One-on-one interview: Steve Errington of Story Homes

Posted 9 April 2015 by Keith Osborne

Marc Da Silva’s weekly series of interviews with senior figures in the UK housebuilding industry continues as he looks north and speaks to Steve Errington, chief executive of regional housebuilder Story Homes.

Where in the country is your firm developing new homes? Back in 1987, we started building homes in north Cumbria, but as the company has grown, so too has our reach; firstly into southwest Scotland and west Cumbria, then over into the North East of England. Over the last few years, we have opened new developments in new geographical areas. These include Kendal in south Cumbria, Middlesbrough in Teesside and now Lancaster in Lancashire. We are really starting to make an impact in Lancashire and the wider North West region with further plans to grow the Story Homes business in the next three years. Our aim is to eventually become a national housebuilder.

What are housing market conditions currently like in those areas? The markets we are operating in have seen a marked pick-up in activity levels over the last four to five months. Help to Buy is continuing to drive sales to first-time buyers who are the lifeblood of the wider housing market. We had a welcome announcement pre-Christmas of the stamp duty reform that has lowered the tax level that all of our customers pay to buy a home. In March we had the budget announcement about the Help to Buy ISA which further seeks to support first time buyers in saving a deposit. In response to these improving conditions we have increased our forecast build rates on current sites and this has given us the confidence to further invest in land for new sites.

What types of properties is your firm developing? We build houses that suit entry-level first-time buyers all the way up to executive four- and five-bedroom detached homes. In this respect, we compete directly with the UK’s largest volume housebuilders but we compete by offering a quality premium product with emphasis on design quality of the wider customer living environment and individual homes. We have a higher standard specification for our homes than the industry norms and we target strong, vibrant locations.

What projects are Story Homes working on and what’s in the development pipeline? We currently have 18 live developments with ambitious plans to grow to circa 34 live developments within the next two years. The majority of growth will be in the North East and the North West as we grow scalable regional businesses beyond our Cumbrian base.

How much does a new home by Story Homes typically cost to buy? We do charge a premium for our homes compared to our main competitors, reflecting the quality and specification differences, but we feel we offer very good value for money for home purchasers. You will often see the phrase ‘Story Homes built’ used to advertise second-hand sales on previous Story Homes developments. Prices vary greatly depending on location but we do offer affordable entry level homes on the majority of our developments.

Why should more buyers consider buying a new build home as opposed to older property? New build offers a huge number of advantages for customers. This ranges from being able to choose your own finishing touches such as a kitchen, through to the peace of mind that there won’t be any big costs for maintenance. This is reinforced with a two-year customer care guarantee and a ten-year builder’s warranty. New build customers also know that their homes will be more cost-effective, using less energy and saving money in the long term. With energy-efficient ‘A’-rated kitchen appliances included as standard, the day-to-day cost of running a new home is much lower.

Is it worth buying property during the off-plan stage of construction? Buying off-plan enables the customer to have a greater choice of plot and product and this is becoming increasingly important as interest in buying on our sites is at record levels. Buying earlier in the plot construction process ensures that the customer has a full choice in making decisions with respect to fittings such as kitchens and sanitaryware and has more time to consider these options. With our expansion, it is relatively easy for a customer on a new development to visit other live developments to see show homes and get an appreciation for the quality of design and specification of our new homes.

What is Story Homes’ USP? Each and every Story Homes development is designed to look and feel different, but with an overriding focus on a highly attractive living environment and high-quality materials and finish. Our developments reflect each local area’s vernacular and we are careful not to build developments that look and feel the same; a charge often made against housebuilders in the UK.

Which of the developments Story Homes is currently developing do you think stands the best chance of winning a WhatHouse? Award? We are proud of all of our developments and every development has to pass the Fred Story test; being a development Fred is proud of building and somewhere we would all be happy to live. It would be an honour to win a WhatHouse? Award and if I had to choose one development, I would say High Wood in Lancaster. It looks fantastic, has been well received by the Homes and Communities Agency, the local planning authority and our customers. The redevelopment of this iconic former hospital site is a project we are proud to put the Story Homes name to.

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