It’s our contention that installing gym, spa and fitness facilities in new residential builds is a strong pull factor that can attract new tenants and buyers and keep them renting for longer, adding to the value of the property. In this article we’ll look at the residential dwelling construction landscape today, how fitness facilities can drive more profit and higher customer satisfaction, and touch on the kinds of facilities and equipment that residents are expecting.
Flats and apartment blocks
According to Zoopla, more than a quarter of homebuyers are looking for one or two bedroom flats. Over a fifth of the UK population already live in flats or apartments and this trend is gradually increasing. This is being partly driven by the cost-of-living increase over the past two to three years.
The construction sector in the UK is profitable and has been for some years, but faces some major challenges, including a fragile economic recovery, lack of trust in builders following the Grenfell disaster, meeting net zero commitments, a fair deal for housebuilders given the UK’s housing shortage, productivity, safety, skills and training.
Despite these challenges major home builders such as Barratt Homes, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Bellway Plc all reported profits in 2021. This was despite a huge drop in building projects starting during the first few months of Covid.
Residential development in the UK consists mostly of blocks of apartments and housing developments. But it is becoming more varied, now including “later living” complexes, student accommodation, housing association and local authority developments, housing co-operatives and more. There is an advantage to the homebuilder of including an on-site gym in many (if not all) of these developments.
Landlords and tenants
In the rental sector, turnover of tenants is generally a bad thing. Once a good tenant has been found, it pays to keep them for as long as possible. This is particularly important in the emergent build-to-rent sector (there are now over a quarter of a million build-to-rent homes in the UK, including those currently in the construction and planning phase) As build-to-rent has become more established, residential block owners are thinking carefully about ways to retain tenants.
There are many reasons why people move out of their flats, including having more children, change of jobs, even divorce or separation. But notwithstanding these understandable reasons, landlords want to keep their tenants month after month. What can they do?
Landlords are doing more to keep good tenants
Good landlords understand that maintenance of the block is a key factor, especially in the areas of safety, security, and energy efficiency, so the more landlords can do to keep their tenants’ bills down, the better.
Flexible lease options are appealing to many renters. That doesn’t just mean ever shorter-term leases, it can also mean discounted rental fees for those who are prepared to sign up for a longer term as well. Incentives for lease renewals (effectively lease loyalty schemes) are cropping up.
Attracting higher paying tenants
Beyond the basics, block owners are looking to provide luxury facilities to attract discerning, high-paying tenants. Landlords are installing high-end kitchens with top-of-the-range appliances, luxury bathrooms, private parking spaces, valet services, concierge, co-working spaces, nurseries, on-site eateries, housekeeping and flat-cleaning services. Developments such as New Acres in Wandsworth has a rooftop pool, gardens, private dining spaces and even a grand piano for residents.
The Residences at Deansgate Square, Manchester has an on-site spa exclusive to residents, swimming pool, sauna and spa, hydrotherapy pool, state-of-the-art gym and on-site personal trainers.
M&G, who fund residential developments exclusively for the rental market in London and other UK cities, consider an on-site gym a major selling point and are now building gyms into the majority of their developments.
They also offer free fitness classes including HIIT and yoga, so that residents can work out whilst getting expert supervision and training. It’s organised by fitness provider motive8 who are partners of the developer.
The value of on-site gyms
At motive8 we have long recognised the value of on-site gyms. motive8’s Nick Sadler said:
“Initially we designed home gyms for individuals, which led to us branching out into apartment blocks. In New York, where I used to live, it was common for residential towers to have their own gym, I took inspiration from that model.”
For the tenant or leaseholder, an on-site gym can have many advantages.
“Think of the annual saving a couple can make when they don’t have to pay separate gym membership, because they have access to facilities on a par with a health club through their service charge.”
New builds with gyms around the UK
The government has a manifesto pledge target of building 300,000 new homes each year by the mid-2020s.
The northern cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds are seeing many new builds which include fitness facilities, as well as towns in the South and South East such as Milton Keynes, Reading, Oxford, Southampton, Exeter and London – which are all in the list of fastest growing cities.
Still, many of these towns continue to have large housing shortages. And we should note that not all areas of the UK are benefitting equally from residential property development, with parts of Scotland, the west country and Wales being under-represented. We consider this unmet need for homes and fitness to be an opportunity for developers.
The benefits for developers
A report by Puregym found that 14% of the UK adult population are currently gym-members, and many more are planning to join a gym. So at least 14% of potential tenants are likely to find an on-site gym an attraction. Installing a gym aligns with current fitness trends and caters to the preferences of modern residents. Being seen to be on-trend is an important pull-factor.
Property developers may charge a premium for apartments with gym access or offer gym memberships as an additional source of income.
Gyms can be built in underutilised or less desirable spaces on the plot, making efficient use of available space. For example, at The Forge in London’s East End, residential gym designers motive8 installed the gym on the ground floor in a space with no natural light, which would have otherwise been difficult to utilise.
Marketing and branding
A gym can be part of the branding and marketing strategy for the apartment complex, showing a commitment to resident well-being.
