One-on-One Interview: Stephen Brazier, Aquinna Homes

January 2017

Our first exclusive interview of the year is with Stephen Brazier, managing director of South East-based housebuilder Aquinna Homes, who tells us what his company is working on and his thoughts on the year ahead in property.

Hi Stephen, please tell us a little about yourself and the company.

Aquinna Homes plc is a small housebuilder operating throughout London and the Home Counties. I founded the company in 2005, having previously been on the main board of Bovis Homes Group plc, responsible for growing all of their regions on a national basis. Previously I had learnt my trade at Taylor Wimpey, ending up as group managing director of the UK housing division. At Aquinna Homes, our aim continues to be focused on differentiating ourselves from the main-stream housebuilders, recognising that our customers are individuals. We pride ourselves on spending a significant amount of time challenging and designing our products both internally and externally; we achieve excellent feedback from our customers. This is what really drives us and spurs us on to do greater things in the future.

Our homes are very much focused on the aspirational market rather than the prime central London market, which is focused on investors and therefore very different. We sell by and large to ‘real people’, typically aspiring middle and upper managers and directors typically wanting to move up the housing ladder. We go to great lengths to install an excellent specification in our houses and endeavour always to exceed our customers’ expectations.

We are very keen to grow the company, reflecting both the strong demand for our homes and a desire to continue to develop our team of in-house Aquinna Homes specialist surveyors, engineers, designers, builders and marketing.

What developments are you currently selling?

We are currently selling luxury houses in Chiswick and New Malden and building on sites in Yarnton, Oxfordshire; West Malling, Kent; Tongham, Surrey; Crowthorne, Berkshire; Windsor, Berkshire; Chiswick, London and Farnham Common in Buckinghamshire.

Do you have a 'star' development that seems to be outperforming others and if so, what do you think makes it special?

All of our developments are treated equally. They all go through a very thorough review as to elevations, floor plans and internal specification. Indeed this can take many hours for each house type! This in my view makes a significant difference and allows us to truly differentiate ourselves from most of our competitors. We therefore do not have a ‘star’ development; I would go as far to say that all of our developments are ‘star’ developments!

2016 was an odd year politically - did you find it made a big difference to the property market in your region and do you think 2017 is likely to be more predictable?

2016 was indeed odd and perhaps continues to confound logic. Brexit, Trump and ongoing uncertainty in Europe have largely been set aside by UK housebuyers, partially reflecting the substantial undersupply of homes in the UK. Most of our product is aimed at the aspirational market rather than the very top end, which has suffered to a greater extent although more associated with the ramifications of higher stamp duty than Brexit per se.

2017 will undoubtedly contain further uncertainties both in the context of Brexit negotiations, but perhaps also with the wider Europe and US implications of different political agendas.

For our part, our focus is to continue to deliver excellent quality homes into our marketplace where we continue to believe we will be able to attract customers even in a tougher market place, largely reflecting our different approach.

Is Help to Buy a popular option with your buyers, and do many of them know much about it before they come to you?

Help to Buy continues to be a major fillip to the market. It is a huge point of differentiation for new homes over second hand and allows many customers to buy houses further up the housing ladder than they might otherwise have been able to. It has helped many thousands of customers in an environment where wages have been largely stagnant for many years, and therefore fulfilled many peoples dreams of owning their own home. I would go as far as to say it is the single most important government initiative to help the new homes industry in a generation.

Do many house-hunters come to you determined to buy new build, or is there an element of persuading most of them about the benefits of new homes?

Some customers are very focused on the benefit of new homes, having researched the market in advance and understood the major benefits of owning an energy-efficient, low-maintenance new home. The new build NHBC 10 Year Warranty also provides significant comfort to purchasers that they will be supported in the event of the need for any repairs to their home.

You were recently named at Fast Track 100 company - what differentiates Aquinna Homes from the competition?

We were very pleased to be named in the Fast Track 100 Awards. This reflects many years’ hard work by the team in growing and seizing new opportunities thereby allowing the company to grow. It is important to us to be recognised as a growing company both for our team, as it allows for internal promotions, and to provide comfort to our customers that we are an exciting brand further establishing our reputation in our target geographical market places.

What's in the development pipeline from you in 2017?

We have many new developments in the pipeline including sites under option which will allow us to grow the business in the future. We have ambitions to add another region in the next few years to ensure that we are able to benefit from full coverage of London and the South East, and to ensure our brand and reputation for quality is further recognised. As always, we rely on continued support from our extensive base of funders, partners, sub-contractors, suppliers and consultants, all of whom are an extended part of the Aquinna Homes plc team.