Major international property developer Cortland Partners are set to create a 23-storey tower block of 485 new homes in Ascot Road.

Cortland now want to include the ‘extras’ for the flagship scheme, to raise the standard of ‘build to rent’ and the team are keen to encourage cycling and electric cars. Charging ports as well as bicycle docks will all be on site in a bid to help reduce pollution.

The plans for the four buildings, which include 169 affordable homes as well as a retail park, were given permission in July last year. The brownfield site was bought in 2014 and will create an extra 430 permanent jobs in the area.

Senior features reporter Mattie Lacey-Davidson spoke to director of international relations Sarah DeFrancis about Watford, business and building green…

What brought you to Watford?

Richard Olsen and the former Orion team had Watford in their sights before we partnered, but we loved the site. It was an easy decision for us, as it is exactly the type of properties we are looking for. It’s a great town with a vibrant community and excellent connectivity.

What can people expect from the new build?

People can expect a building that is beautiful on the inside and out, excellent amenities, and service unlike they’ve seen before in the rental sector.

How do you think it will impact the town?

We are going to provide apartment homes, amenities, a sense of community, and a level of service that is unprecedented in the area. We look forward to raising the bar when it comes to the experience of apartment living.

Have you identified any other sites in Watford?

Not yet officially, but we have our eye on a few sites because we love the area and want to be able to deliver more housing and an elevated resident experience to the people of Watford. We plan on being members of the Watford community for many years to come, so we hope to have a significant presence in Watford.

Describe the things you do to be environmentally friendly

We try to ensure that our apartments are as energy-efficient as possible, often including smart thermostats and energy-efficient appliances and windows, and electric vehicle charging stations.

In terms of building green, how have you seen this change over the years?

Our customers feel good when they live in green buildings and they’ve proven to love the savings that our smart thermostats and energy-efficient appliances and windows offer.

How have trends changed over the years – what did people used to expect from a property compared to today?

In the US, before the recession, people didn’t expect too much from an apartment community. They intended for their stay to be relatively temporary, so they focused on location and price and didn’t expect much in terms of service, design, or experience.

After the downturn, more and more people began to choose to rent homes instead of buy them and to do so for longer. This meant that renters had more sophisticated tastes, discretionary income, and expectations of service.

In a world where most property groups saw themselves as “investment shops who just happen to be in the business of apartments”.

We began to see ourselves as in the people business, who just happen to run apartments. It should be a no-brainer – focusing on the residents’ experience and providing design, quality, and service to go along with it keeps our customers extremely happy.

How did the business start out?

US-based Cortland Partners was founded in 2005 as a multifamily development company by Steven DeFrancis in Atlanta, Georgia. During the 2008 global recession, Cortland Partners began leveraging our development expertise and began to use it in a value-added approach so that we could acquire existing communities in need of refurbishment. In late 2011, Cortland owned and managed 5,000 apartment homes.

In the years since, Cortland has become a vertically integrated multifamily real estate development and management company. Everything is under one roof, including design, construction, and property management. Today, Cortland Partners owns and manages over 45,000 apartment homes in the US. Cortland recently opened an office in London and plans to develop 10,000 apartment homes in the UK in the next five years.

How has the recent merge changed the business?

In 2016, Cortland began researching cities abroad that could benefit from our model of customer-focused, professionally managed, bespoke apartment homes and London was number two behind Perth, Australia. Paul Wrights, Cortland’s EVP of Finance and Development began spending time in London, studying the market and meeting various groups when he was introduced to Richard Olsen, Chairman of Orion Land and Leisure.

Cortland was new to the planning process, so it was a natural fit with Richard, who has over 30 years of experience in planning. With the former Orion team now a part of the Cortland family, we can ensure that the apartment communities are built with the customer in mind. All the way from the site finding to design to construction to management, we’re able to design everything to best suit our residents.

In what other ways has the business developed over time?

Cortland started out strictly as a development company in 2005. Over the years, we’ve grown to handle all aspects of our communities, which means we have interior designers and architects, a robust construction team, a product team that manufactures, sources, and procures all the finishes in our apartment homes, and a full operations- and facilities-management team in-house, which means that everything we do – from the design of the apartments to the way they’re run to the maintenance is all done with the resident in mind.

What do you do differently?

Besides having all functions of the business in-house, we are completely resident-focused. That means that we treat our residents as our customers and everything we do is to help make their living experience as excellent as possible and their lives a little easier.

For example, we offer a 48-hour Service Guarantee, which means that if we don’t fix a maintenance request within 48-hours, the resident lives rent-free until we do. And that clock starts ticking the moment the resident submits the request (online, by phone, or in person), no matter when – day or night, 365 days a year. We also offer a Move-In Satisfaction Guarantee which means that if a resident changes his or her mind – for any reason – within 45 days of moving in, we’ll allow them out of their lease without penalty.

Ultimately, because we handle all aspects of the business and we are customer-centric, we design the communities to ensure that the building itself is beautiful with apartments that feel bespoke, we fill the community with top-notch amenities, and we provide service that is unmatched.