With the first phase well under way and residents already moving in, Karen Curtin, Managing Director of Graven Hill Village Development Company, talks through the process of finding and buying a plot at Graven Hill.
Interview with Karen Curtin
Karen Curtin has been in post as Managing Director on a permanent basis since July 2017. When we spoke with her predecessor, Philip Singleton, the first plots were being prepared for release and he gave an overview of the opportunities available and the vision for the scheme. Since then the site has been taking shape with plenty of landscaping, infrastructure going in and the first homes already completed and occupied.
The current masterplan is for 1741 units, with 30% being affordable housing. So far they have sold around 100 of their “Golden Brick” self build plots, 50 affordable housing plots and 30 of their custom product.
Inspiration for the Plot Shop came from the Netherlands
While Graven Hill is a pioneering development in the UK, similar schemes exist elsewhere in the world, most noticeably Almere in the Netherlands. Inspiration for the Plot Shop came from there, with the idea being it could be an information hub providing details about the different products available and offering hints and tips about how to build a home.
The Graven Hill Plot Shop is currently based in Bicester, a short drive away from the development. With so much building work going on there it has been important to consider the health and safety implications of members of the public visiting, but they plan to move the shop to the site once it is safe to do so.
Monthly tours to the site are provided so people can get a feel of what it's about and see the areas that have plots and houses for sale.
At the Plot Shop a floor map shows all of the residential plots that are for sale, colour-coded to indicate the size and whether they are allocated for Golden Brick or custom projects. The map shows the plot locations (with some locations having different design flexibilities in terms of getting planning compliance within 28 days), notional house types with the number of bedrooms possible, the size of the plot and the maximum gross internal area.
The sales team are able to tell you what the foundation type is for any given plot and provide a land price, but not advise how much the Golden Brick will actually cost. Until they know what the building design will be they won't have the structural calculations to know how much it will cost to support the structure. Not knowing the Golden Brick price on reservation can be challenging for buyers, but the team are working on a product where they can offer a combined price for land, Golden Brick and superstructure.
Golden Bricks are sold as serviced pieces of land
Often an expensive element of building from scratch can be connecting the utilities to the site. At Graven Hill the services are delivered to the edge of the boundary where they can be brought into the property as required. Also included in the purchase of the land is the foundation for the design, the warranty and insurances, with the added benefit of having no VAT to pay.
In order to streamline the planning process, purchasers are provided with a Plot Passport which lists the freedoms and constraints of the plot design. If the design is compliant, planning permission can be guaranteed within 28 days. Projects which don't fulfill the Plot Passport criteria are allocated a Delivery Liaison Manager to offer advice and navigate the process through the reserved matters route.
A beautiful village community of like-minded people
Key to the success of the development is making a community where people want to live. The site has areas of mature woodland which are being retained along with plenty of green open spaces.
On the village green will be a pub and there will be a school opening in 2020/21. There will be a retail area which might have a supermarket, coffee shop, health provision and smaller offices, and in Phase 2 there will be a million square feet of commercial space made available.
Customers need to be fully educated about how the process works
Part of the job of the sales team at the Plot Shop is to ensure that customers are fully educated about the process before making the purchase. They usually work with purchasers for around four to eight weeks getting them ready to be able to buy a Golden Brick plot. This will include making sure they are financially qualified and have engaged with suppliers to fully know what they're doing, how much it's going to cost, and the timescales in which things take place.
Timescales are of great importance
Once a plot has been reserved a purchaser has seven months to get to the position where they can exchange, then four to eight weeks before the foundation is delivered, and a further two years to complete the build.
The timescales are important to ensure that people aren't continually living amongst building sites, with plots only being released in phases to ensure projects are moving along at a similar pace.
“The important thing for me is that I want people to come and live on Graven Hill and know that whilst they are like-minded people building their own houses, wanting to live on a unique community such as Graven Hill, there is a point where you want to be able to sit in your garden, have a glass of wine, look at the hillside and not see cranes and not hear people doing brickwork or landscaping work. So, that importance for me is about bringing that phasing on at the right space and time.”
Experience from Phase 1 will feed into Phase 2 design
When it comes to delivering Phase 2, careful consideration will be given as to what has sold well and been most popular in Phase 1. So far the plots that have sold best have been the larger plots and also the one and two bedroom plots, with the three bedroom ones being a bit slower to go. Everything learnt from the pioneers, Phase 1A and 1B, will feed into probably delivering an altered masterplan for Phase 2.
Financial advice is available
Like other developers, all of the finished products are eligible for the Help to Buy scheme. Karen says they are also lobbying the government to consider a Help to Build fund for people wanting to build their own house.
Graven Hill have been working with BuildStore to make sure there's a lender panel available there, along with independent financial consultants who can give advice. BuildStore also oversee the financial qualification process. This checks that if you're a cash buyer you have the money to go forward with the transaction, or if you need to get a mortgage then you have to have a decision in principle, to ensure you have the funds to not only buy the land and the Golden Brick, but also complete the build.
Health and safety on site has been one of the biggest challenges
On a traditional site, members of the public are kept away until the houses are ready and can be moved into. With houses here working to different schedules and owners being responsible for their own plots, there has had to be a very strong health and safety presence.
“It’s one of the most important things to me because in order for a site like this to work, everybody’s got to comply. That’s from wearing PPE to driving around the site at the right speed limits, making sure they book their deliveries because what we don’t want is three or four cranes on site at the same time.”
More whistles and bells on the houses!
Karen explains that with the saved equity from self building and cutting out the developer, rather than focussing on it being 20% cheaper, people often end up using that money to pay for premium finishes as they intend to live there longer than they might have done on a traditionally built site.
Register with Right to Build
Local authorities are required to research demand and maintain a list of people wanting self build plots in their area, and make plots available. Karen encourages people to register their interest in self build with their local authority to make sure that enough land is being made available to meet demand.
Find out more
Visit the website of Graven Hill
Follow Graven Hill on Twitter
Find out more about the Right to Build register
Download a transcript of the interview with Karen Curtin.