Nicholas Cowell is a British property developer, co-founder and director of Estate Office Property Consultants, and head of the Cowell Group, where he co-ordinates all activities from speaking with investors and development partners to managing the group’s vast portfolio.
He has over 40 years of experience in the industry and is driven by his passion for property. He specialises in residential and commercial investment and development properties, with the view to add value in all situations.
We spoke to Nicholas about his experience in the industry, including an insight into his thoughts for the future of the housing market, his favourite property developments and his advice for any aspiring property investors or developers.
Hi Nicholas, great to see you’re doing well. What have you been up to recently? How have you been keeping busy?
“A lot! Property wise, we never stop! We’re always on the go and rarely get time to celebrate achievements as we’re always moving on to the next project.
“Outside of property, I’ve been busy occupying my other interests, investing in a number of sectors including tech, biotech and leisure, as I take an active interest in these businesses.
“We will soon be launching a social media platform, that is designed to give back, and we are also opening the second Bike Shed in LA, which is very exciting!
“I’ve also been spending most of my time with my family and I love to travel. I actually have an exciting trip next year with a friend, riding across Chile to Bolivia.”
It sounds like you’ve been up to a lot! Can you tell us how you got into the property industry?
“I started off in 1979. I was 17 at the time and I started as an office boy for Garrard Smith & Partners in the West End of London.”
So, how did you get from an estate agent junior to where you are now?
“Well, I made really good tea and was the only person who could work the switchboard, making myself invaluable, meaning they couldn’t sack me!
“On top of my tea-making skills, I was hard-working and punctual, which resulted in me being taught the business. I also had a natural ability to sell. Once I started on the rack, I was addicted!”
It’s clear you have a natural flair for property. But, if you didn’t work in property, what else could you see yourself doing?
“Apart from the leading role in a Bond film, winning the open or the final at Wimbledon (!), I think I would have liked to go into the film business.
“I was once offered a job as a broker for a commodity broker, which I turned down. Sadly for me, the guy who offered me the job later became the world head and I might have gone there with him and become one of the masters of the universe!”
What is a typical day in your life like?
“Luckily for me, every day is different!
“We’re very reactive to deals being offered to us and, whilst I’m very disciplined to keep up with emails and the general running of the business, I do try to get out and about and look at opportunities or visit sites we’re building on, as it’s something I really enjoy.
“I really believe in meeting people and being receptive to new ideas – you never know where it might lead you…”
It sounds like you always have a lot going on! Do you have a favourite part of your job?
“Yes, I LOVE bringing in a new deal – it’s always really exciting!”
With the Stamp Duty Holiday, we saw the market turn into a ‘seller’s market’ – what do you think is in store for the future of the property market?
“I think houses will always be a number one investment, with most people still wanting to own their own home. I don’t believe that will change, so demand will always be high.
“Property is an asset, which you can live in or rent out to others, so it’s always going to have a use.”
Since COVID, people appear to be moving out of London for bigger properties with more outdoor space. Do you think this could impact the London property market? Is there a chance we could see any potential price drops?
“Not at all. People are now returning to work.
“In my opinion, we need to be in an environment where we learn and communicate on a constant level. Of course, there’s now an opportunity for some people to work from home, but I do believe we all work better and harder together.”
Being a property developer and investor, we can imagine it’s easy to get tempted into buying a house as a ‘project’. What has been your favourite ‘project’ you have worked on?
“It’s hard to say as each project comes with its own story, but any project where you create new and interesting flats or are able to work on planning and adding value is always a great project.
“We recently acquired a 4-acre site in Highgate, North London, and spent the best part of a year redesigning the scheme to create 360 flats plus over 400 student rooms, which we had to design to very strict policy guidelines.
“It will now go through the planning process and create an end value of £300million.”
That sounds amazing! What advice would you give to someone wanting to work on a property, but with a limited budget?
“Don’t give up!
“If you have a real deal, you will always find someone to back it. If not, sell on the idea and make some money and move on to the next one.
“Never hold on and let someone else outbid you, as you will end up with nothing.”
When it comes to property development, are you ‘hands on’ or ‘hands off’?
“Very hands-on in every aspect from design to financial control.
“It’s really important you do this as costs easily run away and you can have over 50 redesigns on any project which have to be micromanaged.
“Every inch of detail is important, and you have to remember you are designing homes for people to live in.”
We know things don’t always go to plan – is there anything you can say went wrong but meant you actually learnt a lot from it?
“Absolutely! Everything can and will go wrong at some point, but we measure our success not by the mistakes we make, but by how we put them right.
“We have markets collapse, builders go bust, faulty work and just bad investments where we’ve been given bad advice to follow.”
What was your first-ever investment? Can you remember it?
“A one-bedroom flat with a sitting tenant in Primrose Hill. When we sold it on, we made a £10k profit.”
When it comes to investing, do you have a preference between residential or commercial?
“Our focus on commercial is in the retail sector and we often buy on the basis we have a ‘readymade’ tenant to decrease the risk.”
And finally, if someone who’s never invested in property before came to you for advice, what would you say?
“Go for it, but research the market carefully.
“It’s a really difficult thing to find a real deal and you have to understand the true costs involved. From an individual point of view, make your own home your number one asset. This way you get to live in it and any profits are tax-free!”
If you’re an industry expert, like Nicholas, and have some insight you’d like to share then get in touch with us today!