Housebuilder Focuses On Tech, Environment And Design

Posted 2 March 2021 by Lizzie Leigh

Evan Maindonald of MELT Properties tells us about the company's approach to building innovative and attractive homes...

We hear from CEO and founder Evan Maindonald about how MELT Property builds homes as a reflection of who we are and what we believe.

Evan, you have 25 years’ experience in the property Property and Investment sector, how did you get started?

I set up my property development and investment business in 2002, but I first became interested in property when I was at university in New Zealand. After moving to London in my early 20s, I bought, refurbished and sold a number of properties there. I also invested in a property business that a friend of mine had set up in New Zealand – which is partly what inspired me to start MELT Property.

My first project was a conversion in Gloucestershire. I bought a large house with a shop in front of it. I turned the house into two houses, the shop into two shops, got planning consent on a plot of land at the back. After successfully completing and selling that development, I started a number of other projects in Gloucestershire, including a development of 11 houses which I did in joint venture with a local contractor.

We’ve come a long way since then. In the last 18 years MELT Property has built over 100 properties in London, Gloucestershire and Kent, we’ve formed partnerships with private equity firms and family offices who have committed over £20million in equity to our projects and we are now working on projects with end values of over £150million.

MELT Property delivers developments in London, Gloucestershire and Kent – these are three distinctly different areas, which one is performing most strongly at the moment?

Our business is more biased towards commercial development opportunities in London and residential development in Gloucestershire and Kent.

The market took off quite strongly at the beginning of 2020 before activity was bought to a sudden halt by lockdown. Since release from the first lockdown, the market has performed very strongly outside London. Demand for properties with outside space and which are well set up for working at home has been particularly strong.

The London residential market has been more subdued. Covid has had a significant impact on some commercial sectors – particularly travel and hotels. This has resulted in challenges for some commercial projects.

Overall, the market which is performing best at the moment is Gloucestershire. The broad adoption of distributed/home working as a result of lockdown has made the market less dependent on traditional commuter hubs and reduced the importance of proximity to major urban centres.

We foresee a return to stronger levels of demand for commercial assets during 2021. Institutional investors are starting to re-enter the market as a result of vaccines now becoming available and the path out of Covid becoming clearer. Liquidity is high, as are overall levels of confidence. A lot of investors have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for a greater degree of clarity about demand in the post-Covid world.

How do you foresee the strength of the London property market in the next year or so, in light of the current pandemic?

Overall, the London property market has been more affected by the pandemic than the other parts of the country. Initially, the withdrawal of overseas investors from the London property market hit demand hard with activity in Prime Central London dropping off altogether. The rental market – particularly demand for serviced accommodation and shared properties – HMO’s and Co-Living – were hit especially hard.

The upswing in activity following release from lockdown was less pronounced in London than the Shires with the strongest levels of demand being for quality housing in the outer zones of the city as well as nearby commuter towns. The Stamp Duty holiday has provided a significant boost with house hunters rushing to strike a deal and complete before the deadline.

We are also now starting to see a nascent recovery in the Prime Central London market. As this normally precedes market activity more generally, our expectation is that the London market will recover strongly during 2021.

How are your clients able to influence the design of their new-build home to reflect the way they want to live their lives?

The design of our homes and schemes is driven by the needs of our buyers. We believe that the home is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. It’s a sacred space that should reflect people’s life goals and aspirations and be designed around the way they live their lives.

Unlike the cookie-cutter houses stamped out by PLC housebuilders, each MELT Homes property is unique and different to its neighours’. We build on this by offering a high degree of customisation to customers if they reserve their property early enough in the build programme.

Clients have the option of adding their own style to our homes with the opportunity to choose the kitchen, floor, and wall finishes to suit their tastes. We aim to improve the quality of our customers’ lives through the innovative use of design and work with our buyers to achieve homes that deliver this.

Lime GroveLime Grove from MELT Property

You have a particular interest in using innovative tech in your builds to achieve sustainability for the future – is this the way forward?

