Build To Rent Housing in Multifamily

Build-to-Rent (BTR) housing is gaining a rapid foothold in the U.S. multifamily market. As a truly differentiated product, compared to traditional garden-style, and the more common mid-rise and high-rise apartments in urban settings, this product’s popularity is driven by two factors.

1. Millennial household formations
2. Home downsizing among Baby Boomers

The rising cost of home ownership is the often-cited reason for the popularity of BTR, among Millennials, with the conventional wisdom being, if they can’t afford to purchase a home, the next best thing is to rent one. While this is certainly a factor, it completely overlooks the more profound and meaningful reason for their decision – simply being, lifestyle choice.

While BTR is relatively new to the multifamily housing scene, it has existed in the Private Student Housing industry for well over two decades. Referred to as “Cottage Style,” or “Destination Housing,” private, off-campus BTR communities began appearing across university and college campuses in the early-2000s. The product was an immediate success with college students, and began outperforming traditional Student Housing options in those markets.
There is an entire generation of Millennial renters, now forming households, who spent their formative college years CHOOSING to live in BTR. Even their parents, the Baby Boomers, have been exposed to this through their children.

The more profound motivation for renters to choose BTR is because they are making a lifestyle decision. They are looking for low maintenance and flexible living that traditional apartments provide, but with the space, privacy, convenience, and lifestyle of a single-family home and neighborhood.

Aging Baby Boomers who might want to eliminate chores and costs, and people hit by unexpected life changes, who want to gain an instant community, are also in the hunt for BTR. Additionally, we see a significant number of renters in the Sun Belt with higher disposable incomes turning to BTRs for privacy and security.


SPM’s leadership team has over 20 years of experience in the development, acquisitions, and operations of BTR housing.

While BTR is relatively new to the Multifamily housing scene, it has existed in the Student Housing market for well over two decades. Referred to as “Cottage Style,” or “Destination Housing,” private, off-campus BTR communities began appearing across university and college campuses in the early-2000s. The product was an immediate success with college students, and began outperforming the traditional Student Housing options in those markets. SPM’s leadership team has several individuals with Student Housing BTR experience.

Mitchell Smith, EVP & COO for SPM
Mr. Smith has directed the acquisition, management, and asset management of 17 BTR projects across the Southeastern, Midwest, and Southwest United States. Having acquired this product type from multiple developers, he has an intricate understanding of the nuances between BTR and traditional apartment communities that helps set SPM apart from the competition when it comes to successful development and operations of this product type.

Anthony Alsup, VP of Asset Services for SPM
Mr. Alsup has overseen the lease-up and management of Build-to-Rent communities throughout the U.S. During his tenure at Aspen Heights Development Group and Cardinal Group, Anthony directed the successful lease-up, property management, and asset management of nearly two dozen Cottage Style/BTR communities across the country.

Sam Choi, VP Technology for SPM
Mr. Choi has been involved in the design and implementation of technology strategies for BTR for over 10 years. He has a keen understanding of the nuances of BTR and the expectations of the renters. This enables Mr. Choi to help developers deploy strategies that improve the operational efficiencies of this product type, while also ensuring developers are future-proofing their projects and delivering on customer expectations.

Jon Marc Larson, Director of Building Services for SPM
Mr. Larson has over 10 years of experience with BTR housing. With a focus on construction, capital needs assessments & planning, and facilities planning, Mr. Larson understands the unique operating profile of BTR projects relative to traditional garden-style apartments and other urban housing product types. This knowledge allows him to help developers and owners capture accurate operating expenses in their underwriting models and operating proformas.

SPM operates from a strong position when it comes to the successful operations of BTR product.


Residents who choose to live in a BTR community are seeking a specific lifestyle. This effectively makes them no different than a resident who chooses to live in a 20-story, downtown high-rise.

Renters of traditional garden-style apartments have historically been considered to be making a decision of necessity over desire. That is not the case with the BTR demographic. Both the downtown high-rise renter and the BTR renter, while seeking out a very different product type, tend to have similar spending habits, needs and expectations.

What this means for owners and managers is that, while the product may function similarly to a traditional garden-style community from an operational/maintenance standpoint, the properties are catering to a very different type of renter and, as such, require a keen understanding of the Brand, Lifestyle, and Customer Expectations for this product type.

When developing a BTR community, it is important to understand the planning and development of public spaces as renters are seeking a neighborhood-lifestyle when choosing BTR. Public spaces, especially outdoor areas, are of high importance. For example, Millennial renter’s want kid-friendly areas. Taking the time to evaluate each area against that measuring stick will yield strong, long-term results.

Areas of consideration include:
o The Pool
o Grilling Areas/Party Areas
o Parks and Playgrounds
o Walking/Running Trails
o Lakes and Ponds
o Pet Parks and Pet Spas
o Anywhere that residents can congregate, just like in any other traditional neighborhoods
o Cul-de-sacs, front yard living, block party space, etc.
o Golf-Cart Accessibility/Drivability
o Differentiated Amenities like Hammock Parks & Outdoor Workout Stations

We are also seeing garages have an outsized impact for prospects who are comparing one BTR community to another. Renters will choose a BTR simply because it has a garage, when another one does not. They are interested in the additional space not only for vehicle storage, but also for extra storage and hobby space.

