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Direct Investing in Development Projects

Editor Richard Bowser talks with private investor Helen Chorley about how she has successfully grown her property portfolio by investing in other people’s developments

It must be about nine years since I first heard the term ‘crowdfunding’ being used and since then we have looked at it on a fairly regular basis and reported on its use for property development projects by various developers and platform promoters. It has been described as bringing democracy to property development funding, allowing ‘the little person’ to get involved and to directly benefit from investing in profitable property projects.

There have of course been many success stories in recent years with more straightforward ‘peer to peer’ lending arrangements, whereby ‘the crowd’ can invest with others in relatively straightforward short-term loans to developers, which are asset backed often with first charge security in place to protect the investors.

And yet, as we highlighted last year there have been some casualties along the way, particularly where ‘the crowd’ have funded or part funded the more risky equity slice of a project. Of course the returns should be commensurate to the risk but this has not always been the case in recent years. Sadly some overly optimistic and with hindsight, relatively naïve developers have led their starry-eyed investors down a garden path and losses are currently being, or have already been, incurred, and in some cases these losses have been heavy.

So this month, in one of two investor interviews, I caught up with Helen Chorley, to talk about the lessons she has learnt from investing in property developments via crowd-funding and peer-to-peer lending platforms. Those who attend a few of the independent monthly property meets in central London will know of Helen but as she explains, the capital is no longer where she has her main residence.

To set the scene, Helen briefly explains her career to date. “I studied PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at Oxford University, which usually makes for a good career in politics or even becoming Prime Minister, but I wanted something with a bit more excitement (sorry Boris).

“My boyfriend at the time was a foreign exchange (FX) trader at Citibank and his life sounded great so I thought if he could do it, then so could I. Plus he had really wanted to get into JPMorgan and being the competitive type at that time I was determined to achieve what he had not. I really enjoyed the fast-paced, dynamic environment of the trading floor and the energy and adrenaline was a buzz that I thrived on in my twenties. Though this approach to life would come back to bite me later on, taking a real toll on my health.

“When I joined JPMorgan, it was before technology had automated a great deal of trading and operations, so executing big client orders was a huge, theatrical group effort; every trader on two phone calls at the same time, the chief dealer shouting and coordinating the amounts being bought or sold, whilst monitoring the erratic price action and the desk assistants trying to keep track of what deals had actually been done and with whom!

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