Evening Standard New Homes Awards 2020: top contenders for first-time buyer homes of the year include apartments with superfast broadband
After years of never having it so bad, now we have entered 2020 the future looks brighter for first-time buyers.
House prices have dropped, interest rates remain low and affordability has increased.
Right now in London, buying is roughly 10 per cent cheaper per month than renting, according to mortgage lender Halifax.
Indeed, affordability has increased to such an extent that some first-time buyers are skipping flats in favour of a modestly priced house.
Yet most young Londoners still face stark choices.
Usually, getting on the ladder boils down to either compromising on a cheaper location in the suburbs or squeezing into a smaller flat closer to the centre.
Some are joining forces with friends or family to make their money go further.
Others are taking on second jobs and working overtime in order to save a bigger deposit; they are going without holidays, cancelling their gym membership, walking or cycling to work, even growing their own vegetables.
Property developers are having to adapt, too, not just by dangling financial carrots, but delivering homes that genuinely meet buyers’ needs and offer design preferences, that chime with buyers’ aspirations and lifestyle and, above all, offer good value for money.
That is the challenge for builders. And the best have a chance to get deserved recognition by scooping a coveted Evening Standard New Homes Award.
What developers should be focusing on
The fundamental elements of a good living space should transcend the asking price of a property and apply as much to starter homes as to top-of-the-range luxury housing.
This not only requires attention to detail but imaginative thinking, too — going beyond the conventional and often taking inspiration from abroad.
For example, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, one project allows first-time buyers to choose from 29 house designs by different architectural studios.
Each house is built to a strict budget from a kit of prefabricated parts and takes just eight weeks to complete on site.
These homes are modestly sized but custom-designed, meaning buyers can put down roots for the longer term.
Smaller may be cheaper, but it doesn’t have to be inferior.
Successive London mayors have pledged an end to poorly designed “Hobbit” homes.
Since 2015, the minimum size of a new-build home in the UK has been 37sq m, though converted commercial buildings are exempt from this requirement.
“A lack of space,” according to a report by the Royal Institute of British Architects, “can compromise the basic lifestyle needs that many people take for granted, like enough space to store possessions, to exercise, to entertain friends. It can also have a profound knock-on effect on health, educational attainment, family relationships and social cohesion.”
From £295,000: flats at ATP Living at Kew Bridge, a Scandi-style development with the emphasis on maximising internal light and space
Rather than dumbing down starter homes, some forward-thinking developers are pushing the design boundaries.
Take APT Living at Kew Bridge, a scheme of sleek Scandi-style apartments in west London.
Externally, the glass-and-steel building could be mistaken for a modern office block, but internally the homes use intelligent space planning.
Working with architect MSMR, the developer is maximising space by minimising old ideas such as hallways.
Hallway-free interiors are largely open-plan, with full-height glazing, three metre-high ceilings, smart storage, multifunctional furniture, big views and the services that make life easier.
Internal Crittall windows act as room dividers and allow light to fall through the space.
Normally wasted space, say, above kitchen cupboards, is used for high-level open shelving.
There is built-in bench seating with concealed storage and a bespoke desk/dresser. Radiator-free apartments are comfort-cooled.
There is also an emphasis on well-designed shared amenities: a cinema room, podium gardens and roof terrace, a gym, games room and lounge, storage lockers, bike racks plus concierge — even four guest rooms for visiting friends and family, charged at £50 a night.
The flats are priced from £295,000. Call 020 3143 4888.
Such extras are valued by busy first-time buyers, many of whom want a complete lifestyle package, including refrigerated lockers for online food deliveries.
The Otto faces directly on to Hackney Downs and comprises 89 apartments in two pavilion buildings with decorative terracotta façades in mellow shades to reflect seasonal colour.
All flats have either a terrace or balcony. A communal roof garden links the two pavilions, and the tasteful and calming entrance lobby with its dark green polished plaster walls acts as bridge between the homes and the park.
Separate “wellness” rooms for yoga or Pilates sessions can be booked via the concierge, and basement storage space is available.
Prices from £490,000. Call Cushman & Wakefield on 020 3296 2222.
Get up to speed
These days, high-speed broadband is as crucial as hot running water for many buyers.
Developers who serve up technologically smart, fast-fibre flats for the digital age can gain an advantage.
More than two thirds of twentysomethings check the broadband speed before moving home, according to a survey by Rightmove.
Indeed, fast broadband is given higher priority than local transport links, nice neighbours, outside space or an extra bedroom.
From £625,000: new apartments with Hyperoptic broadband at London Square Bermondsey
Hyperoptic, a specialist company collaborating with more than 100 residential developers, provides fibre broadband that is up to 27 times faster than the typical speed in the UK.
Cables are laid direct to individual properties, rather than to a central distribution point, allowing a speed of 1Gbps, meaning a high definition movie can be downloaded in 60 seconds as opposed to an hour and 40 minutes.
London projects where Hyperoptic broadband is on offer include trendy Walthamstow Gateway, London Square Bermondsey and Abbeville Place, part of a village-like enclave close to Clapham Common which has 41 homes converted from a Thirties office building set in gated landscaped gardens.
Prices start at £425,000, with Help to Buy available. Call 020 8688 6552.
It’s on offer outside the capital, too.
Witham is midway between Colchester and Chelmsford in what estate agents like to call “rural Essex”. Lime Tree Place is a town centre scheme of 98 apartments priced from £170,000. Call 01376 510710. Trains to Liverpool Street station take 45 minutes.
‘I’m buying into an exciting future’
Connectivity is the key: Quincy Williams bought at The Residence in Nine Elms, Battersea
Superfast broadband was a key reason for Apple employee and first-time buyer Quincy Williams, 27, choosing a home at The Residence at Vauxhall.
The development of 324 flats in five blocks set around public gardens has been built on the site of a former Christie’s art storage warehouse, and sits right next to the new US Embassy, part of the born-again Nine Elms district wrapping around Battersea Power Station, where Apple is setting up a European headquarters.
Quincy was familiar with the area and excited by the large-scale regeneration, which includes two new Northern line stations.
“It’s a hugely exciting place to live, with a great future, and I wanted to be part of that future,” he says.
He will work at Apple’s new Battersea headquarters when it opens in 2021.
The Residence is one of the less expensive Nine Elms developments, and proves that it’s possible for young career professionals to buy into a fashionable Zone 1 location.
Quincy paid £840,000 for a two-bedroom apartment with balcony, full-height glazing and a smart hub that allows for audiovisual control and dimmable lighting.
He likes to jog in Battersea Park and makes regular use of the development’s facilities, including the 24-hour concierge, gym, media lounge, meeting suite and podium gardens.
“There’s quite a community of people who have bought their first home here,” he adds.
Prices start at £680,000. Call Bellway on 020 3092 9677.
Do you know a new home that deserves to be a winner?
For more information about the Evening Standard New Homes Awards and to find out about the different categories and how to nominate a new home, go to homesandproperty.co.uk/nha, call Avril on 01568 708163 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The closing date for entries is Friday, February 7.