Interview: Mark Hutton of Battersea Power Station Estates on selling a British icon

By PrimeResi Journal

PrimeResi meets the man in charge of resi sales and lettings at Battersea Power Station, to discuss life in-house at one of the biggest real estate developments in Europe...

PrimeResi meets the man in charge of resi sales and lettings at Battersea Power Station to discuss life in-house at one of the biggest real estate developments in Europe…

After stints at Savills and Winkworth, you spent six years at D&G; what are the major changes you’ve seen in the London property market over the last 15 years?

London has transformed well beyond expectations over the last 15 years and has undoubtedly earned its status as one of the most exciting and dynamic capital cities in the world. Most striking is the transformation of major parts of London that were previously overlooked yet, thanks to investment, are now seen as some of the most desirable locations in which to live, work and visit. The Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) area is a good example of this.

I’ve also noticed a change in buyer habits and requirements over the years, with purchasers increasingly seeking lateral homes in amenity-led, mixed-use developments.

How did the move to Battersea Power Station come about, and how does being in-house compare with your former agency roles?

The opportunity came up, as these things often do, by chance. A meeting with the then CEO led to an offer I quite simply couldn’t overlook. I had been involved in the Power Station as an agent and had already become quite taken with it so to have the chance to be a part of the team and to take on a position leading the Company’s own estate agency practice was a no-brainer. Since joining to head up BPS Estates, I have since taken on a new role as Head of Sales and Lettings and now oversee all sales, re-sales and lettings across the project which is incredibly exciting.

The opportunity came up, as these things often do, by chance

In terms of how it differs, when I was agency-side I was obviously handling numerous clients and projects across London. Now however, I am lucky enough to look after one very special project which happens to be one of the biggest real estate developments in Europe. It’s great to be able to give my undivided attention to one project and to be able to see the iconic building up-close every day, is just an added perk of the job!

Over £115m of sales have been achieved at the scheme in the last 12 months alone

How many resi units have been sold to date, and are there any details available on the next release?

We have sold nearly 90% of the homes we have released to the market. This includes nearly all of the first phase – Circus West – where a couple of penthouses remain. We anticipate marketing the remaining apartments in the Power Station closer to completion when buyers can truly appreciate the unrivalled views and unique setting.

In terms of new releases, our main focus now is on the third phase of the project which is the Gehry-designed set of buildings known as Prospect Place and the Foster + Partners scheme, Battersea Roof Gardens.

The launch of the first phase in 2013 was a roaring success, with 75% of the units sold in the first week; have subsequent sales been faster or stickier than initially anticipated?

After 30 years of decay and dereliction, when it finally came to selling those first apartments in Phase One (Circus West), the response was phenomenal. I don’t think any project in London had ever experience that kind of buzz and demand at launch. The subsequent launches that followed a year later were equally exciting and successful.

As we are nearly 90% sold, we haven’t needed to do any big launches in the last few year

As we are nearly 90% sold, we haven’t needed to do any big launches in the last few years so we can’t really compare like-for-like. However, we have continued to see strong levels of demand from purchasers in the UK and overseas and whilst policy changes like those made to Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) have undoubtedly affected the wider industry, we are pleased to be seeing a steady and consistently healthy rate of sales across the board.

Can you divulge the highest price (£psf/value) achieved to date?

I’m afraid we can’t disclose exact prices per sq ft however it’s no secret that Battersea Power Station has set new records for the location and we are pleased to say that the project continues to command a premium in this regard.

The scheme incorporates a broad range of architectural and interior styles across the different phases: do you have a favourite part of the development – or a particular residential unit?

It was a deliberate decision to bring in a range of architects who would deliver buildings with a distinct identity. We are lucky enough to have some of the world’s most renowned starchitects on board including Frank Gehry and Sir Norman Foster. For me personally, perhaps somewhat predictably I would have to say that my favourite part of the development has to be the Power Station itself. It is such an iconic building and I’m delighted to see it being restored to its full glory.

The Power Station is obviously an iconic – and very Instagrammable – building. How important is social media proving in the sales and marketing process? Which channels have been delivering the best results?

Social media has transformed the world of marketing. Fortunately we have one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the world at the heart of the project which lends itself well to Instagram and other social channels. We don’t tend to do a huge amount of overt marketing and prefer more organic ways of reaching people so Instagram and Facebook are great for us.

Many have wondered how the scheme is going to create a brand new community from scratch; how is this being achieved, and are you already getting a sense of it on the ground?

We have always been adamant that it’s about putting people first. We are creating a new neighbourhood and key to that has got to be putting people at the heart of it. We created a Community Charter right at the outset and still govern ourselves by that. The community that has developed in the first phase, Circus West, is testament to that.

You just need to spend an afternoon walk around here and you’ll see how close-knit this community is. We created an app for residents, helping them connect and get to know their neighbours. It’s amazing to see them using it to set up social clubs, arrange meet-ups and regularly get together in The Riverhouse, the residents’ clubhouse. One resident tells me she’s met more people living here in the last few months than she ever did in her Pimlico townhouse over the last ten years.

We also have a Community Choir which now has nearly 100 members of the community who meet regularly in our Village Hall and perform at notable events across the capital.

