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Reinventing residential rentals: Tina Grey

It’s big in Europe, but to date the build-to-rent model has struggled to get off the ground in Australia. Now JLL have taken up the contract for Smith Collective, on the site of the 2018 Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Village, and the country’s first build-to-rent project is set to test how well the model can work here. Tina Grey explains.

Every now and then in your career, you may be fortunate enough to work on a project that is truly special. A body of work that not only stimulates you but has the potential to change the very face of the industry you are so passionate about.

I am living one of those moments right now.

For the past couple of years, I have been part of a team at JLL who are putting Australia’s first build-to-rent development into reality. The development is Smith Collective and we believe it will change the face of renting in Australia.

Less than a year ago, Smith Collective – a prime piece of real estate within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct at Southport – was a temporary home for 6,600 athletes and officials participating in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Today we are rolling out the welcome mat for the first residents of what will eventually become a community of 2,500 people living in 1,251 apartments and townhouses – and every one of those residents will have the same landlord.

Popular in the United States and Europe, the build-to-rent concept reinvents rental by forgoing individual landlords and allowing residents greater long-term security and the promise of many benefits of home ownership – without the mortgage.

It’s a model which hasn’t been adopted in Australia yet, although property experts believe it could be the response to the affordability issues our country suffers from.

With one main body acting as a landlord – in the case of Smith Collective that will be JLL – tenants are able to have greater control over their rental home and can plan to spend their lives in the communities we are creating.

At the invitation of UBS Asset Management, JLL successfully pitched for the contract to bring the build-to-rent concept to the former Athletes’ Village site. We have spent the past few months educating the public about why it is the best thing to happen to the Australian rental market in decades.

One of the first points of differences is that Smith Collective will have a blend of owner-occupiers and tenants. Too often the latter, by their own volition or the vibes they encounter, feel like outcasts because of the stigma attached with not owning their property.

Our policy at Smith Collective is that no one is ‘just a tenant’ because everyone is simply a resident. By removing those barriers, the build-to-rent concept creates equality across the board and allows the community to prosper and grow.

Residents in build-to-rent developments have a sense of security many renters could only dream of. With just one landlord we are able to offer two-year lease and guarantee a property is not going to be sold out from underneath the tenant.

In Europe, where the buy-to-rent model is extremely popular, tenants spend large portions of their lives living in these rentals – well beyond the usual transient stays of Australian renters. With such a large portion of Australians now renting, we believe it’s important that the industry is updated to adapt to their wants and needs, which gives us happier property managers and happier tenants.

With the control we have as the single landlord, if a tenant wants to hang pictures, paint walls or even have pets, we don’t need to make them jump through hoops. Of course, there are still the normal processes of approval, but we want to make such scenarios the norm rather than the exception.

It’s all about creating a sense of community, and anyone who works in real estate knows that is our ultimate goal.

When it comes to Smith Collective,  it’s happening in a way I’ve never experienced before. From a blank canvas, we have been entrusted with developing a place where people not only want to live but play.

In recent weeks we hosted our inaugural residents’ barbecue – a chance for the Smith Collective’s first residents to meet and mingle – while more events will roll out in our streets and parklands as the population grows.

While the JLL team is playing a significant role, it is the residents who will ultimately lead the way; this is best evidenced by a query at that recent barbecue about the chances of them developing a herb garden – a request we’re more than happy to facilitate.

While build-to-rent is new to Australia, we have been able to learn from international examples through JLL. As far back as the pre-bid process, our staff flew to the United Kingdom to tour the company’s other build-to-rent developments and tap into the knowledge of the people behind them.

In recent weeks, Smith Collective also hosted a visit by JLL international director Sam Winnard, whose experience in the UK build-to-rent market has proven invaluable as we forge our own path.

Build-to-rent may be a new concept for many people, but there are plenty in the real estate market who have been eagerly anticipating its arrival on these shores.

Property managers always strive to deliver excellent outcomes to tenants, but it’s often difficult to achieve with the additional pressures that come with the rental game. As we all know, it only takes one owner to throw your entire day off track.

The difference with build-to-rent is we have parameters. One owner, one community – and what a joy that is from a property manager’s perspective! We’re hoping that, as the concept of build-to-rent takes off, more agencies will see the benefit of bidding for this type of developments and property managers and tenants alike will be able to experience the benefits.

Smith Collective may be the first build-to-rent development in Australia, but it certainly won’t be the last. We are reinventing renting, and that’s a pretty exciting thing to be part of.

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Tina Grey

Tina Grey is head of Residental Management - Queensland for JLL and General Manager of the $550 million Smith Collective, the country's first build-to-rent development. She is responsible for more than 4,000 apartments under management across 20 residential sites. For more information visit smithcollective.com.au.