Following the successful completion of their latest housing development in Hextable, David James reveals how the building industry has changed, predictions on the housing market – and advice for anyone who wants to be a developer.
I started my career in property development back in 2003, working for the same company for almost eleven years.
Being a smaller developer, I was exposed to pretty much every area of the business, gaining day-to-day holistic knowledge of the development industry.
To further my development, I was also enrolled onto a day-release HNC in Construction Management, which meant I could apply wider theory to my role as a Quantity Surveyor.
For the next seven years, I furthered my professional development by graduating in Quantity Surveying as well as Property Development and Planning at London South Bank University.
But apart from qualifications, I’d have to say progressing to Fellowship membership for the CIOB and RICS has been a huge milestone of my career – and probably helped to secure the role of Group Development Manager at Pinewood Studios, working on £200m+ projects.
People always say the building industry is slow to change, but there have been some major advances in the last 20 years.
Certainly, technology has impacted the industry. I still remember my first manager showing me his cupboards full of files and paperwork, and demonstrating his ability to memorise order numbers (for materials) against particular folders.
That was all very impressive, until I showed him how the search function worked on a computer! Of course, we still have paper records, but significantly less of it. I imagine it won’t be long before we’re a paperless industry.
Health and safety has also changed for the better. More recently, there’s been a greater environmental awareness – which I think will play an even bigger role moving forward. I look forward to seeing how this will progress.
House prices are rising at the fastest rate since 2007, defying most predictions since the pandemic – but lately things seemed to have slowed down a little.
However, I predict house prices will continue to rise over the next few years. Partly due to the low cost of borrowing (the banks are printing money), but also due to the simple lack of supply versus increased demand for housing in the UK.
But as developers, we are mindful of the ‘18-year property cycle’ which tells us that although prices will always increase, there will be crashes along the way. I remember 2008 very well!
On every site, I see significant delays in securing planning permission or discharging conditions, which delays the supply of much-needed housing.
The supply and cost of raw materials has been a major challenge of late. On a recent project, we struggled to get hold of plaster and cement. And on another project, bricks have been moved to a six-month lead time.
If you’re not ahead on ordering, it can cause serious delays to works on site.
Furthermore, the lack of skilled labour has been a recurring problem. It opened my eyes even more to the need for young talent in the industry. So much so that I’ve made a few visits to schools and colleges to educate and promote the opportunities within construction.
It’s probably taken us five years to find our place in the market. It was survival at first, but we’ve created and delivered some lovely new homes, and can now feel established as a developer.
The future is about growing the business and building on our early success – sustainably and profitably, while continuing to deliver a high-quality product and service we’ve become known for.
Be aware of the risks. Yes, the rewards are there, but you can lose everything, and it can become very stressful.
My first land acquisition was during the BREXIT negotiations which fell apart. It meant I got halfway through the construction before COVID stopped works.
Finally, make sure you get advice. If you can, speak to others who have ‘been there and done it’ and learn from their mistakes.