Loft looks to ride post-Covid rental wave

The interior design firm, which specialises in build-to-rent projects, forecasts increased growth as a result of a market shift towards renting rather than buying homes in the aftermath of Covid-19, after doubling its revenues since 2018.

“The company was turning over £9m [two years ago], and now we are on track to hit £20m. In the next couple of years, we could hit revenues of £30m,” said Benjamin Hall, managing director of the Manchester-based company.

“It’s a lot to manage and very exciting. It’s a different animal entirely when your company doubles in size.”

Hall told Place North West there has been a change in attitude towards property during the pandemic, and people are no longer as keen to get on the housing ladder as they were before due to the perceived risks.

“Now, younger people are more inclined to rent because it gives them a more flexible solution,” Hall said. “The stigma [historically] attached to renting isn’t there like it used to be.

“That has encouraged the big corporates to invest in large-scale BTR projects as a secure, tangible asset.” 

Such is the appeal of BTR among corporate investors, Hall envisages a time when certain investors and developers will deliver the full breadth of rental accommodation solutions, providing homes for students and young professionals, right up to retirement living, all under the same brand.

“It’s happening in front of our eyes,” he said. 

Loft has completed the fit out of 20% of the 995 flats at Chapel Wharf

Loft, which is currently on site undertaking the fit-out of Chapel Wharf, Manchester’s largest build-to-rent scheme, plans to grow its product offer as the market expands.

It has invested £500,000 in a new website, due to launch later this year. The website will provide customers with a virtual reality walk-through function, allowing landlords to see what a building will look like when it is furnished.

There are also plans to break into the holiday home market and start supplying furniture to hotels, restaurants and bars as well as providing co-working and retirement living solutions, Hall revealed.   

Loft also offers a long-term aftercare service, including replacing faulty furniture and other items within 24 hours, to “add fluidity” to the residential property market. The company makes half of its furniture in the UK and imports the other half from Asia.

The Chapel Wharf scheme, which is being developed by Dandara Living with which Loft has a long-standing relationship, will provide 995 apartments between Chapel Street and the River Irwell in Salford. 

For Loft, winning the contract for such a large scheme was a coup, especially because two further developments, providing an additional 900 flats in Leeds and Birmingham, were included as part of the deal. 

Ben Hall Loft

Hall set up the company in 2003

The type of high-density residential accommodation associated with BTR has faced criticism during the pandemic due to the lack of outdoor space, which some people believe can cause a heightened feeling of isolation. 

“There is no direct replacement for outdoor space, but with Chapel Wharf, Dandara Living is focusing on building a sense of community and belonging that will help [compensate for] the lack of outside space,” Hall said. 

Hall said he has taken “huge risks” to grow the firm. He grew the team of interior designers from two to 12 during 2018, and, that same year, opened a warehouse and showroom in London, and appointed a seven-person senior management team. 

Those investments resulted in the company making a loss the following year but Loft recovered and is on course for its best year yet, according to its managing director. 

“Everything I did two years ago I am going to do again,” he said. “It is all about faith and belief. You have to be prepared for your ego to be damaged if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.

“Whether it’s the Dorchester Hotel [in London] or Strangeways prison [in Manchester], we are going to grow into each one of these [property sub-sectors] with the Loft brand.”

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