Posted 28 January 2016 by Keith Osborne
We continue our ongoing weekly series of interviews with senior figures in the UK property industry by heading to the South East to put the questions to Jason Howes, regional director for land and new homes at estate agency Barnard Marcus.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Barnard Marcus
I have been in the estate agency industry for 26 years now, first joining an independent agency where I used to live after a short but sweet career playing professional football. I then joined Barnard Marcus 11 years ago as a branch manager, and after becoming heavily involved with new homes sales from the branch, I joined the land and new homes team three years later. I now oversee the whole division for Barnard Marcus, as well as assisting with new homes training for our national network Sequence UK.
Barnard Marcus is one of London’s largest estate agencies with 39 branches all based within the M25. We offer residential sales and lettings, mortgage services, auctions and land and new homes, as well as a range of other property services. We’re part of the Sequence national network, comprising over 300 branches across the UK and a subsidiary company of the Connells Group (one of the UK’s largest and most successful estate agency and property services groups).
New tax legislation and global financial markets must have made 2015 a tough year for you in London...
Despite changes to the market in 2015, we found that it was another record-breaking year for us in the new homes division. We experienced some cooling in our Zone 1 branches for high-end value instructions, whereas other areas from Zone 2 and beyond performed really well.
Do you have a typical customer?
I wouldn’t say we have a typical ‘customer’ as such, but some trends have recently become more prominent in the market, and the strongest trend is those looking to upsize. Homeowners in central London now need to look further to the outskirts of the city to find more space, and are travelling along transport lines where they can find more house for their money and still have easy access into the city. This has particularly affected couples and families, who are perhaps looking to start or grow their family and need more space but can’t afford to do so in central London.
How much does new build contribute to your business in relation to residential property as a whole?
Our new homes business is a huge part of the company, and particularly in London. With such high demand for property, not just in the capital but in all areas of the country, the new homes market is booming. For the past four years our profits have equalled, if not surpassed those of second-hand sales, so new homes is a very successful and important part of the business.
Do you have any current new homes developments selling particularly strongly?
We have some really successful developments all over London at the moment, and we’re particularly seeing one- and two-bedroom apartments and homes moving fast.
One of our great success stories is The Printworks near Sutton, a development of 79 flats which launched in August where only nine now remain to be sold.
There’s also Camberwell Fields [winner of a WhatHouse? Award in 2015 for Best Starter Home scheme], where eight out of 96 properties remain, and another site which is selling very well is Park Avenue in Lower Sunbury. We started selling this beautiful riverside development at the end of last year and it has already attracted a lot interest from both local and London buyers.
Are you finding a trend of more people cashing in what they've gained on their London homes to move out of the capital?
I wouldn’t say people are necessarily cashing in on the increase in house prices in London, but those who want to move out of the city are taking advantage of the current rental market instead. Many London homeowners are now letting their city homes, and with the income from it, they are able to buy a second home on the outskirts of London where they can commute in and get the best of both worlds.
Where do you think the "smart" money in London property is being invested in 2016?
The “smart” money is likely to be invested primarily in the outer zones (zones 4, 5 and 6) of London, where housing is more affordable but there are excellent transport links into central London.
One stand-out area is Croydon, which is undergoing a huge regeneration project at the moment and is also along the Crossrail line – this is a major attraction for developers and investors so there are some great new developments popping up there.
Peckham, Deptford and Camberwell are also places to look out for this year; both up-and-coming and with fast links into central London, we have been seeing a lot of investor interest in and around these areas.
What more could be done to help first-time buyers in London?
The government’s commitment to housing is a really positive thing for the market and initiatives like Help to Buy London are a fantastic boost to first-time buyers. We’re starting to hear of more and more developments all around London which will offer affordable housing, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the next year has to bring and hopefully helping a lot more people take their first steps onto the property ladder.