The Five Best SME Property Developers In The UK

Britain has one of the most vibrant and diverse property development sectors in the world, often punching much higher than its weight both in terms of business and engineering innovation, given the small isle we all cling to.

But while the big blue-chip developers such as Kier, Berkeley Homes and Persimmon are regularly featured in the business pages of many newspapers, for smaller and medium-size developers telling the world about their extraordinary efforts to lead the field can be a tough task.

This is not surprising. The UK’s dozen or more big blue-chip developers and house builders possess huge brands and even larger PR budgets.
So Dealmakerz thought it was time SME developers were given a chance to shine.

We asked developer Alex Harrington-Griffin, founder of industry education and events platform Developers’ Boardroom, to name the five smaller builders in and around London who he thinks are the stars of the SME sector.

“We’ve known these developers for some time and got to know how they operate, that they deliver on innovation and do things a little bit differently than their competitors,” says Alex.

Darlow Homes

What is it?

Darlow Homes is a residential property developer based in Northampton but with sites under development in Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire, Hull, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.

It was founded in 2016 by Ricky Darlow. The 36-year-old recently met Berkeley Homes chairman Tony Pidgely at a Developers Boardroom event and is now being mentored by him.

“I think Tony can see that he’s structuring his company in a way that’s very future minded,” says Alex.

“Ricky has always had that saying in mind that you should be ‘close to the job you want not the one you’ve got’ and is always looking at where he wants to take the company.

“For example, he has a board around him that mimics the board of a larger one. He’s content to be a small developer at the moment but I think he is the way to be a big one.”

Broadwing Homes

What is it?

A boutique developer based in Pinner, North London run by developer and author Immanuel Ezekiel, Karl Spencer (formerly of Progressive Property) and property lawyer Ben Keenan.

The company currently has five live sites from apartments to houses in Acton and Purley but also further afield in Lincolnshire, Kent and Cambridgeshire. It’s sites range from approximately eight to 50 units.

“Broadwing are very vendor first in their approach to putting deals together and that often creates a unique product on the other side,” says Alex.

“They are always very fair and have won deals to build-out sites because they have been very consultative with the landowners, which is difficult for a lot of developers to lead with because they have commercial objectives.”

Lighthouse Capital

What is it?

The company was founded two years ago by Diksesh Patel to supply higher Gross Development Value projects to private investors in partnership with several property, legal, architect, finance and planning partners.

“Lighthouse has been very successful with its very strict ‘cookie-cutter model’ in terms of the deals they look for, but what’s impressive about them is their ability to time and again take a considered approach to planning and therefore don’t have to deal with appeals or rejection as much as others,” says Alex.

“They understand not just what will sell at a site and what will maximise value but also what the planners have to go through when they assess a site. Therefore it’s understand what and how they need to communicate with planners.

“This may sound simple but sometimes planners don’t get the detail they need and it’s not clear in applications what the developer’s intentions are, while some try and hide the negative aspects of a site or project.”

The Collective

What is it?

The Collective is arguably one of the UK’s best-known co-living developers that offers tenants both their own private space but a world of social interaction and stimulation within its developments’ shared spaces.

Based in Bedford Square, London it has three developments including a site in New York and two in Old Oak and Canary Wharf.

The company was founded nine years ago by CEO Reza Merchant after leaving the London School of Economics.

“Reza is testament to the saying that with good funding, the right people around you and an initial bold development idea you can very quickly make a name for yourself and be a contender with much more established names and open some serious doors for yourself,”

Alex

GS8 Developments

What is it?

Based in Hampstead, GS8 Developments is run by property developers Josh Gordon and Ben Spencer who founded the company in 2015. It has several well-publicised sites under construction including a 146-apartment development in Watford.

“I like GS8 because they are very relaxed about being a small player and have developed approximately 25 sites so far of up to 50 units,” says Alex.

“What always stands out about them is that they are intelligent users of social media but also that they are brave with their product and don’t mind being different.

“It’s something that a lot of developers struggle with because although they want to appeal to the greatest number of buyers with a vanilla product, in fact more striking developments often produce better value because the product stands out.

“GS8 offers the kind of architectural and interior design flair that you don’t see as you scroll down the average Rightmove newbuild search results list.

“That’s the advantage of being a smaller developer – you can take the design risks that the bigger builders won’t.”

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