Property developing tips from one of Yorkshire's top operators

John Reeves, Chairman of The Helmsley Group, York

Building brings challenges and rewards
Building brings challenges and rewards

Whilst inspecting a property at a dark, dank cellar, with a tiny torch under what is now Missoula Bar on York’s riverbank, I scared the hell out of myself when a huge, man sized, caterpillar-like object shuffled across the floor.

In my panic to get out, I bashed my head and promptly knocked myself unconscious. Awaking some minutes later, I found that the caterpillar was in fact a tramp in a sleeping bag. He leant over me and I thought my days were numbered. In fact, he turned out to be kindness itself and helped me back up so I could get on with my day.

Tip no 1: Always expect the unexpected.. Murphy’s law says that if it’s going to go wrong, it will. In development terms, when it does, this can throw even the best laid plans to waste.

Tip no 2: Rules are rules. Today’s development sector encompasses a myriad of red tape, from health and safety to planning rules. All of which can have serious consequences if you cross the wrong lines. We have a combined experience of over 30 years at The Helmsley Group, yet no developer can ever hope to know all these rules, hence we always employ specialists in each subject, whose job it is to try to get the rules right and keep everything on track for us.

Tip no 3: Time is money. Planning and building delays invariably cost you dearly. It’s rare to get projects done more quickly than you think, even when you’ve been pessimistic with your planning in the first place.

Tip no 4: It always costs more than you think. Don’t underestimate the costs of getting planning permission or the actual building work done. Nowadays, report after report is required, all of which need professionals and cost money to do. Who ever heard of a builder saying: ‘good news - it was cheaper than you budgeted for.’?

Tip no 5: Watch out for history. In York, archaeology is a best guess and having just found deceased Romans on a site, which the developer pays to have cleared up, this can cause havoc with an appraisa.

Tip no 6: Beware of the ‘customer’. Our development customers are generally solid, reliable people. However, when we’re selling a scheme we do run in to some interesting characters who can spin a good line about their circumstances; some ‘customers’ are in fact professional property viewers, who spend their weekends inspecting property but have no intention or ability to buy. Unfortunately, some people do live in a fantasy financial world too.

Tip no 7: Location is king. Try to think like your final buyer will do and look at locations that will be popular for them. Do they need to be close to the shops, near the train station or close to the motorway network? Make sure your location is on track to meet their needs, whether you’re targeting families, businesses or first time buyers.

Tip no 8: Be realistic with your business plan. Will you get a good return on your investment? Remember developing always takes more time, money and energy than you initially plan for so it’s important that your property will give you a good return once it’s completed.

Tip no 9: Surround yourself with the right people. From securing finance to selling the final product, it’s important that you get the right experts working with you.

One thing for certain is that development is never boring. Over the years we’ve found that nothing ever goes according to your original plans and something unexpected can always throw you off course. That said, I would recommend becoming a developer to anyone, as long as you’re thick skinned, have the patience of a saint and are un-shockable.