THE Brooklands development has just been highly commended in the Evening Standard award for Best Family Home Development.
The Places for People development gets twice the number of visitors coming through the doors of its marketing suite than at other similar sites in the city. So what makes it so successful?
Sales and Marketing Manager Tom Mahood believes Brooklands is bucking the trend now because it did so from the planning stage.
“Everyone says we’re different,” he said.
“Our entire business model is unique among house builders, in that we don’t ask people to ‘imagine what this will be like in five year’s time;’ when they come to Brooklands they’re buying a home in an area that has been beautifully landscaped in which the infrastructure is already in place.”
Tom is referring to the unusual policy operated by Places for People of building the infrastructure before the houses.
The school, landscaping, play area and meadows, are all in place and were so before people moved in. Often, developers will leave those elements until last, using the money from the first sales to finish the shared areas.
Tom said: “The standard model is to buy the land, build the houses, bolt on the infrastructure and then move on to the next site. Our whole philosophy is that we are here for the long term.
“We are long term owners of property on our developments, we retain a share in the future success of the communities we build.”
He says the evidence that this approach is valued by customers is clear from their comments when they visit the marketing suite and show homes on the development.
“To say that people’s reaction is ‘Wow!’ sounds like a terrible cliché but it is true,” he added.
“It’s easy for people to understand our vision, there’s no smoke and mirrors; we’re not about artist’s impressions because it’s all there for people to see.”
Tom and his team see the commercial benefit of creating a great place to live from the outset as they have sold a further ten houses in two weeks, a startling number in the current climate.
“We’re about creating communities and not just about building houses,” he said.
“Another difference of our approach is reflected in the various ways people can buy here, with a range of different tailored products to help people step onto the property ladder.”
The impact of this distinctive Places for People approach is not lost on other property professionals in the city.
Mark Johnson, a partner at Knight Frank Estate Agents, told the Citizen: “House building is a relatively simple process; building communities is rather harder.
“Many house builders are focused on short-term profits rather than on delivering homes within a community environment. Traditional British towns and villages are desirable because of the community feel and the local facilities which they offer such as schools, shops, public house etc, which allow people to mix and integrate.”
Mark added that it is this highly desirable community feel which allows Brooklands to rise above the competition.
He said: “Many modern developments miss elements of this which invariably stop people integrating. Add to this the Places for People approach of building what buyers want and you have a powerful model to not only build desirable homes but to build the towns and cities of the future.”
This formula is not unique to Brooklands, but is a philosophy which informs Places for People’s strategy everywhere according to Tom Mahood.
“Places for People take a long-term view, and once we have finished developing we stay and manage the place, offering a range of lifestyle services.”
Brooklands is currently in the first phase of 200 homes out of a final planned total of 2,500. That is a half a billion pound investment which is likely to generate two and a half times as much for the local economy over the same period, a staggeringly significant amount of money to the long term economic well-being of the city.
According to the most recent government survey into British Social Attitudes 86 per cent of Britons want to own their own home, and yet we are currently building fewer properties than at any time since 1923. The population statistics say we need about quarter of a million new homes a year and we are building at a rate of only one hundred thousand every twelve months.
This is an area where Milton Keynes as a city is performing well above national trends. It could be said to be Britain’s boom town, with the country’s highest annual population growth at almost one and a half per cent, and one of very few places where wages are outstripping the cost of living according to a recent Centre for Cities report.
People in work in the city are £23 a week better off in real terms than they were 12 months ago and with one of the highest proportions of private sector employment, almost four times that of the public sector, the economy is relatively well insulated against the impact of the government’s austerity measures.
The strength of Milton Keynes position in the housing sector is remarkable with the highest rate of growth in housing stock of anywhere in Britain with the exception of Peterborough.
Tom Mahood says the confidence generated by that level of economic performance combines with the seemingly timeless British love affair with home ownership. “The desire to own hasn’t changed but we’re picking up anecdotal evidence that the motivation is. In the later years of the last century particularly people often saw housing as investment.
“Buy a one bed property today and in two year’s time, take your profit and move up to three beds and so on, all the while thinking about how your money was growing.
“At places like Brooklands we’re seeing people who say, ‘If I can stretch to the bigger house now I can stay here for longer, put down roots and become part of a community.’
“It’s as if, all of a sudden, having a home is more important that seeing it as an investment.”
What Places for People are also finding is that new buyers are far more concerned about quality of finish, and layout than once they were.
“It’s a question of finding the right place, not just a place,” Tom said.
“At Brooklands we have a very wide range of properties in different styles and sizes, and people are arriving with a well-formed idea of what they want and they’re looking very closely at the level of workmanship.
“People like what they see and that’s why, in some ways, we are seeing demand outstrip supply.”
Places for People say they are constantly taking soundings on their developments to ensure that what they are designing meets and exceeds the needs of their customers.
They regularly hold sessions with residents asking them how they can further enhance their homes.
“For years this has been an industry where buyers got what developers chose to give them,” Tom added.
“It’s not like that anymore. Money is probably as hard-earned as it has ever been, and if the product isn’t right, people will walk away.
“We have to keep one step ahead and our objective is to give people a home that not only matches, but exceeds, their aspirations.”