In 2013, part-time property developers Michael Bristow, Andrew Hall and Simon Zutshi were lamenting the state of property finance in the UK. “We were all in the ‘SME’ category of property developer,” explains Bristow. “Traditional sources of finance were failing us. We decided to do something about it.” The trio created CrowdProperty that year to “unlock the power of the SME developer” through peer-to-peer lending and technology to serve SME developers better. “Fundamentally, we match the supply and demand of capital more efficiently and effectively,” says Bristow, CEO, who gave up a successful consulting career to develop CrowdProperty.
The fast-growth firm has now lent £100m to property professionals through 230 loans across 170 residential projects. “We selected that £100m of lending from £3.8bn-worth of project applications,” reveals Bristow. “We are very picky.” Even the COVID crisis couldn’t dent growth: “We have funded 65 projects since lockdown,” says Bristow. “Those projects sold out in less than a minute on average after listing them on our platform.”
Our technology, data and analytics is only part of the project assessment process, according to Bristow. “If you’re lending small sums to individuals, you can rely on an algorithm to auto-lend. But the best property project in the world could be stuffed up by poor management so it’s critical to understand the capabilities, ambitions and motivations of the individuals involved.” CrowdProperty has an experienced team of property developers working alongside the algorithms to pick winners.
CrowdProperty has already paid back £50m to its portfolio of armchair investors and professional funders. According to Bristow, the power of the CrowdProperty brand comes from being both a “strong, reliable and predictable brand that has a 100% capital and interest payback record” and also for its positive impact on the UK economy. “We have funded the construction of 1,100 homes worth £195m,” he claims. “We have also funded an £80m spend on labour, materials and services in the UK.”
Being based in Birmingham has been a “huge advantage”, according to Bristow. “Recruiting technology developers in London is expensive and, often, short-lived. “In Birmingham, there is a strong talent pool and less demand. As an innovative proptech/fintech business here, we stand out. People walk in the door and want to work here. They are not off visiting 20 other fintechs on Old Street Roundabout.” Bristow estimates that CrowdProperty’s fixed costs are 55% lower in Birmingham than if it were headquartered in London. “We’ve been profitable since 2019,” he says.
CrowdProperty is scratching the surface of an absolutely enormous asset class. The UK property development lending market is worth around £45bn a year if we built the Government target of 300,000 homes. The pain amongst SME developers is clear in their housing output - in 2008, SME developers represented 30pc of output but in 2017 this was just 10pc, whilst in both years only 200,000 homes were built. “We’re not only taking huge swathes of market share off traditional providers that have failed SME developers for years, we’re unlocking the potential of the segment to build much needed homes and to drive spend in the economy,” says Bristow.
Institutional capital is now piling into CrowdProperty alongside retail investors because of its promise of 8.74% average returns. “These diverse sources of capital will allow us to scale rapidly,” says Bristow. “There are no limits on how big we could get.”