A mother-of-three has revealed how she went from a stay-at-home parent to a property developer with a portfolio worth more than £120million – all in the space of just five years.
Nicole Bremner, 39, a former banker, stumbled on property development after trying her hand at a string of kitchen table ventures, including baking, photography and knitting, as she struggled to find a career that would allow her to contribute to the family finances while still giving her time to look after her three young children.
Writing in her new book, BRICKING IT, Nicole explained: ‘As the main carer for the children and with a partner who worked long hours, I needed something that I could plan around the children and never have to feel that guilt of missing a school play or sporting event.’
Already adept at transforming her own homes into stylish spaces, Nicole bought her first property for development in 2012 and set up her company, East Eight. Just 12 months later she sold the £1.1million home in Hackney, east London, for £1.9million.
She now runs a property business that has 11 projects currently on the go – boasting 400 units worth over £120million in gross development value – while still raising two sons, aged nine and eight, and a six-year-old daughter with her partner in Hackney. Nicole is sharing her story in the hope others might learn from it…
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Spacious: A large bedroom at Wildwood Lodge, Hampstead, which was bought for £5.3million and sold for £13million
Stylish: A property on Englefield Road, in Islington, north London, which was the first Nicole developed with Avi Dodi. The business partners bought the property for £1.4million, spent £600,000 on development and went on to sell for £3.3million
Bright and airy: Floor-to-ceiling windows flood this downstairs kitchen in Hackney, east London, with light
Entrepreneur: Mother-of-three and property developer Nicole Bremner, who has built her own business in five years
On finding a business partner
After a friend pulled out of investing in a project, an architect introduced Nicole to Avi Dodi, an experienced property developer with whom she would go on to found a construction business.
Development finance and joint ventures are the ‘two tools that let her scale up her business’.
In 2013 Nicole and Avi went into business on their first property in Islington, north London. They bought the property for £1.4million, spent £600,000 on development and went on to sell for £3.3million.
On finding a property
Estate agents are a tried and true way to find a property but do not rely on placing calls over the phone. Instead go into your local branches in person, Nicole advises.
She writes: ‘Tell the agent what you’re looking for, the exact area, the budget and how quickly you’re able to move. Drop in a development CV or company brochure too. This shows the agent you’re serious and puts you at the top of their list if something new comes in.’
Auctions can also prove a fruitful way of finding property however buyers can end up spending more than they would otherwise because the ‘adrenaline in the room spurs people on to overbid’.
Thoughtful extras: The living space at Parkholme Road in Hackney, east London, which has been ‘staged’ for selling
Luxury living: One of the large bathrooms at Wildwood Lodge, a sprawling 5,000sq ft property in Hampstead, north London
How to start: Nicole’s eight essential property tips
My first project was my own home and really gave me a taste of the experience. You’ll learn a huge amount from even a small space renovation and discover that you either love it or hate it!
Perhaps the most fun part of property is the transformation. Be involved in the planning, architecture, financing, everything – even if you outsource these skills. You’ll want to put your stamp on it.
Budgets have a tendency to go over but if you have good builders they will find bargains for you. Keep your eyes on those numbers throughout and take time to make crucial decisions.
Get a partner
Things are so much easier in twos. Find someone to work with who has different skills than you that you can use and vice versa, then share the journey and the profits
Speak to friends
My first property development investors were friends who liked what I was doing and wanted to be involved. Ask around, draw up agreements and get going.
Work with your builders
Consider doing a joint venture with your builder. They will have the onsite experience and will be incentivised to do it well and on time. If it goes well, do another one.
Property development is always a risky business but you can choose how much you invest or borrow, build a prudent reserve, and always have a plan b if the market is slow, like renting it out.
Plan and let go
Plan as much as you can, then just take each week as it comes. Property is not without surprises but you can take each challenge in your stride and benefit financially and creatively from the process.
Think about budgeting as an art, rather than a science, Nicole urges, as even the simplest sums can soon spiral.
She writes: ‘Five doors at £200 each, for example. That doesn’t take into account time and materials overrunning or unforeseeable issues arising on site. Even a 10 per cent contingency can’t take into account every outcome.’
If you do end up going over budget, treat it as a learning experience and apply what you have learned to your next project.
Classic finish: The kitchen at Parkholme Road in Hackney, east London, which has been tastefully decorated for viewings
New lease of life: At Graham Road in Hackney, east London, Nicole and her team transformed shabby bedsits converted into three stunning flats of the highest standard. Pictured, the modern kitchen fitted in one of the flats
Modern living: A bedroom in a stylish property on Mare Street, in Hackney, which had three buyers pull out at exchange
opping list: What to buy to ‘stage’ a home
To make a property look welcoming but not too lived in consider buying:
Furniture: A good sofa, a side chair, a coffee table, a rug, a side table, a TV, a dining table and chairs, a king- sized bed, bedside tables and a larger side chair.
