Interview | VanWonen expands into other parts of the Netherlands, becomes a Top 10 player

Publication, Area and Property Development

VanWonen’s ambition is to double the number of home sales to 2,000 homes within five years. To achieve this, the independent developer is expanding its area of operation, from the north and east to the west and south of the country.

Today VanWonen celebrates its five-year anniversary. The company was established in 2017 with 12 employees and initially sold 400 homes per year. It has now grown in size: with 60 employees and with 900 homes sold annually. VJ has been noticing it for a while: suddenly VanWonen is developing housing in regions that are unusual for the company: a large project in Eindhoven, and people were recruited for the west of the country. This is remarkable for a company that, after the demerger from AM five years ago, concentrated on the east and north. We ask CEO Alfred Bolks how things stand.

Last week VanWonen announced that it is taking over the development UrbanParks, with 600 apartments, from NU Projectontwikkeling in Rijswijk. And last year, the news reached us about VanWonen’s purchase, in partnership with Four-D, of the location Vierlander in KnoopXL Eindhoven with a development potential of 250 homes. VanWonen is expanding its traditional geographical area of operations?
“That’s correct. Of our housing development pipeline, about 20% is now in the south and west. We are successful in cities such as Groningen, Zwolle, Arnhem and Nijmegen, with projects that once originated from AM and that we acquired ourselves. Now we want to scale up. We want to be less of a property developer and more of an area developer. There is increasing competition among developers who build 50 to 60 homes per lot; more and more smaller project developers are entering the market. But there are not many area developers who can handle large-scale area developments, while the number of such developments is increasing. Area developments are also becoming more complicated, and so the leading role of the developer is becoming increasingly important. We have the knowledge and skills to handle these kinds of developments, and we now also have the size and financial solidity to do so.”

The financial solidity has to do with your new large shareholder ActivumSG, which came on board two years ago?
“Yes, this is a private equity party that participates in companies like ours. We approached them once we had decided that this was the path we wanted to take. Five years ago, we demerged from AM and about 20 private investors from the east and north joined together in a fund that became the owner of VanWonen. Those investors have all left. Activum supports us but is also the kind of party that lets us take the directive role and be entrepreneurs.”

What is your ambition for growth?
"We sold about 900 homes in 2021 and we expect to pass the 1,000 homes mark in 2022, which will be for the very first time. We want to be twice as big by 2026. Our pipeline is sufficiently full to allow us to achieve that. With 600 apartments in Rijswijk, for example, we are well on our way.

With an annual sales volume of 2,000 homes, we will be among the ten largest housing developers in the Netherlands and among the three largest independent developers. That is not a goal in itself, but it will give us the scale that an area developer should have.

In addition to the east and north, we focus on the west, the Central Netherlands and the Brabantse stedenrij (the cities and large towns in the province of North Brabant). We are interested in both inner-city developments and the development of outskirts – we are experienced in both. We acquire positions in many different ways: we participate in tenders, acquire land positions or take over developments, as we did in Rijswijk, where we developed the position for our own account and at our own risk. We are also in the market for takeovers of smaller developers – but in that case, the organisation needs to be a good fit for us. Acquiring positions is not easy, by the way: the costs are high due to the pressure on the market. But by focusing on large-scale area developments, we avoid competition with the smaller and medium-sized developers.”