The fad has not faded, and build to rent communities are now mainstream. That means developers can no longer rely solely on the novelty of a relatively new product type to garner renter interest. Competition will become more intense now that renters have seen the basics, so tomorrow’s communities must be designed to differentiate so they stand out as top choices. Creative site planning and unique (but cost-effective) floor plan options can be the difference in winning more than your share of the BTR market.
The path to success in BTR starts with differentiated site plan design. This market segment requires similar attention to amenities as multifamily and single family developments, with community accessibility and open space leading the list of must-haves for renters and jurisdictions.
The nature of BTR product design naturally lends itself to creative site planning. In particular, the concession of minimal to no private outdoor yards is a key driver in developing these communities. Even though renters accept units with limited outdoor private areas, they still need unit designs and layouts that take advantage of the available outdoor opportunities. Density goals cannot compromise comfort in BTR site plans, so the site must truly become an extension of the units. Effective use of community open space and simple outdoor amenities should be the top priority.
With this in mind, product solutions must be selected in order to maximize the allowable density while still enabling comfortable, usable open space. This is a tricky puzzle to solve in many cases, especially when most municipalities are hesitant to approve the highest density options in this product class. They want BTR to emulate single family for sale as much as possible, and the site plan is the best place to make that happen. In reality, many BTR community designs often provide better overall lifestyle experiences than their for sale counterparts. Developers are incorporating unique density solutions that help jobs pencil while satisfying jurisdictional regulations – and catering to the wants and needs of renters.
Necessary open space is valuable, but only if it is truly accessible for all residents. As a result, circulation is a very close second in the list of priority items for any BTR site design. BTR typically offers small to modestly sized units with smaller setbacks, so site plans must provide connectivity and view corridors as much as possible. This means incorporating multiple open areas at various locations throughout the community, all walkable from every building and unit enclave, and typically designed as simple, low-maintenance, pocket-style park spaces. Everyone needs a place to get some sun, walk the dog, engage with neighbors, and generally feel buffered from the constraints of the built environment.
If possible, the best way to leverage open space in BTR is mews design. The concept is definitely not new, but when single family home design shifted to include attached front-load garages (as early as the late 1940s), mews were traded for street frontage and private backyards/alleyways. Today, BTR plans can include rear-load or even no attached garage, so mews designs are much easier to develop. Creating a front porch mentality through this shared, common green space is a terrific way to build community engagement, expand unit lifestyles outward, and reintroduce the charm of older neighborhoods.
In Part 2 of this BTR design strategy series, Copenhaver will discuss floor plan differentiators that can set your build to rent community apart from the competition.