When CBRE announced its acquisition bid for Telford Homes, it took the industry by surprise. Few expected the world’s largest agent to acquire a London residential developer at this point in the cycle. But, in reality, CBRE’s £267.4m investment is a reflection of how US capital is being increasingly drawn to the UK’s expanding build-to-rent market in new and different ways.

“It is very different, but they have to be bold in this market,” says Jo McNamara, head of Europe at Oxford Properties, the Canadian pension fund behind the first and largest institutional investment into UK BTR. Oxford invested £600m into BTR behemoth Get Living in 2018.

“CBRE are really trying to make sure they understand real estate as a service,” says McNamara. “This is their way of trying to have a real business that can not only provide a return for them, but also provide a service. A lot of traditional investors don’t have that.”

CBRE plans to bring Telford Homes under its development arm Trammell Crow Company, which has 40 years of experience developing BTR in North America and has its own management platform.

An 80-page document detailing CBRE’s proposals states the business will likely require additional funds to allow Telford to “remain competitive in the London BTR market”.

It says: “Based on more recent discussions with some BTR investors, the future evolution of build-to-rent investment in London is likely to involve an increased need for Telford Homes to take a long-term equity stake in developments, and to become more involved in the management and leasing of rental properties.”

While CBRE has taken the developer acquisition route to be able to grow its North American multifamily business across the pond, other US and Canadian operators are exploring a range of other options.

Property management is increasingly becoming a vital part of the BTR armoury for developers making the move across the Atlantic as a way to obtain on-the-ground knowledge and a launchpad for future investment.

Local market knowledge

US operator Cortland this month bought property manager LIV Group, with the ambition to have a whopping 30,000 BTR homes under management.

The Atlanta-based operator launched in the UK at the start of 2018, in a similar fashion to CBRE’s Trammell Crow, with the acquisition of local developer Orion Land & Leisure. Cortland saw an opportunity in the UK market after the Brexit vote, as the value of the pound nosedived and demand for housing continued to soar.

Cortland’s Europe president Paul Wrights says: “What we found was there really wasn’t any product to buy, but the build-to-rent phenomenon was emerging.” Orion gave Cortland a team, a pipeline and understanding of the market and planning processes.

“When we first came over we thought it was just going to be purely ground-up development that we would do ourselves. We found it takes time to get those deals done, and we wanted to accelerate the scale and delivery of homes under management.”

However, scaling through development has been a challenge, despite chasing built stock and development opportunities, and Cortland has turned to LIV to grow its presence in the regions and Ireland.

“The LIV acquisition gives us a team in place that can manage those communities and get us there more quickly,” adds Wrights.

‘Boots on the ground’

The UK’s property management sector is notoriously fragmented, with lettings often outsourced to agents and block management or facilities contracts going to local vendors.

In BTR there are a few brands such as Get Living and Tipi, but no established platform on the third party side. This has created an opportunity for investors to get “boots on the ground”, as they say in the US.

“Property management can be a way to get better information on the market, identify investment opportunities and manage their own properties better than anyone else would, because they are the owner,” says David Woodward, chief executive of Global Apartments Advisors. 

But, he warns, property management has low margins and is only really profitable at scale. “The real money is made on the investment side,” he says.

Woodward was previously global head of multifamily at Brookfield. He is also a senior adviser to Quintain, which was acquired by Lone Star for around $1bn at the start of the BTR boom in 2015.

“Quintain is such a unique platform because of the large holdings around Wembley Park. It was really more of a platform play, Lone Star buying a company with apartment investments,” he says. 

“Those deals are few and far between. What we have now is companies like Cortland coming over and trying to acquire individual assets or small portfolios.”

£2.5bn into UK BTR

US investors have ploughed at least £2.5 bn into UK BTR in the last five years, according to CBRE’s residential investment tracker. And there is more to come, with at least £11.2bn reportedly targeting the sector at the end of last year.

A recent surge in Canada pension fund activity has brought the total North American investment in UK BTR to £4.2bn – almost half the total capital committed to the sector.

The bulk of this investment has been through forward funding purchases, contributing 60%, against 32% in mergers and acquisitions and just 2% in built asset acquisitions.

While Lone Star tops the charts in terms of deal size and portfolio, major plays include Invesco backing EcoWorld London’s development of 1,100 homes in Brentford and Barking, and Greystar’s continuous stream of acquisitions across the country.

Greystar launched into the UK through the more established purpose-built student accommodation sector. It has since moved into UK BTR, forwarding funding chunks of stock in from developers including Galliard and Barratt – typically through joint ventures, for example with Henderson Park. This approach is a big shift from the US strategy, where it is established as the country’s largest multifamily operator.

While the likes of Greystar, Lincoln, Atlas and others focus on the UK for growth, America’s largest publicly-listed REITs like Equity Residential and Avalon Bay have yet to make that jump.

Woodward says: “That’s not what their shareholders have asked for. They’ve invested in US multifamily, not international multifamily.”

That means plenty of space left for large private companies to make their way into the UK and find ways to deploy capital as the BTR market expands.

And those ways to deploy capital and build a presence in the nascent market will continue to evolve, adds Woodward.

“There are opportunities across the spectrum, whether it’s acquiring existing platforms or just coming in as an investor,” he says. “We’ve seen virtually every combination of ways to enter the market. But I don’t think there’s any one formula as to how best to do it.”

Top North American deals in UK BTR



Acquisition target


Deal type


Est BTR portfolio size

Lone Star






Oxford Properites

Get Living






Elephant Park, London





Invesco (US client)

Brentford and Barking, London





CBRE/Trammell Crow Company

Telford Homes

2019 (TBC)




Greystar (jv Henderson Park)

Walthamstow, London





Greystar (jv Henderson Park)

Royal Mail, Vauxhall, London





Lincoln (jv MGT)

Station Hill, Reading