News : Tomorrow's FM

For residential developments considered on a ‘rental model basis’ (PRS / Build to Rent), FM and operational considerations are coming to the fore and must be at the heart of the design process from a project’s inception. Atlas Residential’s Dominic Martin explains why this is so important and provides context for this new way of thinking about the design and specification of purpose-built residential buildings for rent.

Ever since Dolphin Square was built in the 1920’s, the first purpose built residential development for rent, high rise urban rental living has been an integral part of inner London as well as in parts of other cities across the UK. And we are now seeing the emergence of newly constructed well designed apartments and buildings, within a new residential asset class for rent, neatly referred to as ‘build to rent’ (BTR). As the UK’s housing sector creaks at the seams, BTR is now providing nearly 17,000 completed units across the many large towns and cities in the country, as well as a further 79,000 in either construction or planning. BTR can be (and is) part of the solution to alleviate the housing crisis.

It is critical however, that from the very outset in the design process, there needs to be an ‘operational spirit’ running throughout. It needs to be a core focus that looks ahead to the living experience of the customer (those renting these homes), the practicalities of delivering an effective on-site management team as well considers the long-term maintenance programme of the asset.

Considerations include items such as high-speed broadband, utilities and smart metering, the refuse strategy, security and access (building, units and amenities), staffing areas, communal areas, move in and move out, storage areas and parcel delivery strategies. Each of these items can have a notable impact on the operational efficiency of a building and, as such, on the quality of the living experience for those renting homes there. In addition, there can be a greater consideration around the specification and warranties and general lifecycle of materials and components; from the kitchens cabinetry, appliances, bathroom fixtures and flooring.

“Poorly conceived operational management can soon lead to higher running costs.”

Historic focus has rightly been to consider the impact of such items on the all-important construction budget, where the working assumption is to simply maximise ‘sales space’ and limit common areas and ‘back of house’ spaces. For many in the development arena, understanding the greater value and critical importance of incorporating such items remains a challenge, yet one which needs to be faced head-on.

Conversely, poorly conceived operational management can soon lead to higher running costs. A poor broadband service can mean a higher turnover of residents and increased void periods. An inefficient refuse strategy for example can mean extra staff are needed to move bins to the road each week for collection. All of these costs can further erode into the income received, when in turn reduces ‘investment value’ or ‘gross development value.’

Parcel delivery management is a great example of this. With online shopping continuing to grow in popularity, the arrival of enormous quantities of parcels, which all need to be signed for, sorted and safely stored, and which arrive via numerous couriers at different times of day can have a surprisingly significant impact on a management team’s ability to complete normal day-to-day tasks. Easily accessible parcel storage rooms are important but can parcel locker systems be incorporated, as well as unit mail boxes with larger apertures (to accommodate DVD and book deliveries) too.

For the onsite staff team, the size and the design of any offices, welfare spaces and storage for materials should not be an afterthought. For the staff that work there every day, these need to be enjoyable spaces to work in with as much natural light as possible. Dedicated managerial and leasing office space also needs to be factored in. High staff churn will impede relationships with residents and obviously incur further hiring and training costs.

The overall building layout is key too. It’s fantastic to include a gym or a flexible residents’ lounge space, but if these are located in an obscure part of the building that isn’t convenient to access, they can quickly fall out of favour (and use). The result is residents who feel they’re not quite getting what they’re paying for, which is never a good situation. There can also be cleaning and maintenance implications, in terms of both time and cost.

There are fortunately some aspects of residential design and specification where long term operational considerations are becoming relatively established, which are worth acknowledging. This includes easy access to building services from the corridors, kitchens with handle-less draws and cupboards and wipe down paint products for the common areas by way of example. And subject to the size of a building, can one of the lift cars be oversized to accommodate furniture during move in/move outs, and ideally be accessible from a car parking point.

Technology is also a primary consideration and how it is factored into a design and specification of a project early can make big differences to a buildings success and popularity with residents. With Wi-Fi/broadband now considered the fourth utility, it is important to ensure that fibre is installed to at least the building and ideally to the apartments directly. But specifying fob and security systems that are effective and secure, as well as easy to use for the operational team should also be a top priority too. A third item, from a customer (tenant) perspective, specifying smart meters at the tender contract stage can reap benefits further down the line. Seamless move-in and move-out processes, as well as easily assured accuracy of utility consumption, mean a more satisfactory tenant experience. They also make life easier for the management team too.

Across the above examples and indeed many more that need to be accounted for, it is now acknowledged that the early inclusion of the operational and FM teams into the design process will reap benefits for all parties. Each one contributes not just to the overall living experience for the resident, but also to the ability of the on-site team to operate efficiently.

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