Turning things around

At the start of 2015, Katy Jordan was drafted in as the new md of Storey Homes and in a short space of time has rebooted the Milton Keynes business. Suzie Mayes talks to her about her ambitious plans, the challenges of housebuilding and why it is important to stay a local developer

What a difference two years make. Since January 2015, Storey Homes – a housebuilder based in Milton Keynes – has been undergoing significant change. It now comes armed with a new management team and refreshed intention.

In response, the housebuilder produced “great” profit in 2016, says boss Katy Jordan; it doubled against 2015 to £1,607,770. She can claim responsibility, having been appointed just over two years ago to reboot the business.

(Pictured) Katy Jordan, Storey Homes

Enjoying a coffee with Housebuilder in a central London café, Jordan is at once friendly and sharply focused. She is clearly pleased to have been assigned the hefty task of growing the business.

Countryside Properties
It may help that Jordan knows housebuilding well. With a background in quantity surveying, she boasts an 11 year history with Countryside Properties, which began in the estimating department and culminated in her role as director of development surveying. Departing in 2005, she sought her next challenge. A stint in consultancy saw her working with contractors. This was a job that turned “jarring” as the recession struck, with Jordan’s role shifting to turning around companies or assisting their closure. But further consultancy work, this time with Beechwood Homes, led to a more permanent position. Then Jordan met Matt and Mark Storey, who were searching for an md to run their outfit that they had established in 2003. “They’d been running the business at a reasonable level, but didn’t have the skills or experience,” Jordan explains. “Now, I run the business in its entirety, and Matt and Mark remain the owners.

“Since I’ve been there it’s changed dramatically in the nicest possible way,” she smiles. “The skills base was low when I arrived. I’ve changed every aspect of the business and turned it around in the past 18 months; there’s a new management team in place.”

Storey Homes now has one clear initiative – “to be the best developer in the region and northern Home Counties. We don’t bang the drum, but every decision we make is with the intention of becoming the best regional developer.”

This is very much a shared vision within the Storey Homes team, Jordan insists. She personally picked her staff who all understand what she is striving to achieve.

And because the business is independent with no shareholders – it is only Matt and Mark who own the business – “that gives me a massive amount of freedom. Having worked for a plc, I can really see the difference." Jordan is applying this freedom to her expansion plans. With the main team structure secured, at the time of writing the company was due to move to a larger office. It would be “ideal,” she says, to eventually achieve a turnover of £100 million. Sharing Jordan’s ambition, the Storey brothers imposed no restrictions on growth.

Local developer
But, despite the steep turnover aspiration, Storey Homes wants to remain a local developer, “improving the local area. That’s a big thing for us. We’re one of the few independent developers left and familyowned. From where we’re based in Milton Keynes, we can serve all of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It’s important we’re seen as a local developer that can take on the challenge of being in competition with the plcs.”

With everyone in the team originating from large companies, Jordan is confident that Storey Homes has the capacity and experience to deliver on a volume scale “with a local ethos”.

But unlike the typical volume builder, Storey Homes does not partake in standard house types. “It’s bespoke for each development; we bring in a new design team. That enables us to meet market demands which can change quickly.” Jordan acknowledges that there are advantages to a more uniform approach: “You get economies of scale. But that’s not our business model,” she says decisively. “We’re not shackled to those KPIs. We can offer house types and designs that can be flexible.”

She proffers one example of Storey’s design flexibility. At one of Storey's scheme in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, “one couple have their elderly mother in the property, so we created a floor for her so she could live independently. If people reserve early, we’ll accommodate their personal requirements.” Storey has two schemes in Ampthill - the Limes consisting of two bedroom apartments and penthouses, and Lime Tree Court – 14 townhouses in a gated enclave which at the time of going to press were almost all sold. Also in motion is De Montfort Place in Bedford, a collection of properties ranging from one-bedroom apartments to five bedroom homes. Within four months of the first sales release, only one home remained. Phase two launched last October. And much more is to come, with new schemes in the planning pipeline. “We’re looking at land and in the market to buy,” Jordan says. (For more on Storey’s schemes, see boxes below).