With global warming being a significant concern for current and future generations, we believe that developers have a responsibility to deliver schemes that have a positive impact on the environment. We are aiming to make two projects that we are currently working on carbon offsetting and energy positive i.e. sustainably generating more energy than they require and feeding it back into the grid.

Customers have an increasing awareness of environmental issues and this is driving demand for sustainable homes which integrate with other sustainably lifestyle choices such as electric cars. Electric car charging point capability and integration of vehicles with the home’s energy system are becoming more important.

What is the most exciting tech solution you’ve seen in the new build sector recently?

The holy grail of sustainability is the combination of ground source heating and battery technology supported by sustainable energy generation technologies such as thermal photovoltaic solar panels (PV-T), hydroelectric or wind power. PV-T works by running cold water over solar panel to cool them – they work more efficiently at lower temperatures.

The hot water generated by this is used for hot water and the electricity can be used to power the ground source heating system. When combined with a home battery like the Tesla Powerwall, a property can become independent from the grid. Excess electricity generated during the day can be stored by the battery so it can be used when demand is high or at night when no electricity is being generated.

Ground source heating works by taking excess heat from the ground, thereby delivering a highly efficient, renewable energy source that reduces carbon output by as much as 70%.

And what’s next on the horizon to achieve greater sustainability and eco-friendly systems in the homes we live in?

We will see the wider use of technologies like mixed-mode heating and cooling which move air around buildings and use air from outside the buildings to run heating and cooling systems more efficiently. On-site energy generation, water reuse systems and zero waste projects – where nothing is taken off site – are where we will be going next.

Ground source heating can be run in reverse to deliver energy-efficient cooling during the summer – effectively using the ground as a huge heat sink in summer and then taking the heat back out again in winter. As modular construction begins to standardise, production levels increase and costs start to come down, we will also see faster and more sustainable homes delivered using off-site construction.

Your latest project is an eco-friendly development in Gloucestershire, tell us more!

Lime Grove is one of our current projects. It is being built in the grounds of a former local school in Tuffley, Gloucester. Before we bought it, the Victorian former school building stood empty for a number of years and was in dire need of being repurposed.

The existing structure of the school building is being protected and preserved but will benefit from a 21st-century makeover. It will contain seven stunning two-and three-bedroom apartments. In tribute to the building’s history, we have named these the ‘School House Apartments’.

In addition to the apartments, we are building 12 contemporary family homes, built using timber frame; one of the most sustainable building materials available. All of the properties at the development are heated and have hot water generated using ground source heating, so running costs are low and they are very environmentally friendly.

We have just opened the show home, where interested buyers can learn more about the 19 homes.

Are you offering any incentives such as Help To Buy at the development?

Yes, Help to Buy is available on all of the plots at the development. Prices start from £210,000.

And finally, what’s next for MELT in the next 12 months?

A key priority for our team is the completion of Lime Grove as well as another 12 unit development we currently have on site elsewhere in Gloucestershire. We have also recently submitted a planning application for a circa 100,000-sq-ft mixed-use development in Kennington, London, SW9.

This development will consist of a 142-bed aparthotel, a café, co-working space, a car hire facility tenated by Europcar and eight affordable housing units. This supports Lambeth Borough in creating jobs and housing by welcoming innovative industries and community facilities to the area.

The scheme is a joint venture with a family investment office who have invested around £6million of equity in the project. We have also recently agreed a further £15million equity fund with the same family office and a leading European real estate equity fund to take on new projects we have in the pipeline.

We will shortly complete the acquisition of a large residential site in the Cotswold where we expect to deliver a highly sustainable scheme involving around 170 new homes in a combination of converted listed buildings and new build homes. We also expect to acquire a number of new aparthotel-related projects in the next 12 months.

Finally, we are shortly planning to launch an investment bond which will allow smaller investors to invest in our projects; more about this will be revealed in the next few months.

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