Boutique Developer Brings New Homes to South-West London

Posted 30 May 2018 by Keith Osborne

We speak exclusively to Will Herrmann of West Eleven about The View, a new development coming to Battersea...

The founder of boutique developer West Eleven, Will Herrmann, tells us about the company, its projects and his invention of a new way for house-hunters to explore its new development in Battersea.

Where did your property career start?

I accidentally got into property at university. It was in those wonderful days when you could say you could afford it and the bank would give it to you, regardless of whether you were a penniless student or not. I was doing Mechanical Engineering at Bristol, needed somewhere to live and I found five bedsits. I bought them, turned them into a student house and lived there for free for two years. I made quite a lot of money out of it - probably still the best deal i ever did - and I got the bug!

I love building and I love deal-making, so it seemed like the perfect thing to do. Love it when someone tells me something is impossible, then I go and work out how to do it. Hence my love of awkward sites!

Is The View a ‘typical’ West Eleven development

When we look for sites, we look for something that somebody else has missed and we’re not in the business of land-banking – if we buy somewhere we’ve got to start adding value to it from the day we acquire it. The View is a case in point. Wandsworth Council identified a corner plot as a development site, retained it and then tried to sell it. They had a planning brief for nine flats, I went to have a look and thought they’d got it wrong. I got my architect along and we said,“We can do more here”. 

I went to the school next door and said we were going to be neighbours, we want to be the best we can, what do you really need. We’re building them a Sport England sports hall, changed the design of an area of the school building to make a flexible boundary, so it’s a sports hall for the school during the day, and in the evening the caretaker unlocks another set of doors to use it as an amenity for local people.

We negotiated with the council and in a first for Wandsworth, and I think a first in London, the affordable housing in our building has a priority for the teachers of the Harris Academy, as one of the biggest problems they face is retention of staff because of the cost of living in London.

We went back to the council and said we can do all this but it’s quite expensive so we’re going to need 15 storeys and 39 flats and they said yes, we can live with that. It’s our biggest project to date, and we’ve got another few things in the pipeline.

What’s special at The View?

On the 13th floor is a huge roof garden designed by Randle Siddeley, the Chelsea landscape architect, just shy of 3,000 sq ft with little zones, seating areas and sunbeds. It looks north across the park and it belongs to everybody, from affordable tenants to penthouse owners. 

Everybody in the building will get Zipcar membership as part of their purchase, there’ll be electric Zipcars in the building; they get cycle hire membership and there will be ‘Boris bikes’ in the building; and they get two years of taxi vouchers.

You’ve got a new way for potential buyers to explore The View - please tell us about it.

You have to get people to make an emotional connection with your building if you want them to buy, especially at a premium. I got a bit obsessed with Pokemon for a short time, the AR (augmented reality) side of it is amazing. At the same time we were spending a fortune on an architectural model that people have to come to you to see. I thought there must be a better way of doing this, perhaps our own AR and app. So we found some developers who wrote games for iPhones and they created it.

We’re the first people ever to put AR into the App Store. Search “The View AR” there and you’ll find our app and you can download it and interrogate our building in HD - and walk around a near-lifesize model. It effectively projects it onto the floor or table in front of you, to make it up to 18 feet high. It can show what it looks like day and night, expand it, look at it from many different angles, through the windows, stand on the roof terrace and look inside. Rather than look at the building in a linear way, through a brochure, we go to the bit we find exciting and it gives us more information about that part of it. The day of the brochure is probably coming to an end. 

This has a sister app, being created at the moment. You press a button to turn it into a wire frame and then you can select what you want to look at, for example, all the two-bedroom apartments, north-facing, above Level 8, under £1.5m – by selecting your criteria it will show what is still available, you can then go and look at the floorplan and CGIs, movie clips, talk by the architect on the concept behind the building – all accessible by interrogating the building rather than going through a brochure in a linear way.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I’m looking into operational businesses, I’m interested in the leisure sector, absolutely fascinated by co-living, Build to Rent-type offerings – I don’t think they’re right and I think there’s an opportunity in the market. There’s a project I’m working on with a few people where I think we can be a disruptor in the market. I don’t think Build to Rent sits very well with the British psyche of homeownership and I think that’s going to be a real barrier to Build to Rent growing. There’s a concept that, if we can make it work, we think will address quite a lot of those issues. And I want to be less London-centric.

 

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