Sustainability is at the forefront of most people’s minds which is why over the last two decades, corporate sustainability reporting has massively increased. As the expectations on corporate responsibility rise, it’s fundamental that businesses adopt a strategy to become more sustainable. With this being said, many don’t know where to start, so they end up only doing the bare minimum.
As property developers and investors, the mantra should always be “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. We can use these three prompts in the decisions that we make in the creation of new rental homes and the day-to-day running of a property business.
With a whopping 88% of consumers saying they will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues, there are three elements in your property business that can be looked at: utilities, the build process and furnishings.
From a purely financial aspect, it makes sense to aim to save energy and therefore cost in properties. But it also helps people’s wider responsibilities as a ‘Next Level Landlord’ to have a conscience and awareness of the wider impact of their business on local, national and international communities.
Look at choosing a supplier that only uses green, sustainable or renewable energy sources. There are also government incentives to install energy-generating systems such as solar panels and heat pumps.
As technology improves in these sectors and becomes more cost-effective, it would be worthwhile implementing this more. It reduces expenses over the long term and is a big selling point to the younger generations living in shared accommodation who are aware of their own environmental impact. Landlords could install sensors on doors to turn off lights when people go out, or on windows to turn off the heating when the window is opened. These small and relatively inexpensive additions, can have a huge impact over the long run.
Some tenants are environmentally conscious when it comes to their energy use, while others are not. Some will take advantage of a ‘bills-included’ contract, take 20-minute-long showers and leave the heating on.
Smart thermostats can help you to control this; but fundamentally, if landlords can educate your tenants to be more aware, they can self-regulate and reduce their usage. If someone has multiple properties in an area, then they can perhaps hold an inter-house competition for who can save the most energy to win gift vouchers.
On induction, inform tenants that the house is an environmentally-conscious house, as it will make tenants aware and act more responsibly as a result. Things like encouraging tenants to use the dishwasher on ‘eco mode’ when full and including well-positioned subtle reminders in the house to recycle, save water and energy, generally yields results.
The build process
This is a tricky one, because the construction industry isn’t quite there with cost-effective eco-build methods yet. The new-build sector is ahead here, because houses can be prefabricated off-site and assembled, which dramatically reduces waste and carbon dioxide emissions. For conversion of existing buildings to flats or HMOs, the process is not so simple.
If you can, you should avoid demolishing as it is hugely energy intensive and unsustainable. It is much better to reuse an existing building and reconfigure than to demolish and start from scratch. Especially with the increased cost of labour and building materials, it makes sense to use what you’ve got as your starting point. If demolishing is unavoidable, then saving bricks and certain timbers could help.
If you are starting a refurbishment from scratch, then there is an argument to design the heating and electrics into zones. This will allow you to heat different areas of a property independently to others – e.g., different bedrooms within a shared house to coincide when people are in or out. If they are zoned per tenant, then you could even charge the tenant for their usage, meaning that they are much more likely to be thinking about how much energy they use. As soon as the bill is “all-inclusive” they care less.
Using wood from sustainable sources is one way to make an impact, as well as ensuring you are insulating the property well in walls, roof and windows. This will dramatically reduce bills and keep housemates happier.
When choosing furnishings, consider the environment. For example, as landlords, it’s important to use durable furniture that is timeless in design and of eco-friendly material, including buying from vintage interior and charity shops, and places that source second-hand furniture of high quality: e.g., eBay and vinterior.co.
If you are doing this project by yourself and have time to spend on this, visiting charity shops or sourcing second-hand furniture online that fits your interior style is a good option. If your time and resources are limited, you may need to give pieces a facelift, replacing handles, sanding, refinishing or painting. Always ensure that second-hand furniture is properly treated to be fire retardant.
Durable furniture can also be built-in, which encourages a long life and decreases how often items in a house get replaced. Most landlord furniture only lasts around five years, but high-quality built-in furniture can last from 10-20 years, with a simple use of paint every few years to remain relevant.
Lastly, ensure you are proactively maintaining your property and its furnishings. It will be cheaper in the long run to check every 3-6 months that everything is working correctly, instead of waiting for everything to break / look untidy. There’s a service we use which allows tenants to triage problems directly over a video call with a maintenance person. 70% of these issues can be solved by the engineer talking the tenant through an easy fix. This has the ability to save landlords £100s and gives a very responsive service for tenants 24/7.
He is also the author of ‘Next Level Landlord’ and a specialist in Next Level HMO® and co-living developments, having built a £5 million portfolio in four years using investor finance. Matt is recognised in the property industry as one of the country’s leading HMO and co-living educators.