I’ve wanted to become a property developer ever since I was about 14 years old. I was obsessed with Homes Under The Hammer and found the whole renovation and transformation process absolutely fascinating. I especially loved the part when an estate agent would assess the renovation job and say: “If you sold your property, it would be worth X” and “if you rented it out, you could get X.”
Adding value by transforming old properties into aspirational living spaces I think satisfies both my love for creativity and my entrepreneurial streak. My Mom is a business coach and runs several successful businesses, so I guess my original inspiration for becoming an entrepreneur came from her.
When I was 16, I read Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad, and it was a seminal moment for me. I think I heard my Mom recommend it to one of her friends and thought I’d read it myself. I realised that property could actually be an amazing income stream and something that I could actually do full time. Given my love and fascination for property, this seemed like the ideal career route for me.
But I didn’t go down the property route immediately. I studied for a business degree at Birmingham City University, graduating in 2018, and then got a job as a marketing assistant at an Audi dealership. I knew that I wanted to run my own business one day and believed that these disciplines would be useful in the real world.
I’ve always been a self-starter. I believe a lot of that drive was instilled in me by my Mom who has always emphasised just how important it is to work hard at everything we do. Seeing how hard my mom worked pushed me to do things to the best of my ability.
I can’t remember who originally said it but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is: “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” And it’s certainly a philosophy that frames my day to day actions.
What I learned from school
School taught me early in life to fend for myself. Although I remember that some teachers were supportive, I don’t think many really knew my potential.
They certainly didn’t push me to go further. I feel that it’s easier to be overlooked if you’re not the ‘super-smart kid’ in class – when it’s actually those kinds of students who need the help, encouragement and self-belief to achieve better.
I did often feel like I was being left behind. But I achieved good grades in the end; that was down to determination and a good work ethic.
First foray into bricks and mortar
When we first got into property in 2018, my Mom and I started a serviced accommodation business called LCM Apartments where we would manage properties on Airbnb and Booking.com. We’d liaise with estate agents and landlords for corporate letting, but the strategy was labour intensive with very little reward so, after a year, we sold the business. We wanted to focus more on renovations.
In 2019, aged 22, I set up LCM Home with this in mind. I wanted a business that served to raise the standard of co-living. House shares often have a bad reputation and we wanted to change people’s perceptions of this lifestyle by converting period and character commercial and residential properties into beautiful modern homes for professionals and families.
Funding the business
We refinanced our family home and used the equity as the deposit for our first project – an old publishing house we bought for £74,000 in the West Midlands. It was set up as a two-bedroom property, which we converted into a five-bedroom HMO (house in multiple occupation). The renovation cost £42,000 and took four months to finish. We then rented it out, room by room.
After that, we refinanced on that initial property investment in order to fund the next property renovation – a period building in the same county, known as The Old Post Office – which we bought for £125,000. We converted it from an office space into an eight-bedroom house share which is now worth £295,000. The project took six months to complete.
We’ve just finished another property with a super quick turnaround (12 days!) for some nurses who work at the local hospital in Birmingham.
Capital can always be an issue when establishing a business, especially with a business like ours that requires substantial sums to start and complete building work.
My Mom is a natural networker, so I would often accompany her to networking events in order to meet with potential investors to secure funds in return for a stake in the profits, plus interest.
What I love about what I do
The best part of being a property developer is being on the renovation site and seeing everything come together week by week. I don’t personally get involved with the renovation, but I co-ordinate the builders and provide creative direction. My main source for inspiration is Pinterest.
The worst part of the job is waiting for property sales to go through. This can be frustratingly slow with much backwards and forwarding with solicitors. Yet, the huge sense of reward of seeing a project through from start to finish and creating a worthy home – especially if it’s really run down – makes it all worthwhile.
There are a lot of moving parts when running a property business of this kind, and although it’s ultimately just mom and I running the show, we do have a virtual assistant who looks after all of the tenants.
The property market
The UK is a nation of homeowners and the popularity of property renovation TV programmes indicates how interested people generally are in home transformations.
The COVID-19 pandemic I think has led people to think more about the versatility of their living spaces in order to accommodate working from home efficiently too. This trend is set to define property design in the future; even as the world returns to ‘normal’, people will want to ensure that their living space is fit for purpose in order to accommodate a more hybrid lifestyle of remote and office/onsite working.
Separately though, I do believe that house shares will become increasingly popular. Quarantine has underscored an epidemic of loneliness that pre-existed COVID, and this has worsened because of an ongoing situation that has no certain end date. Co-living, if not for a time, could resolve some of those tensions – mentally and financially.
Working for myself
Growing the business so that it’s been possible to leave my marketing job has been my proudest achievement so far. It’s nice being able to work for myself and grow the brand. Within the short to medium term, I hope to have grown the property portfolio to 12 co-living houses.
Alongside flipping properties, I’ve been able to use my marketing skills and knowledge in social media to start developing a YouTube channel that interests property developers (both prospective and existing ones) as well as those who just have a passion for interiors and renovation projects.
And going into business with Mom is great. I can understand why some people might feel slightly cautious setting up a family business given the strain it can put on personal relationships. But I think we both bring different things to the table, so our partnership works really well.
To find out more about Leah and her business, visit: www.leahmiller.co.uk