Our ongoing series of exclusive interviews with senior figures from the UK housebuilding industry continues as the look to the Home Counties and the current work and ambitions of John Elliott, managing director of WhatHouse? Awards-winner Millwood Designer Homes.
Hi John, please tell us a little about yourself and Millwood Designer Homes.
Since 1992, I have run Millwood Designer Homes with my brother Jeff, as managing director and deputy managing director, initially designing and building individual, bespoke homes for clients, with values ranging from £1.5m to £7m. With many successful years under our belts, we then re-organised the business to meet demand and market conditions, to offer a broad range of individually designed homes from contemporary-styled apartments to more traditional two- and three-storey homes.
We now offer our customers a greater range of locations, home designs and financial packages to enable them to buy their ideal home; bringing our excellent reputation for providing high-quality homes to a wider mix of house-hunters.
We are particularly renowned for our large properties, modelled on the traditional 15th- and 16th- century Yeoman-style farmhouses, once so common in the Kent and Sussex Weald, which sit alongside our other more contemporary designs, blended together within a sympathetic street scene.
Our head office is based in Tonbridge, Kent and its exclusive developments can be found in country, town, village and waterside locations throughout Kent, East Sussex and Surrey.
What developments are you currently working on and what 's the range of properties that you are offering?
We currently have properties across Kent and East Sussex including Woodlands View in Hastings. Here there is a great range of traditional two to five bedroom terraced, semi and detached homes available through Help to Buy. Located on a desirable private road, and combining semi-rural period charm, with a wealth of amenities and first-class transport links, these properties have been carefully laid out with a mix of different styles and are nestled in picturesque surroundings backing onto woodland with stunning views across the countryside towards the coast. Prices currently start from £465,000 for a four-bedroom detached home.
In St Mary’s Platt, seven miles from Sevenoaks, Kent, is Wismer House, a 2,958 sq ft five-bedroom home offering an impressive balance of informal and formal living space. Perfect for commuters, with Ebbsfleet International station less than 15 miles away offering services into London St Pancras in just 19 minutes, as well as Eurostar trains to the Continent and easy access via the M20 to the motorway network, this property is available for £1.45m.
In the unspoilt heart of Sussex’s High Weald, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Standgrove Field is a traditional collection of 36 semi-detached and detached houses that includes three-, four- and five-bedroom properties. Each property will have parking for at least two vehicles, and all come with garages. Prices start from £499,950 for a three-bedroom property.
Also in Sussex, is a stunning five-bedroom detached house named Rosehip House located in on Steep Road in Crowborough. Just one mile away is the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Ashdown Forest. Featuring a traditional Wealden vernacular with a first-class specification and the latest trends in modern-day living, including, custom-made kitchens and energy-efficient induction hobs, this property us available for £1.295m.
Do you have a "star" development that is doing particularly well and what do you think its appeal is?
One of our most exciting current developments is Lavender Fields in Isfield, East Sussex. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, the development consists of 39 homes including luxury apartments situated within a grand manor house, opulent farm and oast houses and a selection of smaller terraced cottages, each designed to create a quintessential English village and the properties within it. Due to the stunning period design of each unique new home and excellent specification within each new home, this development has proved extremely popular with buyers. Prices currently start from £305,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.
Have Millwood's specifications and customer service changed much in recent years to meet consumer demand?
We have generally adopted the same level of high-quality specification in all our homes, careful to move with the times and offer our buyers something very special and on-trend. As far as our customer service in concerned, we are proud that our independent customer survey shows that 97% of customers would recommend us – something we are dedicated to maintaining.
Do you think location is still the number one factor for buyers, or do you think the benefits of new build in terms of energy efficiency, low maintenance etc are proving more important these days?
Location still remains buyer’s first and most important consideration when buying a new home, followed by quality build, finish, specification and energy efficiency.
Are schemes such as Help to Buy and Part Exchange also bringing more demand for new build homes than, say, five years ago?
The government-backed Help to Buy scheme has provided the largest single boost to the UK property market in recent times, and its importance will continue for the next few years.
Last year, we launched our first development targeted at first-time buyers at Woodlands View in Hastings with Help to Buy available to help new buyers onto the property ladder. The scheme proved extremely popular and helped a considerable number of buyers onto the property ladder.
We continue to actively support and promote Help to Buy, which is currently available in Kent at Woodlands View in Hastings and in Sussex at both Standgrove Fields in Ardingly and Lavender Fields in Isfield. Part exchange is available on selected plots on occasion.
You were a vocal supporter of leaving the EU before the referendum - what do you make of the effect of the vote on the property markets where you are currently selling your homes?
There has not been any impact on sales of Millwood properties since the referendum with no slowdown in visitors to our developments or any reduction in overall sales. Equally there is no evidence of Brexit causing any problems to the housebuilding industry. What we now need is for the Remain campaign to stop being negative and help government and the housebuilding maintain housing delivery.
Do you see the recent change of prime minister and housing minister bringing anything new or radical to our housing industry?
I welcome our new prime minister Theresa May and housing minister Gavin Barwell MP, who I look forward to meeting in the future. I strongly anticipate their strong commitment to continuing the commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year and would be extremely keen to see a reversal in the stamp duty fees implemented by George Osborne which has such a significant negative impact on the overall housing market.
What's in the pipeline for Millwood for buyers to look out for in the next 6-12 months?
So far this year, we have acquired new sites in prime areas across Kent, Surrey and Sussex. These include Windsor Meadows in Marden, Kent, featuring 85 new homes comprising a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments and two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom houses. Prices from £325,000 for two bedroom semi-detached homes.
We also have a scheme of 36 new homes at Brambledown off Cripple Street in Maidstone with prices from £300,000 for two-bedroom semi-detached homes and at Chartway Street near Sutton Valence, a collection of six houses will be built on the site of a former nursery with prices starting from £465,000 for three-bedroom semi-detached with garage.
A small development of seven houses will be created at The Paddocks in Ansty, Mid Sussex and at Cliffsend Meadows in Ramsgate we have secured planning for a scheme comprising 31 houses, a mix of two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom houses. Prices will start from £230,000 for a two-bedroom mid-terrace home.
Finally, Little Logmore in Dorking, Surrey, will comprise five terrace and semi-detached homes. Prices will start from £500,000 for a three-bedroom mid-terrace home.