The woman doing property developing differently
Trying to get a foot on the first step of the property ladder, some might say, is harder than ever before.
With banks needing a higher deposit many are finding themselves stuck in renting limbo.
“A third of millennials will be renting from the cradle to the grave, with no hope of buying their own home,” reveals ethical property developer Fiona Joyce.
Fiona bought her first home aged 18 with a 100 per cent mortgage - something which is pretty much unheard of now. After studying law at university she worked as a solicitor specialising in property but admits she got bored.
“I was more interested in the property developments that my clients were building than in the legal side of the transactions,” she says.
“So that led me to study for a masters degree in architectural interior design, which was about designing the space and the structural elements, rather than what colours to paint the walls.
“Initially, I had some wealthy clients and worked on high end developments in very expensive areas, which was interesting because it gave me the opportunity to work on properties where the budget wasn’t an important factor and that mean working with materials and craftsmen that would have been out of the reach of more modest builds.”
However, Fiona soon became disillusioned when one home she was working on had sunken Jacuzzi baths the size of swimming pools, games rooms and three sitting rooms.
“I just thought this isn’t right,” she explains, “three families could live in this one house alone.”
As an ethical property developer Fiona looks for quirky homes that she can renovate and sell on.
“I have a budget and how much I would like to sell for and then work out if I can get doors for free or do this at a reduced cost as obviously I want to make a profit but I want to create an affordable home for someone,” she explains.
“I also used retired tradesman so rather than the usual rate they are cheaper as they see it less as a job and more of a hobby.
“I did one home where a family moved in and they said they had grown up in the area but couldn’t afford the house prices so were thrilled when the home I had worked on came up.”
Fiona has worked on eight properties in total and has done them in Chichester, Arundel, Brighton and Eastbourne. One of her most recent was an old post office, which she bought before it went on the market.
“I try to do that as often as I can,” she say. “Some developers aren’t interested in those types of properties.
“I always want places with outside space which I think is important.
“There was a cottage I wanted but the developer bought it for more than I could offer, so paid £200,000 then spent £100,000 on a new house and sold it for £900,000. I just can’t compete with that.”
Fiona also does a lot of the work herself from conveyancing (the legal aspects of buying and selling, as she was a solicitor), to architectural drawings (she trained as an architectural interior designer), to the manual work (she has done various City and Guilds courses over the years).
She is also keen to reuse and upcycle items she finds in skips or will knock on people’s doors if she sees they are renovating.
“I always stop when I’m driving past a property with builder’s vans outside or a skip, and ask what they are ripping out, it is amazing what is thrown away: I recently got two sets of UPVC
French doors, an oak floor and a lovely old enamelled metal bath for free which I put into my latest development.
“I always offer to pay but usually it saves them the expense of taking it to the tip.
This ethos also extends to her own projects.
“I look at a property and think carefully about what elements can be retained,” she explains. “Such as the basic items like kitchen cupboard carcasses, taps, toilets, sinks, floor coverings, wall tiles etc.
“Often they just need to be cleaned or paired with a different element such as new taps on an old sink, or a new kitchen worktop over existing cupboards, and new grout in the tiles.”
Fiona also has a personal reason for wanting to provide homes for first time buyers.
“My son is 21 and I don’t want him to just rent forever,” she says.
“Some people will only ever rent so I want to help and it gives me great pleasure to give people a help on the first step of the property ladder if I can.
“Especially families who thought owning a home was out of their reach to help them is just great.”