Build to rent has been receiving a lot of press lately, but what is the build-to-rent business model?

Build to Rent is a real estate investing strategy where developers build single-family houses with the intention of renting them out rather than selling them.

Large Scale vs. Small Scale

There are opportunities for investors to buy infill land in a community to build one or two homes to rent out. Where the strategy really has a differentiation, though, and provides investors with great returns is in the larger communities.

These large-scale build-to-rent communities can have all the amenities of a gated community or large luxury apartment complex. Amenities such as pools, community centers, dog parks, walking trails, and professional management.

The value proposition to the customer is that they can simply rent a home in these communities rather than purchasing one, dealing with maintenance, paying an HOA, and paying the mortgage. The tenant also has the ability to keep to a one-year lease, so they have the flexibility to move if they need to for a job or other reasons.

Comparison to Other Forms of Development

When evaluating land for development, there are a few strategies that could be used. Sometimes, a mix of these strategies can be used when doing commercial real estate development.

  • Condos
  • Townhomes
  • Multi-Family
  • Mobile-Home Park
  • Single Family to Sell

The difference between all these forms of development is either in the exit strategy of renting vs. selling or in the type of product.

On the type of product front, the decision-maker for the build to rent single-family vs. a multi-family development or mobile-home park would be the density and surrounding demographics.

There is more to weigh when deciding between build to rent and condos, townhomes, or single-family properties to sell. Some locations offer better returns to sell the property immediately. Places where the margin is tighter might make more sense to get rental income.

Affordable Housing

There are grants and incentives to providing low-income housing with the build-to-rent strategy. Navigating all the grants available from HUD and other housing agencies is not for the novice investor. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities to provide affordable housing and get subsidies from the government for doing so.

How to Estimate Costs

The cost of building this year has been volatile, with lumber adding so much to the cost of construction.  

On your first pass of estimating the rehab costs, you will likely use ballpark numbers to see if a particular site makes any sense to do at all. You will check with zoning to determine what density is permitted.

Your first hard costs are planning and permitting costs. This will likely run you somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per house. Land development can range from $5,000 to $50,000+ per lot, depending on if it is infill with existing infrastructure or you are building a subdivision. Then the cost of construction will range from $125-$200/sqft depending on what product you are building and what part of the country it is in.

  • Planning $5,000-$10,000 per lot
  • Land Development $5,000-50,000+ per lot
  • Home Construction $125-$200 per square foot

How Long Will it Take?

The build-to-rent strategy is not a quick fix and flip strategy. It is a longer-term project. There will need to be approvals from zoning, engineering surveys, land development, and construction,

To fully execute the build-to-rent strategy, it will take one to two years.

There are outliers if you are doing a build to rent infill development and already have plans ready. Perhaps you can build it in 6 months and have it pre-leased once it is completed.

What is the process of the build-to-rent strategy?

The build-to-rent strategy has 5 stages: Financing, land development, construction, lease-up, and permanent financing.

1.  Financing

There are several ways you can finance the development of build-to-rent properties. If you are building one or a couple of homes, traditional residential mortgages are a possible route to take.

Types of Build to Rent Financing

  • Commercial Bank Loans
  • Hard Money
  • Private Equity
  • Specialty Build to Rent Loan Products

The specialty build-to-rent loan programs are somewhere in between commercial bank loans and hard money as far as terms and underwriting are concerned. If your project meets the qualifications of their loan program, they are able to offer better rates than a hard money lender will usually offer.

2.  Land Development

Cat. Inc Machines
Photo by Jason Jarrach / Unsplash

Getting the property ready to build on is twofold. First, you have to do the entitlement and permitting phase. This is where everything is planned out, presented to the city, and permitted.

Once the permitting is completed, it is time to move on to site development. This stage includes grading, clearing, utilities, and building the streets.

3. Construction

The construction process of a build-to-rent community is also a cross between large-scale commercial development and single-family homes.

If you were to build a community of single-family homes to sell, there is an incentive to build a variety of floorplans, styles, and finishes. When building a community for the build-to-rent strategy, most of these choices will be the same. Likely with superficial differences of styles and a couple of different floorplans.

The similarities to multi-family allow you to do construction more streamlined than single-family homes, which often tend to move towards being at least semi-custom as banks require a certain number of units to be pre-sold before releasing funds.

4. Lease-Up

This is the phase of the investment where you will see the market's reality compared to your underwriting. If you did a good job in underwriting and a good job building a desirable product, then you will start to see the results when leasing up.

During this phase, you will either be relying on a professional property management company or doing the property management in-house.

A nice attribute of BTR vs. multi-family properties is that in BTR, construction completion is more staggered than multi-family. In order to have a successful launch, though, you should perform pre-marketing and have a waitlist before you are ready to rent your first units. Then once a model unit is ready, you can turbocharge these efforts.

5. Permanent Financing

Once the property is stabilized, it is time to exit from the development phase of the project. The two common exit strategies are to sell to a long-term investor or to refinance into permanent financing.

Because the development process has significantly more risk than holding a portfolio of SFR's with signed annual leases, you can expect to pay a significantly lower interest rate when moving to permanent financing. In many cases, it will be a couple of points lower.

Crowdfunding and Syndication

If you really like the benefits offered by the build-to-rent asset class but are not ready to take on the whole project by yourself, there are other options to get into this asset class. You could become an investor in build to rent properties through crowdfunding or syndication deals.

Crowdfunding Platforms Offering Build to Rent

  • CrowdStreet
  • Fundrise

Wrapping it Up

The build-to-rent strategy can be a great way to create passive income and wealth. It is a strategy that can scale up to very large developments while still working on the scale of a single home. There are also ways to get into a fractional investment of a build-to-rent project through crowdfunding.