I think there is also a sense that everyone here is a pioneer in some way – the residents are incredibly proud to be the first people to live here. Similarly, the first shops, restaurants, bars and cafes, many of which are small independents, are equally proud and I think that also helps to unite them as being part of this community.

Anchor tenants don’t come much bigger or better than Apple; how much of a factor has this been for prospective residential buyers and tenants?

Apple’s decision to make Battersea Power Station its new London campus was a gamechanger for the area and is a major vote of confidence in the project. Having the biggest brand in the world taking half a million square feet of office space is a great endorsement.

We also recently let the remaining 40,000 square feet of office space in the Power Station to a business members club brand called No.18, so there will be a fantastic buzz of entrepreneurs and small businesses working alongside some of the brightest minds in the tech sector all under one roof.

Have any trends emerged amongst the buyers and tenants at the scheme so far? Is Brexit having any effect?

In terms of trends, we are seeing more interest from owner-occupiers as we get closer to completing. They are looking for a central London location and are attracted to the idea of living in or alongside this iconic building on the banks of the Thames and a stone’s throw away from Chelsea. We are also attracting lots of downsizers who are looking for a more practical living arrangement. They want the security, convenience and ease of a development like this and are also at a stage in life where they don’t want to compromise on location.

We also see interest from young families given the number of excellent schools in the vicinity. We are also seeing lots of buyers and tenants coming through from word-of-mouth recommendations which is testament to the quality of life that residents are experiencing here.

We are not seeing a significant impact from Brexit, although I don’t think any business is entirely immune

We are not seeing a significant impact from Brexit, although I don’t think any business is entirely immune. The biggest government-related issue for the residential sector has got to be the changes made to SDLT. That said, I’m encouraged by the strong levels of interest we continue to see, having achieved over £115m of sales in the last 12 months alone.

Is there a general consensus amongst the Malaysian backers around the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and how it will affect London – and long-term prospects for the scheme?

Our shareholders have always been, and remain, fully committed to the project. It is an incredibly prestigious and iconic project for them and they are proud to be securing the future of the Power Station for generations to come. Whilst economic and political uncertainty is not helpful for any business, our shareholders are as committed as ever and the project is fully funded.

Rob Tincknell announced his departure from BPSDC earlier this year, after a decade at the helm; what impact did he have on the project, and how has the senior management team been restructured?

The vision for the project has clearly been set and now the focus is on delivery. Simon Murphy, formerly CFO and Deputy CEO, took over as CEO earlier this year and is supported by a strong senior team across the business. We are now full steam ahead and it’s great to see the momentum growing.

How would you sum up the importance of the £9bn project to the capital; what impact is it having on Battersea and the wider area? 

Simon Murphy stepped up as CEO of BPSDC earlier this year, replacing Rob Tincknell

I don’t think people realise the true scale and significance of this project, which sat empty and derelict for 30 years because it was deemed impossible to redevelop – something we take great pride in proving wrong! As one of the biggest regeneration projects in Europe, its impact cannot be underestimated.

As well as creating an entirely new neighbourhood for London and bringing a formerly derelict brownfield site into public use for the first time ever, the project is also contributing in several major ways. It will deliver a £20bn boost to the British economy, create 20,000 new jobs, 18 acres of public space, a new six acre public park and nearly half a mile of open river frontage as well as providing a new Zone One London Underground Station. We are also contributing over £200m to fund the Northern Line Extension and we now have our own River Bus Pier, making this previously inaccessibly location a well-connected part of the capital.

How do you personally react to negative press reports about the scheme and the VNEB regeneration in general?

When you’re the largest regeneration project in Europe with a British icon at its centre, it’s only natural to be the subject of media attention and of course not all of it is going to be positive all of the time. It can be frustrating, particularly when reports are based on a lack of understanding, so we always encourage people to come down and see the progress for themselves, meet the residents and businesses who call this place home and hopefully they will leave with a much better impression and understanding of what’s really happening here.

By definition, off-plan buyers face a lengthy wait before they can get their hands on their new home; how do you best manage this process – and their expectations? 

Buyers purchasing off-plan generally recognise that there will be a significant period of time before they can move into their new home and this normally suits their circumstances or else they would be buying something that is already built.

However, we like to keep our purchasers updated and excited about their future home so we try to ensure they are kept informed. We tend to invite them along to events, for example the London Seafood Festival which we hosted here this summer and which attracted nearly 25,000 people over four days.

If you were in charge for the day, what’s the one change you’d make to current UK housing policy?

I would encourage the government to reconsider the current legislation around SDLT and the knock-on effects any changes to the policy will have for the city more broadly. Infrastructure contributions, inward investment and employment are all highly welcome, yet often under-appreciated benefits of investment in UK property and care is needed to ensure future policies do not make this a less attractive proposition.

Where and what would you personally buy tomorrow with an unlimited budget?

Aside from an apartment at Battersea Power Station (preferably the penthouse in the Power Station), I would one day love to live by the sea.

What’s the best piece of sales advice you’ve ever been given?

Follow your gut instinct – it is usually right.

What do you do to relax?

A relaxing weekend for me means quality time with the family, country walks, building bonfires with the kids and the odd bit of fishing.

A custom-built ‘Chimney Lift’ will travel 109 metres to the top of one of the reconstructed flues, transporting visitors to ‘one of the most unique viewing platforms in London’