to the conference centre, we brewed up at one of the coffee station’s and the first positive of the day became apparent. The coffee was decent. I’ve been to enough of these kind of events to expect the usual brown flavourless water, but this stuff was good.
After helping myself to a croissant (they laid on breakfast too!) the room started to really fill up. Pockets of small-talkers and networkers broke out around us, eagerly awaiting the presentation’s and panels ahead. Having been given the attendees list before (through PNW’s app), I had a good idea who to look out for and managed a quick catch-up with a couple of old contacts.
Whilst doing the rounds I noticed a few other recruiters milling about, presumably offering a far inferior service to that of Alderpoint’s… Despite being surrounded by my fiercest rivals, no fights broke out, and we were able to enjoy the days presentations in relative peace.
We were ushered to our seats and welcomed by PNW’s Contributing Editor, Jessica Middleton-Pugh who set out the order of the day; the morning was split into two sections, with a convenient networking (toilet) break in the interim.
Ian Scott, National Head of PRS for LSH kicked things off with a market update since his last talk here 2 years ago. The headlines were that 2019 was a sobering year for the sector as it finished 30% down on 2018 in regards to transactions. BTR was definitely a better investment than BTL, which was demonstrated with two projects on Great Ancoats St where the rental and ROI was c6.5% higher.
Up next was John Badman, Director of architects CallisonRTKL who gave an interesting presentation into the consumer habits and desires that have helped fuel the PRS boom in the city. He discussed in detail Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and the drivers for young people to engage in PRS and co-living. He warned of the amenity arms race – a tricky position for PRS developers as the tendency to constantly improve their non-living spaces eats into a large portion of their profit.
It was then time to form the panel to finish off the morning. The lineup consisted of the two speakers (Ian Scott and John Badman) with a further two industry professionals in Andrew Cook (M&G Real estate) and Guy Butler (Glenbrook).
JMP (or JM-P depending on how you want to do it) took control and started firing off well-informed questions to the panel. I was impressed with the esoteric knowledge of such a specific sector within property, and clearly Place North West take these things seriously and have their fingers on the pulse.
Andrew Cook instantly won my heart when he decreed he only had two hours sleep due his newborn baby, an affliction I was also suffering from. It was in that moment, we bonded. He wasn’t aware of it of course, as he was sitting 30 meters away, but it definitely happened.
The questions quickly turned to viability. It became apparent after hearing Andrew and Guy Butler interact that the main problem investors and BTR developers face is actually getting these projects to stack up. The blame was largely put on to land prices and the meteoric rise of construction costs (luckily there were no contractors on the panel or I would’ve feared for their safety).
Ian Scott was asked where he thinks the opportunities lie in the BTR world, if not in the city centre? Stockport and Rochdale were the serious answers (not Oldham, Ian), and became a recurring theme throughout the event. Interestingly Ian also championed BTR Housing, as he was seeing an increasing demand for family homes and the likes of Sigma Capital engaging with numerous housebuilders.
The break came and went rather quickly after securing another coffee and a brownie. The second half began with an engaging but croaky (he had lost his voice the previous day) David Ancell, Director at Vita Group.
David discussed the disparity between size constraints of a single bed flat (37sqm) and the average room in
an HMO (6.5sqm) – quite some difference. Reducing the size of these rooms would improve viability that’s for sure, but where would it end?
Interestingly Union (Vita’s co-living brand) were one of the few developers to offer different levels of affordability within the same building. It became quite clear that most rental prices within the centre were pricing out graduates and local retail workers.
Panel number two consisted of Colin Shenton (Oppidan Living), Jamie Bunce (Inspired Living), Adam Higgins (Capital & Centric), Caroline Baker (C+W), and Katie Tonkinson (Hawkins\Brown).
Up for discussion was co-living, the changing demographic of renters, and the opportunities within the sector (Stockport and Rochadale, obviously). Colin and Katie championed the need to make these buildings appeal to more than one demographic (integration, not segregation) with one of Oppidan’s schemes having a range of 18-55.
Jamie Bunce from Inspired Villages outlined the increasingly aging population and the genuine need for “later-life” housing, and how much of an investment-opportunity this presents. He even tackled a difficult question about evicting a skint 90 year old on his books quite expertly.
JMP called out Adam Higgins on the rumours that C&C were looking outside of Manchester for projects, and a couple of places were mentioned. No prizes for guessing. STOCKPORT, AND ROCHDALE!
Joking aside Caroline Baker and Adam reiterated the need for pro-active local authorities to get behind these projects and look beyond the next 5 years. You can’t just build an apartment block in a town and expect it to work, you need local backing.
And that was it. Over. PNW had laid on a bit of lunch as well, so thought I’d grab something for the road and helped myself to a couple of quiches’ and a sarnie before hot-footing it across town after realising I had just minutes on my parking ticket.
I always find it a bit strange being in recruitment at an industry event – there are almost always people there you have spoken to about moving company, and they are almost always with their boss. One attendee (who shall remain nameless) happened to sit near me during the first half of the event, it wasn’t until the break that she copped a look at my name-tag, and recoiled in horror when she realised who I was (physically recoiled) – like any good recruiter, I saved her the embarrassment of addressing the obvious, smiled and moved on.
Overall I enjoyed the morning and was impressed with the amount of attendees (must have been near 200) and the quality of the speakers/panel. Hats off to Jessica Middleton-Pugh who chaired the event and kept things running smoothly and on-time.
I’ll be attending more PNW events this year no doubt, and hope they are run with the same level of enthusiasm and insight as this was.
2020 will be an interesting year for PRS and will be looking to build on what was an underwhelming 2019.