Let’s be clear on this, investing in or developing property represents an element of risk to a greater or lesser degree.
Most prospective property developers and investors realise this but some subsequently procrastinate over taking positive steps to progress their venture. Perceived risk can include:
- Getting a property project only partially complete before running out of cash.
- Experiencing a problem during build of such scale that the contingency fund does not cover it.
- Finishing the build and not being able to sell or let the property in order to recoup costs.
- The property build/conversion will cost so much that the developer with experience substantial financial hardship in order to get it finished.
All these concerns can be effectively managed and guarded against prior to the start of the project. This is where a particular approach is vital; these risks should not put anyone off engaging in a property development or investment project.
Risk is the ‘price’ of the return from a venture. It’s been said that ‘the higher the risk, the greater the reward’; however this seems (to me anyway) to be a contradiction in terms. If risk is high, then there is no guarantee of reward at all. People generally have very differing views on the amount of risk they are comfortable to adopt. However, if a developer is looking to borrow in order to fund the purchase and renovation/conversion of a property, then the mortgage provider will be very keen to see the project organised as low a risk as possible. This includes the developer putting around 50% (for first-time developers) of their own money into it.
So in conclusion, it’s important to minimise risk wherever possible. And to be honest, property is one of the lower-risk methods of investment and capital building. It’s not THE lowest, but there are far riskier investments available to those with the appetite.
To address the points above in turn:
1. Running out of cash mid-project.
This element of risk is managed by careful planning of the project. Many novice developers run low on cash, but it’s almost always because the budget has not been organised properly. The principles of running a financially viable project are:
- Purchasing the property at a good price. It takes time to select the right property; it must fulfil many criteria – purchase price being one of the most important. If you are purchasing at an auction and the bid goes above your maximum level, you MUST resist the temptation to continue bidding. In my experience, if one opportunity has come along, then the chances are that another is not far behind. Once in a lifetime chances are just not that common. It’s far better to purchase a property at a good price and sell at an average one, rather than buying at an average price and hoping to sell at an exceptional one.
- Agreeing a fixed-price contract with the builder. This is insisted on in many cases when obtaining development finance. It should be possible to agree stages of build with the contractor, where you pay a proportion at the end of a stage before moving on to the next. The agreement is likely to specify what is not covered in a fixed-price agreement. This might be substantial ground work or structural alterations. This is all in the negotiation.
- Sourcing materials shrewdly. This might fall into the principle above, but if you intend to do it yourself, approach it as a business and not a personal ‘statement’. Buying the property and approaching the building work with your head, not your heart helps so much in this. Keep in your mind that the aim is to get the property let or sold and move on to the next.
2. Blowing the contingency fund on an unforeseen problem.
A contingency fund is an excellent idea. This is usually around 10% of the whole project budget. A fund of this amount will actually be a condition of borrowing with many companies (you’ll have to produce proof of the amount in a bank account).
So if a whole project budget is £240,000 for example, a contingency of £24,000 should be available in addition.
If the principles above are followed, there really should not be any reason for unforeseen problems to require more than 10% of the budget to rectify. Ground, structural and roof problems are usually the most expensive to sort out, but almost all of these can be taken into consideration if a good survey is carried out prior to purchase. Excessive build/conversion costs are another one of the criteria that should be considered before purchasing the property.
In some cases, problems do arise that there really was no way of knowing about before the project is bought. In this case, a degree of imagination is sometimes called for to resolve it without blowing that contingency fund. The most expensive and challenging problems are things like disused wells or buried objects. However these are rare.
3. Not being able to sell or let the property at the end of the building phase.
This is a problem that has affected many aspiring property developers over the past 4 years. As mortgage companies suddenly tightened their criteria for lending, the amount of buyers across the market as a whole reduced to such an extent that demand came to an abrupt halt.
This might be regarded as the greatest of all the risks involved in a property venture. It is theoretically possible to have a property advertised for sale for an indefinite period of time; and this scares the life out of many prospective developers.
Property is widely regarded as being highly ‘illiquid’. This means that the value cannot easily be released. The opposite end of the scale is cash; this is obviously a ready source of capital that can be used easily. Because of the nature of property’s lack of liquidity, it has certain characteristics such as a degree of stability of value (due to the fact that it is a tangible item, unlike for example – company shares). Unfortunately because of this shortcoming, capital can be ‘wrapped up’ in a property with little way of extracting it.
The way this problem is managed, is again by proper financial management. To reuse my quotation from above…. far better to purchase a property at a good price and sell at an average one, rather than buying at an average price and hoping to sell at an exceptional one. You must remember this! In many cases, the reason why properties stay on the market for so long is because they are overpriced for resale. Sticking to a rigid budget dramatically reduces this risk because there is less chance of financial overstretch. You should certainly make sure that you have planned for the property to be complete yet vacant for around 6 months after the build.
4. Experiencing financial hardship in order to complete the build.
Clearly, this is a variation on the perceived risks already mentioned. Most successful private developers have sufficient ‘surplus’ income to cope with the increased monthly outlay to cover another mortgage.
Some amount of flexibility will be needed to cover unforeseen problems, but the contingency fund will be in place to cover them.
There are not really many valid reasons why novice developers should find themselves enduring financial hardship to get their project completed.
To conclude, sensible and realistic budgeting should go a very long way to managing the anticipated risks involved. However as I’ve mentioned already, property development and investment is risky; if it wasn’t, there would be no money to be made in it.