Why residents love on-site gyms
When we talk to our clients, who include both developers and residents (as we provide gym management services to residential gyms), we learn more and more about why tenants love to have a gym on-premises. So, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly given reasons why residents love their on-site gyms.
Having a gym within the complex is incredibly convenient for residents. It eliminates the need to commute to a separate fitness facility, saving time and effort. Many commercial gym-goers are put off when long journeys by car or public transport are required to get to their local gym.
Residential gyms are often used by people who might not otherwise go to their local chain gym. Commercial gym-goers are self-selecting, which can often lead to a less diverse clientele. But residential gym users are usually the residents of the building, who can be from any walk of life and any life stage. So residential gyms can attract people who might not otherwise venture into the gym.
One study found that 39% of gym users are put off by feeling judged by other gym users (a phenomenon that’s been labelled “gymtimidation”). This is less of a problem when the gym is in a private residential complex. It’s especially the case in later-living complexes.
We hardly need to say it, but regular exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A gym on the premises encourages residents to prioritize their health and fitness, both physical and mental.
One objection raised against moving into later living developments is the potential for residents’ health to deteriorate. But on-site gyms mitigate against this and many of our users have told us that the gym was a factor in deciding to move into their home.
Provision of an on-site gym in later-living developments plays an important role in the complex’s overall healthcare and welfare provision strategy. It can reduce ill health and help recovery from injuries and operations.
For over 60s the most important ways to keep healthy include aerobic and cardiovascular exercise for longevity, moderate strength training to avoid muscle loss, core, balance and flexibility exercises, stretching to avoid injury and keep supple, mind-body exercises such as meditation, and meaningful social interaction to avoid isolation and loneliness. All of these crucial forms of exercise can be catered for in a later living gym installation.
Most of us live in an urban environment where loneliness is a common problem. In fact, it’s estimated that 7.1% of people in the UK experience “chronic loneliness”. Loneliness is reported to be more likely to occur in people who rent and is commonest amongst the 16-24 age band – often just the kind of people likely to be residents of your development.
But an on-site gym can serve as a social hub. Residents can meet, interact, and form a sense of community while working out together. Residents are less likely to want to move if their links to their community are strong. According to motive8’s Sally Ottwell, the gym is key to community building:
“The gym is a place to meet neighbours, build friendships and socialise, not just with other residents but also the gym and spa staff, who will break down barriers with a warm welcome and smile.”
We are also finding that during the pandemic, people were happy to use online workouts and virtual fitness programmes, but since the lockdowns ended, these trends have gone away. People want to get out of their homes and get fit with friends and family. On-site gyms are the most convenient way of achieving this.
Security and safety
Security and safety is a concern that we hear about often.
The most popular times of day to visit the gym are just before work (around 7am) and just after work (around 6pm). Residents tell us that having gym on-site can feel safer compared to traveling to external fitness facilities, especially during these popular late or early hours.
Security in residential gyms is a concern as well, so measures including CCTV may need to be factored into the build.
The main alternative to commercial gyms is installing exercise equipment in the home. About $1bn of home exercise equipment is sold annually in the UK. However, in residential homes, where space is at a premium, many residents appreciate not having to keep equipment in their flats.
They also understand that equipment needs maintaining and replacing often. With fitness trends changing so fast, residents appreciate the fact that their residential gym is likely to be well-maintained and have up-to-date equipment that reflects the current fitness trends.
Equipment for residential gyms
Gyms are there to be used, not just to look pretty. So, we need to think about the type of people who will be renting or buying your apartments before deciding on the equipment they’ll prefer. According to motive8’s Kim Mead, a broad mixture of rigs, functional equipment, weight racks, dumbbell sets, benches and exercise mats will comprise most of the equipment in a typical residential gym. Larger equipment will be likely to include treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and rowing machines.
Residential gym management
It’s not enough to install a gym and walk away. Gyms are high-traffic areas and receive a huge amount of wear and tear. Add in the complexities of air-conditioning, water and steam in shower rooms, spas and saunas, noise control, air quality control and ensuring health and safety throughout the facility, and it becomes clear that expert on-site facilities management will be required.
Management is delivered either by partnering with an external expert or hiring in-house staff. Whilst outsourcing can be more expensive than hiring staff, costs are often outweighed by the benefits as the management partner is responsible for keeping their staff trained, qualified and up to speed on the latest fitness trends and developments.
At Crown Street, in Manchester’s city centre, developers Renaker opted to install a residential gym on the 45th storey, along with a pool which is currently the highest in any residential development in the UK.
“Residents now enjoy access to a full suite of health, fitness and wellbeing facilities including a fitness/training studio, swimming pool, sauna and experience showers.”, says gym installers motive8. motive8 have also been retained by the developers to maintain and run the fitness facilities.
What to do next
We hope this overview of the construction landscape in the UK has been helpful and we hope you now understand why installing gym and spa on-site in residential developments is often a win-win for tenants, leaseholders and developers alike.
Gym and fitness facilities dovetail with current trends towards community building and social cohesion, physical and mental health improvement. At motive8 we have installing and managing gym, spa and pool facilities in residential developments for over 20 years. We provide expert guidance, bespoke solutions, trust and transparency from start to finish. So, if you would like to start a conversation about a proposed development please get in touch.
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