(Pictured) De Montfort Place boasts a range of properties, including The Melton – four-bedroom townhouses

However, she wisely notes, you can have your business plans in order, “but no-one knows what’s going to happen in the next two to three years”. Following the pattern generally repeated across the industry, Storey has enjoyed a sustained upturn since the EU referendum, with greater levels of enquiries seen in the usually quiet months of November and December compared to previous years. “And people are not afraid to commit either.” Visitor levels were subdued in the two weeks prior to the vote. “People put decisions on hold beforehand. But it seems they were fed up of not doing anything and wanted to move forward,” Jordan observes.

She does not envisage the business changing course when the UK does finally leave the EU. “We’re about to take on someone from Poland; we’re confident he’ll remain with us,” she states firmly.

On the challenges she feels she does face as a housebuilder boss, predictably planning tops her list. “We’ll only build more when the planning system works in the way it should. You’ve got local politicians influencing housing numbers. But every one of their constituents would want the availability of housing to improve.” The general slowness of the industry at times frustrates her decisive, no-nonsense approach. “The biggest challenge at a high level for me is that I’m a fixer.”

Meanwhile, the skills shortage will only grow more acute, she warns. On the one hand, “everyone is busy” – of course positive for the industry – “but the skills shortage puts competition up and there’s the issue of retaining people. We have to make an operating profit – we’re not a charity. All of this has an impact in delivering housing numbers.” At the same time, Storey increased its direct workforce by 20% last year, also engaging larger subcontractors and suppliers to meet the demands of expansion.

The industry’s image
But, as many others in the sector would agree, Jordan says that improving the industry’s image could help ease the general squeeze. The idea still feels somewhat disconcerting to her – this is the only profession she knows. It is disappointing that those less informed often view housebuilding as transient. “At the moment we’re taking on people from the army. It’s a very rewarding career. And no matter how fractious an industry it is, building a house is a prosaic experience. Yet it gets bad press.”

Those who dismiss the working conditions of construction – “too hot in summer, too cold in winter” – fail to understand the teamwork and general camaraderie it inspires, she comments. But what does ring true is the lack of diversity within the sector. “You can walk onto any building site and see a lack of diversity. It’s an enormous issue. In this country we have a huge diversity of languages and ages. We need to see more of this in construction.”

And female heads of housebuilding remain a rare breed. Offering a possible explanation, Jordan says that it is sometimes when a woman’s career is at its zenith – at around ages 25 – 35 – that they might wish to take a career break. “That is difficult for all industries. People should have a choice of what they do but it’s hard.” But hard graft in general is what sparks Jordan’s interest. She admits that taking over Storey Homes was daunting and tough, although her ability to “cut to the quick” has probably not hindered her. Resilient and adaptable throughout her career, she understands the function of each job within the process of housebuilding. “That’s what makes me fair in my work – I like to think that I’m fair. I have high standards that I have for myself and expect of others. There isn’t a job that I couldn’t do myself.” Profit may now be Jordan’s game (she is not afraid to say it), but it is obvious that she harbours a deep affection for an industry out of which she has carved much success. Now she wants the best out of Storey Homes. "You've got to be steadfast in what you want to achieve." The next two years are going to be busy.

Homes in bloom
Families looking to capitalise on a green enclave which also boasts fast train times into London should get themselves to Lime Tree Court, according to Storey Homes.

Katy Jordan comments: “Ampthill is a highly prized address offering families plenty of space and local amenities for fun indoors and out.

“The townhouses all come with bespoke, landscaped gardens that tie in with each individual plot, offering a great starting point for residents, who want to create their own green havens.”

Features of the Basswood homes (three of which are left) include generous storage and a separate living space, leading out onto a balcony.

Brick by brick

(Pictured) Katy Jordan and the mayor of Bedford placing a brick for work that started on the affordable homes section of De Montfort Place

Storey Homes, along with the mayor of Bedford borough Dave Hodgson, marked a milestone in the building of 25 affordable homes at De Montfort Place in Bedford in the autumn, with a “golden brick” ceremony. The development in Warwick Avenue, will consist of 152 new homes at the former De Montfort University site.

The mayor laid a brick to mark the completion of the foundation work at the site, which will deliver a selection of one and two bedroom apartments to those seeking affordable homes.

De Montfort Place is located in peaceful, treelined streets, with carefully crafted homes in a “traditional architectural design”.

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