5 Things You Need To Know To Get Finance For Your Property Development Project

They say that money makes the world go round, and for the aspiring property developer, this is undoubtedly true. No one ever built a house or flats without some hard cash on hand to deliver the job. But when the developer lacks the means to fund the entire project personally, what resources are available to provide the finance needed to make the dream a reality?

First things first, most small-scale developers, experienced or otherwise, use other people’s money to finance their projects. Very few are able or willing to fund everything themselves. Just as a landlord will use a buy-to-let mortgage, a developer will use commercial finance to fund both the asset purchase and the development. The money is simply a tool you hire for doing the job, and it gets returned with interest once the job’s done.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you had your eye on an old commercial building that to your mind was crying out to be transformed into four swanky new apartments. It will cost £200,000 to buy the building and a further £300,000 to develop the four flats. In short, you need £500,000. Now, a commercial lender will typically lend up to 70% of the £200,000 asset purchase price, which leaves you to find the remaining £60,000 as your deposit. This is the same process as a buy-to-let mortgage, where a 25% deposit is usually the norm. The big difference with development is that the cost of creating the end product involves much more than simply sprucing up a rental property with a lick of paint and a quick trip to IKEA. In our example, you need a not insignificant £300,000. The good news is that the same lender who financed the £200,000 asset purchase will also lend you the development finance (providing you have planning permission or permitted development rights in place).

And they won’t just give you 70% of it; they’ll fund the entire £300,000.

This development finance covers all costs associated with the project. It includes the fees for your team of professionals, the finance costs (interest will be rolled up and paid at the end of the project), and of course, all the materials that will be delivered to the site. There’s a standing joke in finance circles that the only thing that turns up on-site if a lender advances all of the money in one go is the developer’s Porsche. So guess what; you won’t be getting your hands on the £300,000 in one shot. Instead, you will draw it down throughout the project. The lender’s surveyor will pop round regularly to make sure that each tranche of cash has been spent appropriately and is all accounted for before they’ll authorise the next payment.

But let’s rewind for a second because I can sense a slight uneasiness. Ok, I confess – I somewhat glossed over the bit where I said you needed to find a £60,000 deposit, didn’t I? And let’s face it, not everyone will have that sort of money lying around that they could invest. So, can you only take on a project if you’ve got a serious amount of cash in the bank already? Do you need to bankroll all of your 30% deposit personally?

The good news is that you don’t since this is where private investors come into play. Private investors are individuals who have savings or capital to invest and who are looking for a decent return.

Now, unlike your architect or your contractor, you can’t look private investors up in the phone book and ring a few of them up. You’ll first need to find them yourself and then convince them to invest with you. Sounds challenging? But again, there’s more good news. While there’s no ‘Private Investors r Us’ to turn to, the reality is that almost anyone could be a potential private investor. Friends, relatives, and colleagues can often be a rich seam to tap into because they already know you and (presumably) trust you. Now, I know what you’re thinking. None of your friends or family has that sort of money. But you’re mistaken; several of them almost certainly will have. They won’t advertise the fact because, let’s face it; people usually are pretty private when it comes to their finances. Yet people have savings, and people have pension lump sums. But in this day and age, the one thing they don’t usually have is an excellent rate of return for their money. The same goes for people you network with or encounter in everyday life. There are potential private investors at every turn.

So what can you offer them? Most private investors can expect to receive an 8% to 10% annual return in property development. It’s not bad, is it? Particularly when the same money will earn them less than 1% in the bank. And while their loans won’t be secured on the property you’re developing (the commercial lender will take a first charge), the fact that the underlying asset is bricks and mortar rather than stocks and shares is a big plus, security-wise. You can start to see how it could turn an investor’s head. And, of course, you don’t need to try and find just the one investor; you could instead find six investors who are willing to lend you a much smaller amounts individually.

One word of caution; don’t forget that money lending is a heavily regulated business, and there are some key do’s and don’ts’ when looking for and approaching private investors. Be sure to check out the FCA’s rules on the subject.

Does this then mean that you won’t need to put in any of your own money? While it’s possible to use other people’s money exclusively, it’s certainly not the easiest route. These days most commercial lenders will want you to have some skin in the game as the developer. Sure, the lion’s share of the deposit can come from private investors, but you should still be prepared to stump up some of the cash yourself, and each lender will have different requirements in that respect.

Ok, so that’s given you an overview of the finance sources. The big question now is how do you get your hands on it? Here are five things that will make finding the money for your next property development project a lot easier.

