Tell me about your company
Our Glasgow-based business was founded in 2012 with the ambition to do things differently. We operate in partnership with Harrison Street. Together we are developers of enhanced residential product across student accommodation, BtR,
co-living and hotels.
We source sites, gain planning, develop and then manage the accommodation through our operator brand ‘BOHO’. In just over five years we have helped develop over 5,000 beds and apartments, either on site or in planning.
Where are your schemes?
We started in Scotland but now have schemes across the UK – in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Cardiff, Plymouth and Dundee.
Education is one of the UK’s greatest exports, so that’s where we put our initial efforts, with great success. For example, our Scotbury House scheme in Glasgow achieved rentals of GBP 325 per week, much higher than anticipated.
We have a co-living hotel in Dundee, the first of its type in the UK. It is a similar concept to The Student Hotel which originated in the Netherlands. Our guests can be students or professionals and can stay anything from one night to a whole year. There’s co-working space on the ground floor. The planning permission was tricky and ended up being for a long stay hotel and hotel. It is a good example of why use classes for property need to be overhauled. The circular economy means a hotel is not just a hotel anymore. Owners need the flexibility to address excess occupancy creatively.
We are always looking for new opportunities as we think the Scottish market is cooling. Achieving planning permission in Edinburgh has become too time consuming.
Manchester has seen a lot of activity and is starting to overheat. Instead, we are looking closely at Stockport and other secondary markets like Norwich where an early mover advantage may be possible.
We have also been looking at Europe for the last two years. We have taken our time to find the right locations and partners on the ground to be successful. To that end we have schemes in Valencia, Grenada, Seville and in Lisbon.
We have avoided some major cities like Amsterdam which is very expensive and where rent caps mean it is difficult to make non-prime sites work. We are wary of the introduction of rent caps in the UK. This would be a mistake and put a dampener on a much-needed growing market.
Lisbon is a particularly attractive opportunity. It has 115,000 students and only about 500 beds managed professionally, putting it 10-15 years behind the UK. So we’re commercialising that market. The same applies to Valencia, where student and young professional accommodation is a cottage-type industry.
Will Brexit influence your European development schemes?
Both the Remain and Brexit camp are over egging the pudding. The whole process is taking too long. Just make a decision and we’ll take our medicine.
We set-up our European business (Structured House Global) in the Netherlands in Den Haag six months ago as part of our planning, so the four European sites are protected from any fall out from Brexit.
How about another Scottish referendum?
We nearly lost our business the last time we had a referendum in Scotland. We had sold two big schemes to UK companies subject to Scotland remaining part of the UK. At 3am in the morning we nearly lost the company and at 7.30am we had it back. I do not think this is the right time to put an independence vote back on the table. We need a period of clarity and stability.
Tell us more about your BOHO brand
For us, retaining ownership of our management company is an important part of our competitive advantage as it means we are closer to our customers.
All of our schemes reflect our BOHO brand values. To be bohemian means to live openly in the company of likeminded people. We want all of our residents to feel part of the BOHO community and to stay with us at many different stages in their lives. We are there for the whole journey.