Opto Property Group Brings Build to Rent and Destination Living to New Builds

Posted 20 March 2019 by Lizzie Leigh

WhatHouse? speaks exclusively to Matt Day, development director of Opto Property Group…

Matt Day, Development Director of Opto Property Group, tells us how the Opto Property Group delivers property solutions from student accommodation to care homes, in a wide range of geographical locations.

 

1. Please tell us about your role and your main responsibilities at Opto Property Group.

The role is all encompassing taking each and every project from cradle to grave. From development appraisals, site acquisition and obtaining planning permission through to procurement strategy, tendering, sub-contract appointments and finally handing over to Opto Living, who are our in-house Facility Management division.

I oversee all core departments – Technical, Commercial and Construction – where we have a small, close knit and talented team, all contributing to the successes of every scheme.

 

2. How do you feel OPG differs from other UK housebuilding companies?

Typically our sites are on brownfield and focused on regions, including university cities and towns, where typically there has been less competition.

Our expertise lies in acquiring challenging sites that many other developers would not touch. We use our flexible and innovative approach to transform these sites into viable and deliverable developments, often having to re-negotiate our way through the challenging planning process to ensure the scheme meets occupier needs and our profitability aspirations. We primarily self-deliver, but are flexible and happy to work in joint venture, tailoring the partnering of sites to suit the needs of stakeholders and investors to increase their returns.

We are a hands-on, creative and design-led company with keen attention to detail throughout the life of the project. Whilst many of our schemes sit at the affordable end of the market, it makes our team approach every scheme with innovation and dedication to the highest quality. We are relentless in our desire to please our occupiers, to fend off the competition that the student accommodation and private rental sector (PRS) market brings, and we are never afraid to make late design changes if we feel it improves our product or occupiers experience.

 

3. Does OPG work across different sectors within the industry? 

Since our inception we have primarily delivered student accommodation and PRS residential developments together with fast track fit outs for a gym franchise. We have planning consent for a Care Home on the South Coast, a 235-bedroom hotel in Bedfordshire and Student Accommodation scheme in Cardiff, so we not only deliver schemes in many sectors but also many geographic locations!


4. How does OPG consider the impact of new schemes and look to engage with local communities?

It is inevitable that new large-scale developments will not be welcomed with open arms from certain parts of the community. Prior to every project, we engage closely with local authorities to agree a suitable construction methodology that causes minimal impact to local residents and businesses. We also put a lot of thought into safely elements such as managing passing pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

From ecology, heritage, archaeology, transport and environmental matters to name a few, Opto Property Group looks to engage with many external stakeholders to the project via our talented team of specialist consultants, to ensure all parties affected by the development have their wishes respected.

The foundation of many our successes has been the result of employing local labour and also ensuring our sub-contracted supply chain demonstrates they are committed to doing the same. As part of our membership with the Considerate Constructors Scheme, each project is registered, monitored and scored, with a concerted effort on how well we score in the ‘Respect the Community’ section.

 

5. What are the most exciting developments you are working on in 2019?

In Newcastle, we are currently developing ‘Opto Student Newcastle’, a collection of 227 self-contained studios set with wonderful views of the River Tyne and within walking distance of the city centre and student campuses. With 20 room types within the scheme to choose from, fantastic interior design, a gym, cinema, roof terraces and social outbuilding we are excited to welcome students for the September 2019 intake!

At the time of writing, we are in the process of handing over 54 residential apartments at New Bedford House in Luton. Consisting of a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments set within a short walk to the town centre, Luton train station and a five-minute drive to Luton airport, it will appeal to residents who work locally or wish to commute into London. All units come with a 12-year NHBC warranty and the building will be fully managed by Opto Living.

With the competitive nature of securing prime development sites, we are fortunate to be working hard behind the scenes on 4 large residential development sites that have been acquired. Each of the sites boasts town or city centre locations and already have planning consent. We hope to commence at least 2 of these in Q3 2019 and grow our team to support the increased workload that 2019 and beyond will bring.

 

6. Is there a typical 'type' of buyer these homes are likely to appeal to?

Our range of developments have been designed specifically for the Built to Rent sector. Our projects appeal to individual landlords, institutional investors and recently we have seen a larger proportion of overseas buyers who have taken advantage of the current favourable exchange rates available in light of the decline of the strength on the pound.

