334: Steven & Carolyn Sparks on working together, the merit in corporate experience and taking it slow

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Today I’m delighted to be joined by Steven and Carolyn Sparks, a property development couple who have a ton of stories to tell about their decades in the industry. They have a real passion for period commercial properties, which they convert to residential and mixed-use developments.

During the show, we talk about how their corporate pasts helped shape their current passion. Also, how their love of historic buildings has led to some amazingly fulfilling as well as profitable projects, with their current project even taking almost a decade from first spotting it to becoming the proud owners. We also discuss how things like low gearing and investing close to home has allowed them to create a business that gives them benefits beyond just money, like the ability to take two years off to build their dream eco-home.

Listen to this episode below:

Here’s a sneak peek at what discussed this time:

5:01– Steven talks us through his life before property and the opportunity he was given in a Youth Training Scheme to work in an estate agency in Brighton.

8:20 – He talks about the buzz and passion he has for the challenges in property and loves that he’s been in the business since school.

9:04 – Carolyn also tells us how she’s been in the property world since leaving school, but explains how it wasn’t a conscious decision as such.

10:14 – Bettering environments was at the heart of her decision. Carolyn tells us how she made £60k through property by the time she finished University.

11:52 – They talk about the transferable skills that they picked up through working in estate agency, and how it has helped them get to where they are today.

12:47 – Steven advises people wanting to work in property to get experience in something related and immerse yourself within the world. Carolyn tells us how useful it is that she can value properties as they see them.

16:13 – How it’s nice to be able to operate in the market and space where you are proud to show off the properties you’ve worked on.

20:08 – If you want something, you’ve got to go out and get it. Steven tells us how that’s very much their ethos.

20:30 – They talk through how long it took them after meeting each other before thinking about property development together.

23:20 – The importance of nailing down roles and responsibilities when you work as a family together in business. Mike asks if they have any processes for making a distinction between home life and work life.

29:25 – They discuss past projects such as the demolition of an old pub, car tyre garage and conversion of former hotels.

29:56 – Does the restoration of historic buildings define a lot of their passion and work?

“We get involved in buildings that we are passionate about and that bring value to ourselves and the community. We can be custodians of these properties and get them to last another 100 years”

32:15 – The numbers are still important but it has to be something that means something to them as well now.

33:00 – Steven goes over the specifics of one of his projects.

36:23 – Steven and Carolyn discuss their current project of a 10,500sqft historic building, purchased without planning. It was on Alex Polizzi Hotel Inspector and they fell in love with it then.

37:58– They discuss law of attraction and how it might have come about it – it was also Steven’s estate agency skills that won them the building.

40:57 – Where the project is up to at the moment and how it’s nearing completion.

42:22 – They discuss the plan to sell off the residential on long-leases, let the commercial element and then sell the freehold as an investment package.

43:18 – How do they make a decision on what to keep and sell.

45:40 – They talk through a property they have in Brighton for renting out.

47:16 – How it’s nice to have a selection of different types of projects.

47:30 – They discuss the idea of risk. Mike points out that, when it comes to leverage on rental portfolio, Sparks Property is low leverage. Steven and Carolyn talk about it being an active choice to keep the leverage as they do – it’s very considered.

51:39 – They talk through the concept of organic growth and offer their advice to others wanting to get into property development. Carolyn unpicks the idea that property development can be a ‘get rich quick’ solution and promotes slow growth.

“If they make it sound easy, I would run a mile from that person!”

54:07 – Think about your why – why do you want to do it?

56:47 – Money can’t be the only motivator.

 Show Sponsors

So, there’s no denying that Covid has thrown a few spanners in the mix but that doesn’t mean that you should put your own property plans on hold. We have still been buying and profiting from our portfolio and you absolutely can too. Don’t let Covid be another excuse to take you away from your goals of building a portfolio and achieving time, location and freedom in your own life. One thing that it has, unfortunately, put a halt on though is our open days. We have run these for years and we pack so much into our time together, and we always get such good feedback so we were desperate to find a way to continue with them for the short time that we’re back in the UK this year.

We’re taking the Open Days online! You’ll still get a live guided tour of three of our existing projects, and you’ll still get to spend the rest of the day with us in a private workshop looking at how you can build your portfolio, business and profits based on what works for us in the real world. The only downside is that we can’t stand in a virtual room together and shake your hand, but when we looked to the positives, it became a no-brainer. You can join us from the comfort of your own home in your pyjamas without having to travel to Manchester, and you don’t need to organise childcare. We’re also able to drop the price because let’s be honest, our costs are lower. And if you’ve got a business partner or life partner who’s interested in property, they would normally have to fork out for their own ticket, but with a virtual event, you can invite whoever you like to join it with you at no extra cost! Check out the details at insidepropertyinvesting.com/openday

Links Mentioned

For more information on Sparks Property, check out their Instagram @sparksproperty or visit sparksproperty.co.uk

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