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Build-to-rent case study: the Smith Collective’s lasting legacy

The head of Australia’s first build-to-rent community, the Smith Collective, has called on the Queensland Government to include the housing model as part of the Brisbane Olympic’s legacy.

Smith Collective General Manager Matt Taplin said converting the Athletes Village after the 2032 games would provide a long-term benefit for the community, particularly the village at Northshore Hamilton, which will house 10,000 athletes and team officials.

“I think people should have a look at it before they make their final decision and ask, ‘Is this something that is good for Brisbane if we do convert it to build to rent’?” he said.

“The people who are proposing the developments will have to have an end use for it that is good for the city as well.

“It has certainly worked well for us at the Smith Collective.”

Smith Collective

Originally, the Smith Collective was built as the Athletes Village for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, but Mr Taplin said it was designed with the knowledge that it would become a build-to-rent community in Southport once the games were over.

It took just a matter of months for temporary walls and flooring to be removed and reconfigurations of the homes to occur, along with kitchen appliances being installed.

“The first tenants moved in in January 2019, which was eight months after the games finished,” Mr Taplin said.

“There was a lot of work in terms of bulk that needed to be achieved, but it wasn’t a large, complicated process.”

The Smith Collective now houses 2200 tenants in a collection of one and two-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom townhouses.

The community has been built with a reimagined rental experience in mind, with mixed-use design, a renters-first philosophy and a focus on creating a sense of stability, community and belonging for those seeking long-term renting options.

Tenant benefits

Mr Taplin said the benefits for tenants were numerous and Smith Collective included extensive green space, parks, sports fields, as well as shopping, dining and lifestyle facilities.

“At the very heart of build-to-rent is that the owner of build-to-rent knows that the value of their investment lies in having happy tenants,” he said.

“A lot of the decisions that are made have that at the very core, so there’s leisure facilities such as pools, barbecues and gyms, as well as other additional amenities.

“At the moment we’re trying to install a dog wash station, and we actually proudly make the site pet-friendly.”

Smith Collective General Manager Matt Taplin.

Mr Taplin said the other major benefit of, not just the Smith Collective, but build-to-rent as a whole was security of tenure for tenants.

“The owner is not going to sell out from underneath you,” he said.

“As long as you want to stay here, you can stay here.”

Mr Taplin said lease terms were six, 12, 24 or 36 months, but most tenants still chose either six months or 12 in order to keep lifestyle flexibility, but many stayed much longer than that.

Investor benefits

He said the Smith Collective was owned by a Middle East Sovereign investment fund, with stability being one of the top benefits build-to-rent offered investors.

“It’s a very stable asset class,” he said.

“Unlike other industries that can be subject to fairly volatile movements that might be from global events, housing tends to be a lot slower to move one way or the other, so it tends to be a lot more stable.”

Mr Taplin said build-to-rent was popular in the US and Europe, but was still finding its feet in Australia.

“A lot of overseas investors are interested and a lot of local investors are interested, but there have been some barriers of entry that have made it a little bit tougher,” he said.

“Some of the legislation and duties that are imposed on foreign investors have made it a bit hard at times, so it’s pleasing to see that the Federal Government is working to address that.

“They’re working on lowering the withholding tax for foreign residential investment, so that it’s similar to other asset classes such as commercial.”

Solving the rental crisis

Mr Taplin said build-to-rent would also have a vital role to play in helping solve the rental crisis, with vacancy rates on the Gold Coast still under 1 per cent.

He said the only way to solve the issue was either for rental demand to dry up or for supply to increase and with natural internal migration and international migration, demand would not slow down. 

“You have to have supply and build-to-rent can deliver that quickly,” he said.

Benefits for property managers

Mr Taplin said there were also benefits for property managers working with build-to-rent developments.

He said Smith Collective currently had six property managers that worked on-site so there was no travel involved for reports or inspections.

Other plusses include that he, rather than the property managers, communicates with the landlord and there’s very clear guidelines about looking after and maintaining the properties.

“I don’t have to run to the landlord to see if I can get three quotes to fix something, if it’s broken we fix it,” Mr Taplin said.

“We also have finance on-site so they don’t have to worry about receipting or processing bonds and they don’t have to worry about travel.”

But Mr Taplin said perhaps the best benefit was that property managers and their tenants got an opportunity to build respectful relationships as they saw each other in the community and at events.

“We put on things like barbecues for the residents and we have the property managers helping cook the barbecue and serving drinks,” he said.

“So they get a chance to build those relationships with people.”

A spokesperson for the Queensland Government said after the Brisbane Olympics in 2032 the Athletes Villages, including two satellite sites, would deliver a diverse residential offering, including aged care, retirement living social and affordable housing, key worker, hotel, build-to-rent and market accommodation.

As the games are still almost 10 years away the ratios of each housing type is still being decided.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.