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The Lasting Effect Of Covid On The London Homes Market

Posted 29 June 2021 by Keith Osborne

Lauren Atkins of The Malins Group talks about the long-term changes as a result of home-working and creating ‘local retail’...

We talk to Lauren Atkins, managing director of The Malins Group, about the future of high streets being weighted towards residential and how the need for space to work from home led to a complete redesign of a Greenwich development.

Lauren, you’re now managing director of The Malins Group, how did it all start for you?

Thirteen years ago, I was running SMB applications sales for the software company Oracle. I then had my daughter Bella and made the decision to join our family business. My father started the business in 1974 from absolute grass roots, so I felt a huge responsibility and determination to ensure that my tenure mirrored his successes. In 12 years, I have grown our retained Malins investment division by 150% to a value of over £100million through acquisition, development and regeneration. The Malins development division has consistently brought to market for sale, desirable and creative developments, that have exceeded market and financial expectations.

Many of your developments have fascinating historical links to them, do you have a particular interest in architectural history?

Yes I do. Our development division has built a strong reputation over the years for the conversion of buildings with an interesting history. While I have a passion for period architecture, design and beautiful buildings, I am a businesswoman first and foremost. I recognised that buildings with heritage, that are thoughtfully constructed with their heritage at the forefront of our design, are far more desirable in the sales market. If I am constructing to sell then I want our buyers to be thrilled with the end product and recognise that a huge pool of experience and passion has gone into their creation.

You’ve previously regenerated small retail destinations in the Home Counties and along the South Coast; what’s the future of high street retail, do you think?

Our investment division retains a portfolio of mixed-asset classes; ranging from residential blocks, mixed-use blocks, office parks, industrial parks and retail. Local retail has always performed very well for me and I have invested heavily in the regeneration of local shopping areas over the past five years, supported by increased residential massing. Covid has sped up the natural course of events for high street retail. I believe that local retail will thrive and become even more desirable, with local communities supporting these businesses. Larger high streets will evolve into a different offering, weighted towards residential, hospitality and thus the creation of more ‘local retail’ in these newly formed hubs. I feel that there will still be a small market for large-scale destination shopping but we are already seeing that online retail will dominate shopping trends.

What are the future trends and influences that you see emerging in architectural design in London?

The pandemic will have a lasting effect on the kind of homes people will want to live in London. The demand will continue for private outdoor space, a balcony or terrace, plus well designed and landscaped communal gardens. The need for a place to work from home will also dictate design, whether this is a space within an apartment or a communal place within the building where people can work. The housing crisis means that we will continue to need density which could be provided by mansion-style blocks of four to six storeys, rather than high-rise. Many of London’s smartest areas have beautifully designed Edwardian and Art Deco mansion flats, which have stood the test of time, with lovely communal gardens and leisure facilities.

Swanne HouseSwanne House

You’ve recently launched Swanne House in Greenwich, converting former police accommodation into 21 apartments; tell us more!

Swanne House is a stylish warehouse style block of 21 apartments converted from former police staff accommodation which had stood empty for some years in the West Greenwich conservation area. It has been a major success story for us. It sold out within a month!

The response has been phenomenal and we are thrilled that all the apartments have been reserved by owner-occupiers, mainly local people. We launched on the day the lockdown ended and had sold 50% within five hours. The first to sell were three-bedroom apartments because buyers want home work space. We redesigned the configuration of the building as a result of the pandemic, reducing the number from 29 to 21 flats, providing three bedrooms to create home working space and access to private gardens, plus four ground floor one-bedroom suites with outdoor space.

What’s your prediction for the London property market in the next 12 months?

The difficulties that I see in the property market for the next 12 months are the knock-on effects from the issues caused by Covid, Brexit and increased bureaucracy. While we have had huge success with the sales of Swanne House, and indeed the rental of all units that we built over the last 18 months; the planning system is simply in disarray. Planning departments can be archaic at the best of times and now have such a huge backlog that the ability to obtain a planning permission or even the discharge of planning conditions simply has no timescale. I ‘celebrated’ my one-year anniversary last month for a residential planning application, that should have been determined within 12 weeks, yet it has been stuck in one borough’s system.

The current heat of the market has been heightened by the Stamp Duty concessions that are due to come to an end. However, I believe that the market for the sale of homes will remain high for excellent products. While the government has tried to simplify the planning system with various reforms, the headlines do not mirror the reality. With the significant increase in the price of materials and thus build costs, there needs to be a correction in land values to compensate. I would approach commercial property in London cautiously. The extension to the moratorium on evictions to March 2022 is a blow to investors with large portfolios in London – and a puzzling decision from a Conservative government.

And finally, what’s next for The Malins Group?

I am mobilising my teams to start construction on three new sites of almost 100 units in the next six months, all of which will be rented and retained in my investment division. These consist of a double block of luxury residential apartments in Surrey, a large mixed-use residential and retail scheme in Hampshire and an office park, positioned to capture the office downsizer market post-covid. We have an excellent pipeline for the next couple of years and during this time I will be assessing the changes in legislation, build costs and the planning system. My heart has and will always be with the sympathetic conversion and design of beautiful buildings, but the ongoing growth of my investment division is certainly where my head is right now, together with capitalising further on our Registered Provider Malins Affordable Homes to extend our affordable investments.

 

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