My first foot into a career in Property Development
It was now November 2015, and I may have seemed calm, but in reality, my excitement was pent up like champagne ready to pop. The interview was insight, but I gave myself a 50/50 chance of getting the job. What gave me a 50% chance was the fact that they called me for the interview. The other 50% was down to how I performed on the day.
The interview took place on 24th November 2014, and to my delight, I got the job. The pain, the suffering, the dreaming the internal remodeling all led up to this moment in my life. During the period between the interview and starting the new role, I thought I was dreaming. I thought is this happening to me.
The transition from selling mobile phones, to selling properties to developing properties is like moving through three separate galaxies at an unseen speed. It was as if the pain I had felt served as fuel to push me faster than I could ever have dreamed or imaged.
I remember vividly that my family and colleagues couldn't believe that I had moved so quickly, but I guess we were all shocked together as I couldn't believe what was happening.
I started with Gateway Housing Association on 5th January 2015. John Walton was my Head of development, and he is the person who opened the door for me to work in property development. He said I might not have had all the experience needed, but he saw something in me. To everyone who is in a position to employ people, try not to look at where people are but look at where you think they are heading and help them get there. Without John Walton, there will be no Adewole Ademolake who is now a qualified planning and development surveyor with six years' property development experience. Thank you, John.
In my first week, I was amazed by the fact that I made it in. I was given three projects which involved a Church and 11 dwellings and a 45 unit scheme in Bromley by bow and a section 106 Scheme on Bow Road. Everything I had studied, learned about and even dreamed about was contained in those three projects. The total value of those project were £22m. John brought me up to speed with the projects, and I learned so much for watching him operate as a development expert.
What were the challenges?
I came from a sales background, so having tangible targets and hitting them was part of my DNA. Working in an office environment in a development capacity was different. It requires you to have endurance, be patient and learn to calculate your steps carefully; also, the money involved was far more than I had ever seen. Targets are clear, but the difficultly is that construction progress is out of your hands to some degree as in a design and build arrangement, the contractor is responsible for progressing matters on the site.
The sheer level of information was a shock as there were more than three-ring bound folders for each project, and I had to be comfortable with the information in those folders. I learned that excellent housekeeping could save you so much heartache, especially with projects needing to be audited if GLA grant is included as part of the project costs.
Day to day life as a Development officer
After waking up in the morning, look in the mirror and feel chuffed that I finally made it into the game, I would get into the office, check my emails and then process any invoices. I will review minutes from previous meetings with the contractor. I review planning condition trackers and s.106 obligations to ensure that conditions are discharged. I also liaise with the employer's agent's (Consultant project manager) to discuss the large contractor's invoices and to ensure that he/she has inspected the works to substantiate payment of the contractors' invoice.
My role also involved keeping an up to date cash flow. I used a system called SDS sequel, which allowed me to forecast project spend. I would liken cashflow management to organising your finances to ensure you do not go into deficit and spend beyond your means. The main difference is that the costs associated with property development are enormous.
On other days, I will be liaising with our sales and marketing officer on the selling of shared ownership homes. Other activities include attending site meetings, inspecting the progress of works, having meetings with stakeholders and reviewing reports from consultants. Last but not least was carrying out development appraisals which I will explore in a future post.
Property Development is a highly litigious sector, and I had to work with solicitors to deal with many issues. Having to connect a development scheme to an electric substation via someone else's land is not the most straightforward issue to resolve. Other problems related to ransom situations which again I will explore later. The cases mentioned were resolved amicably and added to my bank of experiences.
I was asked to manage a project which aimed to provide much-needed homes for older persons. A pre-application process was undertaking to work with the planning authority. A well-designed scheme was put together and submitted to the council for determination. Nearing the committee date, the application received a host of questions started to spring up, and my manager and I had to come up with responses to these questions.
The committee date arrived, and the consultant and client team (us) were optimistic about the outcome. The committee ensued, and to our collective surprise, the scheme was refused planning permission. I write this part to say that not everything in property development involves confetti bursts, fine dining and fancy networking events. As property professionals, we have to deal with rejections like this all the time and come up with a strategy to turn adverse situations around. If property developers wallowed on disappointments and did nothing, there will not be any new homes for the growing population. To be a development manager is to accept that you will have to overcome challenges always.
The critical question is, how do you deal with a planning rejection. The simple answer is to appeal the decision or re-submit the application, but I will explore this in a future post.
Lessons from John
One of the best lessons I learned from John came where we both attended a site progress meeting. He said that at this stage in my career, I should not answer a question unless I was clear on the answer and even if you do, let your employer's agent do the talking. I thought at the time, I am a development officer and should be able to speak at meetings. However, his rationale was that he was teaching me that the contractor can take the Client's word to the bank. The point of having an Employers agent is to protect your interest.
Anyone starting in development, do not be overly keen to do everything initially, your time will come when you gain more experience you'll be flying.
A time of reflection
John had moved on, and a new head of development by the name of Rod Constanti came on board. He was the most positive person I had worked under and was a true peoples person. He made people smile, had a vast amount of experience and taught me a great deal on how to make the most of life.
He was an excellent development professional, and he taught me in detail how to carry out a development appraisal. He also taught me the importance of having an audit trail for everything I did.
Rod, sadly, passed away in 2016 and this was upsetting for me. His passing was painful, and I cried so many times thinking about our interactions. He was a man who was passionate about his family, and he made that very clear in everything he did. Life is short, so do what you love and be the best version of you at all times.
Rod's last email to me read:
"Thank you and au revoir (not farewell!)"