Native Land’s prime resi development boss, responsible for overseeing some of PCL’s most successful new schemes, discusses how the firm is navigating the challenging conditions – and preparing for the future…
You joined Native Land in 2009, in the aftermath of the GFC; how does the current crisis compare in your opinion?
The GFC really shook the infrastructure of financial systems around the world and that had a significant impact on confidence. In 2009, you could see the market retreat because of uncertainty. We’re not seeing that response with this pandemic. Buyers remain very active and are willing to pay premium prices for the best quality homes, in the best locations. Since the start of the year, Native Land has sold 38 properties at four of our prime residential developments, with a combined sales value of more than £90m. This shows that, despite the crisis, there is real resilience in the market.
What the GFC did teach us is that in turbulent times,there is a flight to quality and demand for prime homes in key global cities rises. That will likely play out over the next 12-18 months and will help keep prime values stable.
You oversaw the Holland Park Villas project, which reached sell-out status during lockdown; what made the scheme such a hit with buyers, and what were the major challenges you faced along the way?
Holland Park Villas is an exceptional scheme that completed at the end of 2017. It was conceived to provide residents with privacy and seclusion, a community feel with multi-generational appeal, access to 12,000 sq ft of exceptional five-star amenities and thoughtfully designed living spaces. It was a unique development in a very desirable part of London.
Through its life span, it faced the GFC, two SDLT increases, the referendum vote and Covid-19. Our emphasis on exceptional design, attention to detail and outstanding amenities proved it could withstand these challenges and we were delighted to complete three sales during lockdown, including the sale of the final penthouse.
You were also involved in the Cheyne Terrace scheme in Chelsea, where apartments have continued to trade at premium levels on the resale market; what is the key to ensuring a scheme will maintain its appeal long after completion?
Native Land has a track record in delivering developments that stand the test of time. Part of this comes from choosing locations that will always hold a long-standing appeal and offer people the opportunity to experience London’s cultural scene from their doorstep. That, together with our commitment to meticulous design and tradition of quality, has ensured our schemes remain in-demand years after they launch.
The Coronavirus pandemic has driven a widely-reported shift in home and work priorities; are there any prime buyer trends that you think will have an enduring impact on residential development and buyer behaviour?
Prime buyers will always gravitate to the very best in class developments, more so during difficult economic times. But this year, as we have spent more time in our homes, it was inevitable that buyers would become more discerning. We’re seeing demand grow for propertiesthat provide a convenient home-working area, quality outdoor space, modern facilities and ventilation systems. Initially, we have seen an increased demand in periphery areas as people adjust to working from home however in the longer-term as businesses adjust and reopen, I anticipate central locations close to offices with modern quality design and amenity will become more popular, as will the desire to live in a community.
What effects, if any, do you think Brexit will have on the prime new-build property market in the coming years?
London is a world leading global city – a long established financial and cultural hub. So demand for property, especially those in the most appealing neighbourhoods that offer unique and considered design,will continue to be in demand. The more challenging consideration will be ensuring the availability of talented labour and quality materials through the transition. Native Land is fortunate in that we have some established relationships with UK suppliers and local craftsmanship, but the sector as a whole is quite dependent on European materials and labour.
You are currently leading on the development of TwentyFive in Marylebone; how has it been working with the Portman Estate, and have you changed any of the designs/strategy in light of Covid-19?
The Portman Estate has an exemplary management team who share our vision for creating exceptional places for people. TwentyFive is our first development on the Portman Estate and our newest development to come to market. The scheme has already sold 11 of its 25 apartments, together with two penthouses.
Fortunately, our development designs have not had to alter too much. For example, home offices, winter gardens and modern ventilation for every apartment were included from the outset. We are however considering further details like antimicrobial finishes and smart home systems.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in design, from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to Stiff + Trevillion; do you have any tips for collaborating successfully with top architects and designers?