The integration of technologies such as bulk managed WiFi, app-based access control systems (to residential units, common areas, gates, garages, and package rooms), smart home features (thermostats, leak detectors, etc…), online application, payment and work order systems, and cyber security & privacy measures, are central to the modern living experience. Many renters have already been exposed to these features through their student housing living experience, influencing the next level user experience (UX) and setting the trends to other sectors of the broader multifamily industry. These systems, if uncoordinated, are often integrated without a central means of control, leave renters to manage these systems through multiple, disparate mobile applications and creating friction points for site staff to manage multiple platforms increasing additional processes and workflow. In almost every case, poor planning, and a lack of post development operational understanding, leads to poor adoption of these systems, and creating a poor customer experience. Taking the time to plan the technology strategy at the beginning of the project, yields the best results.


We have found that BTR tends to share similar operational profit margins to that of a Class A high-rise. While these assets are more expensive to maintain, the rents produced are higher than the average traditional apartment community.

Rental Rate Performance and Unit Turnover:
Generally, BTR communities carry premium rents compared to garden-style and mid-rise competitors. Additionally, residents in this product type tend to be stickier. Walker Dunlop noted a 30% turnover rate in BTR versus traditional multifamily averages of ~45%.

Operating Expenses:
While BTR communities tend to be more like traditional garden-style communities as it relates to the building systems, such as HVAC, water heaters, roofs, standalone clubhouses, pools, etc., these communities vary greatly from traditional multifamily developments when it comes to the physical footprint of the community and the sheer number of elevations, landscaping, and roofing systems to maintain.

There is an inherent inefficiency in the overall site plan as it relates to landscaping, grounds, roofs, and elevations. What makes traditional apartments efficient is that you have packed everything into a lesser number of buildings, often, on a smaller site plan.

One issue, or nuance for BTR that separates it from traditional multifamily building types, is quantum, rather than complexity.

From an ongoing maintenance, and overall capital needs perspective, there is a variance to what would normally be budgeted for these items relative to traditional garden-style developments. We have found that operating expense pro-formas track closer to the cost of operating mid-rise or high-rise projects. Not because of increased complexity, but because of volume.

Multiple small buildings mean more landscaping. Landscaping contracts for BTR projects tend to exceed that of the traditional garden-style product because there is more lawn to mow and maintain, more area to pine straw, and more area to irrigate.

More exterior walls may result in more windows. When each unit has 3 or 4 exterior walls, you likely will have at least double the number of windows than that of a traditional apartment home.
Larger units also mean higher turnover expenses simply due to the space to be maintained.
BTR communities may have a variety of parking methods attributed throughout the communities. Sometimes a property will have multiple types of parking within a single community

• Units with a dedicated driveway and garages in front
• Units with a garage in the rear with a driveway connected to an alley (TND)
• Street parking
• Driveway parking with no garage

From new constructions to retrofitted assets, there is a lot to consider in relation to the foundational Technology infrastructure as shown below. Design and planning between GC, Low Voltage Integrator, Management, Asset Manager, and Ownership plays a key role to minimize any known unknowns and unknown unknowns in the project cycle.

• Capital Expenses, such as Fiber backbone and homerun wiring (MDF, IDF, Unit Runs), network switch gear (copper vs fiber), in-unit access points, Conduit run, and fiber terminations, Interconnection of buildings, and future proofing contingency. There are greater upfront costs for full ownership of active vs passive network structures, but provides the opportunity for the greater return on investment, which door fees and exclusive ISP agreements cannot provide.

• Recurring Operational Expenses, such as IoT licenses subscriptions, integration fees, bulk managed bandwidth/circuit, ramp up planning, access control licenses, network licenses, camera licenses, and much more.

• Revenue Opportunity through offered Technology Packages. Solution for a mutual beneficial relationship between the Resident and Property staff as Technology Packages including smart IoT devices (thermostats, gate control, unit doors, amenity doors, garage access, storage lock access, etc) and Bulk Managed Internet starting day 1 of move-in curates a positive resident experience to remove yet another hurdle or frustration from the initial experience. From staff and property perspectives, Technology Packages provides a new opportunity for a recurring revenue stream, ensures internet services are constantly active throughout the building for the IoT device connection, obtain real time data and concerns of technology devices with a centralized location, and much more.

• Ownership of fiber and backbone networks planning is crucial for the allowance of ISP Choice. SPM aligns with the best in the Industry from Legal, Designers, to Low Voltage Integrators to review opportunities and restrictions of permanent easements, exclusivity, and other right of entries and marketing.

• Insurance and Liability Reviews are a big factor with the evolving landscape of Building Technology (PropTech). SPM addressing all concerns with counsel in relation to IoT data aggregation such as PII and other sensitive information collected by PropTech service vendors.


Developers have begun to get creative with the management of density within their BTR developments. They are not just building hundreds of single-family houses; we are starting to see developers introduce a mix of homes, townhouses, duplexes and quads:

o Single family units
o Townhomes (usually duplex style)
o Multi-unit options
——One bedroom ground floor units with a two-story townhome above

We have also seen developers intentionally build the community with the future ability to sell the units individually as traditional single-family homes by doing things like:
o Providing individual mailboxes, rather than a mail center
o Building fenced in yards with gates
o Providing private driveways with or without garages
o Building front porches
o Building units with more detailed exterior elevations

The ultimate goal of developers pursuing this strategy is allowing the ability to create a condo association and sell the units as individual single-family homes.

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