New homes in Bethnal Green sold by Zoom tours during Covid

Communal lounge at Empress Coachworks luxury housing complex

An artist's impression of the communal lounge at the former Empress coachworks housing complex in Bethnal Green. - Credit: Aitch Group

Developers who had to get a £24 million bank bailout to complete a housing scheme when the pandemic began have used online viewings to sell homes at Bethnal Green’s former Empress coachworks. 

Many apartments were sold using Zoom virtual live tours during lockdown without buyers stepping foot into the properties.  

Centrepiece of Empress Coachworks complex is refurbished Georgian villa

Centrepiece of Empress Coachworks development... refurbished Georgian villa next to Regent's Canal. - Credit: Aitch Group

The 170 home mixed use complex next to the Regent’s Canal at Cambridge Heath has been completed by the Aitch construction group with 70 per cent now sold and 90pc of its commercial units occupied — despite the Covid crisis.  

“People’s attitudes during the pandemic drove our sales,” their spokesperson said. “The property development industry was forced to stop building when the country locked down last year and we had to change the way construction was being done.” 

Original Georgian villa left derelict in Corebridge Crescent next to old Empress coachworks 

The original Georgian villa, before refurbishment, in Corebridge Crescent next to the former Empress coachworks. - Credit: Mike Brooke

The company managed to get the bank deal to finish the complex in Corebridge Crescent, next to the old Bethnal Green gasworks also now being redeveloped, which had been held up by the coronavirus emergency.  

Former Empress coachworks next to Bethnal Green's old gasworks 

The former Empress coachworks next to Bethnal Green's old gasworks. - Credit: Mike Brooke

It was finally ready in March, 12 months after the pandemic began, thanks to the “refinance” cash from Paragon Bank.

The deal with Aitch Group’s chief executive Henry Smith was the company’s second bail out by the bank, after getting £34m to complete 103 flats at a former bagel factory site at Hackney Wick.  

Paragon director Nigel Jackson said at the time: “It’s been our priority to support clients’ needs during these difficult times and great to be able to support them for the Bethnal Green scheme.”   

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Aitch Group began using Zoom viewings for live "virtual tours" during lockdown where previously it would have been a sales rep in person showing people around.

The virtual tours came as potential buyers were “Covid cautious” and many sales were agreed without physically viewing the properties.  

On the building process, the company’s director Chelsea Reynolds explained: “Our site was Covid compliant to make sure we could continue construction despite the difficulties.

"Yet we’ve managed to complete all the apartments and commercial units while following strict government guidelines.”  

The company acknowledges that there has been a shift away from traditional commercial office development since the pandemic, which means the industry must build more “mixed use” schemes or housing that caters for more people working from home.