Like a mid-market hotel chain offering set room rates, standard interiors and a menu of paid-for extras, "branded" new-build blocks of private rental apartments are coming to a place near you.
London's resurgent private rented sector is leading a nationwide boom in lettings that will change the face of the property market over the next decade.
Launching in September 2012 is a new brand called Fizzy Living, which is unveiling its first development in Canning Town. Billed as a "lifestyle choice for the Facebook generation of 23-35 year-olds", rents start at £1,050 a month but the initiative is about much more than price.
Flats are being marketed through social media rather than through estate agents. Tenants will log into their account via an intranet site giving them immediate access to phone, TV and broadband packages, furniture options, links to local businesses offering deals and discounts.
Rent expansion call
Fizzy Living is a subsidiary of Thames Valley Housing Association, whose status allows it to offer some services VAT-free, which should keep rents lower than they would otherwise be.
It plans to roll out more developments, typically blocks of 100 flats, which will have on-site personnel to deal with maintenance and management issues. Visit fizzyliving.com.
Meanwhile, a government-commissioned new report, The Montague Review, calls for a huge expansion of private renting and urges institutions such as pension funds to invest in the sector.
With tens of thousands of people shut out of home ownership because of mortgage restrictions, and demographic changes boosting the number of renters looking for decent quality, fair-priced accommodation from a landlord they can trust, developers, housing associations and big financial institutions are now targeting residential lettings.
The Montague Review says more public sector land should be made available for private rented schemes and government funds used to stimulate the sector.
Private renting already accounts for 27 per cent of all homes in the capital and has overtaken social renting (24 per cent). Projected growth is attracting a new breed of "corporate" landlord such as Delancey and Qatari Diar, joint owners of East Village, the new name for the Athletes' Village at the Olympic Park, where about half the 2,818 homes will be private rentals, making it the largest such scheme in the UK. Visit eastvillagelondon.co.uk
Wick Lane Wharf is another new rentals scheme in the Stratford regeneration zone. The 112-apartment block was originally earmarked for live-work accommodation, meaning the homes are larger than average, typically 1,050sq ft. Rents start at £300 a week. The block's owner is Development Securities, a big commercial property company that has joined forces with a real estate firm from Canada where a similar business model is commonplace. Visit wicklanewharf.com
Advocates of the North American-style rental market say renting allows people to live in a better property in a better district than they could afford if they were buying.
Almost 50 per cent of private renters in the UK are aged under 34, and about 55 per cent are either singles or childless couples, according to government figures. A growing number have no wish to buy a property — and never will.
Families and middle-aged downsizers are getting in on the rental act, too. Figures from estate agent Winkworth show that in general rents are lower in south London, outer north London and parts of east London. While the cost of a one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill ranges between £1,200 and £2,600 per month, in Crystal Palace it is £625-£825; in Tottenham or Wembley, £650-£800; in Walthamstow, £600-£700, and in Stratford, £700-£800.
Until recently, there was no housing association provision for "intermediate renters" — those who cannot afford to buy, but whose income is too high for them to qualify for housing benefit and are therefore reliant on private landlords.
Associations have now stepped in to offer low-cost rentals to workers earning less than £60,000 a year, in the public or private sector. Rents are discounted — set at 80 per cent of open-market rates — making it easier for people to build up a deposit. In most cases, intermediate rent homes are part of new-build developments where shared-ownership and private sale flats are available, too. Housing associations also take nominations from local authority waiting lists so it is a good idea to register with your local council, either the one where you live or work, or both.