You could live in a luxury Portland 88 home in Belfast rent-free for a year
The new £19m apartment complex on the city's Ormeau Road, called Portland 88, boasts some of the most advanced technology and won awards for its 'smart home' innovations. As our amazing giveaway competition is launched today, Linda Stewart finds out more about the men behind the development and why they chose Belfast
Our low cost of living, our huge talent pool and our vibrant, friendly nightlife - all reasons why companies choose Northern Ireland as a place to do business. But our unique rally driving pedigree?
Believe it or not, it was the pursuit of a rally car that attracted Nick Barnett, owner of UK property company Barnett Developments, to Belfast - and the result is the new state-of-the-art Portland 88 apartments on the Ormeau Road, dubbed Northern Ireland's smartest homes.
As a result of that love affair with Northern Ireland's rallying community, Nick and marketing manager Guil Nascimento took on the Circuit of Ireland rally in 2016 and ended up finishing first and second in their class.
So as Barnett Developments launched its groundbreaking new smart home Portland 88 development earlier this month, the pair took to the track at Kirkistown to celebrate their road-racing links, treating local media to a hair-raising racing experience.
Guil (30) has been a passionate fan of Formula One since he was a small child, but it was only when he met Nick that he discovered the joys of tarmac rally driving - and Ireland is one of the few places where you can do it.
"Nick has loved rally driving all his life and he did a bit of it back in his 20s," he explains.
"Five years ago, he bought a rally car in Belfast - he does a lot of racing in and around Northern Ireland and the south of Ireland. He kept coming back to Belfast and then he realised what a great city it is."
Guil says he has loved Formula One since he was four and living in Brazil, inspired by fellow countryman and racing star Ayrton Senna who died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.
"Growing up in Brazil we always had Ayrton Senna. I used to wake up excited to watch him race on a Sunday. It's always been a passion for me, but I wasn't able to do anything with it because of the circumstances. But Nick gave me the opportunity to do something and get involved," he says.
Guil's parents moved to the UK when he was 16, hoping to provide the family with better opportunities, and that is how he came to work in the Bristol office of Barnett Developments.
"I joined as an office junior - I'd never worked in an office environment before. I slowly progressed and became interested in marketing - and now I'm the marketing manager for the company," he says.
But it wasn't until relatively recently that Nick discovered Guil shared his love of motor racing.
"To be honest, it wasn't until the last couple of years working here, when I started go-karting at the local track as a hobby," Guil says.
"Nick was getting interested again in getting a rally car, and he hadn't realised how much I liked racing and rallying.
"It was a coincidence for both of us - my passion for racing and his passion for rallying.
"The first time I was in any kind of competitive racing with Nick, I hadn't done any form of competitive racing at all, apart from the go-karting track!"
Nick helped Guil to get his racing licence and the first time Guil took part in a competitive race was in 2016 at the Galway International Rally.
"It was the first time I'd been in a competition and it was terrifying. It was quite intimidating - I'd never sat in a real rally car before. You have to perform straight away - it was really in at the deep end," Guil says.
Unfortunately the car developed mechanical issues on that occasion and Guil was forced to retire from the race on the first day.
But what did stand him in good stead for his future racing career was the simulator that Nick had installed in the office of Barnett Developments.
"We have a simulator where we practice every day - we put aside an hour a day to do that. We are well and truly fanatics," he laughs.
Even the office outings are built around racing. Every year the team goes on an outing to a race track and their obsession has taken them as far afield as Belgium, Germany and France.
"We all enjoy it, but Nick and I are the only ones that compete in any form of a rally," Guil says.
Guil's second attempt at competitive rallying proved much more successful and he soon discovered he had a natural talent for it. Nick and Guil came first and second in their class at the Circuit of Ireland in 2016 and then Guil came first in class in the 2016 Rally of the Lakes in Killarney.
"It was a bit of a surprise for me (that I had talent). I always loved it but it was nice to get confirmation," he says.
And it was that passion for rallying that first drew them to Belfast.
"2015 was my first time in Belfast. Nick had just bought a rally car and we came to Belfast to have a look at it," Guil explains.
"Nick kept coming to Belfast and saying 'This is a great city - we really should be doing something here'.
"We specialise in city centre apartments, so we started talking to people in Belfast to see if we could find something that would match with what we do, and then the site at the Ormeau Road came up and we agreed to purchase it in May 2015.
"It was very much driven by the city and its vibrancy and we felt that coming here would have a lot of potential. It's driven by the great location - it's within walking distance into town which has always been important to us. We like to emphasise the fact that people living in these apartments don't need a car because it's so handy to everything."
That said, the apartments do include 51 on-site car parking spaces, complete with one of the first car lifts in Ireland, capable of carrying cars to the second floor, along with a large secure bicycle store.
The state-of-the art apartments in the £19m development are attracting a huge amount of interest, with more than 50% of properties already sold before the recent launch.
The 88 smart turnkey apartments are kitted out with the latest cutting edge Smart Home Intelligence System and the development recently won the Smartest Homes award in the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards.
The owner can control heating and lighting, and other appliances, from a smartphone from anywhere in the world.
They have options to integrate controls with the Fibaro Home Intelligence System, BringMe smart mail and package delivery box, and come with an Amazon Echo with their Alexa virtual personal assistant.
Guil says Barnett Developments always makes a point of introducing a fresh innovation with every development.
"I love technology and I had been hearing about smart homes technology being introduced in houses, but not really in apartments," he says.
"You can control the lights, you can control the heating. You can do it by voice via the Amazon Echo system using Alexa, or via your phone - but the latest is using motion sensors and light sensors so the house knows what you want."
For example, you can set the rooms to be lit at a certain level, so the system lights the rooms if the outdoor light is lower than it should be.
"The sensors know where the apartment is located geographically and the system knows where the sunshine will be, so if you have Venetian blinds, you can set the Venetian blind to tilt to block out the glare," Guil says.
"Nick likes to stay in the apartments himself when he goes to Belfast. I've stayed for a night as well and I absolutely loved it - it's the best we've done so far. We like to build homes that we would be proud of to live in ourselves."
Building work on the development started in April 2017. It was carried out by local firm Graham Construction and designed by Gregory Architects, sold by Colliers and Simon Brien Residential.
Nick says the team have been truly overwhelmed by the interest in the development prior to launch, which demonstrates a return of confidence and demand in the city centre residential market.
"These apartments represent the future of home ownership in Northern Ireland and will help to contribute to the overall economy of the city. It is our aim to bring more people living back in the city," he says.
"To date, our purchasers have been a mix of young professionals, couples who work in the city, people relocating to Belfast for work - all with one common interest - to live in a prime location, with the absolute latest in all modern living facilities from smart technology to appliances. We have also had purchases and much interest from property investors who can see the potential demand from the rental market."
The company is now eyeing more developments in Northern Ireland and has just been granted planning permission to build 38 apartments on the site next to Portland 88.
As for the rally driving, Nick took part in the UAC Easter Stages rally, a two-day event which replaces the Circuit of Ireland, setting off from Antrim Castle Gardens and ending in Dundrod in April, but finished down the field.
Unfortunately, Guil wasn't able to make this one due to family commitments, but he says he and Nick are having discussions about future rally events in Ireland. "I would like to be able to run two rally cars, one for each of us, and rally together like we did three years ago," he says.
For further information about Portland 88, visit www.portland88.com or visit the show apartment on Saturdays from 11am-1pm and Sundays 2-4pm each week