We head north-west to continue our weekly series of exclusive interviews with senior figures in the UK housebuilding industry to speak to Faye Whiteoak, development director with award-winning housebuilder Redrow Homes in Liverpool.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your region of Redrow?
I’m an architect by profession. I joined Redrow in 2015 as development director with specific responsibility for projects in Liverpool and, in particular, the Liverpool Housing Partnership, a collaboration between Redrow, Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Mutual Homes and Willmott Dixon intended to deliver 1,500 new homes across the city. Redrow’s focus is on providing high-quality family housing, while capital receipts generated by the sale of Council sites and assets are reinvested into the housing programme, to enable more affordable homes to be built.
I was previously regional director for Gleeson Homes and worked very closely with Liverpool City Council on housing market renewal initiatives.
How has the local market been and where do you see it heading?
Redrow has several ongoing developments outside the Liverpool Housing Partnership, all of which have been extremely successful. These include Summerhill Park, in the Broadgreen area of the city, and New Heys and Calderstones Grange, in the popular south Liverpool suburb of Allerton. Demand regularly outstrips supply for the family homes at Summerhill Park and New Heys. More recently we’ve launched Knights Park, Woolton, and Redbridge Park, Fazakerley, within the partnership, both of which have experienced queues and even people sleeping outside the sales office overnight to secure a new home.
According to Hometrack prices rose sharply in Liverpool in the first quarter of 2016 – more sharply than anywhere else – but experts were largely of the opinion that this was fuelled by buy-to-let landlords rushing to complete before the 3% stamp duty hike, and because prices started from a relatively low base. However, we’re experiencing gradual price increases across our developments and expect this to continue.
What sort of developments are you currently offering and what should people expect to see (in terms of spec and your various home type ranges) and pay?
Summerhill Park, New Heys and Calderstones Grange all feature our Arts & Crafts inspired Heritage Collection with its traditional looking exteriors and period-style architectural features, combined with bright, modern interiors and high quality fixtures and fittings. Close to the end of the M62, Summerhill Park currently has four-bedroom detached family houses from £274,995 and two-bedroom Springfield apartments from £143,995. New Heys, in Allerton, has three and four-bedroom family homes from £329,995, while Calderstones Grange has larger, executive detached houses, with current prices from £699,9950 for a five-bedroom detached home with two en suite bathrooms.
We’ve also just launched the first two Redrow development of the Liverpool Housing Partnership, Knights Park, in Woolton, another popular south Liverpool suburb, and Redbridge Park, Fazakerley, in the north of the city. The former features just 21 three and four-bedroom Heritage Collection homes with current prices from £289,995, while the Fazakerley development will have 60 three and four-bedroom homes.
Specification varies between developments but generally customers can expect a choice of high-quality kitchen finishes, top brand name built-in appliances, pristine white bathroom suites with chrome taps and Redrow trademark features such as higher-than-average ceilings and deeper skirting boards.
Do you have a current "star performer" - a development outperforming all the others?
Summerhill Park and New Heys have both been consistent best-sellers, but our first Liverpool Housing Partnership developments have enjoyed phenomenal success in their first few weeks.
Have schemes such as Help to Buy and part exchange been popular with buyers in recent years?
It’s early days for the Liverpool Housing Partnership and Help to Buy hasn’t really factored yet. However, it has been used successfully at our other Liverpool developments, including Summerhill Park and New Heys. And across Redrow, Help to Buy has accounted for circa 40% of sales over the last 12 months. It has undoubtedly been a major boost for first-time buyers getting onto the property ladder and also existing homeowners who have sold subject to contract but have limited equity to put down as a deposit on their second home.
We offer part exchange on a very limited basis, usually at the tail end of developments, while our Mastermove service helps those with a property to sell find a buyer at full market value, deals with much of the red tape and contributes to their selling fees.
In the digital age, do you still find buyers rely heavily on personal visits and demand good customer service?
We have invested heavily in the online side of our business and our award-winning My Redrow online customer interface allows customers to book appointments, keep track of their purchase, make specification choices and purchase optional extras and upgrades via the internet. Where once everything was done in person at the development, two-thirds of the extras purchased by Redrow customers are now chosen online.
However, even in this digital age, there is no real substitute for seeing, touching and feeling the quality; and our show homes are still a major draw for customers so that they can actually experience the quality, finish and attention to detail of our homes.
We also hold special ‘welcome parties’ for customers who’ve exchanged contracts so they can get to know their new neighbours and ask any questions of Redrow.
Is buying off-plan commonplace and do buyers ask for many ways to personalise their homes from your options?
Especially where supply outstrips demand, customers are often reserving a home off-plan very early in the build cycle. One advantage is that this gives them greater opportunity to personalise their home and our My Redrow tool makes it very easy for them to do so.
We recently compiled a list of the top 10 most popular options chosen by My Redrow members, they are, in order: flooring from a stylish choice of vinyl or ceramic tiles; brushed or polished chrome downlights; carpets from a wide choice of colours and luxurious textures; wardrobes, with a choice of either sliding or hinged doors; practical kitchen extras, such as additional appliances or a hot and cold water filter tap; designer tiles from such leading names as Johnsons and Porcelanosa, integrated dishwashers from popular brands such as Smeg or Siemens; beautifully crafted granite worktops; conservatories in a choice of sizes to provide the perfect additional living space; and stylish bathroom extras from cabinets to accessories.
We’ve recently resubmitted plans for our approved development on the site of the old Ernest Cooksen school in West Derby to include conservatories, so that customers will have the option of adding a conservatory from the outset via My Redrow. We also offer a range of eco-options, everything from water butts to solar PV panels.
Has the 'Northern Powerhouse' concept started to be reflected in the housing market in your region?
In truth, we haven’t seen a great deal of impact in the Liverpool property market – yet. But we hope that will change. Certainly we expect that as businesses grow and prosper and new jobs are created this will translate into increased demand for housing. Perhaps a greater influence locally in the short term will be the decision to elect a Metro Mayor for the wider Liverpool City Region, which includes the local authorities of Sefton, Knowsley, Wirral, St Helens and Halton as well as Liverpool. Devolution of some powers from central government to the new Liverpool City Region will hopefully bring with it local drivers for economic success, which should ultimately boost the fortunes of the housing market.
What's in the pipeline for the Liverpool Housing Partnership for the rest of the year?
Our Redbridge Park development of 60 three- and four-bedroom family homes in Fazakerley, has just gone on sale, with show homes due to open in August. This is our first partnership project in the north of the city and offers good transport links to the city centre.
Also exciting is the introduction of our Regent Collection of Georgian-influenced properties at Regency Manor, in West Derby, which will launch next spring. This development will also feature the conversion of two Grade II listed buildings into apartments and townhouses.
We continue to work with the City Council on a number of other strategic sites which will help boost housing numbers in Liverpool and increase the range of properties available. Meanwhile Liverpool Mutual Homes is making great progress on various schemes for social rent or Shared Ownership, including Marwood Tower, an £8m revamp of a dilapidated tower block into 81 modern apartments for the over-55s, due to be completed this summer.