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The Coach: ‘How can I become a developer?’

Shutterstock property developer

Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who thinks they can use their design skills to make a profit 

I would love to become a small developer – buying sites, designing sustainable houses, and then selling them. How do I do this? I don’t have money, nor any inheritance down the back of the sofa, but I am a great designer. 

Matthew turner

Many architects think they could make money from developing because they have done this for clients, but if they think their design acumen is the key, they are wrong. It is the architect who can think like a developer who can actually make money. 

Of course, well-designed buildings can make money, but as a rule the design icing is based on a well-made financial cake.

To make money in property, you need to understand where value lies. You may be able to deliver a wonderful one-off house to live in yourself. But take an architect who built their own house in Hackney 20 years ago and can now sell it at a huge profit. The fact remains that any given house in that location, whatever the design, will have appreciated considerably, meaning the bulk of this good fortune is due to the market rather than their design skills.

And stepping up from the one-off house to producing sellable units is a whole other activity. Beyond understanding how property finance works, it is important to understand the influence of the mortgage and insurance industry. Both of these constraints are particularly relevant to sustainable building, where, for better or worse, materials and construction method choices are routinely seen as experimental, and therefore undesirable.

Once you get the financial realities of the development industry, then architectural skills (such as extracting value from a site, skilled planning discussion, the clever use of space, and so on) can come into their own. 

I don’t want to quash your ambition to become a developer, or discourage thinking sustainably. But, especially as someone without the resources to pursue a hobby business, I would simply say: seek out the right collaborators if you are not financially minded. 

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com 


Readers' comments (2)

  • Chris Roche

    The question of how an architect can become a developer is one I have been considering for 30 years, ever since I adopted Roger Zogolovitch's Paper "The Architect as Developer" for an RIBA Part 3 question. Subsequently I launched a self-build/self-development group entitled DIY Lofts with view to co-ordinating a like minded group of individuals through the process of purchasing and developing a large building into an apartment community. Our first project was Hoxton House, 1 Hoxton Street, Hoxton - at a time only the brave would venture into what is now arguably the creative epicentre of East London. At the height of the crash in 2010, when Architect's Fees were at rock bottom it became clear that Architecture was no longer a viable business option without accompanying development skills and opportunities. I then sold my Shoreditch Studio to the Pet Shop Boy's for a recording studio; sold my house to the Costume Designer for The Harry Potter movies, paid of my then crippling £250,000 mortgage and began development in earnest. To share my experience with others I wrote a book - "The Property Developer's Handbook" (Haynes/Amazon) and now regularly give lectures to Part 3 students. If you are only interested in making money there are probably easier ways, however if you value your skill and judgement as an architect, and wish to take greater control of your career, creativity and finances then I would encourage all architects to consider this opportunity.

    Chris Roche / Founder 11.04 Architects.

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  • Certainly not by using old £1 coins, that's for free.

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