Berkeley Homes has brought housebuying into the Internet age with a slick advertising campaign and a shiny new web site. But does it actually help house-hunters?
"My Berkeley is my escape … an art gallery … a field of dreams … my Berkeley is me," runs the first page of Berkeley Homes' newly relaunched web site. Apart from the slightly nauseating spiel, the first page offers four stills from the recent television advertisements, which make it clear that the housebuilder is marketing its homes to young, single professionals.
Berkeley is undergoing a massive rebranding exercise, and the web site (www.berkeleyhomes.co.uk) is an essential part of this. It was created with technology from Stratumsoft and consultant Pethick and Money. As the first page shows, the firm's ambition is for young professionals to refer to their two-bedroom flat as a Berkeley, in the same way that they might refer to their car as a Porsche. That's all very well, but is the site any use in the hunt for the perfect home?
Housebuying is one of life's most stressful experiences. To make the viewing part easier, Berkeley has included a virtual tour of some of its properties. The idea is that you can avoid the parking problems, the traffic and the squealing kids by looking around your potential Berkeley from the comfort of your home or office.
The tour is quick and easy. Just click on the apartment, type in IPIX and choose which room you want to tour, and up comes a 3D virtual view of it. You can walk around the room, zoom in on interesting parts and get a good idea of whether it's your cup of tea or not. And the image comes up quickly, which should keep impatient types happy.
Decor colour schemes with these virtual reality tours need to be quite bold so as to make it easy for users to see what is going on. Unfortunately, Berkeley has opted for straw and magnolia tones that tend to give the impression that the walls are merging with the sofas. If you zoom in too close, the image can get quite grainy.
The goldfish bowl effect of the 360° tour also gives the impression that the flats might be bigger than they are, although any young professional worth their salt will be able to work that out. Overall, you do get a reasonable idea of what the place looks like.
There are also useful links that give more information on the area and other aspects of housebuying. Click on "local information" and it connects to www.upmystreet.com, which offers comparisons of property prices in the area and a link to Direct Line's mortgage service. There are also links to maps and floor plans and instructions on how to buy the flat. These are not available for every property, however. For example, no site map was offered for the Imperial Apartments in Canute Road, Southampton.
The site does not skimp on the corporate information. If you fancy a job with Berkeley, it gives details of what's on offer. There is a run-down of all the different divisions of the group and the unmissable opportunity to view a video message from group managing director Tony Pidgley.
On the wireDrivers Jonas puts property advice on-line … Surveying outfit Drivers Jonas has launched an Internet venture providing on-line advice to the £200m property market. The site, www.groundbreaker.net, is a seven-day-a-week, interactive advice centre for anyone who owns, manages or occupies commercial property. Ten property topics will be on offer, from business rates to office acquisition and disabled access. The advice is provided by experts in each topic rather than the Groundbreaker team. Other features of the site are tools for calculating rates liability, office floor space, insurance liability and a local development plan monitoring service. About one-third of the content will be available free and the rest will be on a six-month subscription with users able to subscribe on a topic-by-topic basis. Early test marketing indicates that the average subscriber will want to access about six topics at £3000 a year. The site was developed in conjunction with web consultant Tamar. … and Carillion does the same for planning Construction giant Carillion has launched a web site aimed at cutting the time and red tape that goes into gaining planning consent. www.buildingcontrolonline. com offers advice from Carillion Special Services, the firm’s building control arm. Clients can commission repeat work on-line, and new clients can send details for quotations, requests for additional information and follow-up visits from Carillion’s building control specialists. The web site also features the Carillion cost save, which allows users to assess the savings they could expect by using a private building control consultant instead of local authority building control officers. According to a recent survey by Carillion Specialist Services, eight out of 10 building control applications are rejected on their first presentation to local authority inspectors. Developers and architects are given little advice on how to rectify plans to gain approval. According to the firm, this costs the industry £40m a year. The firm expects its web site to offer enough advice to ensure any project will gain approval first time.