Gary McCausland, presenter of Channel Five's 'How to be a property developer', reveals his top 10 tips for buyers eyeing renovation projects.

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  • 1. Do the maths

    Get your sums right because property development is a risky business. You could make a fortune, or you could lose everything and end up in debt. 

    Find out how much other properties sell for in that area, how much stamp duty, searches and fees will be, and what a refurbishment will cost.

    When you have done the maths, work out exactly who you will be trying to sell to, how much you will realistically get and whether the profit margin is worthwhile. Property development is very capital intensive. If it was easy, we would all be millionaires.

    Discover house prices in your area on PrimeLocation.

    2. Watch the housing market

    Get the upper hand by monitoring what's going on in the housing market. Ultimately, the market depends on five key criteria:

    • interest rates
    • employment
    • inflation
    • demand and supply
    • the very important 'feel good factor'. 

    Find out the latest housing market news on PrimeLocation.

    3. Location, location, location... the myth

    Everyone thinks they know what this means - but they don't. A good location isn't the best area in town when you are a developer. If you buy in the centre of the best area then you are going to pay the highest price and that doesn't leave you any room to make a profit.

    A good location means somewhere on the fringes of a good area that, in time, can become part of that good area. Being near schools, public transport and green areas is essential when it comes to selling a property, but being in the nicest street with the smartest postcode isn't.

    Some of the richest property developers in the world specialise in buying in what most people would consider the worst possible locations, when in fact they are great locations for developing property, making tons of profit. The trick is learning to spot these areas, because often the only way is up.

    Check out our article, How to be smarter with your property search.

    4. Keep looking

    Just get in your car and drive about. I found my first house, which got me started, driving through Richmond. I came across this rundown, dilapidated old house and knocked on the door. An elderly gentleman answered and I told him I was interested in buying his house. He said he'd been thinking of selling up and we did a deal privately. I gave him a good price and avoided paying the fees.

    Lots of properties ripe for development can be found just by driving around. If they are derelict, the Land Registry will help you trace the owner.

    5. Find the right seller

    The way to swing things in your favour is to find someone who needs to sell more than you need to buy. One of the most valuable lessons I have ever learnt is to always be on the look out for a motivated seller. Typically, they are people going through divorces, people in financial difficulties, anyone moving abroad, or the families of the recently deceased, who want a quick and painless sale. Estate agents will have background information about why someone is selling. Remember, the more desperate they are, the better deal you will get. 

    6. Make money when you buy (not when you sell)

    You make money when you buy a property rather than when you sell it. So it is essential to pay the right price for a property. Every pound you can knock off the asking price is money straight in your pocket. If you pay top dollar for something, however good it may seem, you are not going to be able to make a decent profit because the margins are so slim.

    Look out for properties that have planning applications in with the local authority. They might accept a good offer subject to consent, and if they eventually get planning permission, you get the upside.

    7. Buy below the market price

    Always protect yourself against the downside, which means, in a worst case scenario, can you still come out with the shirt on your back? If not, stay away. Someone once said to me, "You never regret the deals that you don't do". They are right. There is always another better deal just around the corner, so never be in a rush to buy. 'Buy at haste, repent at leisure', and in property, if you get it wrong, it becomes a headache and a money pit that can last for years.

    Be careful of buying anything with structural issues, High Alumina Cement (HAC), and asbestos. And always be sure of the area you are buying in, especially noisy neighbours. They can ruin a sale. Make sure the legals are OK. Are there any restrictive covenants, is the garden included?

    Read our handy guide, All the questions to ask when viewing property

    Loads of property experts bang on about adding value, but the truth is there's a limit to how much value you can add to a property with a refurbishment. And because you can never know what will happen to your development, or the market, in the months it takes you to get your property back in estate agents' windows, it's imperative that you build in your best chance of making a profit by buying below the market price in the first place.

    8. Purchase at auction

    Buying at auction is a good way to pick up a bargain, provided you don't get carried away with the emotion of the auction itself. Set yourself a limit and stick to it. An auction is like a game of poker, only in this case, you can see everyone's hand before you place a bet.

    Don't even bid until you have seen what everyone else is doing and put your first bid in at going twice. Only the last bidder ever wins at an auction. If the bidding doesn't reach the reserve price, try and negotiate with the seller afterwards. The property wouldn't be at an auction in the first place if they weren't very keen to sell.

    Find out more in our guide, How to buy a property at auction.

    9. Target the ideal buyer

    Always have in mind who you are aiming to sell to once you have refurbished your property. If you plan to rent or sell to students, there is no point in spending a fortune on the highest quality fittings, but a professional couple may expect more. If it is a family home, think about the décor. And importantly, it isn't about your taste, it is about what would appeal to the type of person who is going to buy it.

    10. Get real

    Remember, property developing isn't like cooking a recipe from a Jamie Oliver book. It's much, much more important and difficult. If you get it wrong, it could potentially leave you broke, or even bankrupt. Dabble in this game at your peril.

    Everyone seems to think they are property developers these days just because their house has gone up almost automatically in value in a rising market. My advice - get real. Property developing means adding value and developing value, not just sitting back and waiting for the market to rise. There are so many pitfalls.

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    Some information contained herein may have changed since it was first published. PrimeLocation strongly advises you to seek current legal and/or financial advice from a qualified professional.

    Do you have any tips of your own? Tell us by posting a comment below...

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