From Little ThingsThe Weekly Review, Beverley Johanson - Published March 2015
Twenty-one years ago, Shane Wilkinson started building single- and dual-occupancy homes and small blocks of flats in the bayside suburbs. Gradually, the buildings got larger, the floors became more numerous, and before long, the young builder had worked his way up to high-rises in the inner suburbs.
“It was gradual growth – little by little,” says the managing director of Pace Development Group, who has built some of the more innovative and interesting apartment developments in recent years.
They include the colourful askew cubes of The Icon in St Kilda and George Windsor, currently selling, both collaborative projects with artist Matthew Johnson. Elsewhere, Pace is developing Archer Mentone, described as a “village with a view”.
When Wilkinson started out, it was challenging to convince buyers to put their faith in him when all he could show them was a block of land and a plan. He was in his 20s, virtually unknown and with no track record.
“Credibility was a big issue with selling off the plan. We were quite small, so selling four or five units was enough to get a project up and running. I would deal with each purchaser one-on-one, build up a rapport, build up word-of-mouth, build up my reputation,” he says.
“People buying off the plan have a reason to be wary. There are a lot of bad stories out there, but there are also fundamental good reasons for buying off the plan, rather than buying an established apartment. There are stamp duty savings, to start with. Also, it gives you time to save, so that you won’t need to borrow as much.”
He says other advantages include the thrill of a new home, the ability to customise the apartment in many ways and also the potential for increased equity as soon as you move in, if the market is rising.
Pace has remained a building company as well as a development company – a way of working that allows close control of every stage of the building.
“We control the quality of delivery. You know what you are going to get,” Wilkinson says.
Pace buildings are either designed by in-house architects or some of Melbourne’s most prestigious firms, such as Jackson Clements Burrows and SJB.
“Buyers know good architects and good architecture. It’s important to use good architects because you want some longevity to the building. You know your capital growth is going to be more stable in a well-designed, well-functioning, well-built building.
“People are not going to buy things that just make the grade. You’re not going to win any points by delivering the minimum grade.
“Making our buyers and owner-occupiers feel good is probably our main aim. We want people to enjoy living in the building. If they enjoy living there, they stay, the landlords do well if it’s an investment property and the buyer gets capital growth.”
Wilkinson says Pace is a well-known, reliable brand. “We have delivered every single planning permit we have ever applied for, which is more than 50 now.”
Making buyers feel good starts well before the apartments are complete and continues for 10 years after. Buyers get progress reports and photographs of construction. Before settlement, each apartment is meticulously inspected. Pace people go through each one with a 14-page checklist and make sure that every power point, every tap and drain, and all the appliances, doors and windows are working perfectly.
“This ensures that, when we hand it over to the buyer, there are no issues, or only very minor things to be rectified,” Wilkinson says.
Settlements are activated only when a building is completed. At settlement time, residents can meet and celebrate moving into their new apartments. Arc Mentone, a five-storey development of 56 apartments, will settle next month. A barbecue is being organised for residents, attended by the owners’ corporation manager.
Long-term maintenance is also made easy. “We have four multiskilled tradesmen who know how to repair everything. Even if it’s something that the owner has done themselves, we’ll still make an effort to fix it. This is available to buyers for 10 years,” Wilkinson says.