Adrian Kelly, owner and director of independent inventory innovators LetCheck, is passionate about fairness and best practice in Build to Rent. A member of the UKAA Strategic Advisory Group and UKAA’s Suppliers Council, he is now working on behalf of UKAA to lead the debate around whole life costing.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with BTR and LetCheck
I was born in a small town in the west of Ireland, educated in Dublin and Waterford and then had the opportunity to join the JP Morgan graduate programme in London which included 12 months training in New York. Thereafter, I was based in London and looked after investment managers in Europe for four-and-a-half years.
I became a bit disillusioned with that industry, so took a break and travelled around Africa, and when I returned to London began looking around for a business opportunity that I could start myself.
I first realised I had an entrepreneurial streak when I was 10 and have always got a kick out of solving problems. The idea of LetCheck appealed to my core value of fairness. Our whole business ‘why’ is to protect all parties involved in the lettings process, by carrying out a detailed inspection of a property at the beginning and end of a tenancy.
We started working with letting agents in London as they wanted to avoid the conflict of interest, between the landlord and renter.
As BTR started to grow, organisations approached us because they realised renters don’t want landlords doing their own property inspections. I can quantify this because we have been running a live survey for years and have asked over 1,000 verified renters who they would like to carry out their property inspections, landlords have always received less than 10% of the vote.
BTR building managers also realised what we do involves a more specialised skillset than most people realise, so they were missing out on reasonable claims that more than pay for our services, so they decided to get the specialists in.
I enjoy the BTR community, it’s got a real family feel. There are a smaller number of people responsible for a larger volume of transactions. Also what is unique about BTR is that decision makers are investing more in the long term, so they can take a different approach and invest more in relationships, it is less transactional.
I got more and more involved on the UKAA’s Supplier Council during the pandemic; the number of webinars increased and I think the UKAA did a brilliant job during Covid, keeping people informed and in touch with each other. I forged some great friendships online during that period.
What does a typical day look like?
I always make sure the team carrying out the inspections are happy, and that the office have everything they need. Then, it’s usually a series of client calls or meetings.
We are launching a new system so there is a lot of client interaction around that, because it will be a gamechanger for the industry that save our clients time and provides information to help them with their compliance and ESG reporting.
I do need variety and would struggle to sit down and do one task for eight hours a day, I prefer to move from area to area and continually tinker with how we can improve each part of the business.
Our headquarters are in Cornwall where we are a team of eight, and we have 30 inspectors working out of London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds – we expand to wherever our client need is.
What’s top of your in tray?
The new system is top of my in-tray and it’s all about making better use of big data. We are all drowning in data.
There’s a conundrum to solve in the world of property; if there’s a negotiation at the end of a tenancy you need detail to present your case, but people are time poor. Our system can now filter out key data for clients, which saves them time whilst properly protecting their asset.
It’s also about providing data in different ways for different clients; for example, if a compliance manager needs asset register data for BSA golden thread, or an asset manager wants data for ESG reporting that’s possible. So yes, that is taking up a lot of my time, being able to do demo’s online has been a Godsend.
Regarding the industry more widely, I got a clear sense from the recent UKAA conference, that we are now into BTR 2.0 and as the sector matures, it is the perfect time to pause, reflect and review. It’s been a frenetic 10+ years so now is the time to sense check about how, as a sector, we have been operating. Some decisions on the operational side were probably made in haste that upon reflection, are not aligned with the values or aspirational aims of the industry.
If that open, candid review doesn’t take place, I think there’s a risk that BTR owners/operators could become complacent; and fail to walk the walk which would undermine the stellar progress made to date.
BTR has so much to offer in this sector, operators need to continually review, question and refresh how they work. Carry on tinkering.
Leading on from that, what do you see as the UKAA’s role should be going forward?
I think the UKAA has done a brilliant job of establishing itself as the key go-to organisation within the BTR sector. So, for me, the natural next step is to establish standards to which members can adhere to and which will seal the credibility of the UKAA and its members.
It’s an important next step and I know the whole issue of policy and a code of practice came up during the conference. The time is right now, and believe the UKAA can really set itself apart and set standards for the industry.
For me there are two key areas in getting that across:
Firstly, people. BTR’s success has, in large part, been fuelled by the quality of its people. So why not market itself with a threshold of industry qualifications, some guidelines of what is reasonable to accept. We are privileged to be looking after people’s homes so we need to invest in the people who run day to day operations.
Secondly, we need independent property reporting – I would say that wouldn’t I! It is what renters want, and with more and more compliance coming, it pays for itself and the governments direction of travel on this is clear.
What keeps you up at night?
On the macro side, issues like the lack of housing supply, political instability, government policies being watering down so they don’t upset the apple cart for undecided voters.
We have seen how effective criteria laid down by financial institutions can be, in establishing the ground rules for everyone else in the ecosystem to follow suit and get in line; in areas like ESG.
It is now time for the next layer of industry best practice to be embedded into BTR operations. Without independent scrutiny and rigour, the sector runs the risk of ‘best practice washing’.
We have to make sure BTR does not take its foot off the pedal and continues to lead the way in so many areas.
On the micro side, right now the new system launch is all consuming, the feedback so far has been amazing, so it is ensuring we continue to delight our clients and provide them with tangible industry innovation.
Do you have a call to action?
Whole life costing (WLC) as a philosophy has been around for years, it is gaining traction now because it is strategically aligned with all the important benchmarks that financial institutions are insisting on like ESG, sustainability, and the circular economy. It’s a way to quantify contributions in these areas.
BTR should make the most of its unique features, one of which is the time horizon it operates in; decision makers should capitalise on the advantages that gives you. Make decisions that will yield the optimal return on investment over the whole lifecycle of that product or service, even if that means a higher upfront cost. Own and defend that decision.
I volunteered to chair the WLC hub because it made sense to me and makes sense for us as a business. I saw the strategic correlation between what we offer as a service and where adopting this approach could take the industry.
Our group, a smorgasbord of passionate people with different skill sets, are promoting the benefits of whole life costing and welcome all stakeholders to get on board and think about how they can contribute in this area.
For suppliers, it’s going to become more important that this approach is thought through when pitching to a prospect. So why not embrace it and make it a unique offering to add value.
We launched the whole life costing awards at this year’s conference and had some really interesting submissions. We are still building awareness and promoting why it’s a good thing. We will soon begin writing up a green paper, so we welcome input from all stakeholders, so we are forming a balanced and representative view.
There is a buzz around this topic and it is gaining momentum, so we invite everyone to get on board.
The investment community is at the forefront of this and the reason they pushing this agenda is because people like you and me who are choosing which pension plan to invest in, are demanding it.
It’s actually coming from the ground up and there’s real power in that – which I find really quite inspiring.