First find your niche

With so many ordinary developments around, picky top-end purchasers are looking for new homes by companies that go the extra mile. Penny Jackson meets two leading lights
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The Independent Online

Sometimes home buyers are interested in more than specifications and sales talk. They want to know that the developer has a personal interest in a property and keeps as sharp an eye on the quality detail as the detail on the balance sheet. And when those buyers find a place that fits the bill they are prepared to pay handsomely for it. Quite often their search will lead them to one of the smaller, niche developers who make a virtue of personal service. And purchasers are prepared to pay for what they regard as outstanding quality in a market that offers a great deal that is mediocre.

Sometimes home buyers are interested in more than specifications and sales talk. They want to know that the developer has a personal interest in a property and keeps as sharp an eye on the quality detail as the detail on the balance sheet. And when those buyers find a place that fits the bill they are prepared to pay handsomely for it. Quite often their search will lead them to one of the smaller, niche developers who make a virtue of personal service. And purchasers are prepared to pay for what they regard as outstanding quality in a market that offers a great deal that is mediocre.

When it comes down to it, it is all about detail. Buyers who can afford to pick and choose have become wise to show apartments that bowl them over at first sight but then diminish on closer inspection. It worries them that if the tiling is crooked, the edges raw and the doors flimsy there might be worse in places they cannot inspect. And to cap it all, they suspect that the developers wouldn't dream of accepting those standards in their own homes.

It is that criticism, perhaps more than anything else, that has hit home with a number of specialist developers. In one of the lanes off Fetter Lane, which runs between Fleet Street and Holborn on the fringe of the City, Marldon is in the process of turning a Sixties building into homes. It is not just any old block from that era, but a splendid example of a modular building designed by Yorke Rosenberg Mardall, leading Modernist architects of the time. It has even been listed, making its refurbishment more exacting as well as more exciting.

Inside, architect Simon Smith explains how the amount of glass dictated how the building has been divided into six one-bedroom units and three studios. "The windows were made in Scandinavia to fit the modular tiles and are a wonderful example of the architects' thinking. They open right out and turn on a pivot so that the outside can be cleaned from the inside." Even more ingenious is the blind that falls into a cavity between the two panes of glass, keeping out any glare. Both the flats and studios enjoy a long run of window, many facing south and overlooking a graveyard with trees. Any room divisions stop a few crucial inches short of windows and ceilings, so light is never blocked nor lines crudely interrupted. "We think really hard about how we would like to live here and are constantly having to fiddle and adjust to get it right."

Getting it to their taste has resulted in solid oak doors and floors and even architraves, skirting boards and radiator casings. In the bathrooms and bedrooms, cupboards and shelving are also in solid wood. There are also practical touches such as an all-in-one heating and conditioning unit.

Charlie Markes, a partner in the firm, says because they have their own joinery and directly employ their workers, the construction process is a team effort where everyone knows the standards expected of them. "People are prepared to pay for quality so in the end we can get the best prices. And we never sell off-plan, so everything has been finished to our satisfaction."

Frank Harris, the selling agent, says: "This is head and shoulders above the average. The building trade has become so lazy that I never expect to walk into anything exciting anymore. But buyers are fed up with paying high prices for, in some cases, rubbish."

Indeed, with studios starting at £235,000 buyers here will clearly be paying top whack. But, according to Harris, something special will prove a better investment in the long term. The building itself is unique, with features such as a stunning glass-enclosed lift shaft and black terrazzo stairs.

Another niche developer, Barry Morgan of Morgan Restoration also aims for a finished product he would be happy to live in. "I know that I prefer concealed plumbing in the bathroom and a five-burner hob, so why shouldn't other people? If builders always make a choice based on the cheapest offer, then the quality will suffer."

Carmel Butler is one buyer who is not seduced by gadgets and décor. Above all, she wants old-fashioned personal service. She bought a triplex apartment at Baldwyns, a mansion in Bexley, Kent that was a burnt-out shell before Morgan turned it into 12 apartments and two houses. "I have bought from a large housebuilder before, but I never would again. All sorts of things were never quite right, like crooked light switches, no evidence of craftsmanship, and I felt bullied by such a big concern. At Baldwyns though, it was a personal service with give and take. The quality of design and finish are also fantastic."

Agents for Greystoke Place, London are Frank Harris & Co (020-7600 7000) and Hurford Salvi Carr (020-7250 1012)

Morgan Restoration: 01322 866800

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