One-on-one interview: Nerys Viner of Connells
We head to Birmingham and one of the UK’s largest estate agency firms to pose this week’s questions to Nerys Viner, new homes area director for Connells in the Midlands.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Connells
After graduating from University, I went straight into estate agency with Connells. With no previous experience or qualifications in the field, they trained me up and put me through my relevant exams. I started 16 years ago as a trainee mortgage consultant and worked my way up through the ranks until I became a mortgage services development partner. From there I moved into an area role, managing the mortgage consultants in the Midlands area.
I later transferred the skills that I gained from mortgage services to the residential side of the business, as I managed the Leicestershire area of Connells estate agency business. Finally I found my love for new homes and I am now new homes area director for the South Midlands region.
How has the Midlands market recovered since the global economic crisis?
There has been a steady recovery in the Midlands, but Birmingham city itself has really taken off and become a global property hotspot. With HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte and HS2 all coming into the city, and alongside the recent development of Grand Central, Birmingham has never experienced so much investment. There are now around 14,000 new employees coming to Birmingham who all need somewhere to live.
Birmingham is a real property hotspot at the moment - what's happening re new homes in the city centre and suburbs, and what are you currently selling?
We have been involved with most of the new homes developments and there’s a lot of exciting things happening in and around Birmingham at the moment. We have just launched the fantastic St. Anne’s Court in Digbeth, which is close to the city centre and comprises 170 one- and two-bedroom apartments with roof terrace and secured parking.
We’re also marketing Madison House in the Chinese Quarter. Again, this is close to the city centre and offers 141 one- and two-bedroom apartments. These are great options for investors and are close in proximity to the city centre, transport links and the business district. We’ve also got an exciting new development coming soon – 52 Degrees in Smethwick. This is a considerable site converting three listed former college buildings into 92 apartments, and will be surrounded by another 96 new homes.
What are the current prime areas to buy a new home in and around Birmingham?
Digbeth is the latest regeneration area within Birmingham. We expect to see huge capital growth in this location as its close proximity to the city centre and plans for the new HS2 terminal will undoubtedly attract investors looking to take advantage of the current affordable prices. As mentioned before, St Anne’s Court is a vibrant new development of 170 properties in Digbeth – which is part of the Big City Plan regeneration project – and is likely to see a great deal of interest and a high number of sales due to its fantastic location and growing popularity.
Are there reasons for buyers on a modest income to be optimistic about finding a suitable new home in the West Midlands?
Yes - although prices in the city centre are rising sharply, properties in the suburbs surrounding the city are still affordable to most first-time buyers.
Is the prospect of HS2 already affecting property prices?
This has definitely had an impact on prices. Buyers from London and overseas are attracted to big ‘news stories’ regarding infrastructure improvements. As London is becoming unaffordable for many buyers, major cities with excellent rail links like Birmingham are becoming more attractive to aspiring homeowners who are happy to commute.
Many investors look to cities such as Liverpool and Leeds for good returns - is buy-to-let in Birmingham a good alternative?
Yes, Birmingham also gives good returns on rental properties and we are currently seeing rents increasing by between £100 and £200 month-on-month, with the average rental yield at 6% to 6.5%.
What do you think differentiates Connells in such a competitive industry?
We are the biggest seller of new homes in the UK, having sold 8,000 new properties last year, and as part of the Connells Group, we have access to up-to-the minute market knowledge and a huge database of buyers. We have an experienced new homes team who are all experts in their local area but provide national coverage and we also offer a dedicated service to housebuilders.
Our dedicated Land and New Homes division is also a National Investment Department that is exclusive to Connells – no other agent has this – and our regional director for new homes in the Midlands, Donna Smith, is also our group national investment director. Her role is to source and sell residential investment portfolios for corporate clients nationally. Donna has concluded on five PRS bulk deals in Birmingham city centre in the last 12 months, which reinforces the buzz around Birmingham for residential and investment buyers.