A happy ending for project that became a nightmare
Peter Mandefield’s obsession with property took him on a rollercoaster ride that almost ended in disaster.
PROPERTY addiction is usually pretty harmless, though there are some side effects.
You can waste a lot of time browsing Rightmove while watching endless episodes of Location, Location, Location and Grand Designs on More 4 and, of course, you must cope with bouts of envy and inadequacy when you see the house of your dreams.
Destructive thoughts like “Why don’t I live in a £2m manor house? I’m such a failure” and “I need to win the Lottery” race through your head.
That kind of addiction is what launched Peter Mandefield into the world of renovation and development, but he has a cautionary tale for those looking to follow his move from armchair to building site.
He has just emerged from a three-year property nightmare that damaged his health and left his finances severely depleted. Only luck and two builders in shining armour saved him from complete disaster.
His problems started when he spotted a site in Nawton, Kirkbymoorside, with outline planning permission for 17 houses including six affordable homes
Feeling sure he could persuade planners to drop the section 106 agreement for affordable housing to five properties, to be managed by a housing association, he bought it three years ago and prepared a new application.
His confidence was buoyed by previous successes. A mechanic who worked his way up to divisional manager for a car sales business, he began with a selfbuild then worked his way up to developing small sites.
“I found that the skills I had gained in the motor trade really helped with property development. A lot of it is people skills. Once you’ve got planning permission, it’s about getting men and materials to site at the right time at the right price.
“It’s about managing people and negotiating with manufacturers,” says Peter.
But planning permission on the site, which also demanded a £100,000 road widening scheme, became a major issue for him.
Although he had spoken to the local authority, valuers and agents before buying the land, he was unable to get what he wanted and therefore the numbers did not stack up. The unviable plot lay fallow along with the £500,000 he had invested in it.
His case wasn’t helped by volume builders who wanted to build on greenfield sites and were offering the council a higher percentage of affordable homes.
“I thought I’d done due diligence and that the planners would be happy to reduce the affordable element, especially as I was also having to widen the road. It was obvious that no-one could make the site pay without a reduction in the affordable quota.
“Looking back, the big mistake I made was to exchange contracts with the seller without the proviso that I would buy it subject to getting revised planning permission,” says Peter.
Meanwhile, interest payments on the money he borrowed to buy the land were crippling.
“I was paying £800 a week to watch weeds grow,” he says. “I ended up going back to work for the motor dealer to earn some money but the stress of the situation was making me ill.
“It was a millstone round my neck. At one point I asked if I could build the affordable homes in brick rather than stone to cut the cost. I also appealed against the decision and was turned down. Two months later and the planning rules nationally were softened. Had I appealed then I would’ve won. That was a very low moment.”
He battled on with another application for 21 houses with seven affordable for local residents only and was euphoric after winning permission, only to have the bank renege on their promise of funding for the build.
“It was a nightmare,” he says. “They said the gearing was wrong. To cap it all I also had an investor who pulled out too.”
Rescue came from local builders Dan Warrington and his father John, who agreed to a joint venture. Work on site started this spring and the first homes are now on the market. A three bedroom house costs from £199,950 to £250,000.
“It has been a real rollercoaster and I know have to take responsibility for that. A lot of it was ignorance on my part. Buying the site was a gamble and it’s not the sort of risk I would take again,” says Peter.
“But I’m glad I persevered. I reckon I have spent 3,500 hours on this site but it’s been worth it because I’ve got a happy ending. Dan is a brilliant builder and he and I have similar ideas on design and we work really well together. In fact, we’re looking at other sites to develop because our combined skills have been a great asset.”
He adds: “This experience hasn’t dampened my love of property at all, but it has taught me a lot. This is such a nice site I allowed my heart to rule my head and I won’t let that happen again.”
The Sidings at Nawton, near Kirkbymoorside, is by Ambleside Homes and includes houses and bungalows. Prices range from £199,950 to £279,950, There is an open weekend at the site today and tomorrow and October 5 and 6. For more information, visit www.amblesidehomes.com
PEACEFUL SETTING: Gateforth Hall, built in 1812 as a shooting lodge, was once used a hotel and nightclub. Now it’s a stunning family home with 10,000 sq ft of space. Its bowed entrance with giant ionic columns overlooks a sweeping tree-lined drive, and there are views over open countryside.
ROLLERCOASTER: Peter Mandefield has a cautionary tale for those wishing to go into property development after his experiences in Nawton.