The property market has undergone seismic change, moving with revolutionised consumer needs. As part of a wider series assessing the Future of Life, Community and Development, this article will comment on the new role of landlords, branding and technology in the property market.
The New Landlord
The unwavering convergence of the way we work and live has created a whole new category of consumer needs. Where service provision has become everything, the arms-length relationship that has existed between landlords and occupiers has rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, unparalleled developments in technology have underpinned the ever mobile lifestyles of today’s millennials. Workers are no longer restrained by primitive office blocks, but instead work when and where they should desire.
Landlords are being forced to think of experiential ways to retain tenants. Supportive lifestyle systems have become integral to building operations where occupiers are no longer considered tenants, rather customers.
The rise of flexible office space and forward thinking co-living projects are testament to this new ‘lifestyle experience’ customers seek as well as the unstoppable force of the sharing economy. Malleable, shared workspaces in Googleplex-like environments replicate feelings of a ‘vertical campus’. Co-working firm Mindspace offers amenity rich spaces in new developments in Aldgate and Shoreditch, including 24-hour access, a dining room, roof terrace and library.
Latest coworking developments are more than just sprawling breakout spaces, cafes and workstations. The building itself represents a branded environment open to collaboration between employees of all backgrounds and industries. For example, the reception area in London’s Alphabeta building is purpose built to facilitate interaction and meetings in the belief that ‘best working practice stems from interaction, play and chance encounter.’
“Now, as the boundaries between work, company culture and private life blur, the reception area is transforming into a ‘social condenser’ – a space that mediates between all three,” says Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the British Council for Offices.
Crucially, this space is overseen by a ‘concierge’ rather than reception staff: front-of-house management in flexible office space has become a key way developers capitalise on user experience. In offices such as The Alphabeta Building in Finsbury Square, front-of-house operations simulate hotel experiences. A “community manager” welcomes clients and staff alike, emphasising the customer-centric service of flexible office space.
Co-living spaces exhibit similar trends, offering instantaneous service provision for a whole spectrum of needs. The Collective in Old Oak offers a laundry service, library and organised socials for a flat monthly fee of £1000pcm, plus a cinema, games room, spa and co-working area.
Landlords and Branding
So, how can property developers capitalise on the work/life revolution and implement such levels of flexible service provision?
The answer: branding.
A CBRE survey investigated landlords thoughts on the best way to provide flexible spaces both in a living and working capacity. Despite the lack of experience cited by many respondents, 38% are considering their own brand of flexible office space. However, a larger proportion (49%) are more likely to use the skills of others, and entering into a formal partnership with an existing flexible space provider.
Whether through down-streaming services or outsourcing, landlords will need to start thinking about how the occupiers can better interact with the building as the nine to five working day disintegrates. A focus on branding will leverage the building as a whole rather than the specific space to be let and galvanise a cohesive building identity.
Moda Living, for example, moves beyond its property developer competitors and partners with market leading appliance, media and lifestyle brands to ensure “a 360˚, live, work and play lifestyle in one connected and convenient destination”. In Moda’s Angel Gardens development in Manchester, partnerships with rental bike companies and high speed broadband services as well as a round-the-clock concierge (helping with everything from picking up parcels to booking cabs) ensures signature service.
“It’s about making it easy for you, it’s convenience, it’s being connected, it’s healthy social living,” says Moda Living.
Similarly, co-living brand Roam is underpinned by the ability for tenants to ‘live around the world’. For $500 dollars a week, tenants gain access to international co-living spaces, all equipped with a fully furnished rooms, towels and “all other little things you need to feel at home”. Each Roam space houses a large diverse community, and frequently hosts Pecha Kucha nights, lectures as well as up-and-coming chefs for communal dinners.
Even the rise of hotel branded apartments evidences the extent to which tenants rally around cohesive brand identity. Since 2015, the number of hotel operators in the residential property business has increased by 27% with Savills paying, on average, 29% more for a hotel branded residence than a non-branded one in Europe. Marriott International operates serviced apartments whereby the building carries Marriott’s branding and provides hospitality services. Even Airbnb have professed their stake in the market, with a 300 unit rental complex in Florida.
Branding and Technology
Brands must begin to think about how best to streamline their services, with technology the glaring answer.
Moda Living for example, allows today’s time poor market to message their landlord directly, book amenities and manage rent and bills from the palm of their hand:
“Technology is massive for us…Convenience and connectivity are the King and Queen of now.. Why shouldn’t your home be integrated into a personalised app along with everything else? We want to create healthy, social and connected communities by delivering digitally enlivened experience inside and outside of the home. It’s a lifestyle choice.”
Meanwhile, working environments are using technology to create simpler, faster ways for people to run their working life in the same way they run their personal life. Absorbing latest technology trends has reaped continuous benefit: where the digital is harnessed for the service of people, living and working environments are more productive.
One such improvement in productivity explained by the pathway technology provides towards the pursuit of wellness and self-improvement. Styus explains “digitised nature enlivens and brightens closed work environments”
“Awe-inspiring depictions of natural landscapes transform indoor and urban environments, mimicking their restorative qualities to instil tranquillity and a sense of escapism that stirs creativity.” – Stylus
In Tokyo, DMM’s Office offers immersive signage systems that depicts natural environments while the entrance presents a digital waterfall in constant flow. Interactive depictions of animals instills a sense of calm which DMM claim boosts productivity of employees. Dutch designer Elizaveta Pritychenko explores Dynamic Zen in her office space. She looks at how “otherworldly animations can tap into the subconscious mind and trigger imagination and innovation in the business environment”.
Landlords play a new and varied role in society. More than just the building’s ambassador, landlords are morphing into community guardians in a world where tenants look for interaction, lifestyle and instant service provision. This new role is remarkably similar to the role of local council. Both seek to embed a sense of belonging and community in property development that for many has been lost with the rise of empty homes of absent oligarchs, the impossibility of homeownership and forgotten estates.
Local government should learn and build from the anticipation for shared service operations and branded lifestyles. Both should capitalise on digital innovation to facilitate service integration. The possibilities are endless.
Perhaps extreme personalisation and community living could replace the waning desire for home ownership in urban markets. Will there be a need for mortgages and equity in property when people are immersed in branded convenience and immediacy? Under a cohesive brand identity, forward thinking landlords will play a key role in driving such change.
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Also published on Medium.