More 'smart apartments' projects planned for Belfast city centre
The company behind a new seven-storey apartment complex on Belfast's Ormeau Road has said the £18m project is the first of three residential developments that it intends to build in the city centre.
Bristol-based Barnett Developments, which specialises in city centre apartments, is prepared to invest tens of millions in Belfast to replicate a model it has tried and tested in other parts of the UK.
A third of the 88 apartments, next to the former UTV studios at Havelock House, were sold ahead of the opening of the block's first showroom yesterday.
Billed as Northern Ireland's "smartest homes", the Portland 88 apartments come with the option of embedded smart technology that allows residents to control everything from their heating and lighting to their blinds and door locks through Alexa voice control or a smart-phone app.
Barnett and new home specialists Colliers said there had already been considerable interest in the extra smart technology, which can add £2,000 to the price of the apartments, which range in cost from £165,000 to £313,000.
The flats include a part-time concierge service and 'bring me' boxes, which allow deliveries to be scanned and placed in a holding box, with the resident then alerted by app.
The first people are expected to move in from December.
Colliers property consultant Ryan Dougan said the high-end quality of the turnkey apartments, along with their proximity to the city centre, had helped drive sales.
"If you have the right product, presented in the right way and priced the right way, it will sell and it will sell quickly," Mr Dougan added.
"This is really ground-breaking for Belfast. You go to comparable cities like Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield, and there are residential developments after residential developments.
"Belfast hasn't got to that stage yet, but the demand is definitely there for it."
Guil Nascimento, of Barnett Developments, said the firm's decision to invest here was made three years ago, largely based on the experience of founder and keen rally driver Nick Barnett.
"He kept coming to Belfast and asked, Why are we not here?'" Mr Nascimento explained.
Barnett has bought a site on the city centre side of the Portland 88 block, which it intends to transform into a second, smaller residential project.
"We want three projects at minimum in Belfast because we feel the market is up and coming," said Mr Nascimento.
"We're looking at anything between 50 and 250 units- that's our ambition for Belfast.
"Spending £30m to £50m wouldn't phase us."
He also stressed Barnett would be looking to acquire a third city centre site next year.
"Hopefully, we'll find something with planning already, but if not, we'll go into planning and be able to build in the next 18 months to two years. We feel there is definitely a demand for city living," Mr Nascimento said.
Mr Dougan said that while Northern Ireland's property prices were still well off the highs witnessed before the crash, there was demand across the market.
"From a price point of view, we're certainly off our highs of previous years, but in terms of activity, the market is really busy, and that is the important factor," he added.