In 2012, Martin and Magdalena purchased a small mixed-use block with a shop front, formerly occupied by a hairdressers, on the corner of Barnes Street and Commercial Road in Limehouse, which they planned to convert into flats and a new lettings and property management office. While they were waiting for the office to be refurbished, they temporarily moved their little operational setup into a shed in the back garden that had an entrance from Barnes Street. The roof of the shed had to be propped up using construction supports, the toilet was in a separate cubicle outdoors and heating was provided by portable electric heaters, but for all intents and purposes it was a fully functional office. To meet investors in a more suitable environment, they also took a desk in the basement of 22 Grosvenor Square, giving them a prestigious Mayfair address.
Just as Inspired was about to move into their newly refurbished office on Commercial Road, the government introduced new Permitted Development Rights for mixed high street upper floor conversions. This allowed the ‘uppers’ to be converted into two micro-apartments without the need for planning permission and became the catalyst for Inspired’s micro-apartment schemes and the Inspired Homes brand. Space standards made it impossible to get planning for new-build micro-apartments, but the subsequent Permitted Development Right for the conversion of large office buildings provided an opportunity to deliver new micro-apartments on a much larger scale.
Inspired’s first major office conversion came in 2013 with the purchase of Surrey House in Croydon (30 apartments) and two more followed in 2014, Green Dragon House and Canius House, also in Croydon (158 apartments). The purchase of Green Dragon House coincided with Inspired securing the world’s (then) largest P2P loan (£4.15m) for funding a development and it was reported on the front page of the Financial Times.
Micro-apartments were becoming increasingly popular with first-time buyers struggling to get onto the housing ladder, however, with office-to-resi Permitted Development rights (PDR) approaching the end of a three-year trial lenders feared developers would be unable to finish in time and funding evaporated. Martin began lobbying the government to extend PDR rights. Martin also used the opportunity to campaign for space standards to be relaxed to allow new-build micro schemes as well as for purpose built co-living, student-type shared accommodation but for rent to young professionals.
To be continued…