24 October 2017

I remember well, in times gone by, a leading surveyor periodically sending company-wide emails  inviting people to stir their creative juices and put forward suggestions for the name of some new development. Beyond the usual onslaught of abuse, I very rarely recall anything that really struck a chord and more than likely it was some derivative of the building’s address. 

At present across the UK we see the emergence of cleverly named companies developing even more cleverly named residential developments under the guise of the Private Rented Sector (“PRS”) or Build to Rent (“BTR”) which promote a new way of living. The concept is predominantly based on accepting smaller personal living space in return for a range of communal facilities and the opportunity to interact with fellow residents in a community. The name or brand attached to the scheme is the often the core from which the concept will hang. 

So what potential does this have for Belfast? Well, you might be reading this and thinking the concept sounds more suitable for a “hippy commune” but the chances are you (as am I) are “slightly” outside the target demographic. The emergence of “generation rent” will be at the heart of this new mode of living and it will provide a very real alternative for the future post-graduate population of Belfast. The success of the concept in Belfast will go hand-in-glove with the continued progression and success of Foreign Direct Investment in securing the appropriate career opportunities for an educated workforce that entices them to stay in Belfast.

This sector is underpinning the evolution of the numerous cranes dotted across the Belfast sky line currently building the student residential accommodation needed to support the new Ulster University campus which is emerging of out of the ground in the Northern Quarter. It is almost inevitable that the next generation of Belfast students will continue to devour noodles and beer but they may also develop a taste for a slightly higher standard of living than that which most of us recall as student digs.

As always there are challenges in realising the potential of PRS in Belfast, not least our historic preference to exit to suburbia in the evenings but also the rating system and the acceptance of pricing differentials around a unique offer. The key for potential landlords lies in understanding that design and branding are key elements of what the end user will want, over and above the hard infrastructure which might be more familiar territory for many would-be PRS developers. If executed correctly a successfully branded development can generate a high level of tenant retention which can translate to a very investable asset for landlords.

Embraced to the utmost, this new model has the potential to address housing shortages, improve social cohesion but most importantly for Belfast, PRS has the genuine potential to change the cultural behaviour of a generation and deliver a truly vibrant city centre. 

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