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Business partners Sunjay Soni and Andy James met each other whilst working in advertising in London. The pair quickly bonded over shared interests in photography and music. It was perhaps not surprising then that their first investment in Andy’s home town of Northampton emerged from a text message sent when arranging a gig.
‘Andy sent me a text message. We were going to see the Happy Mondays,’ Sunjay recalls. ‘And at the end, a throwaway question, was “I don’t suppose you’re interested in buying a property are you?” I said yeah let’s talk about it actually. And we did.’
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Although Sunjay had been searching for a buy-to-let in south west London to fund his pension, neither of them had prior experience in property. They stress that a lack of experience shouldn’t be an obstacle for people who want to start building a property portfolio.
‘I can’t tell you how to put one brick on top of another. To be honest I don’t want to know how to put one brick on top of another. You leave the knowledge to the experts,’ says Sunjay.
‘We had zero knowledge about construction and refurbishments: absolutely nothing,’ adds Andy.
The Bau Haus
Andy’s Dad, a retired property surveyor, spotted the site for their first Northampton project, The Bau Haus. At the time it was a derelict office building, but his Father saw the potential to convert it into flats. ‘It was a grand 5 storey Victorian townhouse – about a tenth of the price you’d pay in London,’ recalls Sunjay.
Whilst many thought the Northampton market was saturated with flats, Sunjay and Andy saw a niche for a higher quality and edgier product. Taking influence from East London, they brought loft style apartments to Northampton – a concept not yet popularised in the town. ‘Our idea was to create a block of flats of a high standard compared to the Northampton norm,’ says Andy.
They acknowledge that acquiring investment for the first project was challenging, but say sourcing finance became much easier after they successfully completed it. ‘Once you’ve got one under your belt that’s when people start taking you a bit more seriously. The specialist lenders out there will consider lending you the money for the construction,’ explains Sunjay.
Additionally, they say that building a strong brand has helped them attract investors.The brand name, Bauhaus, refers both to the Northampton post-punk band from the early 80s and the German school of architecture.
‘We’re recognised… because Bauhaus is something that they understand, that they relate to,’ says Andy. ‘It’s easier for us to get recognised in the town and also easier to obtain finance.’
The pair quit their jobs in advertising soon after completing their second project. ‘Once you’ve got the bug, I think it’s very hard to do two jobs,’ says Sunjay. ‘There is something very exciting about seeing a building being erected from the ground up.’
They split responsibilities, with Andy in charge of finding sites whilst Sunjay sources funding. They soon hope to employ a project manager to liaise with architects and planning consultants. ‘What we want to do is just have lunch in posh restaurants with rich people and ask them for their money,’ jokes Sunjay.
To anyone looking to start out in property, they emphasise the need to value everyone involved, whether they be architects, land dealers or planning consultants. ‘Assume everyone you work with is your best friend,’ says Andy.
‘Tell everybody you know what you’re doing,’ adds Sunjay. ‘When you tell people what you do you’ll be surprised how many people have got £50,000 sitting in the bank. It’s doing absolutely nothing, earning half a percent interest every year. They’re happy to lend it to you.’
‘You don’t get to the age of 40 odd without knowing people who have cash.’
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