HOUSTON – Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report: The latest edition of The Ralph Bivins Project podcast features an interview with Jennifer Orr, president and co-founder at Lēva Living.
RALPH BIVINS: Welcome, this is Ralph Bivins with the Ralph Bivins Project. We’re here today to talk about a real estate market segment that is new but has taken off like a rocket. The biggest companies, small companies, builders, apartment people, single-family home people and those who deal with master planned communities are paying attention to the build-to-rent segment. We are really pleased to have with us Jennifer Orr, president of a Houston-based company called Lēva Living. The firm is doing build to rent in the Houston area and probably will in other cities soon.
JENNIFER ORR:Thank youfor having me. I’m excited to talk about build to rent, about out projects and what we are looking forward to in the future.
RALPH BIVINS: Jennifer, could you give us your definition of build to rent, for those who haven’t delved into it.
JENNIFER ORR: This product type came about two or three years ago. We started Lēva in 2020, when it was pretty new. We went to the Build to Rent conference in 2021 and they still did not have a proper name for this product. Having a specific name is important when communicating with investors and, specially, prospect tenants. To them, build to rent meant nothing. We, too, tried to produce a proper term since the product covers a broad picture – scattered homes, townhouses and master-planned communities, for example.
As far as what we do, when we say build to rent, we mean cottage-style rentals. It looks and acts like a home, but it operates as a multi-family development. It’s kind of a hybrid. From every turn, we look at it as a house. They are all detached units with private entrances and private backyards. But they are on one piece of land and operate like a multifamily, with a clubhouse, amenities center, fitness center and pool. It’s kind of a bridge. Our focus is on cottage-style developments.
RALPH BIVINS: Who really likes this type of housing?
JENNIFER ORR: We are seeing two major groups… First, they want a certain lifestyle. They are renters by choice, not by necessity. They want to have a lock-and-leave, fluid lifestyle. They want to spend their money on travel, on experiences, and less in and on their homes. They want to travel; not to be at home all the time. We see a lot of Millennials who can’t afford a started home. We are seeing young, small families or a lot of empty nesters who don’t want to carry and mortgage and don’t want to maintain a large home, but who still want to be part of a community and won’t want to live in an apartment building. They want to be in a neighborhood. These are the ones we are seeing.
RALPH BIVINS: Interest rates are high and home prices have gone up dramatically in the last few years.
JENNIFER ORR: A lot of people don’t want to own a home. Part of the reason I joined the company was this. I’m part of that target audience. I don’t feel the pressure to own a home. I can move around to different cities. I can work remotely; I don’t have to be in an office. I worked from my home yesterday; I’m working from home today. Another positive aspect is this. We want to create a community for people to be at, but who don’t have to be there long-term. They do not necessarily have to be stuck in one place.
RALPH BIVINS: You’re providing mobility and the factor of not being tied down. That’s good if the market falls, prices drop, and you’re stuck trying to sell your home. And you must sell your home.
JENNIFER ORR: We want to fill that gap. Increases in interest rates are still a problem today. People can’t afford a home, but they still want the home lifestyle. They don’t want to live in a giant apartment building with shared walls and shared elevators. We found that our product is still appealing to people.
RALPH BIVINS: Also, having a yard is a big deal for these people. Having green space right outside the door is an asset.
JENNIFER ORR: If I remember correctly, more than 70 percent of prospective tenants own dogs. Everyone needs a back yard. We have dog parks on the property, but just letting them out to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is easier because you don’t have to walk that long distance you’d have to walk if you live in a regular apartment.
RALPH BIVINS: It’s an inconvenience to take the elevator down in these high-rise towers.
JENNIFER ORR: (Laughs) Now, you’re making me tired just thinking about it.
RALPH BIVINS: A couple of years ago, around the time of the COVID pandemic, we were really concerned about people living in high-rise towers, having to take long elevator rides with strangers and worrying about spreading the virus; worrying about who would ride with me. It was a big fear thing back then.
JENNIFER ORR: We got a lot of questions when we first started, people asking: Did you do this because of COVID? No, we didn’t. We thought it was a good idea at the time. But it really accelerated us. People didn’t want to be in crowded homes anymore. They wanted more space. They didn’t want to wait for the elevator and wait for people to get on and off because of COVID. I was living in an apartment at the time. I realized if I wanted to live in a Lēva Living community right away, I could.
RALPH BIVINS: Lēva Living. You’ve just started your first project. Tell us about it.
JENNIFER ORR: It’s on West Lake Houston Parkway near Humble, 162 units, with a detention pond surrounded by a walking trail. There’s a dog park and a fitness center, and the development is located just sound of the new county park., There’s a lot of green space for the tenants. All the housing units are detached, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom residences, 750 SF to 1,400 SF. All are single story units except the three bedrooms, which are two-story. All have back yards, and they are located 10 to 15 feet apart. It really does feel like a community.
Jennifer Orr’s biography
Following graduation from the University of Texas at Austin, Jennifer moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in commercial real estate with Lincoln Property Company. She quickly established a specialty in securing niche leasing deals for Lincoln with both U.S. and international firms. In 2018, she added experience in the hospitality field to her growing professional pedigree with her work on the city operations team for Sonder, a global tech-enabled hospitality firm. In concert with her Lēva Living responsibilities, Jennifer is currently pursuing her MBA at UCLA.
Sept. 13, 2022 Realty News Report Copyright 2022
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