Data – and data sharing – plays a key role in the world of Rajesh Shah, UKAA Board Member and Quintain’s Executive Commercial Director and utilising the numbers helps drive his other passion, which is improving the resident experience across Quintain’s Build to Rent (BtR) portfolio. He would love the BtR sector to share its data and in this conversation with the UKAA he outlines why.
Rajesh has spent more than 23 years in real estate across a range of sectors joining Quintain in 2008 where he set up the business’ BtR management team, Quintain Living, and is now responsible for driving growth through product and service evolution. For the wider business, he leads on commercial products which drive NOI.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up in real estate
Like many, I got here by accident rather than by design.
I was working as a consultant for PwC and was involved in a project advising bidders on a Department of Work and Pensions property services outsourcing scheme.
I subsequently joined Telereal Trillium, the winning bidder, and had 10 amazing years in a customer and service led business. The business was owned by Land Securities for a period of my time there.
In 2008, when I joined Quintain, which back then was a listed plc, it was the most challenging time to be in fund management as the global financial crisis was in full swing, but we still brought businesses up from scratch like IQ (a student accommodation brand), and investment management company Quercus.
My next step was to kickstart the inspired development at Wembley Park through a series of joint ventures and development finance, with our first development, Emerald Gardens, commencing construction in 2014. I led the creation of our Build to Rent (BtR) business, Quintain Living, in 2015 and we launched our first 141 units in 2016 which were leased in record time.
The initial plan at Wembley Park was for one-third to be rentals and two-thirds for sale but when US private equity firm Lone Star bought out Quintain in 2015, their experience in the US Multifamily market paved the way for us to develop a vast, professionally-managed rental portfolio. Amongst the 5,176 homes built by Quintain at the neighbourhood, 3,651 are Build to Rent and we have many more in the pipeline.
With a stabilised Build to Rent portfolio at Wembley Park at the end of last year, another development delivered this January and 6,000 residents, my main role now is to expand our portfolio and products/services offering across the UK.
For someone who has a background in funds and transactions, you seem very driven by customer satisfaction. How has that come about?
During my time with Telereal Trillium, everything was customer driven and when we were building homes at Wembley Park and setting up Quintain Living we wanted it to be a next-level business.
We consider all the time: what is it we do and how can we do it better? One of our core values is ‘People-First’. We want residents who live with us to stay with us for a long time, so we listen to them and keep pushing the boundaries through materials we use, the training and development of our team and the technology we’ve embraced.
Our Quintain Living design guide is the culmination of so much work, every angle of every studio to every four-bed in every home we have built to date has been considered and feedback from our existing residents is a vital part of this.
You’re also keen on data. Why is it important to Quintain Living and how do you use it?
The power of high-volume, high-quality data is immeasurable. We wanted a software platform that would be a repository for our data and allow us to seamlessly communicate with our residents. We initially used a commercial platform but it was soon obvious that it had limitations, so we built our own ground-up customised platform with Salesforce which vastly improved customer journey and also captured and managed data from every stage – from marketing and viewing to living, renewing, and exiting.
We’ve also developed our own systems, such as a building management system which collects performance data from areas like energy consumption, CCTV, pumps and plant efficiency. Our tool which processes data from utilities consumption is so pioneering it has won industry awards.
We can see how our buildings are performing and how we can make them more sustainable. We have sensors in our amenity spaces and can measure air quality, temperature and usage. Residents can check their utilities consumption through our portal.
We asset tagged our furniture so we can see which items are giving us challenges, which are still going strong, and which suppliers are focussing on robustness and lifecycles.
On some topics, we recognise that our residents know more than we do. We were fitting out three new gyms so we asked residents what they would like in terms of equipment, lighting, weights, security etc. We went along with their suggestions and, as a result, have had outstanding feedback.
We never collect data just for the sake of it. The idea is that a comprehensive data set gives us patterns which helps us design better and that makes our residents’ experience better too.
You’re keen on data sharing in BTR. Why do you think it’s a good idea?
The hotel industry has been sharing data for years so everybody knows about revenue, occupancy rates and capital expenditure. The crucial factor, though, is that everybody knows where they stand against the rest of the sector.
Build to Rent is still a developing sector, but it’s now recognised as a game changer in the housing market. It’s time we reached a whole new level of communication, especially with government on topics such as affordability and rent controls.
BtR drives high standards in building management, design and build and data is a key part of this. From the outset, the Build-to-Rent sector has been committed to raising the standard for the rental sector, affording each and every resident respect, fairness and transparency.
The collection of data from the sector as whole could be used to provide messages from the entire sector.
The UKAA’s Who Lives in Build to Rent Report has shown that demographics in the sector are evolving from the ‘young professionals’ of five-seven years ago to a much more diverse clientele which includes retirees, families, divorcees, empty-nesters and families with children, and this mirrors what we’re seeing in our Quintain living developments. It’s a diverse community we’ve created at Wembley Park and is home to over 175 families in our BtR buildings alone.
These are the sort of messages which could be used to benefit the whole sector, changing consumer perceptions about the appeal of living in a professionally-managed rental home, as well as inform everybody in the sector how they are doing vis a vis everyone else.
We need to accelerate data sharing for the benefit of the whole sector.
So, what’s stopping it from happening?
There has historically been an element of protectionism of data by some organisations but this has been largely overcome. We now finally have some excellent software suppliers who will collate and share anonymised data with all providers.
We need to agree on what’s like-for-like – basically we need to agree on the language – and the UKAA has a huge role to play in bringing the industry together so the sharing of data will work for all operators.
Tell us about your role as chair of Quintain’s EDI steering group?
My personal value is equality and fairness for everyone, so that recognition and success is achieved on merit, moving away from the old boys’ club mentality that one would traditionally associate with the property industry.
When I was progressing in my career from a minority background there was nobody I could look up to, or really relate to as most of my colleagues were white, male and with a certain education.
As chair of Quintain’s EDI steering group I oversee the strategy to ensure we are continually striving to be more inclusive as a business. This includes three employee-led networks covering LGBTQ+, gender and ethnicity. Some of our successes over the last year include changes to Quintain’s maternity/paternity policies, talks by employees on how they balance work and faith and events to educate staff on LGBTQ+ identities. We are also piloting an internal mentoring scheme which we hope supports the development of diverse individuals in the business.
I strongly believe diversity is vital to the success of BTR as it gives us a better understanding of our customers which in turn will better align service levels with customer needs.
Wembley Park is in Brent, the most multi-cultural borough in the country, so as a developer we spend a great deal of time engaging with the local community in helpful and meaningful ways, trying to bring opportunities to the people around us with construction apprenticeship schemes, working with local schools to promote pathways into the built environment and opening people’s minds to a possible career path they might never otherwise have contemplated.
Wembley Park has been a great success, so where does Quintain Living go from here?
Wembley Park used to be just somewhere you went for a big event but it’s now an exciting new neighbourhood for London – with living, retail, offices and leisure – and we think that there’s an opportunity to use that mixed-use blueprint around the country.
We’re looking at partnering with likeminded people across the UK in a third-party management arrangement because the last seven years have given us total understanding of marketing, leasing and operations in BtR. We have pioneered products such as our online leasing journey which led to 2022 seeing 43% of reservations being made entirely through our online leasing tool with residents not stepping foot on site. We engage regularly with our 6,000+ resident base which helps us learn and evolve our product and services.
We actively want our customers to put down roots and make friends. We want them to love the building, and feel they are part of a local community.