22 mins read
Diary of a Property Entrepreneur
Meet Saif Derzi, The Ambitious Property Investor Who Turned One Property into 110 Properties – in Just Five Years
What do you see when you look at this building?
Rubble? Dereliction? Or somebody’s dream home?
If you’re an aspiring or ambitious property entrepreneur like Saif Derzi, you might see a cool investment opportunity.
Since the pandemic, the British obsession with bricks and mortar has continued to grow. Only now, idle chit-chat of house prices and a booming property market has spurred some into action.
In this short diary, Saif captures the ins and outs of property development, and shares some practical tips which even a seasoned investor could use to navigate their own property goals for 2022 and beyond.
“Tips provided by Saif Derzi and are not provided or endorsed by Together.”
“Be cautious when others are greedy, and be adventurous when others are fearful. As long as you’re confident in yourself, you’re positive, and you’ve done your numbers, often the best opportunities to find a strong investment happen when you’re sticking your neck out and not following the crowd.”
As head of SDGB Properties, Saif Derzi's amazing success as a property investor has seen him spotted by the national press. Just a few short years ago, however, he was a bored 23-year-old pharmacist looking for a new challenge and to break into the property market.
Back then, scrolling through the latest listings, Saif came across an off market two-bed flat situated in Salford. It was in serious need of renovation, but attractively priced. To Saif, it seemed like a fantastic letting opportunity. Seizing the moment, he secured finance, exchanged contracts – and reduced his working hours at the pharmacy.
Since then, Saif has relocated to Lincoln, where he’s best-placed to take full advantage of the East Midlands’ affordable – relatively speaking – property market. From that first flat in Salford, he’s gone on to buy & sell over 110 properties over a 5 year period – although that number will likely be even higher by the time you read this.
“I’m good at knowing what I’m bad at,” says Saif, when asked for advice he’d give anyone just starting out in property. “People need to work out their personal strengths and weaknesses. So, for example, I know that I’m bad at DIY. I need a strong team of professionals around me to handle renovation work. So if an opportunity arises where I’d need to scrimp on labour and do things myself to turn a profit, that tells me that there’s not enough margin in the deal.”
What Saif is good at is surrounding himself with people who share his sense of intuition-driven ambition. His right-hand man is Kas Derzi, who earned his stripes on the UK’s vaping boom before making the move across to property.
“I was living in California, but came to the UK to get into electronic cigarettes when that was a big opportunity,” says Kas. “I was project-managing the build of high-quality e-cig outlets, and that’s how I built up my bank of transferable skills.”
The brothers joined forces in 2017. They discussed current projects and future goals – and Kas came aboard SDGB Properties almost immediately.
“Saif dragged me from Brighton to Lincoln!” laughs Kas. “Overnight, I transitioned from retail to construction-project management. The first project was in Doncaster: a three-bed terrace, transformed into a four-bed HMO. For a first project, it was really complicated. I wasn’t yet familiar with the role, and the state of the property was awful. But it was great to be thrown in the deep end!”
Saif and Kas have been business-brothers-in-arms ever since – and if you’re looking for insights and inspiration in terms of property development then, right now, you won’t get much better than these two.
1. Take Your Time to Find the Right Area
"There's that well-worn saying about the three most important factors when it comes to choosing your home; location, location, location."
“Do your research to find out exactly what the market is like in your chosen area. What are buyers and renters in that area are looking for? How much are they willing to spend? Talking to an estate or letting agent is a good place to start.
“Personally, I’ve always sought properties across the Midlands and the North: prices tend to be cheaper and there’s more untapped potential.
2. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Opportunities
“When looking for a property, you’ll want to find somewhere you can add value. Look for things like unused loft spaces that could be bedrooms, large gardens that can be sold off, empty outbuildings, or whether a building could be split into flats.
“Then make sure you get the right people to do the right job. There are many things you can do yourself, but the most successful projects are often the ones that need the most work. Truly dilapidated properties are like gold dust.
“If the condition is poor, see if there’s a similar house for sale nearby that’s in better condition. Then, tour that house to better visualise what is possible in the house you are considering.
“If you suspect structural issues, however, be very careful – and always get a survey. If the property does have some complex problems, that doesn’t mean you can’t proceed. It just means you need to make sure it’s factored into the price you’re paying, and your renovation budget.”
