This week’s edition of our ongoing series of exclusive interviews with senior figures in the UK new homes market focuses on Tony Dowse, whose company Environ Communities is building interesting, high-specification homes in a number of desirable locations across the south of England.
Hi Tony, please tell us a little about yourself and the company.
I’m the chairman of Environ Communities. I started my career as a planning consultant in international real estate before founding the Townscape Group in 1979 and subsequently Environ.
Environ was founded in 1990, and has since become a multi-award-winning company with a reputation for innovative residential development and high-quality design and build. Our small team have worked on a range of projects within the UK, led by a strong guiding philosophy of sustainability, quality, localism and ‘New Urbanism’. Environ is not a typical modern homes builder. We want people to visit our luxury homes, both big and small, and be wowed by the lifestyle living on offer.
You currently have two developments on the go, both in delightful locations - can you tell us about where they are and what type of homes are currently for sale there?
We are currently developing Freshford Mill, a site six miles south-east of Bath into a residential scheme of 21 homes, and finishing SAILS, a landmark development on Dartmouth Harbour.
The development at Freshford will include extensive landscaping and redevelopment of the derelict buildings that currently occupy the site. Once complete, the site will be an ideal location for professional couples, downsizers and families. The mill has fundamental links to the village and we’re hoping to respect that, with an on-site nature reserve being made available for local school children, as well as residents. There is a range of homes for sale there, ranging from five-bedroom detached houses, to apartments in the original mill building.
Our landmark SAILS development on Dartmouth Harbour will be launching later this year. It’s in a fantastic location, right on the harbour with views both across the estuary and the Royal Naval College. There are six two- and three-bedroom apartments for sale in this development.
What kind of specification can buyers expect at an Environ Communities development?
Our homes are designed as turn-key homes; fully ready for owners to move in and unpack. Bathroom cabinets, mirrors, soap dishes, coat hooks, doormats, racking and shelving in wardrobes, bookcases, shaker peg rails and cutlery inserts are all provided.
Our guiding principles are our USP, and these help us to develop unique properties with high specifications. We have a commitment to respect and protect the local ‘environment’, meaning Environ’s developments are as energy-efficient as possible.
Another guiding principle is ‘New Urbanism’. The ‘New Urbanism’ movement promotes the design of living spaces that enhance the lives of those living within them. For example the apartments at SAILS are highly energy efficient, with great insulation, individual heat control for each room and a heat recovery ventilation system, all allowing savings on energy costs. They are also incredibly light and airy, to a level that is not seen in older, traditional properties. All the apartments have balconies and large glazed areas which allow the light to flood the open-plan areas.
Are buyers predominantly purchasing a holiday or investment from you, or are they choosing them as their main home?
Our properties are primarily of interest to those looking for lifestyle properties rather than holiday home investments to simply rent out. Our focus is on building lifetime homes for families to enjoy forever. We want people to tell us, after they move into their luxury homes, that they love the unique homes we have built for them.
However, the enquiries we get vary from scheme to scheme. There has been a real mix of enquiries for SAILS; as a permanent home, second home and investment property on this particular scheme.
Do you find much difference in the buying process, depending on what purpose the customer is buying for?
When selling to the retirement market we have found that the decision to downsize from a detached property is highly emotional, and therefore our staff become a friend to help them through the buying process. The purchasers tends to want family and friends to be involved in the decision-making process, and it is essential that our sales staff listen to the purchasers needs and try to reassure at every stage. People buy people!
Are most of your customers set on the benefits of a brand new home, and what are the primary reasons most of your customers have for buying from you?
Yes, our buyers want a well-designed, low-maintenance home suitable for today’s lifestyle, incorporating lots of light with a high specification. Invariably they are looking for a ‘lock-up-and-leave’ property in a prime location, buying from a developer with a track record.
Have your many awards over the years (including several WhatHouse? Awards) been a big draw for buyers?
Yes, we do consider these awards to be a draw for buyers. The awards give us credibility, and reassure purchasers of the quality and design they can expect from us.
Has the EU referendum (before and after) had a major effect on the markets where you are selling?
Not at all!
What's in the pipeline for Environ Communities over the next 12 months?
We are launching five new houses and two apartments in the exclusive Stuart Court retirement development, which is managed by Cognatum.
These homes are designed for a new generation of what we call ‘un-retiring’ over 55s. Stuart Court is in Minchinhampton in The Cotswolds, which is a great location for retirees looking to maintain independence. The site is less than 10 minutes’ walk to shops, a church, a library, doctor, dentist, post office, restaurants, and golf course, and a minibus will take residents to Cirencester twice a week for shopping.
We are very much concentrating on a new retirement model as a response to a number of studies that show that the type of product currently available is not tempting retirees from their larger homes, despite their desire to downsize.
Therefore we’re aiming to create an active community for over-55s with our homes at Stuart Court, where people can age within a supportive community, while retaining the independence of their own home, and avoid any sense of institutionalism.
Find out more at www.environcommunities.com ; 01580 241213 / 07432 682874