Ashley Ilsen: Regentsmead

Development finance: the devil is in the detail

Ashley Ilsen -
19th July 2017
ashley ilsen regentsmead

Whenever I think we have reached a plateau of new development lenders in the market it seems there is another surge of funders offering development finance products.

I find this to be a very positive thing for our market and ultimately this should, in theory, benefit the consumer. Ultimately we are behold to the usual market externalities including all the fun and games occurring in the political world alongside the very real possibility that inflation, and subsequently interest rates, will rise in the near future. Conversely, the practices and structures that we see in the development finance world remain largely unchanged. There are a handful of ways that different lenders like to fund development projects and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. The end result should be to provide maximum liquidity for the developer which should allow for a smooth and successful development project.

Theory is all well and good however in practice all lenders need to anticipate a range of things going wrong. The beauty of development funding is that there are a million and one problems that could occur on site; from an increase in build costs to an ecological issue such as bats and newts on site. When it comes to development, detail is paramount.

I was recently on a long haul flight where I enjoyed watching The Big Short; a dramatized version of how the 2007 credit crunch was triggered by adverse mortgage lending the United States. There is a scene when, before all hell breaks loose, the antagonists start to investigate some of the sub-prime mortgages at the time by a very simple method: they went and looked at what was being lent on.

Whilst development funding is a world away from typical mortgage lending the principles are still the same. All good lenders should look at what they are lending on and at times in our busy world we perhaps get far too reliant on our trusted surveyors to look for us. As a result of this I have to add that I go through suits at an alarming rate given how often I’m caught going up and down a ladder and carefully manoeuvring round our development sites. We see every site that we lend on; meet the client face to face and nothing gives you a better impression as a lender on what the funding is tied up in. At Regentsmead we have developed a traffic light system of basic indicators to look out for on-site, and even when observing the local area to ensure that the project is running smoothly. Obviously not everything will always get picked up beforehand but a good development lender should have sensible practices in place such as these.

There isn’t one single fool proof way of funding a development scheme but a lot of what we have learnt and put in place at Regentsmead is a product of the test of time. We have had our share of site problems to deal with over the years, as is the nature of property development funding, but there is no substitute for experience and I hope that our fellow development lenders can share the same sentiment. Detail is everything in our world.

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