Written by Trevor Youens, Managing Director, UK Residential, MRI
Two of the big trends transforming the British property landscape today are the rise of ‘Generation Rent’ and the falling number of retail stores on UK high streets. Both are leading to a radically changed outlook for businesses in urban areas.
For property investors, owners and occupiers, the combination of these two shifts provides genuine hope for the revitalisation of the high street. What we are seeing is that UK town and city centres will increasingly become a place to live, work, play (and shop), as ‘Generation Rent’ is stimulating increased demand for residential rentals in these areas.
The most recent MRI Software research into the UK marketplace shows that city and town centres are where ‘Generation Rent’ – the Gen Z and Millennial renters who have been priced out of the home purchase market – want to live. Nine in ten (91%) of the top executives and managers in the property sector surveyed by MRI say ‘Generation Rent’ prefer to live in town and city centres, so they can have easy access to amenities that suit their lifestyle – such as gyms, cafes and bars, shops and services.
Rising house prices may be a root cause of preventing younger generations from being able to step onto the property ladder – but it’s also the case that as more people rent and the market expands, so too does the choice and quality available. Indeed, a recent Knight Frank report revealed that more than 10% of tenants say renting enables them to live in an area they could not otherwise afford. The result is renting becomes a more attractive proposition and a longer-term choice.
We are seeing, increasingly, that the standards ‘Generation Rent’ are demanding in rental accommodation promise to reshape the market and bring in a new level of professionalised property management. Four out of five (82%) of the senior property professionals surveyed say ‘Generation Rent’ is here to stay with little likelihood buying conditions will improve.
A greater demand for high-quality residential property, close to retail and leisure outlets, is music to the ears of investors and owners with interest in urban property. According to the MRI survey:
- 82% of say projects to redevelop former retail premises to create mixed-use properties, including residential, will be a lucrative opportunity over the next 12-18 months
- 72% see residential development former retail premises as the route to giving the British High Street “a new lease of life”
- 90% say residential rentals in UK town and city centres will become increasingly important for property owners
This trend is demonstrated by news in recent months that major property players such as Intu, Aberdeen Standard Investments and Redevco are committing significant resource to residential development in these types of areas in the UK. In fact, two-thirds (66%) of the senior property professionals surveyed think ex-retail property could be the biggest untapped resource for new residential development in the UK. What’s more, increasingly we are seeing these recognised names turn their attentions to potentially lucrative ‘Build-to-Rent’ developments in UK towns and cities.
And how does this help retail? While the challenges faced by the sector won’t be solved overnight by an ongoing shift to residential, the trend will provide a significant boost to property owners with premises along Britain’s beleaguered high streets. Additionally, in the long term, more people living in town centres will enhance opportunities for occupiers of retail space – and other physical locations such as coffee shops, health clubs and entertainment venues.
Ultimately, much of what we’re talking about here is future opportunity. For investors, owners and occupiers of mixed-use space to all realise the benefits, there will have to be a level of collaboration and that has perhaps never been seen before in the UK property sector.
Technology, which is a pillar of the flexible ‘work, live, play’ culture that is driving the change, will play a major role in enabling all of the stakeholders to manage the transition and build a successful and sustainable model. With these systems in place, organisations can turn data into genuine insight to truly understand what facilities and services prospective and existing tenants want – and whether, for example, a downstairs coffee shop or a gym will drive higher rents and occupancies.
This level of diversification will not be without its challenges, but if businesses are willing to adapt, then the potential benefits are there for all to see.