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THE Build To Rent industry is ready to embrace an accreditation system which would set standards and protect the sector from rogue operators.

At a virtual roundtable event chaired by RealService founder and managing director Howard Morgan, industry leaders discussed how Build To Rent (BTR) could continue to improve its offering to customers. In summary, the participants agreed it was time to begin an accreditation process which could define a set of standards, be a trusted guide for customers and provide a means of communicating performance to audiences such as investors – while still leaving room in the market for different offerings at different price points.

Attendees observed there was an emerging need. “We are approaching a period of development and maturity in the sector so things which might have seemed impossible three years ago are now within our grasp,” concluded UKAA chief executive Dave Butler.

Accreditation and data transparency

Participants explored whether an accreditation system should involve the release and sharing of underlying data between industry peers. The main conclusion among attendees was that the sharing of data was not an immediate priority – not yet, anyway – but there appeared to be consensus around the need for a set of minimum standards around what customers should expect.
The debate around data sharing centred on trust, the quality of the information and the method of harvesting it.

Katherine Rose, director of BTR & PRS at Navana Property Group, said: “Sharing data is important but I don’t think the industry is ready to do it yet. We’re all still a little precious and also, how accurate is that data? Everyone wants to look good and how truthful are they? I’m not sure everyone will play fairly. But it’s the way to go. We should all pull together and be less precious.”

Opportunities for Market Differentiation

PPP Capital’s Sanjeev Patel, managing director of LuxuryDigs, said: “I do believe there is a need for accreditation but I also believe there is a place in the market for a Premier Inn and a Waldorf.

“If you want a Waldorf, fantastic, pay for it. If you want a slightly cheaper product, go to a Holiday Inn or a Premier Inn and pay a bit less. They may be very different but in both you will get a clean room and a comfortable bed. I’m comfortable with everyone signing up to a minimum standard – a high minimum, mind you – then you can pitch your assets wherever you want them to be and marketing and customer expectations can be managed appropriately.”

Creating standards 

“I would draw an analogy with Wimbledon,” said, Howard Morgan.

“People had been hitting a ball around for a long time but had no ability to compare their skills with others until Wimbledon came along and defined a set of rules and how to score. I think there comes a point in an industry’s evolution when someone has to say it’s time to draw up some standards that we all abide by and, although it might not be comfortable for everyone, it seems that we are getting closer to that point.”

The group also heard from Chris Garthwaite, the chief executive of customer experience consultancy CGA, who worked with 26 different rail operators to define a set of common standards.

‘Accreditation builds trust’

Having an accreditation system, he said, would build trust and help re-set expectations.

“Trust is a key differentiator; if you lose trust, you lose loyalty. In a world which is accelerating, becoming more digital but where you have a fragmentation of customers, understanding the emotion and sentiment of your customers will become fundamental to delivering the value of the brand – or the industry – to those audiences.”

There is already an accreditation system in the student accommodation sector and according to Jane Couch, chief operating officer of Fresh Property Group, while this is an extra cost – around £2-3 per student – this extra spend actually helps attract investors.

“Investors are traditionally risk-averse but they know about the accreditation costs up front and it means they know you are a responsible operator who is not going to have problems with negative feedback hitting the press.”

Prospects and next steps

Dave Butler said there was already a UKAA benchmarking group working together to deliver a manifesto around what ‘good’ looks like and he issued a call for anybody who wants to contribute to that debate.
“While I’m not going to die in a ditch over the sharing of data – I think that’s a while down the road – it is hugely important to define ‘good’,” he said.

Read the article on the UKAA website here