Interview: The TV Star Who Wants To Print Homes

TV presenter Sara Damergi is a rare thing; a property polymath. This includes investing in London real estate, presenting Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun’s Coast vs Country show, helping her father finish a residential development in Lebanon, campaigning to reduce global homelessness, and most recently becoming an advocate for 3D printed homes.

She is one of several UK celebrities with Lebanese family backgrounds including comedian Dom Jolly, actress Kim Marsh and pop singer Mika, and on top of everything else she’s doing, gave birth six months ago to a baby boy with her Swedish partner.

When Dealmakerz spoke to her this week, the 39-year-old had been up all night in a Malmo hospital after her son developed a temperature. But despite extreme fatigue, her enthusiasm for several subjects bubbles to the surface.

Her most recent project is to promote 3D printed homes, which she claims are on the cusp of gaining acceptance in the US and Europe.

Damergi has been working with housing charity FirstStory which is utilising cement 3D house ‘printing’ technology developed by US firm Ikon to build affordable basic homes for displaced populations.

$20 million idea

The first project was completed  in Haiti four years ago but the charity is also working in El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico and has so far built 16 communities. It also has partnerships with several property companies including Sotheby’s International and has raised $20 million dollars so far to fund its projects.

The charity’s success is underpinned partly by Ikon’s 3D house printing technology, which uses piped cement laid by a gantry robot to build up internal and external walls and is able to construct the shell of a house in under 24 hours.

“The knock-on effect of this technology is going to be huge not only on global homelessness but also affordable housing, issues which are as relevant in Beirut where my family is from, as they are in London,” says Damergi.

“I’ve been to illegal camps where Syrian refugees are living in the Beqqa valley and it’s just horrendous how they are barely surviving in makeshift tent towns.

“On my return I started researching and looking around the world for a housing solution and found NewStory on Facebook and got into conversations with them, and I’m now working to help raise awareness of what they are doing.

“Some companies print elements of houses, but Ikon prints the whole thing on site and they’re not far off 3D printing the first house in the UK.”


At a glance

  • 39-year-old Sara Damergi uniquely has experience of both the London and Beirut property markets.
  • She’s convinced that 3D printed houses can help solve the world’s homelessness and affordability housing problems.
  • Damergi is helping her father build a mixed use resi/retail development in the Lebanon.

The technology is not really past the curiosity phase in London, but in the US and continental Europe it’s a different matter.
Eindhoven University in Holland is developing a separate system that can build modular 3D printed houses and its first development is due to be completed later this year.

Also, 3D homes have A-list celebrity backing. Kanye West has invested in the tech for his new Yeezy Homes venture. And the first 3D printed home by Ikon has jumped local regulatory hurdles and got planning permission in the US.

“The great thing about the tech is that construction can be scaled up and down quickly as and when needed,” says Damergi.

Property bug

Her father gave her the property bug. He originally settled in the UK 30 years ago and set up a car hire firm in London that morphed into a property finding and developing company for wealthy Arabs, with offices just off the Edgware Road.

“My dad’s very Lebanese so it was all very relaxed in the way it was run, shall we say,” she says.

The family moved homes several times between Beirut and London although Sara was born and educated in the UK and later settled in Kent with her mother after her parents divorced, later working in “low budget TV” before getting her break on A Place in the Sun.

“I’ve recently bought another property in the UK and I noticed that everything is up in the air at the moment; the market has really slowed down,” she says.

“It’s obvious that everyone is just waiting to see what happens with Brexit, but I think there will be further price drops before it’s all sorted out.”


In the Lebanon

“The property market is one of a kind in Beirut and it’s linked very closely to the political situation and it can turn on its head in a few months.” – Sarah Damergi


Political instability

The London and Lebanese property markets share one common problem at the moment – political instability. But in Beirut it’s a different sort of chaos.

“Developing property there couldn’t be more different to the UK,” she says. “There is a lot of red tape but you can get around it, but everything takes a long time to finish; our Beirut development was due to completed years ago, but we’ve had so many issues and literal road blocks that’s it’s only recently that the first residents have moved in.”

The development includes two residential towers, the first of which is now finished, and a planned supermarket below them. Damergi says her father’s development has turned into a ‘build to rent’ project but not through choice; the Lebanese sales market is non-existent at the moment.

“The property market is one of a kind in Beirut and it’s linked very closely to the political situation and it can turn on its head in a few months,” she says. “The rental market is fine but to try and sell is unwise at the moment so we’re waiting to see what happens.”

Damergi says many people she speaks to in the Middle East are pro-Brexit  because, as well as believing more in free capital markets, they see the UK as a former colonial power rather than as a part of Europe.

As we speak Damergi is rapidly tiring as the previous evening’s parenting effort catches up with her, and sounds relieved to be taking time off from her filming and promotional schedule to just be a mum. But not for that long, her continuing passion for property makes clear.

 

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