3. Keep Your Project Within Reach
“It’s always a good idea to buy in an area that’s close to you. Ideally, you’ll want it to be within an hour’s drive from where you live. Even if you’re employing a site manager and contractors to carry out the work, being able to regularly visit will help you ensure that everything is going to plan and is meeting your expectations.
“And if you’re familiar with an area because it’s local, you probably have a better understanding of its amenities and most desirable streets. With that local knowledge, you’ll be more confident in making a quick offer once the ideal property pops up on the market.
“SDGB Properties started out in our home city, Lincoln. Then we slowly branched out into other parts of Lincolnshire, before exploring Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire when we’d built our experience.”
4. Be Ambitious, But Acknowledge Your Limits
“You need to decide what kind of investment you’re comfortable with – buy-to-let or buy-to-sell.
“With buy-to-let, you’ll purchase a property in order to rent it out, using the rental payments to pay off the mortgage on that property – and provide a bit of extra profit, too. Buy-to-let is a great way to provide a long-term income stream, but it’s not an easy way to make a quick profit – you’ll need to be dedicated, and recognise that the needs of your tenants are always paramount.
“With buy-to-sell – also known as property flipping – you’ll buy or build a property, hold it for a short time, and then sell it on again. For this strategy to be successful, you’ll generally need to buy a property that needs work, whether that’s upgrading the interior or converting the attic into an extra bedroom.
“You then make the necessary renovations and sell for a profit, making sure to factor in the costs of the work. The more work required, the larger the risk, and the bigger the potential profit – but it’s a good idea not to take on too much if this will be your first project.”
5. Find the Right Lender for You
“It’s vital to have the right lender in your corner. They’ll allow you to seize an opportunity quickly, and complete any necessary works.
“There are a number of funding options open to property developers, from mortgages to bridging loans. Which one you choose will depend on your circumstances and the type of property you’re buying. Often, if a property is run down and has little value, you might find it harder to get a mortgage that would cover the renovation costs. A bridging loan or development finance could help you in this situation.
“We regularly work with specialist lender Together, who we can rely on to be fast and flexible when we’re looking to take on a new project. Working with a lender means we can make our money go further – using our cash as the deposit for multiple houses, rather than buying one property outright.
“Let’s use an example with £100,000 in cash. Instead of purchasing one property at £100,000 with what we’ve got in the bank, we’ll buy four properties worth £100,000 each with a £300,000 loan from Together. Using the 3% average capital appreciation figure year on year, we’ll get four times the increase in house price and revenue from renting the properties out, than if we’d purchased just the one.
“So, even factoring in the interest on our loan, we’re up on our investment. This is how we’ve been able to grow SDGB Properties so quickly.”
Kirsty Rogers, Business Development Director at Together, has worked alongside SDGB properties for a number of years, and says:
“Together and I love supporting ambitious customers like Saif, because we hold the same values and share the same entrepreneurial spirit. We’re able to offer SDGB properties more than just a finance product, but a relationship and a service that compliments their business model, which can help them expand. I’m really looking forward to supporting this excellent team with all of their future projects.”
The Inside Story: A Property Investment
In this exclusive diary, Saif and Kas reveal the highs and lows of an SDGB Properties renovation project that ran from December 2019 to August 2021.
“We’ve finally got the keys for one of our upcoming projects in Lincoln. This plot came onto the market in October 2019. It’s essentially two derelict cottages, both of which are completely uninhabitable as they stand. “Because of this, we managed to secure the pair under its asking price, as there’s limited competition even from other investors at the minute. “Brexit is causing a couple of concerns currently, especially around the Price and availability of materials. But we’ve done our numbers, we’ve got the backing from Together, and we’re confident this’ll make a great family home!”
“It’s been a couple of weeks since we got our hands on the property. As Project Manager, I usually get involved after Saif has secured the deal and set his budget. “We’d originally planned to keep the buildings as two separate properties. But after having several conversations with estate agents in the area, we’ve decided to rework the floorplan and we’re going to knock the two cottages together. “There’s a lot of demand for open-plan living and outdoor space, and the property is in a great neighbourhood – there’s a lovely school and a park on the same road. So we’re excited to create a large home for a family to enjoy!”
“When working on projects like this, we’re frequently asked why we don’t just knock everything down and start again.
