From its concept design, the Athletes Village used during the London 2012 Olympic Games was always intended to become a residential neighbourhood. But how would it be operated? The successful investors wanted to retain ownership and operate as a rental neighbourhood.They needed help to achieve this and in 2012 ran a tender, inviting Young Group alongside the big agency names to pitch.
The Young Group executive team, Neil Young, David Mackenzie, Michael Oakes and Sylvana Young successfully pitched the idea to the investors (Delancey and Qatari Diar) to set up their own company to fully operate it. This was the beginning of Get Living.
Get Living was positioned as an owner operator, thus setting it apart from the plethora of landlords and letting agencies in the market. However, we wanted it to be so much more. It had to be the pioneer in a fledgling sector, which latterly gained the name “Build to Rent” (BtR).
Young Group was tasked with working with the investors to define the Get Living operating model. We had a blank sheet of paper to put together an award winning model. We looked at every aspect of the lettings journey through the customers (renters) eyes. An approach that would have a profound impact on the future of the BtR sector. There was no rule book to follow, we were writing it.
The focus was to build a community – we had 1,500 private homes to fill, in a tenure-blind mix with 1,400 social housing homes (run by Triathlon Homes) on a 67 acre neighbourhood, named East Village, which in 2012 was an unfashionable part of East London. With capacity for over 7,000+ residents, we wanted the people living in our community to be our biggest advocates.
So, what were renters looking for? We had ideas but decided to ask over 2,000 current renters to get real insight. This was probably the largest gathering of information of this type ever undertaken. The results identified three main issues to be addressed:
We decided we had to hit these head on, turn them to our advantage.
Renters wanted to feel secure in their homes but felt the balance of power was in the landlords favour. So we introduced 3 year tenancies with resident only break clauses, inflation (CPI) linked annual increases and no tenancy fees. This went beyond the requests for flexibility, this re-weighted the relationship as we wanted to end the mistrust and build trust.
To address attentiveness and responsiveness we needed to resolve renters being fed up with issues in their homes taking far too long to resolve. So we set up an onsite Get Living team to be open 8am-8pm weekdays (to cover pre and post work hours) and on weekends. There was also out of office hours cover. We created relationship managers who residents could get to know as people as well as look after their homes. We set up regular ‘Lates’ events where residents could drop in and have informal chats with their relationship manager. With live music, food, drink and stands set up showcasing local offerings, these were popular events.
This all sounds great on paper, but we had to implement. So grew a team from zero to a fully operational set of colleagues who put this into action. We were in start-up mode, but had 1,500 homes (worth circa a £1bn) of homes to occupy!
As they say . . . and the rest is history.
Our experience of treating our residents respectfully was that in turn they proved to be trusted to respect our homes. If fact, with deductions rarely being taken, eventually we would scrap the need for security deposits entirely.
Get Living grew during our tenure to a £2bn REIT with 3,000 operational homes across three neighbourhoods in East Village, Elephant & Castle (both London) and New Makers Yard (Manchester) as well as another 5,000 homes going through planning/construction.
As well as having many happy residents, Get Living also received industry recognition, winning the prestigious RESIAwards Landlord of the year 4 years out of 5 under our leadership.
So many learnings were gained from our time at Get Living. The above barely touches the surface!
In 2020 the executive team returned to YOUNG with an unrivalled set of experience.