Marc Da Silva’s ongoing weekly series of interviews with senior figures in the UK new homes industry takes him this week to Buckinghamshire, to pose the questions to Katy Jordan, managing director of Storey Homes in Milton Keynes.
Where is your firm developing new homes?
We are currently working on a scheme of 14 townhouses in Ampthill and are preparing to start work on our largest development to date in Bedford – a scheme of 152 residential units on the former De Montfort University site in Bedford town centre. It is an exciting time for Storey Homes!
What are housing market conditions currently like in the local area?
Demand for our product in Ampthill is very strong – it is a unique scheme of private homes in a gated development, within walking distance of the town centre and close to excellent schools. We experienced a tailing off of enquiries leading up to the General Election in May, but since then, enquiries have tripled and greater home buyer confidence is translating into sales. We have sold almost half the properties off-plan and are gearing up to open our show house early in the New Year.
Demand for our upcoming development in Bedford is extremely high as we are offering a range of products to suit a variety of price points. House prices continue to rise at a steady pace in our core area of operation.
Why are a growing number of people moving to these areas?
In our experience, our purchasers fall into two distinctive categories: The first group are young aspirational buyers who currently live in the locality and want to stay living in the Home Counties. Generally, these purchasers are professional couples with young pre-school children who have moved from further afield – often London. As both adults are working, the convenience of buying a new home is seen as an advantage and the locations of our developments suit their requirements – usually close to schools and transport links.
Our second group are downsizers, predominantly moving from four- or five-bedroom houses with large gardens. These purchasers still want a property that offers, say, four bedrooms, as they still need the space to accommodate visiting relatives, particularly grandchildren; however they do not want the burden of a large plot. What is interesting is that these discerning purchasers do not consider they are trading down, because of the prestige of living on one of our developments. Most of our downsizers like the prospect of buying a new build property as most of them have lived in their current homes for many years and are looking for a home that is maintenance-free.
What’s the area’s appeal?
We strategically purchase sites in areas where we can see growth, but also that we would want to live ourselves. I think this is an important point that keeps us in sync with our purchasers.
Ampthill is a beautiful market town, with a real sense of community and has great transport links. Bedford is much larger than Ampthill, with a wider range of amenities and therefore appeals to a different profile of purchaser. Our site is located within walking distance of Bedford mainline railway station, which will get you into St Pancras in less than 40 minutes. Our involvement in Bedford will transform a large area of the town that has been derelict for over a decade and our development will provide much needed private housing, affordable housing and community benefits.
What residential projects is your firm currently working on and what’s in the development pipeline?
There are our current sites in Ampthill and Bedford. We also own strategic land in Milton Keynes that we are taking through the planning process. In addition, we are in the market to buy new sites that will facilitate our expansion beyond Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire into Hertfordshire.
We are an ambitious company and I have a unique opportunity to grow the business and make it into a major player in the industry.
What types of properties are Storey Homes developing?
We spend a lot of time up front carrying out market research that provides an optimum mix of properties on any one development. We currently have sites where we are building one-bedroom apartments right up to five-bedroom houses.
We really strive to build out developments we are all proud of and many of our sites are located in Conservation Areas, so we regularly use high quality materials that help to create a sense of place and developments that people are happy to call home.
How much does a new home by Storey Homes typically cost to buy?
Our properties range in price from around £140,000 for a one-bedroom apartment up to £675,000 for a detached five-bedroom house.
Why should more buyers consider buying a new build home?
There are the usual reasons, such as you are buying a home that will be maintenance free compared to a second hand property; the warranties that come with a new build home; the opportunity to have some input into the internal finishes ahead of moving in to the property; the lower running costs of a new build compared to an existing property; and I think people forget that there are often community amenities provided on new developments that are not available to owners of existing housing stock.
However, what I think people who have never considered buying a new build home are missing out on is that unique feeling of owning something that no one else has ever lived in before. There is nothing more exciting than stepping into your new home for the first time and feeling that you are the very first person ever to walk on the carpet, climb the stairs, use the kitchen, and so forth.
That is very appealing and we have a duty to deliver a product and experience that lives up to people’s expectations.
What challenges do housebuilders face in today’s market?
The planning system is still a challenge, particularly in terms of the time local authorities are taking to deal with routine matters, such as discharging planning conditions.
One of our biggest challenges is the politics of providing homes in the UK. We have a housing crisis in this country - which is particularly acute in the South East – and I find it so frustrating that as a housebuilder with land and the ability to deliver, I am regularly faced with headlines about severe housing shortages that we can so easily do something about. For such a big issue affecting so many people, there appears to be a genuine disconnect between those setting the agenda and an industry that just wants to get on with the job of building to meet demand.
What is Storey Homes’ USP?
I think we are fairly unique in that for a privately owned property developer, we have the skills and expertise to deliver schemes of varying sizes – from prestigious private gated developments of just a few units right up to major regeneration projects and substantial strategic sites.
We concentrate on really understanding our local markets, which enables us to develop relationships with stakeholders that are valued in a way that can sometimes be hard to achieve by larger developers.
At Storey Homes, we also make our customers our priority and spend as much time as a purchaser needs; to walk them through every step of buying a new build property. In our experience, purchasers really appreciate this approach and tell us that they are put off by the high pressure sales environment of our competitors. There is nothing more satisfying than a purchaser recognising that we have gone the extra mile and are happy with our service and ultimately their new home.
Which of the developments Storey Homes is currently developing do you think stands the best chance of winning a WhatHouse? Award?
Our site at Bedford is one that we are really proud of. Not only will the development provide a variety of properties to suit a range of budgets, it is a great example of just how important regeneration schemes are to the northern Home Counties and the benefits schemes like ours bring to the wider community.
Find a selection of new homes in Bedfordshire
Find a selection of new homes in Buckinghamshire