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Tips on Designing Build-to-Rent Projects

By Erik Sherman

December 29, 2022

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These pointers are on how BTR designs should differ from for-sale homes.

ohn Burns Real Estate Consulting periodically posts tips on how to plan and run build-to-rent communities. A new set of suggests focuses on how the design of BTR properties should differ from for-sale ones.

Start with amenities. They matter, the firm says, which makes sense because they have a direct impact on lifestyle. In the past, John Burns has suggested that a BTR project doesn’t need a long list of amenities. The three biggest wins in the eyes of renters are better parking, privacy, and a yard. Past that, consider add one or two only because otherwise you get into diminishing returns.

This time, the firm adds that the types of amenities vary by the dwelling structure design. For detached homes, yard and garage are important. “In single-story residential communities, a heavy amenity package helps compete with Class A multifamily,” they wrote.

Next, moving should be easy. Doorways and stairs should be wide enough to easily enable furniture movement. You don’t want to patch up after scuff markets. An added suggestion from you don’t want someone with an oversized sofa finding themselves stuck making a turn in a stairwell or finding it impossible to bring any piece up to a landing and spin it so narrow dimensions can get through a door. Also, as John Burns notes, set up a “well defined” TV wall so people aren’t punching new holes in the wall. Some added thought might suggest having a wall mount with a set of adapters property managers can come with can be a help.

Along with wide doorways and stairs, standardize sizes — of windows as well. Maybe give a few choices, but the more you can consolidate, the more you save during construction through bulk purchase, and standard sizes can make replacing blinds or shades when necessary easier.

Will something need service? Put it on the ground floor where maintenance crews can easily get to it. Plus, if something goes wrong like a leaky washing machine, you’ve prevented additional damage from occurring with water running inside walls from an upper floor.

No one renting wants a deduction from their security deposit and they don’t want to tiptoe around delicate materials that aren’t in a home they own. “Renters want flooring, counters and cabinets that are easy to keep clean and take care of,” the firm wrote. “Developers want durability in floors and counters, so they do not have to replace them as often between residents.”

Finally, tech. Focus on practical applications like systems that can raise an alarm if there’s a leak in the building. The firm sees things like smart locks and Ring doorbells as “nice to have,” but one good thing about keyless locks is that it’s easy to change the code between renters, rather than potentially having to rekey the lock.

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