Yorkshire’s House Builder of the Year shares the secrets of success and reveals why Hull is riding high. Sharon Dale reports.
The recession had a devastating impact on house builders and the panic that ensued drove many to cut costs and slash prices. Over in Hull, Beal Homes decided to do the exact opposite and the “keep calm and improve the quality” strategy paid off.
Chairman and managing director Richard Beal credits the counter-intuitive move with the company’s recent win at the Yorkshire Residential Property Awards, where it was crowned “House Builder of the Year 2016”.
“Our philosophy is putting the customers at the centre of the decision-making process so they can make their home as individual as possible and that was born from the recession,” says Richard, who has worked for the family firm since leaving school in 1988. “The market dropped off completely and the few buyers left had an enormous amount of choice. We wanted to make ourselves different from other developers who were trying to reduce costs by cutting back on ‘spec’.”
The emphasis at Beal is on offering quality and an extraordinary degree of choice. Buyers are allowed to change internal layouts, choose their own bathrooms, kitchens, tiles and floor coverings and opt for a range of upgrades.Beal’s investment in a purpose-built interior design showroom and three designers at its headquarters in Hessle impressed the Yorkshire Residential Property Award judges.
“We offer the same kind of choice on all our properties, whether it’s a one bedroom or a six bedroom and customers enjoy being invited to our selections lounge to personalise their home. They’ll sometimes spend all day there,” says Richard, who adds that offering this flexibility is more expensive and time-consuming but is made easier by having an in-house construction team.
Sales and Marketing Director Sue Waudby is certain that it’s worth sacrificing a small amount of profit for customer satisfaction: “People often complain that new homes have no character so allowing buyers to bespoke the interiors makes all the difference. They create their dream home, not a duplicate of the house next door.”
Along with loyal customers, there is a growing legion of “freshers”. It’s a nationwide trend fuelled by the promise of low maintenance, energy-efficient homes. In Beal’s case, the majority of buyers are from Hull and the surrounding areas.
“It is largely a local market. We do get people coming from outside but usually because they are moving here for work,” says Richard, who points out that those working in Leeds are missing a trick by not extending their property search to his part of the region. It’s an hour’s drive to Leeds and you get value for money in Hull. You can buy a terraced house from £50,000, though prices are rising and are set to see between five and six per cent annual growth by the end of the year. The market is buoyant, according to Beal, which aims to sell 200 new homes a year but will easily surpass that target thanks to a post-Brexit bounce.
“People were hesitant about buying before the vote but after it they went crazy. We were selling five homes a week before and after we were selling ten and sometimes 15,” says Richard, who has amassed a healthy land bank.
Plots, he says, are more readily available, thanks to local authorities and government releasing their own land for sale. He is now looking to buy further west towards Leeds and Harrogate, though no further than an hour away so he can “keep close control of the site”.
His most exciting scheme is a joint venture with Wykeland to redevelop Hull’s fashionable Fruit Market area into commercial units and 109 mews homes. It has attracted interest from all over the country and should be ready for occupation by the end of next year.
The interest from outside the city appears to be fuelled by Hull’s high profile preparations to be City of Culture 2017. “It has created a real buzz and a feel-good factor,” says Richard. “The city is often forgotten about because of its geography but being City of Culture next year appears to have put us on the map at last.”