One-on-one interview: Howard Phillips, PegasusLife

Posted 22 September 2016 by Keith Osborne

The attention this week is on the retirement property market as we speak to Howard Phillips, who is at the helm of a developer specialising in that sector...

This week’s exclusive interview with a senior figure from the UK housebuilding industry looks at a major player in the retirement homes sector and poses the questions for Howard Phillips, the chief executive of specialist housing providers PegasusLife.

Hi Howard, tell us a little about yourself and PegasusLife.

I’ve worked in the retirement sector for more than 36 years so I know it inside out. With PegasusLife, my goal is to make a step-change in the quality and availability of housing designed specifically for those over 55. I have felt for a long time that there is a real opportunity to make retirement living better.

Intelligent design, plenty of opportunity for people to socialise, with a strong focus on supporting health and wellbeing, all underpinned with an efficient, ethical approach to property management is central to what we do. We have over thirty sites at varying stages of progress, across the UK, with many more in the pipeline.

Do you have a standard offering for your buyers or do you offer something different at each development?

SteepletonEach and every development is unique and it’s one of the key things that set us apart from other age-exclusive developers. Everything, from architectural features, the design and layouts, through to the landscaping, is carefully planned to deliver exactly what is right for a particular location and the people who will want to live there.

Building developments ‘by numbers’ isn’t what we do: each development is thoughtfully designed with the local environment in mind and with lengthy consideration into what people would like their ideal home to look like, the services they require, and the social spaces needed to set our homes apart from any others.

We are working for sophisticated customers, who have a wide and varied mix in taste and aspiration: they know what they like and what they don’t like. Yet, when you look at the homes they are offered, there is very little choice available to them. It’s up to us to change that and offer a rich mix of homes in a variety of sought-after locations to capture the majority of people, who simply do not want a traditional “retirement home”. We’re here to widen people’s choice.

What has been the reaction so far from customers?

Each of our sites is so very different and yet, what is really heartening, is our customers ‘get’ that central idea. Our mission is to unpick everything that has gone before and make it better - the  way in which we deliver that is unique each time we design a development - for us that’s a real challenge but the customers like it.

Where else are you offering homes for sale right now?

We are selling across many sites at the moment. In Gloucestershire, we have one in the fabulous market town of Tetbury, one in the historic spa town of Cheltenham (with another to follow soon). There are three in or near Sandbanks in Poole. In Surrey we have sites in Purley and Woking. There’s a town centre development in Seaford in Sussex, a great site in the ever-popular Harpenden in Hertfordshire and in Sevenoaks in Kent we are transforming a historic country estate. Lichfield in Staffordshire and Wilmslow in Cheshire are also selling right now.

Chapter House in Lichfield is, in terms of services, one of the simplest developments we have: social spaces include a lounge, a guest suite and beautiful grounds. It offers a very relaxed and engaging environment, with extensive gardens that include raised beds and even an Orangery, where everyone can get involved and take care of the garden if they want to. This development has generated a great deal of excitement in the area and, with a completion date at the end of this year, we are already 65% reserved.

It’s a similar story in Purley, Surrey with Carriages and Hortsley in Seaford - in these two developments most customers have spoken about their desire to be within walking distance of a buzzing high street and with easy access to city life just as much as the countryside.

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding Wildernesse House in Sevenoaks, where we are renovating a beautiful period building, adding eight mews houses, 39 apartments as well as a wonderful restaurant, outstanding spa, health and wellbeing facilities. All of this set in a country estate dating back to the 14th century - we’re excited to be shaping its future.

Woodlands​I’ll briefly touch on two sites in Sandbanks, both of which will offer a very different experience. On the coast we have The Landing, a stunning structure that sits on the beach overlooking Brownsea Island. Floor-to-ceiling windows, large, expansive rooms with a view - an apartment at The Landing really is quite something. Woodlands is equally impressive sitting as it does in Canford Cliffs surrounded by lots of greenery, trees and garden space and beach life just a walk away through The Chines paths. A lounge, social kitchen and guest suite complete the shared spaces available at Woodlands.

How have standards and customer expectations in your sector changed over PegasusLife's history?

I would like to think we are helping to shift aspirations and expectations - people deserve better. Not a week goes by without a newspaper article highlighting our ageing population and the dire lack of of homes that appeal to those over 55. People want more choice than is currently available. Many people want to downsize if they can find somewhere suited to their needs.

Of course, those needs can be different, so it’s up to us to deliver a range of developments that appeal to different types of people. One size does not fit all. We are talking about a particularly discerning market and one that is vibrant, varied, active and inspiring - our focus on design and service reflect that.

Is the UK retirement sector moving towards those in places like New Zealand, Australia and the USA?

There is still a lot of work to be done around perception in the UK: the term ‘retirement home’ still makes many people uncomfortable. What we are trying to do is get people to understand the lifestyle benefits that can be realised by living in a PegasusLife development.

Whilst there is a great deal to be learnt from the retirement sector in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, we’re really trying to create something unique to the UK market. The level of transparency we offer in terms of long leases, not-for-profit service charges and the removal of exit fees, have all been considered based on what is needed to shake up retirement living in the UK.

What do you consider PegasusLife's strongest USPs?

We’re building in brilliant, varied locations - whether that’s an estate like Wildernesse House, by the sea or in central London doesn’t matter - the breadth of choice is key.

We are offering an unparalleled level of transparency to our customers when it comes to property management: everyone who lives in a PegasusLife home becomes a shareholder of the management company running each development. That means that our customers can choose how their development is managed, which services are used and paid for - this gives people ownership, control and freedom. All of the service charges are set on a not-for-profit basis again giving our customers and their families a much higher level of assurance and comfort.

Great design is central to the PegasusLife philosophy. No two PegasusLife developments are the same. Each one is designed to reflect not only the character and personality of the local area but also that of the people we think will want to live there.

By working with many different architectural practices, it keeps everything fresh, avoids identikit design and it gives us the freedom to work with the most talented professionals based on who is right for a particular location. It’s a novel approach that helps create beautiful places for people to live in and ensures we build great homes for life.

The customer experience is so important to PegasusLife. Our starting point is always the people who will choose to live in our developments and considering what they will want to do there, how they want to live and so on. Not only does this help us decide what type and style of service might be appropriate, it helps us to create the right environment which includes our health and wellbeing services as well as the design elements that will help foster natural interactions between neighbours.

Our central idea is that everyone, irrespective of age, wants to live in a great place and share experiences with friends.

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