Are lenders ready for a potential boom in regional housebuilding?

The government’s much-vaunted levelling up agenda has thrown regional property development into the spotlight. Much like a house in need of a major refurb, the Westminster administration has stated that a “fundamental rewiring” is required to address geographical disparities.

This needs to include local and national decision-making in order to help iron out social and economic disparities regions across the UK.

From a housing perspective, the main aim of the government’s plan is to increase home ownership and improve housing quality. Policies announced in the levelling up white paper include reforms of the planning system, a target of building 300,000 new homes per year in England, a new Levelling Up Home Building Fund and a new white paper on the private rented sector.

This is obviously very welcome, and all parties involved in property development should be gearing up to meet the demand that will likely come from improved regional planning decision-making and a more positive attitude from national and local authorities towards housing development. But it does beg the question as to whether development finance providers themselves are suitably set up to deal with the expected boom in regional housebuilding.

Now, we know from speaking to brokers that a number of development finance lenders have a similar approach towards the regions. They appoint a person — or if brokers and clients are really lucky, people — as their regional representatives and when it’s time to call on brokers or actually go on a site visit, they get in the car and hit the relevant motorways that will get them to their designated region. They may even stay up in the area for a few days, if they’re really committed.

At HTB, we take a different approach. In 2017, we wanted to ensure that we had a proper regional strategy and decided that our development finance lending directors would actually live in the areas that they covered. A year later, we also demonstrated our commitment to the North by opening an office in Leeds and ensuring it was staffed by local people.

Now, when a broker gets in touch with their local HTB contact about a development finance case, our person on the ground will very often be able to be on site that very same morning. Our team members are there to respond to a client if they call out of hours and our lending directors work across all of the relevant teams within the bank, forming close relationships with the relationship managers who report to them, case managers and credit among others. This ensures that the service that the broker and their client receive is seamless — the lending director is fully aware of where the case is in the process at any given time and has the experience to deal with any issues that may arise by liaising with the relevant specialists. 

We also instruct local professionals to advise us on the transactions we fund, as they will have a deeper understanding of local issues than those who aren’t from the area.

We’re not resting on our laurels, however, as over the past six months, we’ve boosted our development finance team.

It’s easy to be sceptical or even cynical about a government’s plans to facilitate the building of hundreds of thousands of homes; after all, successive administrations have repeatedly promised and subsequently failed to deliver just this. However, there seems to be more substantial weight behind levelling up, so regional SME housebuilders will need to partner with development finance providers who actually know the territory if they are going to successfully take advantage of this big push. At HTB, we’ve been on the ground in the regions for years now and are relishing the opportunity to support those looking to play their part in levelling up.

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