Developer offers “ready-to-occupy” homes with Kelly Hoppen interiors. Sarah Stewart reports

Regal Homes will launch a 68-unit scheme called “the Residence” next week. It is based in West Hampstead, but will be showcased in Hong Kong.

The high-end, central London residential developer was set up by Paul Eden in 1997. He was joined by business partner Simon De Friend in 1998.

To date, Regal’s property sales exceed £500m and it retains its own property portfolio. Both Eden and De Friend are shortlisted for this year’s Young Norwood Developer of the Year Award.

For the past 18 months, Eden and De Friend have focused on attracting residential buyers from Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and they hope to win over China’s high-end customers as well.

They have 20 London sites, of which 97% have been presold.

“My sister called me from Hong Kong about nine months after Lehman collapsed,” says Eden. “She said, ‘Why you aren’t out here? Berkeley Homes is out here, Ballymore is here, Galliard is here.’ I said, ‘Why would I want to do that?’

“But then we looked at what was happening in Ireland — the defaults, people not completing on stock they had exchanged. We realised that we
had to break the Asia market. So that’s what we set about doing, and those plans are coming to fruition. Several developments are completed already.”

Eden dreamt up the idea for Regal Homes at the age of 13. In a box of childhood belongings collected by his late grandmother, he recently discovered the logo he had designed for the agency he hoped one day to set up.

“I drove the estate agents mad going into their offices asking for local property details,” he recalls.

When he left school, he began to trade on the markets. Not the financial markets, he is quick to clarify, but Bovingdon and Wembley selling clothes. By 17, he had set up his own agency to provide developers with investment opportunities.

De Friend left school at 16. He went into the family business, working as a diamond setter.

“I was rubbish at it. I just wanted to be a property developer, but I knew I needed to learn about the industry first,” he says.

He joined residential agent Druce & Co in 1991, and moved to Hirshfield in London’s West End a few years later.

In 1998, at the age of 23, Eden founded Regal, and he soon brought De Friend in as a partner. Now in their thirties, the two have known each other since their late teens.

“Eden tried to steal my girlfriend,” De Friend jokes.

“I forgave him, and the rest is history.”

Eden recalls: “I said to him, ‘I’ve got the drive, but I’ve got no money.’ He said to me, ‘I’ve got the experience, let’s set up a business.”

They began to raise funds from private investors to buy their first development.

They describe Regal Homes as a family, they develop high-end residential property in the capital, and they worked on a project at Hyde Park. Could they be the new Candy brothers? They are of a similar age, but it seems the similarities end there.

Pick of the pads: favourite schemes

Paul Eden

  • Hyde Park Gardens, Bayswater, west London
  • Grand Canal Apartments, De Beauvoir Crescent, London’s Shoreditch

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

“Our Hyde Park Gardens scheme is the home of the late Lord Mishcon.

It achieved a record price of £1,750/sq ft. The design and finish blew everyone away who walked through the door. Agents were coming in and telling us that our finish was better than anything they had seen in the area.

“Another of my favourite developments is the Grand Canal Apartments scheme, off Shoreditch High Street. It comprises 76 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats, and 21,000 sq ft of commercial space. All the units have been presold ahead of completion, which is scheduled for October. Hackney Council says we are bringing ‘something special’ to the area. We would be surprised if it didn’t win an award.”

Simon De Friend

  • Circus Road, St John’s Wood, north-west London

35 Circus Road

35 Circus Road

“One of the reasons this is my favourite project is that we knew we were up against one of our competitors when we purchased this house. In fact, we beat them in a contracts race.

“It is a grade II-listed house. We worked very closely with our chosen architects and Kelly Hoppen’s design team to overcome several planning hurdles, and to restore and create a well-balanced, truly magnificent home. It has a fully kitted-out spa that includes a swimming pool, gym, treatment room and steam room.”

“For one thing, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do what we have to do, let alone cultivate a public image,” says Eden. “It’s not really our thing. We don’t even employ a PR company.

“The properties have to be presented well and marketed correctly, but the company certainly doesn’t need to be constantly in the public eye.

“In addition, a project of the scale of [Christian Candy’s CPC’s] One Hyde Park isn’t something that we would take on — even though we have the infrastructure to carry out that kind of development. To us, it would be far too much of a risk.”

De Friend adds: “We have developed several high-end homes, which range from £10m to £18m. You have to look at profitability and risk. You have to be confident that there are end users out there.”

A risk-averse attitude and a bit of luck saved the company from folding during the recession.

“The recession has affected everyone,” says Eden. “In 2007 we were arguing about whether we should buy more sites. There was a lot of equity available to us and there was an appetite for development. If you looked at the skyline across London, there was crane after crane after crane.

“But I felt the tide was about to turn. I smelt a rat, so, instead of buying more, we scaled right back. It was the best decision we ever made.”
As a result, when Lehman collapsed in 2008, Regal’s exposure was low.

“Companies of our size that weren’t so cautious and didn’t have luck on their side — like we did — closed down. Regal didn’t withdraw from a single site,” says Eden.

Eden and De Friend say they both consider the worst-case scenario before they commit to a project. They claim that if a project warrants the slightest hesitation, it is usually vetoed.

Fast movers

De Friend notes that their business was also protected by the nature of high-end residential buyers, who are not dependent on a mortgage.
“They reach for their cheque books and the transaction can be done in two weeks,” he says.

There is particularly high demand from Middle Eastern and Asian buyers.

High-end customers often own several properties and want to move in almost immediately. Regal’s response is its “prêt à vivre” concept. The homes come fully furnished and ready for occupation — developed with interior designer Kelly Hoppen.

“Prêt à vivre” has brought in more than £85m, and £17m of sales are anticipated in 2012.

When Regal tenders for properties, it is often up against Londonewcastle, Galliard Homes, Barratt Homes and Berkeley Homes. Eden and De Friend cite Anil Varma, managing director of Harrison Varma, as their closest high-end competitor, but they say their style differs.

Eden spent 14 weeks in Asia last year and plans to spend the same amount of time there this year.

“When I’m in Singapore, for example, adjusting to their daily structure is difficult,” he says. “Customers will ring to see a flat at 11 pm. So I go out and meet them. My hours can be insane, even in the UK.”

De Friend, who is primarily based in London, works similarly long hours.

“If you want to get to the top, that’s just what you have to do,” he says.