Offices to homes conversion on industrial estate a big success
The Clifton Moor industrial estate in York is becoming a starter home hub thanks to the vision of one man. Sharon Dale reports.
THOSE DREAMING of their first home may have entertained thoughts of a cottage with roses round the door or perhaps a fashionable city centre pad.
They have almost certainly never imagined living in a converted office block in the middle of a large industrial estate.
It takes vision to see how that would work but foresight is something developer John Reeves has never been short of.
“This was a gut feel and a gamble,” he says as he surveys what began as a single office block conversion on the business park section of the Clifton
Moor Industrial estate. It is now morphing into a housing estate full of starter homes.
John is chairman of Yorkbased Helmsley Group, whose developments are privately funded by a string of uberrich individuals. The company has a reputation for creating “something different” and usually upmarket. Its most recent triumph is York’s most expensive new-build home, the £1.85m King’s Guinea, which overlooks the Knavesmire.
Wealthy investors see John as the man with the Midas touch when it comes to property opportunities but they were astonished when he suggested turning empty office blocks into a “Brookside” for first-time buyers.
“It was hard to imagine but I knew we could fulfil a demand for new starter homes that could not be satisfied in the city centre. This is secondary office space built in the 1980s and 90s and one of the blocks had been empty for five years but I could see they would make great apartments that we could sell at an affordable price,” he says.
Profit was paramount but he was also motivated by altruism. “It’s been very satisfying. Young people really struggle to get on to the property ladder in York and this is a solution.”
To ensure that they had a fighting chance against buyto-let investors, only would-be owner occupiers were allowed to purchase during the first six weeks of marketing.
“That gave them time to get a mortgage in place and it worked. Eighty six per cent of people who bought are first-time buyers and a lot of them bought through the government’s Help to Buy shared equity scheme,” says John.
Prices range from at £99,950 for a studio flat, £115,00 for a onebedroom and £195,000 for a twobedroom flat with a garden.
After quickly selling all the flats in Halo, the first “office to resi” development, the Helmsley Group converted three neighbouring office blocks on the site. It is working on other schemes, two of which will be build to rent, along with a clutch of contemporary SIP panel houses on the former office car parks.
John Reeves’ unlikely idea has been a soaraway success thanks to Clifton Moor’s location, a short bus ride or a two-mile cycle ride from York city centre. It is also amenity-rich, with pubs, out-oftown stores, a huge Tesco and a gym close by. The apartments’ space, abundance of natural light and free, dedicated parking spaces have also helped.
Turning offices into homes can be lucrative as it does not require planning permission or section 106 payments for community benefit schemes. The government relaxed the rules in 2013 to help tackle the housing shortage. So far, most have been in town and city centres but the Helmsley Group’s conversions could set a new trend.
The owner of a neighbouring office block on the Clifton Moor industrial estate has already launched a copycat scheme, which could soon boost the total number of flats to almost 200.
“I think within ten years this area will be 80 per cent homes. It will be a community,” says John.
Tom Boyle, an accounts assistant for Helmsley Group, bought a large one-bedroom apartment for £127,500 in the first conversion. While the views are of industrial sheds rather than medieval streets, the price was right and and it has turned out to be a great place to live.
Tom, 26, and his partner, Milly, 23, bought through the Help to Buy scheme. Thanks to the 20 per cent equity loan and a five per cent deposit, their mortgage is £400 a month.
Tom says: “It’s a great location and once you are inside you don’t think about the industrial estate. We have a parking space for the car, Tesco is a two-minute walk away, there are places to eat and a gym close by and it takes ten minutes to drive into the city centre.
“There is no way we could have afforded to buy an apartment like this in the centre of York.”
OFFICE HOMES: The 1980s and 90s offices at Clifton Moor are no longer popular and are being recycled as apartments by the Helmsley Group, which is also bulding a handful of houses.