Note: The forecasts contained within our data were formed just prior to the COVID-19 crisis. However, our analysis covers a long-term outlook of ten years and so we feel that the final rankings and analysis will still hold over that longer period.

The rise of the private rented market and the increasing proportion of households moving into this sector has been clear for some time now. The English Housing Survey has long been showing the rising trend of private renters, moving from around 9.2% of households in the early 1990s to a peak of 20.3% in 2017. Although the last two years has seen a small movement downwards, there is still an estimated 4.5 million households privately renting (2019, latest data). So although the BPF indicates that there are around 43,236 build to rent units completed across the UK, with a further 33,505 under construction (around half of which are located outside of London), the reality is that most in this sector live in accommodation that is piecemeal and dominated by private individual landlords and small management firms.

The attraction of the build to rent model is clear, from both the developer’s perspective (long-term and stable income stream) and the tenant side (longer tenancies, streamlined experience, direct-to-reach management). It is easy to see why it has emerged with particular fervour over the last five or so years, at a time when households were looking to the private rented sector as an alternative to what has been increasingly unaffordable home ownership.

In early 2020 we published our first Build to Rent article where we examined where the best opportunities for build to rent (BTR) schemes were across the South East and parts of the East . In it we discussed the five measures we used to analyse what locations would be a current best fit for BTR: household population, proportion of private renters, affordability, yields and average house prices (affluence), with a further three ‘future’ measures for looking ahead: household growth, employment growth and future house price growth.

In this latest article we look again at the same 114 locations and the same eight measures, with timely and updated data but rather than looking at the best fit currently versus the best fit in the future, we combine the measures, weighted with the same level of importance, to determine what could be considered the best locations for a build to rent opportunity.

Top 10 locations

Rank

Location

Weighted score

1

Brighton and Hove

135.8%

2

Reigate and Banstead

116.5%

3

Watford

115.6%

4

Eastbourne

115.3%

5

Canterbury

115.1%

6

Worthing

113.2%

7

Milton Keynes

112.9%

8

Slough

112.7%

8

Elmbridge

112.7%

10

Colchester

112.6%

 

It is interesting to note that none of these locations form a ‘bubble’ of opportunity, with the ten locations scattered across the South East and East. Below, we look at the top five locations in detail, what makes them stand out and how they might be unique places for a build to rent opportunity.

Brighton and Hove is the clear front-runner with a top score of 135.8%, nearly 20 percentage points higher than the next rank. Being a university city, the area has many young people and students, and the housing market scored as highly unaffordable. Consequently, the area already has a very high proportion of renters at 30%. Looking ahead and future house price growth of 22% means it may continue to be unaffordable going forward.

The area is popular for young adults and students and there has arisen a high concentration of creative, media and technology businesses over the last decade. Furthermore, the area has a high proportion of call centre businesses, an industry that often has a high employee turnover with short-term expansions and contractions as service provisions and contracts arise and dissolve. This sort of transient employment makes the flexibility of renting far more attractive.

The area however has limited outward growth potential as it is bound by the sea to the south and the South Downs National Park to the north. Any future build to rent opportunity will likely need to be built upwards, and planning for this, at a seaside location, has its own challenges.
Reigate and Banstead, with the M25 motorway running through it, comes second in our ranking. This location is clearly very well connected with great transport links via the M25 motorway, and a high density of suburban rail stations linking it with London to the north and areas on the coast to the south.

With good communication and transport links, the area is very popular with out of town and business park offices and is home to many high-profile company headquarters such as Pfizer, Toyota, and Fidelity Investments. With a ten-year employment growth rate of 7.0%, it also has a good future ahead in terms of jobs growth.

The average house price in Reigate and Banstead is £413,000, placing it inside the top 20 for most expensive homes, of all our 114 areas. It is therefore unsurprising that the proportion of households privately renting is also very high, at over 26%. With household growth expected to be 9% over the next ten years, the area will need to accommodate an average of 540 new households per annum over the period, with many of these looking to the private rented sector to fulfil their housing needs in an otherwise affluent and expensive area.
Third in our list is Watford, another location which has great transport links, being situated close to both the M25 and M1 motorways while also having good rail connections to London, the Midlands, and the North West.

Watford has an above-average proportion of employees in the administration and support services sector, accounting for 23% of all employees located here. These opportunities however tend to be low skilled and low paid and with more affluent commuters pushing house prices up, it is little wonder that Watford lands in the bottom 10 of affordable locations (out of 114). This also goes some way to explaining why private renting is so high in the area (20%) as affordability factors push the lower paid into the private rented sector.

Nevertheless, our analysis shows that Watford has strong employment growth forecast at over, and with a high household growth forecast of 9.5% over the next decade, the areas future looks bright and a good candidate for a BTR scheme.
Another seaside location, Eastbourne comes fourth in our list of best build to rent locations. The area is home to over 23% of all households privately renting as home ownership in the area has declined steadily for the last twenty years.

Our analysis indicates average yields in Eastbourne of 3.99%, one of the strongest yielding areas across all our study locations and therefore attractive to those looking for potential rental investments. Furthermore, Eastbourne is expected to have strong forecast house price inflation of 21% over the next five years, making the private rented sector an attractive alternative to those who may not be able to afford increasing house prices.
The fifth location we examine in detail is Canterbury, which benefits from strong transport links, particularly towards Europe with easy access to the nearby ferries at Dover and channel tunnel at Folkestone. The area also benefits from being a major tourist destination, and so its service and leisure industry is one of the main employers in the area; it also has three major universities making the education sector also one of the top local employers. Our analysis found that Canterbury came in the top five for employment growth forecasts suggesting that tourism will continue to thrive while education and an associated research sector (e.g.: Canterbury Enterprise Hub) will flourish going forward.

The three local universities host over 31,000 students and so the area has an above-average proportion of young adults, and subsequently the proportion of private renters in the area is high at nearly 20%.

Looking ahead and future house price growth in Canterbury was found to be strong with anticipated growth of over 20% over the next five years. Unless local earnings can keep up with this level of sustained house price growth, many households may find that renting in Canterbury becomes more affordable than home ownership.
We have highlighted some areas with strong potential, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities elsewhere. The prospects for this sector are favourable and it will be relatively resilient in the current downturn. Underlying structural drivers such as continued population growth, a chronic undersupply of housing and a shift in attitudes by younger people drawn to the flexibility of renting, will continue to make this sector attractive through the long term.

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