Real Estate Developers are Storytellers

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Written by Taylan Tahir

Written by Taylan Tahir

The rate of delivery of new homes in the UK has risen year on year since 2012 in an attempt to meet growing demand (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government). As each new home comes to market, real estate developers are attempting to differentiate themselves in order to achieve the highest rental or sale value versus the competition.

Developers often leave it to the estate agents to deliver this differentiating message. A visit to any agency website leaves buyers and tenants faced with an endless feed of generalised adverts. Every new home is offering “luxury city living”, “sophisticated interiors”, “stunning and spacious rooms” and is generally advertised as exceptional. Fundamentally, the majority are just generic. It is difficult to tell many of these places to live apart, let alone identify where they might be located from the external photographs. For years, high levels of demand in the market have allowed a cookie-cutter approach to development to flourish.

As the housing market slumps and growth slows with prolonged Brexit uncertainty, an opportunity lies for smaller boutique developers with vision and ambition to deliver schemes that genuinely stand out from the crowd and sell themselves.

As a developer, these are eight opportunities you should consider exploring to tell the story of your next project:

1. Be more human

Ultimately you are creating places for people. From the outset, look to tell the story of people involved in the building. What is the developer’s sense of responsibility? The architect’s vision and the future tenant or owner aspirations? Use visual tools to communicate your vision. Ask your architects for visualisations and models – These are powerful and persuasive storytelling tools to convey and, where necessary, persuade and win over planners and local residents. When the project is complete, commission professional photography or film. This is essential to promote your scheme, if it is great it will be published. Everyone wants to live somewhere good enough for the newspapers, right?

2. Be contextual

Your development is part of a wider narrative in its setting. Highlight how your proposal will contribute to the wider neighbourhood’s current and new residents. Express the stylistic and aesthetic influences. Shout about the social, economic and environmental benefits. Make a building that could only ever exist in that one location.

3. Challenge convention

Don’t be afraid to be ambitious, create something distinctive and stand out from the crowd. It is not essential for your building to look identical to everything else on the street. The worst thing you could create is a bad pastiche of your neighbour. Ask yourself what your vision for the future of housing, offices or the high street should look like in your area. Work with your architect to explore this vision.

4. Use technology to your advantage

If you are leveraging new technologies or the latest thinking in construction, talk about it. Are you utilising CLT as a combined strategy for structural and exposed finishes? Are you proposing modular pre-fabricated construction system that can be erected in record time? Are you promoting the use of green walls or blue roofs on your block of flats?

5. Be more than just a building

It is well documented decisions are largely influenced by emotion or as Tony Robbins puts it; people buy feelings, not things. Expressing the narrative of a previous use in the design or establishing a new ‘identity’ is a good way to elevate a building beyond just a floor area and proximity to a tube station.

6. Consider your legacy

Your responsibility as a developer is huge. You have the rare opportunity to add the next positive piece to the puzzle of a neighbourhood and equally the power to create something damaging and anti-social. Great design is inspiring, celebrates and brings together communities. Poor design can damage them. Often great development opportunities exist in ‘up and coming’ areas. It is these locations where a positive development can add the most social value and contribute to vibrancy.

7. Have a meanwhile use

Many sites can take months or years to come to market and during the design and planning process often remain vacant and hoarded up, an anti-social wall between a developer and neighbourhood. Temporary arts, culture or community uses can begin to foster social value during this intermediate period. Schemes that are mixed use and will house a retail or community function later on will benefit from local people engaging with and talking about the site before it is even built. A conversation can be generated around potential uses, attracting popularity and interest before the scheme is delivered. This meanwhile use adds to the layers of localised history, becoming part of the ongoing story for the new building.

8. Be a platform for public art

Temporary hoardings and scaffolding are necessary components of the construction process that are designed to protect but also cover up unsightly or derelict spaces. These blank canvases are also opportunities for public art, adding something vibrant and telling a message. This type of artwork improves the public realm, draws people in who want to know more and ultimately creates better relationships between developers and the public.

By designing in and highlighting areas of contextual, social and economic value and demonstrating great environmental credentials, a project becomes more than just a building. It is the balance of all of these factors that tell the story of sustainable development. This is the way to win over the local community and planners and achieve the most successful developments.

As our cities and neighbourhoods densify, they become more complex and interesting. The challenge for developers is to create a positive legacy with commercially viable projects.

The opportunity is for them to strive beyond this; to become developers of complex and interesting narratives for the built environment.

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