Property expert behind Winerack revival shares secrets of career in book

PUBLISHED: 05:30 23 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:26 23 August 2018

John Howard's new book draws on his experience in property development. Picture: Property Publicity.

John Howard's new book draws on his experience in property development. Picture: Property Publicity.


A property mogul who has been behind more than 3,500 deals is sharing the secrets of his success in a new book.

John Howard's new book draws on his experience in property development. Picture: Property Publicity.John Howard's new book draws on his experience in property development. Picture: Property Publicity.

John Howard, 56, has had a long and varied career which has included 18 years as a director of Cambridge United and most recently as the developer behind the long-awaited Winerack development in Ipswich.

Mr Howard, who went to Gresham’s School in Holt, said: “I won’t tell you what colour to paint the walls or which type of brewed coffee smells best in order to help sell your properties. But what I will do is give you straight-talking, hard-nosed, real life advice from someone who’s been developing property for 35 years, rather than the opinion of a TV presenter or celebrity footballer with barely any experience in the subject whatsoever.

“This book is written in a way that can be understood by everyone, from the total novice to somebody who has dabbled in property development already. I wanted reading it to feel like a conversation – so if it feels like having a chat in a local pub, that’s precisely the effect I was looking for.”

Mr Howard followed his father into estate agency and made his first property deal at the age of 18. He took over the business when he was 19, trebling its turnover in three years. By the age of 24, he had sold it to concentrate on property development.

Mr Howard’s latest acquisition is the Winerack on Ipswich marina, a £25m investment, partly funded by a £15m loan from the Homes and Communities Agency, which is set to become 150 flats, offices and a restaurant.

His new book, The Inside Guide to Property Development and Investment for Newcomers, include tips to follow and pitfalls to avoid.

They include:

1. Appearances matter

Sometimes you’ll find that the property next door is in a terrible condition. For example, it needs painting on the outside, but the current owners won’t do it. While it may sound crackers, you could offer to paint the front of their house in order to make yours look more saleable. It won’t be the first time a property developer has done this—I’ve even had to do this myself. The neighbours are normally delighted that you’re going to do it for them, and it helps you sell your property more quickly, for little extra cost.

2. Auction advice

It’s a really good idea to get to know your local auctioneer. You’ll find them very approachable. They are all great characters—a trait that’s needed to stand on the rostrum and do the job well. If you are thinking of bidding, introduce yourself before the auction starts and let them know that you will be bidding, but do not tell the auctioneer what your maximum price is!

3. Know your limits

When I’m bidding at auction, I always set myself a limit and go no more than 5% over it. That way, if I’ve only missed it by a small amount, I’m not kicking myself because I know I’ve already gone 5% more than I should have. The trick is to set your limit and stick to it plus 5% – don’t get carried away.

4. Be realistic

When getting an estate agent’s valuation, bear in mind that it is going to be on the optimistic side of what you will be able to get. So put the property on the market at a slightly lower figure than what they recommend. To some people, this sounds crazy, but everything I put on the market I want to sell within 28 days, so I can move on to the next deal quicker.

5. The golden rule

The golden rule of property is to always give the resell back to the agent who sold it to you. That way, they will help ensure the sale goes through smoothly for you in the first place.

And five mistakes to avoid:

1. Leave the past behind

If you’re buying a property that someone has only just bought themselves and are selling on to you quickly, never let the price they paid influence how much you will give them for it, should you find out this information. It doesn’t matter how much profit they are making out of you. If you are confident that you can make the net profit you require yourself, then good luck to them.

2. Be a step ahead

Don’t wait until the mortgage offer has been received from the buyer before carrying out an up-to-date local search. This can really slow down a sale. To counter this, I pay for a search on my own property. They last for three to six months. I can then pass it across to the buyer along with all the enquiry and property forms filled in prior to the sale even being agreed. This way, as soon as you know who the buyer’s solicitor is, you can send them a full pack of legal documents.

3. Get the professionals in

Once a property has been renovated, never get the builders to do the final clean as it will be a disaster! Instead, organise a professional builder’s clean at the end, once they have finally shut the front door. There is nothing more frustrating than having professional cleaners in to then find out that the builder has to come back and will make more mess.

4. Don’t be distracted by £££

When selling a property, don’t necessarily pick the buyer offering the most—always pick the best buyer. You need to make sure the buyer can proceed quickly, because every day that goes by will cost you money in interest charges and will rob you of the opportunity to buy another deal. If you have the opportunity to meet the buyer, do so. If there’s more than one, see which one you get on with best and feel you can trust.

5. Don’t limit your options

Make sure you don’t sign a sole agency agreement for more than four to six weeks with one agent. This way, the agent is kept on their toes and will try to get you a sale within the contract period, which is what you want—time is money. If they don’t, then you can always take it off the market with them and seek another agent. However, don’t place the property with more than one agent at a time, as the agents will have no incentive to sell it for you—remember, you want your agent to be loyal to you.

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