March 7, 2021

RDB-Design

Specialists in home design

London-Based New Development Expert Says Builders Need to Offer More

Jamie Lester is the founder of Jamie Lester Properties, a company he started in 2016...

Jamie Lester is the founder of Jamie Lester Properties, a company he started in 2016 that specializesin the sale and marketing of new-build homes in London and England’s Home Counties, which are just outside London.

Before starting his eponymous new development-focused firm, Mr. Lester, who was a finalist on the sixth season of the U.K.’s “The Apprentice,” created boutique brokerage Haus Properties.

The team at Jamie Lester Properties offers strategic sales and marketing advice to developers, ranging from brand building to marketing, public relations and sales.

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In 2018, under Jamie Lester Properties, Mr. Lester launched Bagel Factory, a mixed-use development in London’s Hackney, and Old Smokehouse, a mixed-use development on Fish Island in London.

We caught up with the 39-year-old Mr. Lester to discuss changing tastes in new development buyers, what builders outside London need to do to attract clients, and more.

Mansion Global: What kind of demand are you seeing both in London and in the Home Counties?

Jamie Lester: Covid has touched everyone in one sense or another. People have had to review how they live. In London, for example when you launch a new development, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms are the first to sell, and three-bedrooms are last to sell.

We’ve completely flipped that. I’ve got plenty of one-bedrooms and twos and threes are completely sold out. People are asking for more work-from-home space. It’s a big trend.

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MG: How is Covid-19 changing the way in which we need to build and design houses?

JL: Even for the one-bedrooms, people want homes that have space for a desk and room to work.

People 25 to35 years old have wanted to be in the city for the culture and to be part of their company’s culture, too. Living space was just not as important cause you were only there for a short time each day. They’d even share space.

Now Covid comes along, and everyone’s saying I didn’t sign up for sharing a kitchen table with three other people, or working on my bed cross-legged, or no outside space. This new demand we’re seeing is based on “where am I going to sleep, live and work?” It’s looking like it’s our new normal.

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However we get to live with this thing, there will likely be a mixed way we work. And the reality is that everyone loves flexibility and everyone loves the lack of a commute.

Developers are having to look long and hard about being able to tick these boxes that buyers want, which is the living experience. Today is very different to this time last year. People don’t want a mundane living experience. Developers need to offer more.

Outdoor space is an absolute must. Developer amenities will be really important, specifically to offer co-working spaces.

I think we’ve got to open the door to something really meaningful, so there is a community. WeWork did a really good job of creating a community. That will be seen more in buildings.

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MG: Will people move further afield?

JL: The commuter belt, within 45 minutes of London, is not new. But what you really need is to not be cookie cutter. If developers want to start attracting London money in suburban areas, they have to put something special together, which sometimes they do. There has to be that sizzle, that “wow” factor. It needs to be as sophisticated as in London.

MG: How has the second lockdown affected business?

JL: The word “uncertainty” kills markets. We’ve seen that with elections, Brexit and recessions. The uncertainty we’ve been sitting on for the last four years is Brexit, then there was a major wave of certainty when Boris came in. We saw an immediate, “let’s get on with our lives” activity. January and February didn’t let us down, but then March lockdown came. During that period people realized more than ever the desire to move up.

People were on the phone almost immediately, and it’s been like that ever since. The stamp duty holiday until the end of March, of course that’s helping move things along. Some people argue that we didn’t even need that. The property market is going crazy right now. I can’t see that ending. Money is so cheap. I know people are worried about the furlough scheme and unemployment. Yes, there will be redundancies and quite high unemployment, but I can’t see the housing market being affected. I think we’ve got a good year or two ahead of us.

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MG: How would you describe your dream home?

JL: Like the rest of the world, we’re reevaluating the way we live. I’m mid-process on a particular development property, where I would buy a bungalow and double it in size.

It’s gotta have the “wow” factor, and for me it’s gotta have water. But not coastal, because I like larger gardens, so it might be beside a lake, pond or river. I want to be secluded, with lots of glass so I’m always looking at that view of the water. I want a bit of land as well. I’ve got children and dogs, and I want my children to have really happy memories of the space, the way I had.

Then there’s the wow factor. I have a Harley-Davidson and I want to park it in the hallway, so when someone walks in, they see it. I also want a snooker room.

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MG: What does luxury mean to you?

JL: It’s got to be, for me, that wow factor. Whenever I go to take a development to market, if I can make that person raise their eyebrows or say, “wow,” that’s luxury.

Bagel Factory in Hackney was like that. There were probably five touch points where people were like, “wow, this is cool.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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