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Naman Pathak: On location, building potential in property

Entrepreneurs 24-08-2021

Real estate developer Naman Pathak established Mountbatten Homes in 2014 to fulfil the housing requirements of the UK. The company quickly grew its expertise to unlock planning value in underutilised sites, providing homes and neighbourhoods in areas that have a strong history and ambitious regeneration potential.

We ask Naman about location, property development, and getting around the Capital.

How do you balance preserving history with needs for modern development?

We generally acquire sites without planning so our input in designing buildings that preserve the history and character of the area is considerable. We work closely with local authorities through the application process to achieve the right balance, whilst in some situations we go through an expansive consultative process to ensure that the views of all relevant local and national stakeholders are well considered prior to the formal application being submitted. We are always mindful of the local history when designing our buildings and ensure that there are elements that reflect that history whilst allowing for an improved and modernised street scene.

What are your favourite types of location for property development?

Areas which benefit from excellent connectivity to central London, good local schools and an abundance of amenities – from peaceful parks to broadways that are full of life. As a developer, I am keen to invest and develop in areas which are looking to enhance their infrastructure and local economy, whether that is through Crossrail or other ambitious projects like Westfields.

How important is understanding your market when it comes to property development?

Extremely. Without knowledge of your market, you have minimal visibility over your exit values, the right specification required and the associated construction cost with that. This all has a knock-on effect to your project, from finance through to construction.

What is your favourite way to get around London?

Walking – you can never get bored of walking around London, even if the weather isn’t great.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for property developers?

Finding good development sites at the right price. The business is opportunistic in that regard – you could complete the most incredible project but not have a strong enough pipeline to roll that profit into. Identifying good development sites, particularly those without planning, can be challenging but that is also where the reward lies.

Which phone app do you use most?

Waze. I know London really well but nothing can prepare you to navigate through the traffic as well as Waze!

What barriers has lockdown posed for your industry?

The obvious answer is the difficulty in sales due to the absence of viewings, but we have been fortunate to sell a number of units off-plan so this has been less of a barrier for us. However, lockdown has had a knock on effect to the supply of labour and materials to all of our sites, along with rising cost due to the scarcity at that time of certain materials and tradespeople.

What do you think homebuyers will want post-pandemic?

Buyers will be looking for more space – mainly in the form of a garden/large balcony or even an additional bedroom that can be converted into a home office.

What project are you most proud of in your career?

We obtained planning for a 14 storey residential and commercial building in Brixton. The site was initially an underperforming pub in Brixton and buying this unconditionally was a big risk. Through years of hard work and perseverance we managed to secure the council’s buy in to greatly enhance the local area with a spectacular new development, whist considerably enhancing the value of the asset through the process.

Your favourite building in London is?

There are so many but a recent one we have used as inspiration in a planning application is the Everyman Cinema in Kings Road, Chelsea. Really smart brickwork, change of material from brick to zinc cladding on the top floor to break up the façade, thin frame aluminium windows – so many elements to admire. Probably not one many would expect to read about but one I admire as a developer in terms of the materials they’ve used to obtain the massing they have without the building looking too bulky.

What’s one thing people don’t know about your industry that you wish you knew before you started out?

Only once you start a business can you realise the full extent of the risks involved, so in that regard I wish I knew more about the various risks of property development. Having said that, if I knew every risk, perhaps I would be less inclined to invest in sites like the Brixton pub, somewhere where I ended up doing very well on.

Property development involves high stakes due to the capital-intensive nature of the business. Having been in the business for several years, I can fully appreciate how serious the consequences can be if things do not go the way you intend them to. Often, I come across people who do not understand the risks quite as well and almost think it is an easy business to succeed in. It is certainly not one for the faint hearted!
Photographs by Rory B. Gullan

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