Housebuilder rebrands to broaden its appeal beyond first-time buyers as high loan rates persist

Budget housebuilder Gleeson has launched a strategy to target older buyers to grow in the teeth of the mortgage market crisis and the closure of government support scheme for first-time buyers.

The Sheffield-based firm, which has traditionally targeted first-time buyers, has re-branded and tweaked its home designs to appeal to “second-steppers” - but denied trying to take the business “up-market”.

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A Gleeson site with its new branding

Gleeson, which has a “medium term” strategy to grow completions from 1,723 to 3,000 homes per annum, said last month that the share of first-time buyers acquiring its homes had dropped from 80% to 50% in the first half of 2023 given the cancellation of Help to Buy and rising mortgage costs.

It also saw a doubling in the number of over 55s buying its homes in the same period, with 20% of purchasers now in that age bracket.

The firm said it had now decided to “broaden its customer proposition” in response to the changing market, to make its products more appealing to older buyers with existing homes.

Amanda Parkinson, group marketing director at Gleeson Homes, said this meant both rebranding of the business by replacing bright colours on sites and marketing materials with subtler shades, but also by using different marketing channels to reach customers and upgrading the homes themselves.

She said: “We’ve changed elevations, we’ve got new styles, with stone and render options. Our homes have always been well built but previously, with targeting first time buyers you might have sacrificed some details and options. Now we’re looking to appeal to a broad market.”

“I wouldn’t say we’re going up market. We’re not going to be the Waitrose of the housebuilding industry. Our core mission to deliver affordable homes remains. But we’re trying to say we have a serious product that appeals to a wide range of people.”

Previously Gleeson, which saw former Vistry exec Graham Prothero take charge at the start of this year, had marketed itself as explicitly focused on first time buyers, but Parkinson said all references to this had now been removed from its website in order not to put other buyers off.

Parkinson said the firm hoped to “welcome first-time buyers back” when market conditions allowed.

Gleeson reported in September that its pre-tax profit fell 43% in the year to June 30 amid “difficult market conditions” following last autumn’s mini-Budget. Completions at the builder fell 14% to 1,723, with net reservations since the year end running at 0.43 per site per week.

Graham Prothero said at the time that he was “pleased to see growing levels of interest from purchasers who might previously have considered more expensive homes from other developers, but who are attracted by the combination of Gleeson’s affordable price points and high quality.”

He said he remained confident of “medium term” growth in the business, which would take housebuilding completions to 3,000 per year.