Leading UK homebuilder lifts horizons, looks to Russia and other markets

Martin Skinner, a leading London-based homebuilder, is looking to switch his emphasis to investment and apply his skills and experience in other markets including Russia.

Skinner says Brexit is affecting the UK homes market in a variety of ways including increased costs for development finance, a slowdown in sales reservations & completions. Delays and challenges in raising new equity for investment-focussed deals in the UK has prompted the charismatic entrepreneur to explore international opportunities..

Since launching Inspired Homes in 2012 Skinner has built more than £500 million of luxury real estate and developed successful partnerships/businesses with market leaders like Christian Candy and The Collective. Inspired Homes has specialised in “micro living” which Martin is credited with defining in the UK. Micro homes enable homes to be affordable yet luxurious and increase supply within existing construction capacity constraints. Young professional buyers and renters typically have to spend a lot more or compromise on quality. Based in Mayfair, the company has focussed on locations like Croydon and the “Home Counties” that are easily & rapidly commutable (trains from East Croydon to Victoria or London Bridge take less than 15mins). Over the last year the company has also acquired or delivered projects in areas including Greater Manchester, Wolverhampton and Luton.

In July, Skinner agreed to become the chairman of Hong Kong public limited company Vostok Capital which is raising equity funding to self-finance residential, hotel and leisure projects centred on Vladivostok in the Far East of Russia. These projects will be implemented by the associated Vostok Projects LLC, a Russian registered company which has been granted residency of the Free Port of Vladivostok bringing with it a number of tax incentives and the right to repatriate profits.

The Vostok Group which includes Vostok Marketing Ltd in Dover are informally associated through their common beneficial owner, the UK citizen John Bonar, who has been involved with Russia since 1993 when he became Marketing Director for Goodwill Communications plc. From 1995 through 2009 he lived in Russia engaged in publishing, marketing communications and business advisory services.

Bonar has been visiting Vladivostok and the Russian Far East since 2000 and in 2018 devoted six months to exploring the potential for development in the region which is becoming Russia’s link to the Asia Pacific countries. Bordering China, Korea and Japan with a burgeoning new airport whose traffic is forecast to grow to 5 million passengers a year and a vibrant economy revolving round fishing, agriculture, logistics and trade Vladivostok is poised for a boom.

Skinner brings expertise in property development to Vostok and has already introduced Bonar to concepts that he now intends to incorporate into his projects.

While ensuring high environmental standards for the project sites Vostok will also adopt Inspired’s more space efficient and smarter home technologies that will typically include the fastest broadband available, smart thermostats, low energy LED lighting, electronic entry and CCTV. Construction finishing standards will now also include upgraded engineered hardwood flooring, granite worktops, higher-end brands like Bosch and Villeroy & Boch. Vostok will also incorporate ionising Japanese water filters in the homes.

Looking beyond his current projects which are projected to offer 20% p.a. dividends to Vostok Capital shareholders, Bonar has instructed his Vladivostok team to search for underutilised office buildings and development sites which could ultimately be converted/developed into luxury micro-housing communities.

“Think of them like the home equivalent to WeWork … but with bells on!” says Skinner.

“The micro-living concept with shared common areas radically converts the Soviet practice of communal apartment living into an upmarket 21 st Century quality lifestyle for young professionals,” says Bonar.

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