1. Use a commercial broker

Commercial lenders are specialists, so your typical high street bank won’t usually be on your shopping list for development funding. Some lenders have a direct-to-developer model, but many rely on a network of commercial finance brokers to bring them business. And here lies yet more good news – these commercial brokers are on your side. Their job is to find a lender who can fund your project. Transparency is critical, and your broker will need to know all about the deal and your professional team, as well as you and your development business. Got a few financial skeletons in your cupboard? Tell your broker. It invariably comes out in the wash anyway, and you risk alienating everyone involved if you ‘forget’ to mention your unmentionables. Armed with the truth, your broker can then go out hunting on your behalf to find you the funding. How many brokers do you need? There’s no harm in having two or three on speed dial, as they won’t all be tapping into the same sources. But they can be a great ally as you move forward to secure that first deal.

2. Build a brand

Property development is a business where there’s invariably more than a few bob at stake for everyone involved. For both commercial lenders and private investors, you’ll need to inspire confidence. How serious are you? And how knowledgeable? Do you have a business plan and a team that ticks all the right boxes? Do you understand your deal inside and out? The word that crops up in each case is ‘you.’ But it shouldn’t just be all about you. You need to have a brand behind you. A name, a logo, a website, and a business card. People need to feel that they’re doing business with a brand and not just an individual, no matter how firm your handshake or how convincing your smile. So make sure you set these things up right at the start so that they can silently go to work for you in the background. The number of private investors who didn’t try to check out the developer’s website before they agreed to lend them money is probably as near to zero as makes no difference.

3. Learn how to analyse your deals robustly

When you put your deal forward for consideration by a commercial lender, it’s fair to say they’ll kick it pretty hard to see what falls off. Do your costs look reasonable? Does the professional team have enough experience? Are your anticipated profit numbers prudent or pure pie in the sky? And what happens if the market changes or the contractor goes bust; do you have a second exit strategy? This is, of course, excellent news; it means that if they agree to lend you the money, then you can be reasonably sure it’s a solid deal. But here’s the thing; the prospective lenders will also get to see your numbers. Imagine an errant schoolboy handing in their scruffy, dog-eared, half-completed homework to the teacher. If your own analysis has more holes in it than Augusta, then you’ve just scored a major own goal. So, learn not only how to analyse deals correctly and thoroughly but also how to make your deal analysis look highly professional.

4. Cast your net far and wide

Commercial lenders are traditionally Route One when it comes to finding finance, but they’re not the only game in town. One of the more recent kids-on-the-block is peer-to-peer lending, aka ‘crowdfunding.’ The premise is simple. The peer-to-peer lender secures funds from lots of different private investors on the one hand, and then they arrange for the money to be lent to developers on the other, taking a fee in the process. Like the commercial lenders, they’re adept at critiquing deals, which means their lenders can have confidence that only good developers with decent deals will be put forward. But they can also offer advantages to developers over and above the traditional lending route, so it’s well worth doing your research. You’ll also find many investment clubs and groups out there as well as a range of high-net-worth ‘angel investors.’

5. The deal is king

Ok, it’s time for an analogy. There is a tendency for new property developers to place too much importance on private investment. They feel a bit like a car owner with an empty tank; they’re going precisely nowhere unless they can find fuel. And so they go out, cap in hand, desperate to persuade private investors to lend them the fuel they need; money. But here’s the thing. The world is awash with this fuel. There are millions of investors out there desperate to find a car to put their fuel into. The problem is that most cars they see either won’t go very fast, or they’ll make a lot of revving noises at the start but have a high risk of crashing at the first bend. Analogy over. In summary, there’s a lot more money out there that needs investing than there are property deals that return 8-10%. So don’t forget that it’s the developer that has the whip hand when it comes to finding investors, and not the other way around.

So, there you go. You’re now in a great place to get the funding you need for those four swanky new flats you want to build. Will you make a profit? Well, your commercial lender will insist that you do. They’ll typically want you to be targeting a 20% margin based on the Gross Development Value, so that means those four flats in my earlier example should net you a cool £125,000. This might be chump change in the broader development world, but for the small-scale developer doing projects in their spare time, it’s a pretty good return. And, of course, there’s nothing to stop you from doing more than one project at a time. With each deal you do, your lenders and investors will also gain confidence, and you’ll be able to negotiate better rates. You never know; you might even become rather good at it.