Soft furnishings: A couple of rugs and throws, some cushions, art, some books, a full dinner set to put on the table, and towels and branded soaps in the bathrooms.
Little extras: Flowers in vases – use dried flowers if you can’t swing by to water. Also consider carefully placed books and magazines.
On selling a property
Regardless of how you sell a property, you should always ‘stage’ it so that it is ready for buyers, according to Nicole.
This involves stripping out the personal effects so buyers can imagine themselves in the space.
Lisa writes: ‘Make it look like a magazine. No one needs to see pictures of your kids on the beach or your shopping lists on the fridge.
‘It isn’t hard – get some moving boxes, pack away all your superfluous items and put them in storage.
‘If you’re trying to sell a property after it’s been rented and it’s looking tired, spend a few hundred quid. Get the painters in. Fresh paint makes more difference than the price you pay for it.’
She adds: ‘Under no circumstances should you paint the walls magnolia. Never! White or a hint of grey is best.’
Nicole also includes advice on extras homeowners can buy to help shift their properties quicker.
Learning curve: This property on Parkholme Road in Hackney, east London, was one of the first developed by Nicole
Transformed: This property on Englefield Road, in Islington, north London, was converted from flats to a single family home
Attention to detail: The stunning outdoor space at Wildwood Lodge in Hampstead, north London, which sold for £13million
On the importance of delegating
Nicole also stresses the importance of ‘outsourcing’ when it comes to juggling a busy career with a hectic family life. At home, Nicole had the help of a part-time nanny and a cook, who for just £60 came in once a week and spent four hours preparing food for the family.
At work, Nicole advises hiring a bookkeeper and stresses the benefits of having a full-time member of staff.
On the emotional toll
Throughout her book, Nicole does not shy away from giving the warts-and-all view of property development. She stresses that developers have to deal with real lows, as well as euphoric highs.
She writes: ‘I think the property journey is a bit like childbirth: if you remembered in detail the emotional rollercoaster you went on, you wouldn’t do it again. Or perhaps it’s what separates those who are suited to this career from those who are not.
‘Many people renovate a property once and never want to do it again. It is difficult; I won’t sugar- coat it. Things don’t go to plan and you need to rely on so many external parties that it’s hard to keep things to a schedule.’
From the City to property mogul: Nicole’s journey
Sharing her story: Nicole Bremner’s new book, BRICKING IT
Born in Australia, Nicole moved to London in 2000 with her partner and found a job working for an Austrian bank.
In 2004 the couple bought a flat in Clerkenwell, east London. At the time Nicole was working in the City but felt her career was not progressing in the way she wanted.
In 2006 she quit to set up an online retailer for emerging British designers which she ran until her partner’s job took the couple to New York the following year.
Nicole gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, shortly after arriving in the city but soon found herself missing a stimulating career. Drawing on her financial experience, Nicole found a job at Goldman Sachs and described working on Wall Street as a ‘dream come true’.
However the Lehman Brothers collapsed the day she started and the financial cr
isis ensued. In search of greater stability, Nicole and her partner soon moved back to London with their young son.
Wary that the economic crisis was not a time to return to the City, Nicole turned her attention to finding a job that would allow her to contribute to the family finances; care for her young sons; and support a partner who worked 18-hour days.
When they returned to London the couple sold their Clerkenwell flat for £800,000, almost double what it was bought for. In 2010 they bought a crumbling 4,000sq ft former vicarage in Hackney, east London, which Nicole would go on to transform.
But when their third child, a daughter, was born in May 2011, Nicole writes she felt ‘lost’ and had ‘no idea what to do with her life. She continues: ‘I knew I couldn’t go back into banking, with the long hours and frequent travel. I tried photography (specifically food), blogging, cooking, knitting and crochet. These were all creative, but none of them allowed me to contribute to the family finances in the way I wanted to. It was such hard work for so little return.’
Nicole had some success with a cupcake business – even receiving an invite to be a contestant on the Great British Bake Off – but was still missing the financial reward and mental stimulation she craved.
With the help of her partner, Nicole decided to try her hand at property development. In 2012, Nicole established East Eight as a development and construction company.
Soon after, she partnered with experienced property developer Avi Dodi and together they set up a development company, London Central Developments. By 2016, Nicole had refocused her business and East Eight evolved to become the funds- management partner for London Central Developments. She remains active in all aspects of the business.
Nicole Bremner’s book BRICKING IT is now available on Amazon.