Our offering provides investors will a high-quality property investment, often delivered with a long warranty, providing buyers with the peace-of-mind that they are not only adding high-quality housing to the market, but also making a positive impact on the rental market.


6. Do you see any particular lifestyle trends becoming more popular within your residential schemes?

Renting is a popular option for many people and we have found that new build PRS have adapted to suit end-users who want more than just a place to live.

Our latest residential project Imperial Square is an example of how the UK’s housing sector is changing. The development comprises one and two bedroom apartments which have been designed to maximise space and light.

What’s interesting about this development, and what will help it to stand out on the local market in Luton, is the array of on-site facilities the resident will have access to. We have created a lot of outdoor space with ample seating in a large communal courtyard; this level of private outdoor space is unusual for new-build projects.

The interior facilities include a club lounge, a cinema room and a private dining room which will allow residents to host larger groups of friends. There is a concierge – ideal for parcel deliveries – 24/7 CCTV and a secure fob lock and video entry system. The build also has bike storage and an underground car park.

Alongside these great facilities within the building, there are three commercial units on the ground floor which have been earmarked for a gym, coffee shop and convenience store.

Imperial Square is a reflection of what we like to call ‘destination living’ where residents have pretty much all they need under one roof.

As developers like Opto Property Group strive to deliver higher quality housing across the UK, I think we will find that new builds will start offering better facilities for end-users.

 

7. Are there certain areas of the market outperforming others at the moment?

It is no secret that there is a housing shortage across the country and as a construction company, we take pride in delivering new build properties across a range of different sectors.

The overall strength of the UK’s property market has meant we have been able to branch out into different types of property sectors including the purpose-built student accommodation market, the Build to Rent sector, commercial property and we have a hotel in our current project pipeline.

Demand for housing across the UK remains strong and it is part of our job to deliver new build properties to the housing market.

Purpose-built student accommodation allows us to design student-centric properties which appeal to this young and dynamic demographic. Through providing high-quality housing which is managed by a professional student property management company, we are helping to ease the strain on the local housing market by providing students with safe and secure rooms that enhance their university experience.

The Build to Rent market is another model which helps increase the overall housing supply. Individual investors help to fund the build and are awarded with assured rental returns and strong growth potential - as they have purchased their unit with an off-plan discount. Each investor can sell their unit at any point after completion, which means first-time buyers and local residents will have access to a wider range of property on the market.  



8. Do you offer incentives to buyers?

Experience Invest is our exclusive marketing and sales agent and offers purchasers a selection of incentives to buyers who purchase off-plan units. Investors can benefit from an off-plan discount and assured rental returns on our latest residential offering, Imperial Square.


9. How is the property market performing in the areas you're working in?

So far, Opto Property Group has delivered around 800 purpose-built student rooms across three projects in Luton. These developments are in the town centre and are walking distance from the University of Bedfordshire.

There was a real need for student housing in Luton and the developments we have delivered are a safe and secure option for students. Our operator, Opto Living, continuously reports over 90% occupancy rates year-on-year and the feedback we have received from parents and students has been very positive.

Luton is in an ideal location for development and property investment. The town is currently benefitting from over £1.5bn worth of private investment which is set to create around 18,500 new jobs locally over the next 20 years. This investment - and the town’s close proximity to London - makes it an ideal choice for investment.

An influx of new jobs and its appeal as a commuter hotspot has helped to underpin house prices and rental returns.

In our experience, we have found that towns and cities with a thriving student population often offer developers opportunities within the local property market. Opto Student Newcastle – a project which is currently under construction – has almost sold out and our research has shown that our upcoming project Cardiff will tick the right boxes for investors.

 

10. What are your predictions for the UK housing market over the next 12 months?  

In light of the current political situation, all eyes have been on the UK’s property market and the construction industry. The current on-going uncertainly surrounding Brexit has not dampened the appetite for new build housing across the country, however. What is also interesting is that demand remains strong across a variety of sectors.

Over the next 12 months, we expect there to be house price and rental growth - albeit at a slower pace than what we have come to expect. Regional property markets have performed very well recently and property investors may switch their attention to locations outside of London to secure stronger returns.

With the government’s attention mainly directed towards Brexit, I don’t think that the current shortage of housing will be addressed any time soon. Private developers like Opto Property Group will have their work cut out to deliver new build properties to help ease the shortage.

 

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