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COVID recovery Q&A - Martin Locke


2 July 2020

COVID recovery - q&A with martin locke

Martin Locke Homes is approaching 10 years in business. From the Global Financial Crisis right through to COVID-19, the residential construction industry has faced some tough times. 

Now MLH Director Martin Locke shares his take on how COVID-19 has impacted his building company and his optimistic view of what's to come. 

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How has business been over the past couple of months since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like many other businesses, in all sectors, we felt positivity returning to the Townsville market early in 2020 and as a result we had experienced one of our busiest starts to a year yet. That momentum meant we had a pipeline of new homes either at design or contract stage when COVID-19 struck.

This gave us the benefit of a solid starting position when confronted with the challenges the pandemic brought with it, so we feel we have been able to come through the crisis quite strongly.

Of all the sectors, the residential construction industry I feel has been affected the least due to COVID-19. For sure there was uncertainty for a couple months where everyone sat and did nothing, however Townsville has averaged a 50% drop in new home approvals over the last 5 years from the 5 years previous, so those who have been building during this time have had to become extremely resilient.

The fact that we have been able to continue building people’s homes and going to work, with relatively small impact on our processes, has been a massive help for our industry.

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Amy & Chris contract signing during COVID-19 - with Martin Locke and Nat Green - New Home Consultant

Martin with new client Carol on site for a slab walkover - keeping COVID distance

Have you noticed a change in demographic in terms of people looking to build a new home?

This is, or should be, a once in a lifetime opportunity for first home buyers given the money that both State and Federal Governments are offering.

So, yes obviously there has been a spike in this demographic looking to build and while we are a Custom Builder at heart, where the majority of home owners we build for are those looking to up-size or to build their ‘forever home’,  we are also finding that there is generally a growing number of ‘educated’ first home buyers who understand the need for a ‘point of difference’. They are doing their research and understanding more about the level of inclusions and value for money they want to achieve when building a new home which is really encouraging.

With up to $45,000 now available for eligible first home buyers it opens up opportunities for them to achieve even more with their first homes. For example, our current house and land package, complete with accessible living design features at Elliot Springs, comes down to well within many first home buyers’ price range at $394,000.

This year we have also experienced a spike in Townsville people wanting to build multigenerational homes as well.

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What has been the biggest challenge for your business over the past few months?

The mentality of any successful business owner has always been to view every obstacle as a new opportunity! It has been inspiring watching some of the leaders within the hospitality sector do what they have done to keep going, especially as they too have been doing it tough for many years now.

Aside from social distancing measures put in place on site to ensure we could safely continue to build homes and the COVID-19 restrictions meant that we had to close our display homes for a short while, our challenges have been reasonably minimal.  

While our displays were closed, our challenge was to adapt and think differently about how we can reach those who were unable to visit us in person.

We did this through developing virtual display home visits and a live chat feature through our website and reaching out through our social channels.

The pandemic has encouraged us to think outside of the box, come up with new ideas and shown us that perhaps the ‘old’ or ‘traditional’ way builders operate may be due for a shakeup.

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Virtual Display Home Visits - Family 310 Elliot Springs
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What are your thoughts on the stimulus grants, Do you believe they're necessary?

I have always believed in home ownership as being fundamental to the Australian way of living and these grants certainly will help achieve that. Equally as important it will help provide an immediate boost for the residential construction industry, which is such a vital part of the economy that supports so many businesses.

However, I believe we are about to miss one of the biggest opportunities that could come from these COVID-19 unprecedented times. Something that many governments often talk about but never act on, which is committing to regionalisation. We had the opportunity to address both the overpopulation of city centres and the continual decline of the regions by giving a greater incentive to building new or buying established in the regions.

How good is it that we live in Australia and can give this sort of financial help to achieving the great Australian dream.

Do I believe the grants were ‘necessary’? Absolutely for the Regions, especially Townsville given the factual data over many years. However, it just should have been more focused and directed to achieve greater outcomes that have been spoken about for a long time. 

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An 'accessible' opportunity - advocating for minimum accessible housing design features in new homes.

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What advice do you have for buyers looking to build and others within the construction industry?

We believe the $25,000 Federal grant and the additional $5,000 state government grant on top of the $15,000 first home buyers grant provides the perfect opportunity to ensure the homes being built now cater for our community’s housing needs in the future.

We're advocating that individuals should maximise this once in a lifetime opportunity by ensuring their home is built with tangible points of difference to the 1000’s of homes out there, which in turn will protect their investment. Simply asking your builder to include even the most basic accessible features in your design, will ensure your home can become your forever home, or if you do decide to sell or rent out, it is built with accessible features that not just everyone loves and wants in their home, but so many of our growing population NEEDS.

As new home builders we must adapt to address the growth of our ageing population as well those with specific accessibility needs. The old, or traditional way of building just doesn't do that.

At Martin Locke Homes we design and build every home with accessible living features as a standard inclusion.

These include – step-free access from the street, into the front door, throughout the home and out to the alfresco through a signature rebated sliding door, wider hallways and doorways, large step-free showers with tiled seats and niches and additional frame noggings for future grab rails.

There is no doubt that homes that have incorporated accessible features at the design stage will be in higher demand into the future. These homes will meet the needs of every person regardless of their age or ability and feel more spacious and safer to live in.

In our experience, the value of the independence gained by an individual with a physical impairment living in a home with these basic accessible features is priceless. And for a person without any physical needs, these features are equally embraced and seen as a luxury!

Yet the cost to do this upon construction is extremely low when compared to modifications later.

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Ron, Josie and Stephen with Martin at the slab meeting for their accessible, multigenerational home.

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There is a tangible value gained by the homeowner as well, in that, their home has a point-of-difference in the market should they choose to sell or rent some time down the track. All good builders are embracing these features and homeowners just simply need to ask!

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