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Smart home technology becoming more mainstream

Posted 3 August 2017 by Keith Osborne

Katherine McCullough of Merchant Land talks about her latest projects and the latest new homes trends...

With her company entering the mainstream from its roots in premium property, Katherine McCullough of Merchant Land looks at how the London property market is changing and how some features are becoming adopted from the high-end to mid-market new homes.

Hi Katherine, can you please tell us a little about yourself and Merchant Land

Merchant Land is a bespoke London-based developer that works on office, residential and retail schemes across London. We have a team of nine with expertise in investment, banking, planning, design, construction, sales and marketing.

I have worked in the property sector for two decades now, since graduating from Oxford University and joined Merchant Land in 2013. As head of the business as well as the development director, I lead a team of planners, designers and construction experts and am responsible for business development with a current focus on office, residential and retail in London.

It’s an extremely exciting time for Merchant Land; since our re-branding five years ago we are really starting to see everything fall into place and the results are starting to show.

What projects are you currently working on?

In the last 12 months, it has seen construction complete on OneTwentyFourW1 - a project of just 12 luxury apartments and penthouses in Seymour Place, Marylebone; in addition to work beginning on its Charlotte Street development – a mixed-use scheme and heritage asset of note; planning being progressed for a 22-storey site and office and retail offering, owned in EC3; and retail letting finalised at Gray’s Inn. Most recently, we have also secured a much bigger site in West London that will be a mix of office and retail units.

Is there one that is a particular personal favourite, and what is about it that really appeals to you?

We represent such a variety of schemes that it is impossible to pick a favourite. When our developments are in the planning and construction stages, this is the most exciting time but I also feel such a sense of pride once the developments have been completed. Each scheme has a unique appeal.

Is there something about your exterior/interior designs and spec that gives Merchant Land homes a USP?

At Merchant Land we always strive to bring the highest quality and specification to each of our developments to exceed that of the surrounding area. We also don’t offer optional extras in our homes, all of the necessities for modern living are applied to every unit within the development and no design and layout is repeated more than twice throughout the scheme to ensure variety exists. With boutique schemes, especially our smallest development, The Grays in Holborn, you can be more original with the design which we feel is important.

All projects aim for the highest sustainability ratings possible. The design of OneTwentyFourW1 is the most recent example of this with an environmentally aware build using sustainable materials. The development features a stunning replica Georgian façade to the front and a modern façade to the rear with large expanses of glass and a living wall. It prioritises legacy value and uses only traditional materials on the façade including solid stone window sills, Welsh slate on the roof, lead dormers and Portman stone.

How has the central London market been over the last 12 months, in light of Brexit and the general election?

The property market at present isn’t the most stable it has been but this hasn’t been entirely triggered by Brexit and the general election. In fact, I believe these events have just brought the market challenges to life and made them more acceptable to acknowledge and discuss. We have secured four large, high-value deals since the general election so it certainly has not been an inhibiting factor for us.

However, as a result of uncertainty in the market, we have taken a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to ensure we spend as much time as possible getting to know the market and potential buyers, increasing our focus on customer service.

We have even found that the market uncertainty has helped us to a degree, as we have secured some excellent sites over the past six to nine months due to reduced competition. We are certainly in a stronger buying position currently than we were a few years ago.

Are there new parts of London that are starting to compete with some of the established prime areas for demand for your type of new homes?

In terms of prime properties outside of the golden triangle, areas such as Fitzrovia, Marylebone, Covent Garden, Soho and parts of Holborn and Southbank are certainly starting to compete with the more established prime areas. Regents Park, Primrose Hill and Hampstead would also compete in terms of price points and clientele. However, Merchant Land’s product style has a very central London aesthetic so it is well suited to Fitzrovia, Marylebone and Holborn.  

Do buyers of premium homes like yours prefer to see the finished product, or do you see a lot of off-plan sales to secure the very best plots?

It completely depends on the buyer and value of the property, but we find that domestic buyers most often like to see the finished product, as do international buyers who are seeking a high-value, premium property. However, with lower value properties, buying off-plan is more common, particularly among Hong Kong buyers.

Is the sophisticated home technology we see in high-end homes these days often used to its potential?

Our developments offer integrated sound systems and home automation which we see a high demand for among modern buyers. However, it is important not to overdo it as the most technologically savvy buyers are likely to want to choose their own systems and devices. A simple yet high-specification home technology system is best to ensure it is used to its full potential.

Are there trends in premium homes that you can see making their way to the mainstream market over the next few years?

Merchant Land is working on mainstream as well as premium housing projects so this is a pertinent question, as we are looking to apply our boutique ethos across a range of price points without compromising on design flair. 

A few key trends that I can see making their way to the mainstream market include integrated technology, such as comfort cooling systems and programmable heating and lighting, as well as clever use of space and good resident facilities. Bedrooms and bathrooms within a more mainstream home should also be designed with a boutique hotel feel in mind, which includes minimising clutter and maximising storage to create a peaceful environment. 

Outside of the home itself, private and communal green spaces will become more common in mainstream homes and art and nature will be further utilised to promote a positive ethos throughout the wider building, not just inside the home. Porter and concierge services are also becoming increasingly popular and may soon be more evident in the mainstream market.

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