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Making a house a home

The saying goes that buying a property is one of life’s most stressful undertakings. Relief then for Homes by Esh, whose industry-respected property design and extensive customer support is known the region over for quickly making a house a home. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to managing director Phil Brown; deputy managing director Colin Willetts; technical director Dale Morris; and head of customer services Lynsey Kelly, to find out more.

Colin Willetts climbs a kite winder staircase, the soles of his black shoes leaving small imprints on its lightly-treaded beige carpet.

At the last return, he springs to his right, into the master bedroom of a show home, stopping directly beneath the head jamb ofmits en-suite bathroom’s door frame.

Beyond, pristine white fixtures gleam under downlights as ponderous dark clouds bounce from nearby mirror-fronted fitted wardrobes.

Spontaneous it may be, but it nevertheless makes for a hugely symbolic scene, given how light and shade pervades every Homes by Esh property.

In this case, the contrast begins with the room’s layout, specifically the location of the bathroom and its entry way, which was the subject of great conversation – and conversion – to help maximise storage space.

As a solitary act, the measure marks an appreciable nod to life’s practicalities.

But when allied to further considerations, such as the replacing of traditional white window frames with light grey casements to complement softly marbled exterior stonework, a deeper picture emerges – one of a company dedicated to helping turn everyone of its houses into a home.

“As a regional housebuilder, we’re competing against national operators a lot of the time,” says Colin, deputy managing director of Homes by Esh, which sits within the wider Bowburn-headquartered Esh Group.

He adds: “And we do that by selling in a more natural way, which includes a commitment to finding out what people want and need.”

Dale Morris (pictured, below), the firm’s technical director, emphasises the blueprint further, using two developments delivered in joint ventures with Darlington Borough Council – West Park Garden Village and the 155-home Elder Brook Park estate, which lies within drop goal distance of the town’s rugby stadium by the A66 – as notable case studies.

He says: “We’ve created different elevations, used different bricks, fitted contemporary coloured windows – black, light grey and light green – and used a mixture of tiles across the 14 house types at West Park.

“And we’ve also created a mix of walls, hedges and iron railings, which maintain the garden village theme while highlighting our adaptability.

“It’s the same with Elder Brook Park.

“Fitting light grey windows to properties wasn’t part of our standard specification, but when we introduced a grey-tinged stone, we could see they would provide a far better contrast.”

Such changes owe a great deal to Homes by Esh’s suppleness.

Where some national housebuilders find progress checked by internal bureaucracy and London boardroom summits, the company’s streamlined structure of 26 directly-employed staff makes for far more expeditious operations.

constantly conducting reviews on potential

“When it comes to specification, we are changes,” says Phil Brown, Homes by Esh’s managing director.

“And we can make decisions very quickly; we talk things through in my office and, if everyone is in agreement, we push it out.”

Dale adds: “It can take as little as an hour to make a change to a specification; if something is right for us, and the customer, then, as of the next plot, plans are updated.”

And decisions are not made in isolation, with buyer input a crucial additional factor.

“My team meets with Dale and his team every week, and we talk about what homeowners are telling us,” says Lynsey Kelly (pictured, below), Homes by Esh’s head of customer

services.

Those conversations are having great effect, with latest figures showing 95 per cent of buyers across the last 12 months – more than ten per cent above industry average – would recommend a Homes by Esh property to their friend.

Equally fundamental to the numbers is a refreshed customer charter.

Spearheaded by company-wide training, it melds purpose with pragmatism to improve efficiency across the entire purchase and after-sales process.

Lynsey says: “If a customer has an issue with their property, then the whole team works together until it is resolved, and it was a key reason why we reshaped our care journey.

“Everybody in the business has a part to play, and the training we have provided to our sales, customer care and technical teams has made a real difference to the buyer experience.

“We focus hard on the pre-completion phase, with the aim of delivering defect-free homes.

“Before we hand a buyer their keys, my team inspects every house ahead of a demonstration with the site team.

“And if anything is identified during that process, the team then actions necessary changes, so when it comes to thehomeowner, we are showcasing the finished product.”

Those measures, though, are augmented by a second line of support that acknowledges the actualities – and anxieties – of the home moving process, with traditional face-to-face relationships bolstered by technological ties.

Lynsey says: “Many housebuilders give a buyer two days to complete their snag list, but we extended ours to seven because many are still knee-deep in boxes at that point.

“Customers also have access to our residents’ portal, so they can log defects – with videos and images – at any time.

“Not all housebuilders provide that level of service.”

Neither, says Phil, do many of Homes by Esh’s peers apply the same depth of attention to supply chain relations.

“We have a very strong safety-first culture – which is delivered through our Esh Safe (Everyone Safely Home) campaign – that cascades across the whole business. All of our sites are more than compliant, with our accident rates well below national averages.” Phil Brown, Homes by Esh managing director (pictured, below)

Where post-completion works need to be carried out, they are done so by companies carrying North East postcodes, with existing relationships across its West Park Garden Village and Elder Brook Park schemes having already re-invested £38.2 million into the local economy.

When split across developments, the figures stand at £23.6 million for West Park Garden Village and £14.6 million for Elder Brook Park, with 90 per cent of the total scheme procurement cost re-invested locally from the former and 97 per cent from the latter.

The headline number, though, is primed to rise further, thanks to a meet-the-team event at Darlington’s Blackwell Grange Hotel last year, which attracted more than 85 businesses, the first of which will begin working with Homes by Esh on its Hurworth Meadows development, the impending sister phase to Elder Brook Park.

Phil says: “The philosophy of the whole group is to do things locally.

“It makes sense economically, but it also makes sense to work with local people who know Homes by Esh and the area.

“And we are very supportive of the companies we work with.

“For some, it can be difficult to work with other firms, around areas like payment for services, but we are very strict on that.

“We ensure our contractors and suppliers are paid on time because we know the consequences it carries.

“For some contractors, that money could be people’s wages for the month; it is vitally important.”

And that focus, says Phil, will continue across 2024 and beyond, with Homes by Esh actively pursuing opportunities to further develop its portfolio.

He adds: “Our work in Darlington showcases our ability to provide good quality, well designed, sustainable developments.

“And we’re very much open for business to continue doing that across the North East and beyond.”

Colin (pictured, below) adds: “We’re always looking out for the next opportunity.

“We’re passionate about what we do, and will always remain committed to doing the very best for homebuyers.”

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