We always commission top-tier designers with the ambition of setting new standards in luxury living. And our approach to design has meant that many of our developments have been recognised by numerous UK and international awards, including RIBA. We have been lucky to work with world-leading names and ultimately choose our design teams specifically for each development, and those who we believe have a true understanding of the area and project. To unlock the potential within a development, we have to consider the interplay between architecture, design and urban infrastructure. As with any relationship, collaboration and understanding of each other’s goals and visions is vital for a successful partnership.
Holland Park Villas in particular offered a wide range of residents’ amenities; how much of a part do these facilities play in buying decisions, and how do you decide which features to put in?
Resident facilities and amenities are key to a buyer’s decision. We strive to deliver the ‘above and beyond’ of what is expected of a residential development and our offer is more aligned with a boutique hotel. When considering amenities for each scheme, we first map out the lifestyle of potential buyers, how the spaces will be used and then design the facilities proportionate to the location and apartments on offer.
Holland Park Villas is an exceptional example of what residential amenities can deliver. Residents have access to a library, a climate-controlled wine cellar and the opportunity to entertain their guests in the private club room, hold meetings in the business suite or enjoy private screenings in the cinema. A 20-metre swimming pool with Jacuzzi is managed by the world leading health and wellness company BODYISM, while a gym, private studio for Pilates and yoga, and spa offer residents a wide range of training, treatments, and consultancy services.
Native Land notably used modular construction on Burlington Gate in Mayfair. Is offsite construction becoming the norm in many prime resi developments, and which other sustainability advances are you keeping an eye on?
Modular construction works well when the building design allows it. Technology and materials are advancing in this area and becoming more widely used,particularly in constrained sites. Though for many aspects, traditional methods remain the best option to convey the craftsmanship and detail that define ourbuildings.
Advances in sustainability is an incredibly important factor to ensure a buildings’ resilience while reducing its carbon footprint. For example, thermal performance materials reducing heat loss and passive cooling solutions for summer months are becoming more important to our industry and buildings. Another area that is advancing is waste and recycling solutions in the construction process.
After nearly 20 years focusing on the luxury sector, Native Land is starting to bring forward some bold mixed-used schemes, including Bankside Yards, and the revamp of South Kensington station; what is the thinking behind this shift, and will prime resicontinue to feature in the portfolio in the years to come?
Native Land has a track record for unlocking the potential in the most vibrant neighbourhoods in London, bringing forward high quality, timeless and versatile developments. And there has always been a mixed-use component to our schemes. If you take Neo Bankside, one of our first projects, it includes retail and restaurant units at the ground level. Going forwards, the shift will be towards a greater emphasis of the commercial elements in our developments. It’s really is an extension of the approach we have refined.
Since 2003, the business has learnt a lot in how to create lifestyles, and the role that amenity plays in creating places to live. Now we are applying that knowledge to workspaces, at a time when the design and provision of the office has become far more lifestyle led.
Residential-led schemes will absolutely continue to be a core part of what we do. One of our projects in planning is Kilmuir House in Belgravia, a super-prime residential development that will deliver 54 one-bed, two-bed and three-bed apartments, together with affordable homes and retail on the ground floor.
Native Land recently launched sales at its first project outside of London – New Eidyn in Edinburgh. Does the firm have its sights on any other regional or international markets?
Yes, we were thrilled to partner with Nuveen Real Estate to deliver New Eidyn, the residential element of the landmark development St. James Quarter, one of the UK’s largest and most significant regeneration projects. Nuveen has created a true lifestyle destination and during Q2, all 22 residences in the first phase were either sold or reserved. Our focus continues to be on developments that fit with our core brand so that could be future projects in London or further afield.
If you were in charge for the day, what one change would you make to improve the way the development/property market functions?
I would create more support for future generations to make their first step on the housing ladder. Policies need to underpin the pressing issue facing millennials and Gen Z in respect of access to the housing market.
Where would you personally buy tomorrow, given a budget of £10m?
There are so many places within London that have endless charm and appeal for different reasons but I particularly love Marylebone; it is such a great neighbourhood with so much going on, its steeped in history and the quaint cafés and shops have a fantastic village feel to them while being minutes from the convenience of West End.