17 May 2016

Quinn Estates expands into custom build homes

Mark Quinn
Quinn Estates
Quinn Estates expands into custom build homes

Enabled self build is a hybrid approach to custom build that takes the best of both worlds; the freedom that comes with self build paired with the hassle-free nature of buying a custom build serviced plot. Quinn Estates is part of a new wave of savvy developers capitalising on this popular route to home ownership, a journey that started with its 19-plot Hammill Park development in Sandwich, Kent.

“We’re a developer that really likes the self build approach,” says Mark Quinn, Director of Quinn Estates, “which fits with our appetite for sites that can be difficult from a planning or technical point of view. We feel that we’re pioneers of the enabled self build road and that’s brilliant for us.”

Routes to growth

Having purchased Hammill Park site during the recession Quinn Estate was well aware of the risk of building 19 high-spec homes in a depressed market. Instead, it looked into alternative models as a way of diversifying its business.

A few people approached the company with regards to buying single plots, so it decided to try self build as a route to market, with a serviced-plots model.This was before the term custom build was even coined.“It was a creative solution that ended up enabling us to bring on the whole site,” says Quinn, “and it was a massive learning curve that’s helped us develop a strategy for this model on future sites.”

Serviced solution

Based on its Hammill Park experiences, Quinn Estates’ model involves purchasers buying serviced plots with outline planning in place, but without entirely fixed house designs. “Instead, we’ve established a set of standards that give the buyer the freedom to build their own home, but within the parameters of this design code, which guarantees a benchmark across the site,” says Quinn.

Unusually, as part of the design process, purchasers are required to submit their plans to Quinn Estates prior to applying to the council, to ensure they’re adhering to the reserved matters, such as scale or the palette of materials. “This is not too prescriptive though, as it’s more to do with giving all the self builders across the site the security about what they can expect to see built around them,” adds Quinn.

“But we’ve a vested interest in approving these,” he adds, “as we want the site to progress smoothly. It also saves the self builder’s time as we can resolve any problem areas prior to submission. This process is key to our approach to place making as it provides a degree of cohesion to the site and ensures that we don’t end up with a single architecturally-questionable house that could let down the overall road.”

“Being able to design their own home in this way gives people an enormous sense of freedom, but at the same time a sense of security about what’s going to happen around them, which is the reassurance most people need,” he says.

Hammill Park

The first houses take shape at Hammill Park

Developer/purchaser relationship

The ethos that underlies Quinn’s self build activity is based on the concept that the developer/purchaser relationship is all about co-investing in the site. “Not only is this just in terms of the self builder’s time, efforts and dreams, but in the time and money we put into the site, too.

“We get an enormous sense of pride as we help the fledgling community bring forward the development, which you just don’t get on a conventional project,” says Quinn.

With regards to enabled self build customers, education is vital, as Quinn explains: “You’re working with people who’ve not typically done this before, so a bit of hand-holding goes a long way. This can be in terms of helping them get their finances in place – even if just in terms of directing them to sources of additional support or helping them gather as much information as they can about different options,” he says. This process also helps the company identify serious buyers who are willing to take on the challenge.

Solutions to success
Use a design code to give the site cohesion
Ask to see plans before submission to iron out any problems
Manage the risks of self builders failing to complete
Be careful when recommending a supply chain as you’re not actually endorsing them

Managing risk

Because of the complexity of bringing on a site of self build homes, Quinn Estates employs several mechanisms to manage the risks, such as ensuring a single point of contact to help with the smooth progress of the development. “This could be the sales co-ordinator at the start of the project, or a site director who’s on top of all the work going on across the site. These are crucial in facilitating a smooth build,” says Quinn.

In addition, there are contractual caveats in place that help balance risks, such as restrictions on the title, which means buyers have to build out within 18 months and then have a further six months to complete the landscaping. “We know that otherwise there’s a risk that people can put off the finishing details as they’ve run out of time, energy or money, and this isn’t fair on the other residents.”

The developer also established a contingency measure to ameliorate the problem of a self-builder having to withdraw from their project part way through their build, for whatever reason. Consequently, it retains the ability to return to site to tidy up the project, even going so far as wrapping it in a CGI representation of the finished house if need be, before it is returned to the market.

“The plan in this instance is to cross charge the costs back to the current owner, depending on the circumstances, but we’ve never had to implement this so far. It’s simply a means to ensure that everyone does what they’ve contracted to do, and that there’s a way out for them should the unforeseen happen. But having these measures in place means that it doesn’t impact any future sales for us or have a detrimental effect on the other people living close by who are satisfying the conditions of the development,” says Quinn.

Future growth

With all plots sold, Quinn Estates has consolidated its enabled self build offering, with additional schemes going through planning that will again include an element of serviced plots supported by a design code. These include a site in Canterbury, where Quinn is planning 100 holiday homes, a retirement village and 100 self build plots, as well as 20-unit site in Dover and an extension of the Hammill Park site.

“Although it’s still in informal consultations, the Canterbury site will be especially exciting from a design perspective, as it will have roads with permission for different dominant styles and materials. This concept is borrowed from large European custom build sites, which the planners were very keen on,” says Quinn. “The details aren’t yet finalised, but we envision five or six different phased zones with their own distinct styles, which will be unique for the UK.”

“The serviced-plots route has paid dividends for us,” says Quinn, “and  no-one else is really doing what we’re doing locally. It’s exciting to give people the opportunity to realise their dreams – the customers are so enthusiastic. Yes there are inherent risks within it due to the unknown, but it means that for us, as developers, we’re in a market of our own – where we’re not competing with a load of other people.”

“Diversifying has helped us extend our business model, which has also helped us spread the risk associated with being in just one aspect of business. And the councils love it as they see happy families at the end of the process – with custom build we’re a winner, the council’s a winner and the homeowner’s a winner.”

Editor’s comment

Quinn Estates’ response to the recession has generated a whole new business model to sit parallel with its core development business, which is allowing it to capitalise on opportunities and grow its business. But beyond this, it has tapped into the community equity and feel-good factor that comes from helping people to build their own homes. It should be a role model for SME developers across the country.


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