“For one, it often depends on what you’ve got planning permission for – and we didn’t have the council’s permission to demolish these buildings. But we wouldn't have chosen to do so anyway, due to material shortages and price increases. In keeping the shell of the property, we’ll be saving a hefty amount on bricks and labour.”
“Here’s the existing layout and the proposed floorplan, side by side. So, as you can see, lots to be getting on with!”
“We’re back – and this time we’ve got our team along with us. We haven’t actually touched the property yet. At this stage, I invite contractors and subcontractors to the site so they can price up properly and give us a full quote for the work. “I’ll also be making sure we’re setting clear expectations for how we’ll communicate, control quality, and just generally how we’ll keep each other updated throughout the project. “At the same time, I’m also arranging for an architect and a structural engineer to come on site and get plans drawn up. So once that’s all signed off by building control, we can get things underway. For a project of this size, this whole process usually takes about a month.”
“Once the boring stuff is out of the way, we then start the rip-out. And that means exactly that: we’re going into the property and removing absolutely everything. This has included the kitchens – well, it was just a sink and a cupboard in one of the properties – demolishing the outdoor toilet, and stripping out all wiring and plumbing.
“The property has actually been vacant for a really long time, so it’s in really poor condition.
“While we’ve got our skips, we’ll also be knocking down the walls and removing the chimney breasts to make the buildings work as one house – and to create that all-important open plan space. We’ve used a record 32 skips to clear everything!”
“We’ve had a couple of delays with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, but we’re back on site now and raring to go.
“We’ve completed the ground works and we’ll be upgrading the floor. When we purchased the properties, the floor was all different levels so we’ve basically had to start from scratch.
“We’ve actually found it really difficult to source cement, though. It’s all being used for the HS2 rails from Doncaster to London, so sourcing and pricing has been a problem even before Covid-19.
“Luckily, we’ve found a local company who can provide us with 24 tonnes of concrete instead, which we can pour across the whole house. That’s going to save us a lot of money in labour and materials, which is always great when you’re working on a tight budget.”
“We’ve finished most of the really messy work now, so it’s time to start working on the outside of the building to bring its energy efficiency value up to regulation standards. When we’re insulating the property, it’s basically like wrapping a huge blanket around the entire thing.
“After we’ve had building control do the inspections to make sure it passes all of their checks, we’ll render the property to give it a great modern look.
“While all this is going on, we’re also cracking on with the electrics and re-wiring inside the property, and all of the plumbing and pipework too.”
“Plastering and boarding were next. There were exposed bricks everywhere. We’ve used plasterboard and done the skimming, alongside all the pipework for radiators, toilet, sink and so on.
“We’ve redone the layout to do the four bedrooms, bathroom and ensuite. We added a proper entrance, lobby and dining room and open-plan kitchen. In came the joiners and we did the first-fix joinery, which is putting the timber in for the wall frames. This was needed because it’s an old house. We needed to redo the stairs as the staircase is so small. Our new owners would struggle with getting furniture up! We’ve had to custom build with a degree elbow and curve to maximise property space.
“After that comes the second-fix joinery: hanging up all the doors and frames, architraves and skirting. Once we’ve finished these, we start fitting the kitchen and tiling bathrooms. We’re fitting baths, showers, and toilets – connecting and testing, pressure testing, flow testing, volume testing. I do all of this on site.
“We’re spray-painting the house as it cuts down the time by half. Our first coat helps us identify irregularities on the wall. We use ice lights that show any bumps or screws hanging out. We’ll then go over these again with sanding and plaster. Colour-wise, we go with white so that people can paint their new home how they prefer.
“We’ll keep a couple of tins of paint back for later on, too, as we have carpenters coming in and floorers, who will inevitably scratch painted surfaces.
“Landscaping-wise, we’ve got a patch of grass at the back and some paving stones going down.
“We have our own custom template for finding snags that we use for every refurb. This covers everything from the roof to the floors – it’s a huge list!
“The most exciting stage of a project for me is definitely seeing everything come together at the end. What we do is so tangible, and being able to see and touch something that you’ve created is pretty special – especially when that creation is going to be somebody’s dream home. It makes all the hard work feel worth it!”
Swipe for before & after
How has this project, and the last 18 months, shaped your future ambitions for SDGB properties?
Have ambitions of your own?
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