Three years after starting out, Keystone Property Group and its partners has raised and returned more than £60 million to its investors. Jill Theobald caught up with Managing Director Desmond Conway to talk high yields, housing and why home will always be Sheffield – personally and professionally

“There’s no place like Sheffield – I’d never live anywhere else.”

Keystone Property Group’s Managing Director, Desmond Conway tells me this very early into our conversation.

The London-born MD has worked all over including the USA, but it was love that brought him to the city he loves so much today.

After meeting his Sheffield-born wife while working in Dubai, in fact, he swapped the business hub of the Middle East for South Yorkshire to set up home and start a family.

He set up Keystone three years ago, and today it’s a global business with sites across the UK, including London and Chelmsford – while the Sheffield home is a 150-year-old converted barn at Aizlewood Mills.

“For a business like ours, Sheffield has a lot to offer,” he says. “It’s within easy distance of the rest of Yorkshire, the Midlands, the North East, Greater Manchester, and London especially, making it easy to meet our clients and partners outside of the city we call home.”

Desmond and his team have 100+ years combined experience working around the globe across the investment, property, finance, and wealth management sectors. And three years after starting out, they have some pretty impressive achievements under their belt – not least eight site acquisitions across several major regional UK cities, including Birmingham and Manchester, and seven fully exited PRS (Private Rented Sector) projects.

They’ve participated in the development and delivery of numerous property-based investments, in both retail and commercial property throughout the UK and Europe, raising and returning more than £60 million to investors, with clients welcoming an average 21 per cent return per investment.

Their partners include some of the country’s top property developers, such as the High Street Group and Godwin Developments, meaning investors have access to high-profile, unique residential and commercial property investments.

“You have to be fussy when it comes to choosing who to work with, and making sure you’re on the same page,” said Desmond. “We want to work with the best people and businesses from across the sector, and the way we do that is thorough periods of consultation where we work out if our goals align.

“I’m really proud of the team at Keystone and of the partnerships we’ve formed with developers, and domestic and overseas investors, which have opened doors for each party.

“We want to provide opportunities for investors without them having to plan around changes in legislature, or if they simply don’t want to have to deal with tenants and property maintenance.

“It’s all about simplifying the investment process, by removing factors that have the potential to cause headaches down the line and bringing investors and property developers together.

“The five main reasons people invest with us are our experienced team with over 100 years of industry expertise, offering both income and growth options to suit investor needs, our average return per annum of more than 20 per cent since 2016, exclusive investment opportunities, and secured investment options.

“Basically, by specialising in traditional and alternative property investment opportunities, we bridge the gap between developers and investors.”

The company has also been spotting gaps in the market to respond to, as well.

“The proportion of people owning a home dipped significantly between 2007 and 2016, underlining the reality that more of us are choosing to rent and of the UK’s undersupply of for sale housing stock,” explained Desmond.

“From 2007 to 2017, the private rented sector increased from 2.8 million households to 4.5 million. Younger households are more likely to rent privately, with 25 to 34-year olds representing the largest group.

“But in terms of, for example, Sheffield’s rental sector we’re saturated with student accommodation at the moment. However, Sheffield also has the highest student retention rate in the UK, and we need to be looking at where those graduates want to live. Young professionals in their 20s with a high disposable income who want modern and attractive accommodation.

“There have been a couple of developments popping up, but I think that niche market will bring in a lot of investment opportunities for the mid to long-term in a rapidly growing market.

“We feel there’s huge potential for project developments in Sheffield in the next decade, in areas like Attercliffe thanks to developments like the Olympic Legacy Park and the new businesses starting up there. Attercliffe is one area that is poised for some fantastic developments and redevelopment.

“While a lot of developers might be somewhat tentative about the perceived idea of Attercliffe, it’s worth bearing in mind that people were saying similar things about Kelham Island 10 to 15 years ago and that has proved to be a prime example of how to redevelop and regenerate an area to attract creative businesses, multi-million pound apartment developments and a vibrant leisure scene, all while retaining its heritage.

“Once one developer puts their foot down, others will follow – it’s very much a herd mentality!

“It’s great that Sheffield City Council appear to welcome inward investment and the regeneration of certain areas, too.

“Areas on the outskirts of the city centre will also be of interest to developers, especially with the AMRC in Rotherham close to the city’s border. Boeing and McLaren both being located there is a sign of the times – if investments are being made in areas away from the city centre where high profile businesses are based, it’s inevitable that residential developments will move there, too.”

And if Attercliffe is the next Kelham Island – where is the next Attercliffe?

“It could be anywhere – that’s the beauty of Sheffield,” adds Desmond. “So many areas are prime for development – there’s potential everywhere.

“With a rising profile attracting the attention of both foreign and domestic investors, the face of the city is changing with the emergence of historic new developments that will secure Sheffield’s place as a regional hub of innovation.”