This week’s exclusive interview puts the focus on the growing retirement sector of the UK new homes industry, as we pose the questions to James Cobb, sales and marketing director for specialist developer Inspired Villages.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Inspired Villages
Since 2002, I’ve been involved in retirement villages. The two project that I am now working on with Inspired Villages will be my 14th and 15th retirement village - one in Warwick and one in Tattenhall. Inspired Villages is a joint venture between English Care Villages and Places for People. Each village I work on is an education and hopefully we are getting better and better every time.
How is work progressing on your current developments?
Both retirement villages are under development and each is progressing very well. At Warwick we’re on track for the practical completion of phase one later this month. We’re expecting to move the first residents in by 25th May. Practical completion for Tattenhall phase one will be in October this year with the first residents moving in by November.
Are you finding a lot of interest from 'early bird' buyers planning well ahead of when they can move in?
At Warwick, we have reserved 24 out of the initial 49 homes in phase one – a total of 167 homes will be built on site. We expect the majority will be sold off-plan. These sales have been helped along by an excellent sales suite equipped with all the latest tools, including 3D physical and digital models to help achieve our targets.
At Tattenhall, 21 of the 48 phase one homes have been reserved, with 151 homes to be built in total. We’re already taking queries for the future phases on both schemes which are set to be completed by 2018, so there is definitely ‘early bird’ interest.
What sort of specification can buyers expect with Inspired Villages?
When people are looking to downsize they usually mean they want fewer rooms but not smaller rooms. We have a high-spec for both sites which includes generously sized rooms with high ceilings and kitchens and bathrooms all equipped with the latest mod-cons.
Our design is responsive to the needs of those who will be living on site. The bathrooms have walk-in showers with accessible shower trays, basin and loos at a manageable height and so on. Underfloor heating is provided throughout the homes and a touch screen control in each of the hallways will communicate with all of our village services.
Each home will have a Smart TV and access to high-speed broadband, and they will be connected to our district heating system which means no need for individual gas boilers and less opportunity for things to go wrong.
Is the selling process different for this kind of purpose-built property than for regular new build homes?
Yes, we provide move-in packages, which means that we pay for all of the legal proceedings prior to move-in. We also cover the cost of removals for each customer and essentially look after them through the entire transition. We also provide first-deferred completion. So if a customer sells their home early, we help out with temporary accommodation. If they haven’t sold by the time their home is built, they have the option to rent their new property and then if their sale completes within six months we will return their rent payments. We’ve strived to make the entire process as easy as possible.
What sort of back stories do your buyers have?
20% of our customers tend to be single men and 45% single women. The remaining 35% are couples. They are all usually self-funders and live diverse, fascinating, and active lives.
What are the prime reasons your buyers are choosing to move?
Our buyers' reasons for moving are usually aspirational. We offer a fantastic lifestyle with new beginnings in luxury surroundings, along with a real sense of community. Importantly, residents and their families also find great peace of mind through the knowledge that we provide first-class care services via a team that is in-house and on-site.
Furthermore, I would say around 80% are keen to retain local connections; living near to family whilst having an opportunity to lead a more fulfilling life of luxury.
What kind of lifestyle do your villages offer?
The concept behind these villages is to reinvent retirement. So residents will have opportunities to engage in a range of activities from community art classes to active lifestyle events, music sessions and community presentations amongst many other lifestyle offers. Essentially they will be able to engage with new hobbies and explore new pleasures.
There will be a bistro and restaurant on site, as well as a spa pool and gym, a shop, and transport provision that will support residents with travelling to and from nearby villages, sites and attractions.
In terms of costs, we have a well-proven method of funding the villages which is designed to ensure resilience to external factors and keep everything as near to new standards as possible. There is a weekly service charge of about £120 which covers employment of 60-70 staff on each site, as well as everything from property insurance to transport provisions, gardening upkeep and discounted meals and services. There is also an exit fee which is set at 10% (less in the first three years) of the property resale prices.
As well as providing us with a return on the capital investment in central facilities, this is used to fund the resale of the properties as well as building up a maintenance pot; thus ensuring that all properties are kept in good condition. In addition to funding the upkeep and retaining property values on behalf of residents, there is also a charitable element for those who may have fallen on hard times. Our residents will have the opportunity to decide which local charities receive any funds.
What's in the pipeline for 2016 and how do you expect the property market to change in that time?
We have the two villages under development with many more sites going through different stages of planning. Whilst predicting the property market can be tricky to say the least, what I would say is that historically, in my experience, phase one properties increase in their value by 10-15% as we begin to sell phase two. For around ten years they will then tend to exceed prices on the local property market after which they begin to follow trends more closely.