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Infrastructure | Planning & Design

Is imagination the key to unlocking BTR potential?

6 Feb 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

Build to rent (BTR) projects are increasingly being looked at as a means of alleviating Australia’s nationwide shortage of rental accommodation, which is fuelling the country’s housing crisis.

But, as Steph Harper, Director of Living Sectors, Valuation & Advisory Services at CBRE Australia points out, the potential of the sector is still largely untapped, with high rise apartments targeting young professionals dominating the market.

Ms Harper says BTR can provide a diverse range of accommodation types – for different cohorts and in varying localities. She encourages governments, developers and investors to expand their view of what BTR is and not shy away from alternative designs and markets.

“To some, there is a single view on what BTR looks and feels like. But, just because something doesn’t exist in our market, doesn’t mean it can’t be a success,” Ms Harper said, ahead of her speech at the Build to Rent Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

“BTR comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes – from high density apartment towers to housing estates. It can target a range of cohorts, not just young professionals; and offer varying levels of amenity and luxury, from upscale to more affordable price points.”

Mirroring overseas use cases

Furnished apartments, developments in suburban or regional locations, single family housing (such as townhouses or housing estates) and co-living, are some of the product types with untapped potential, Ms Harper said.

“Our residential market doesn’t have much in the way of furnished apartments, however these have proven to be quite popular in recently completed projects, with higher levels of demand than anticipated.”

There is also a need to disassociate the sector from being solely a ‘premium’ product, she argued.

“This is quite different to how BTR or Multifamily is conceptualised in some overseas markets, where it is generally seen as a more mid-market offering.”

Appealing to important demographics

An over-emphasis on apartment buildings may have discouraged a substantial cohort from considering the BTR sector, Ms Harper highlights.

There is also latent potential to target millennials, who have largely been priced out of home ownership, but require larger living spaces to accommodate their growing families.

With neither BTR design nor branding reflecting this trend, Ms Harper believes the sector is falling short of its potential.

“We have generally overlooked the role of BTR in delivering quality, affordable housing for people in this category,” Ms Harper said.

“Much of the marketing is aimed at white-collar, metro-based singles who want to live independently and connect with other residents on site for Saturday morning coffee or yoga. We rarely hear about BTR developments that cater to family living.”

Whether catering for singles or families, Ms Harper also believes there are two things that all BTR projects should provide to differentiate them from existing private rentals.

“There needs to be a strong focus on organic community curation and positive rental experiences,” she said.

Further advice

Ms Harper will share further insights on how she thinks Australia’s BTR sector could evolve at the upcoming Build to Rent Conference.

Joining Ms Harper on the stage are Australia’s leading economists, developers, lawyers, architects, and investors.

This year’s event will be held February 15 at the Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne.

Learn more and register your place here.

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