In 2006 I was the major shareholder and CEO of Life Homes property group and it would be fair to say that I was living the dream, says Marc Black. I was just in the process of building a house on Wigton Lane in Alwoodley, which was years ahead of its time in design and build and to this day, even though I’m biased, it still looks supreme.
Life Homes was developing 10 sites in Yorkshire and one in Nottingham, which equalled a total of 500 homes and all were sold off-plan and exchanged on.
We were in full flow building them out and all the fundamentals were in place. I employed over 40 staff and worked with four local architecture practices, two project management companies and a range of high street banks.
In June 2008 we did our annual presentation to our primary bank Investec, informing them of where we were with sales and sites we were looking at purchasing over the next 12-18 months. I can remember this meeting like it was yesterday.We were in the boardroom with our development director, MD, finance director, head of construction, accountant and two senior Investec bankers.
We had just finished the presentation on a five acre regeneration site in the centre of Barnsley that we had been working on for 12 months. Just as the MD finished this detailed demonstration, the banker leaned back in his chair and did a slow hand clap and said: “Guys, well done. That’s unbelievable, such amazing work but we won’t be funding you.”
We all looked at him thinking he was going to laugh or a punch line was going to follow but unfortunately not. Instead, he informed us of the impending financial tsunami coming via the USA.
We sat for 30 minutes dumbfounded, thinking the world was coming to an end. The following day another of our main lenders phoned me and said they were calling all the loans in on all their developments and they were exercising their money back on demand term within their offer letter. The banks had run out of money and the money markets had completely dried up. This was the beginning of the banking crisis and property crash. Within 12 months I had handed the keys back on my dream house and in 2009 I declared myself bankrupt.
I was discharged in 2010 and, luckily for me, my wife had a property portfolio that she had acquired between 2002 and 2006, purchasing below market value properties that had gone up in price. She agreed to invest in a company called Urban Development Projects which she set up with another developer and I bought properties in Leeds, Grimsby, Rotherham and Doncaster, targeting a 20 per cent yield on the houses in multiple occupation.
In 2015, I felt the market was right to go back into development and began with York Towers in Leeds, which was 32 apartments, a supermarket and telephone masts, plus 23 flats in the former car park. That was when I realised that the fire within me was back for property development.
In the months that followed I was bombarded with offers to consult for build-to-rent developments and then, out of the blue, I received a call from my neighbour, Steve, who was looking for advice regarding a scheme he was looking at with a builder. I told him it wouldn’t work, which amazed him, but he hadn’t taken into account any of the associated costs that come with developments.
I said: “If you’re really interested in developing, I will find you something and we can do it together.” Three weeks later, Steve suffered a heartbreaking, life-changing tragedy and at this point he needed something to focus on to help with his grief and that’s when Modernistiq Development was born.
They say opposites attract and Steve and I are polar opposites though both on the autistic spectrum in different ways. What we have done in three years is incredible. We have completed a 32-unit luxury apartment scheme in York, bought three blocks of residential apartments in Rotherham town centre, refurbished some of the commercial kiosks within another building and turned the inner area of one of the buildings into a wedding/event venue.
We are now on site in York city centre building 62 apartments and we are building 24 houses in Belton, Doncaster. We are starting on our central Hull scheme for 49 apartments and have planning applications being submitted for houses in Barnoldswick and Crumpsall. We have also just secured planning and a forward funding partner for STAX which is a 20-storey, 204-home development in central Leeds and are close to securing a 600-unit scheme in Manchester city centre.
As you can see, from a near disaster to where I am today is a huge turnaround. The result is that I don’t take anything for granted and have learnt from mistakes in the past.
It has taken hard work, great determination and taking chances to get to where I am. I work over 12 hours a day and even then my phone is always on and I never really switch off.
For details of Modernistiq Development sites visit www.modernistiqdevelopment.com
Lessons I have learned: *Work on the worst case scenario and include a five per cent contingency on a contracting site and developers site. *Always work with quality people. The cheapest price is never the best price. It’s cheap for a reason. Pay the market rate. *Never over trade or buy for ego. *Don’t rely on the internet for looking at prospective sites. It’s great for an overview but always go to the site and look around the area. Imagine you might move there and think of things that would stop you from living there, as that’s what home buyers will do. *Get different views from different estate agents within the area. *Don’t always look for good news. Bad news is more important.
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