20 Years of LOFT

May 26th 2023 marked 20 years since a start-up a company called “Buy To Let Furnishings” was born, designed to add fluidity to the property management industry and improve residential interiors across the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

Nobody could have predicted the PRS metamorphosis over the last two decades, every element of designing, building, letting, managing, operating, furnishing, sharing, and living in residential property has changed since we started the business.

Socially and culturally, we have seen the attitude towards renting property in the UK change, renting is now seen as a modern day lifestyle choice, with residents being viewed as customers who should be treated with respect and priority, rather than “tenants” who are a nuisance and might cause damage to property.

The number of people renting in England has increased 250% over the last 20+ years, growing from 1.9m in 2001, to 3.9m in 2011 and there is currently 5m people renting their homes today.

Renting as a % of the UK population has also more than doubled in recent times - 3.25% of 59m people rented in 2001, growing to 7.5% of our current population 68m in 2023.  

As renting property became more popular, so did the aspirations, expectations, and demands of modern residents, regarding the quality of their property and interiors – hence us rebranding to the name LOFT in 2004.

The name LOFT was originally an acronym for Luxurious Original Furniture Today, changing quickly to Landlords Order Furnishings Tomorrow - playing upon our Next Day delivery, assembly, and installation unique selling point (USP).

When we first started the company, landlords, developers, and agents were most concerned about durability and the cost of furnishings, rather than the quality, comfort, look and feel - the consensus was “the tenants will damage the furnishings, anyway, so why provide anything luxurious?”

The shift in perspective began during the first residential “Buy To Let Boom” between 2003-2007 when increased supply and competition for residents drove landlords, investors and developers to request more considered, design-led interiors, over the most hard wearing products and cost effective solutions we had to offer at LOFT.

This is where our mantra “People First Design” was born. People First Design by LOFT means encouraging collective behaviour, discussing, and designing solutions that are more circular, more inclusive, more available, and more accessible to many more people.

During the Financial Crisis of 2008-2011, corporate fund managers invested heavily in student housing across the UK, upgrading the way privately-owned Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) was designed and furnished forever.

The refurbishment of existing and new build PBSA in 2008-09 really kick-started a new approach to interiors, with investors requesting captivating, comfortable and community focused interiors for their residents.

Arguably it was the PBSA blueprint that paved the way for the explosion of Build To Rent (BTR) across the UK. Emerging from the credit crunch circa 2012, BTR changed the private rented sector completely providing residential property designed with customer service and convenience for residents at its core.

Build to Rent (BTR) is the most exciting sector in UK property today. With over £4bn was invested in 2022, and data from Rightmove revealing a 323% increase in tenant demand for BTR since 2019.

LOFT came into its own when BTR arrived in the UK - our mantra of People First Design aligning perfectly with a customer service focused residential experience.

LOFT was invited by HomeViews to partner on the 2023 BTR Resident Review Report due to the significance and correlation between design and highly rated resident experience in Build To Rent. The data in the 2023 HomeViews BTR report was clear - developments furnished by LOFT were rated higher by residents on every HomeViews review category. 

Despite the exciting emergence of BTR, steady population growth and the number of renters doubling since 2001, the UK has not been able to match demand and build enough homes.

An estimate from the National Housing Federation and Crisis found around 340,000 new homes should be supplied in England each year with 145,000 them to be affordable.

The Conservative government has previously targeted 300,000 new homes in England a 2019 manifesto commitment but is yet to hit that mark. In 2020/21, 216,000 new homes were supplied, down from 243,000 in 2019/20 largely down to the impact of Covid-19.

Zoopla reported that rental demand was more than 50 per cent higher than the five-year average in 2023, whilst there has been just a 1% increase in the number of private rented properties over the last five years.

Rightmove said the number of tenants enquiring about a move on the site is 4% higher in April 2023 than it was at the same time in 2022, and 48% higher than pre-pandemic in 2019.

On top of a chronic lack of supply, in 2021the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) found that 21% of the entire PRS was deemed to be “non-decent” – with a staggering 12% said to contain series category one hazards, such as severe damp and mould.

In the UK, around 65% of people own their own home, while 35% rent privately and 17% of those people live in social housing. Despite being approximately 17% of the UK population (10m people), social housing tenants make up 48% of those in what’s become known as “furniture poverty”.

Furniture poverty is the inability to afford or access the basic furniture, appliances and furnishings that provide a household with a socially acceptable standard of living.

End Furniture Poverty (EFP) was created in 2015 to raise awareness of the issue of furniture poverty; to improve our understanding of the consequences and the reality of living in furniture poverty; and to develop potential evidence-based solutions to ensure that everyone has access to the essential furniture items that they need to participate in society and lead a secure life.

Nine percent of UK adults, a total of 4.8m people, are missing at least one essential item of furniture, with many missing several. Further analysis in EFP’s 2023 report suggests 9% of children, or 1.2m, are also living in furniture poverty. This means that there is a total of 6m adults and children living in furniture poverty, more than the population of Scotland.

It is estimated by EFP that there are 2.3 million adults in social housing who cannot access essential furniture items. The bleak statistics relating to social housing must not obscure the similarly concerning figures relating to the Private Rented Sector, where 15% (approximately another 1m) of private renters are missing essential items, compared to 3% of homeowners.

So much attention is given to the premium end of the residential marketplace, it’s time everybody involved in the UK property sector did more to balance the equilibrium – we cannot rely on any politician or government to do what is right.

With so much discussion in the sector around Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) working together to improve the quality of housing and specifically interiors, is a highly impactful and simple way to measure environmental and social benefit.

Our purpose at LOFT for the next 20 years is to join forces with likeminded individuals to address directly the 21% of inadequate, “non decent” housing stock across the PRS sector and to help to End Furniture Poverty through leadership in donating, recycling, upcycling, and finding a second life for furnishings and appliances.

People First Design means all people - it means encouraging collective behaviour, discussing, and designing solutions that are more circular, more inclusive, more available, and more accessible to many more people.

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