There's no stopping this developer

In today’s jittery market place, who’d want to be involved in the housing market? One property developer who is definitely where he wants to be is Chris Oakes (41), who in January this year, just as the ‘credit crunch’ started to bite, hung up his Barrister’s wig for good in order to channel his efforts full time into his small but upmarket property company, Huntsmere.

Many would wonder ‘why property?’ when the world of the Bar seems infinitely more stable and secure. For Chris the decision was an easy one: “I realised that creating a wonderful house is much more satisfying than winning a case in court – for me it is a lot more personal.”

From relatively small beginnings, Chris has grown Huntsmere from a part-time interest to a business with a development pipeline exceeding £30m – and that’s for just four properties within the ‘golden triangle’ of Alderley Edge, Prestbury and Wilmslow plus a boutique styled mixed use development in Liverpool City centre.

The aim with Huntsmere is to build truly bespoke properties, created around purchasers’ individual tastes and lifestyles. The business model is very different to any of the other players operating in this sector of the market. With Huntsmere there is just Chris and a small site team, so no huge overheads, and Chris runs the business from an office at the family home. He has formed relationships with some of the best architects, space planners, designers and landscape architects, in addition to artisans who deliver in almost every conceivable element of the construction process. 

“We provide a complete service from acquisition all the way through to interior design and furnishing. At present there are a number of developers, including myself, acquiring sites and building high spec properties which people then come along and buy. But we can be a lot cleverer if we take a few steps back and talk to would-be purchasers before they have even located a property.”

Chris is already working with several clients, who have approached him with a brief and for whom he has sourced ‘the dream plot’ and is in the process of designing and building their next home (with input from the eventual owners), inside and out. At the top end of the market, people know what they want and often it is impossible to find a house that meets their expectations. Chris says: “ We are ideally suited to creating that truly bespoke product that meets buyers’ needs in a way that a speculative development often cannot.”

Following the theme of providing clients with property at the very highest level, Huntsmere are also involved in the sourcing of high value property abroad and demand has been very strong for the latest 5* condo-hotel opportunities in Miami’s South Beach and in Manhattan.

Chris started his property development career when, as a young barrister, found he had time on his hands. Within a few years, the projects increased in size and within a few years a £5m development in Bowdon was completed. Despite success with a number of luxury apartment schemes, it became clear that his individual approach was best suited to high value luxury homes and the company have now completed several high value properties in Alderley Edge, one of which is now on the market at £3.5m.

In neighbouring Prestbury, Huntsmere are approaching the completion of an 8000 sq ft home priced at £3.75m, which is packed with eco-friendly systems. He isn’t trying to save the planet single-handedly but believes that incorporating the latest green systems will reap long-term benefits for the purchasers of the property, and for Huntsmere. He says “we’ve spent £70k on green technology in this property, not only because we think we should all be doing our bit, but because the Huntsmere philosophy is always to put the very best into the homes we build. 

“Home cinemas and sound systems are now a given at this end of the market, there is no-one else putting in the effort that we are in to sourcing new and innovative features. These large properties cost are expensive to run, but by putting in a ground source heat pump, solar heating, and rainwater harvesting and more we can significantly reduce running costs whilst giving the owners all the latest systems…to me it just makes sense.”

Unlike others in the property game, Chris isn’t out there chasing sales. He’d rather be in Milan (as he was recently) spending two days sourcing new wall coverings, kitchens and interior furnishings. His passion for design is evident in his properties where you will find the most unusual features – a set of glass doors in the curved bay of the master bedroom which fold back fully to give an uninterrupted view of the garden (the only others are at Ferrari UK HQ), moulded walnut wall coverings (as spotted in the Giorgio Armani’s Caribbean home), mother of pearl wall tiles costing a cool £500 per metre, and an underwater sound system in the swimming pool (as used for the synchronised swimming at the last Olympics), the list is endless.

So, who are Huntsmere selling properties to? “Some people think that we’re building homes for footballers. Yes, they are a powerful and wealthy part of the market and I am more than happy to develop properties for them but the purchasers of our homes are just as likely to be self-made business people.”