It's A Man's World: But it Was Nothing Without a Woman Who Built a £120m Property Empire
Property investor Nicole Bremner reveals all about her journey to date
Thought leaders aren't always born with the knowledge or the skills they now have, and it sometimes takes years of hard work behind the scenes and taking a lot of risks. On the latest episode of the Thought Leader Chat Podcast, I'm asking the question; how can you go from knowing nothing about property to developing over 120 million pounds worth of development value?
I’m joined by Australian Nicole Bremner, best-selling author, speaker and TV presenter. Nicole developed her first property in 2010, which was her own home, and she has now created a property empire with gross development value of over £120 million. She's raised nearly 6 million pounds via crowdfunding, and she regularly speaks about her journey. Nicole also has an extremely successful podcast where she speaks to fellow entrepreneurs about their journey.
Liv: What made you want to move to London when you were in your 20s?
Nicole: I was 21 when I met a European man and, although we had only been together three years, he was offered the opportunity to move. He had a great time and really enjoyed the team he'd been working with, so he rang me from London and asked if I wanted to come over. It was my dream to leave Australia and just travel abroad. It was only ever supposed to be two years, but it’s turned into over twenty!
Liv: How did if feel being so young and making such a massive move?
Nicole: I guess, like you, I was quite independently minded and determined that I was going to make a success of whatever I did. I was very, very determined. I think it's probably the best way of describing me. But it was really lonely and I don't want to gloss over the fact that when I came to the UK I didn't know anyone and I found myself in a position where I had a working holiday visa and got a job.
"My contract was terminated and we moved back to London where I found out I was pregnant again. So I thought, ‘what am I going to do? I've got two children. They're 16 months apart, I need to find something that I find stimulating and will allow me to contribute to the family.’ I had renovated a property before we moved to the US and that was in central London. When I came back, that property had actually made more money than I had made myself in those years that we've owned it. And I thought, ‘okay, there's something going on here in this property business, you can really make money.’ "
I quickly lost my job because it was the dot com bubble which also meant I lost my visa. I wasn't allowed to work. It was really, really lonely and I used to go to the gym all the time and the guy who ran the gym offered me a cash in hand role. It was awful, but it got me out of the house and it got me doing something that was for me. So I just want to say that, as you probably know, it's very lonely moving to a new country, even a new city and I've certainly found that it was a tough move being so far away… and it was cold.
Liv: 10 years ago you were at home raising three children under the age of three. How did you actually get into the property market?
Nicole: Well, I've tried all sorts of things. After my eldest was born, I went back to work at Goldman in New York. That only lasted three months, because my first day of work was the day that the whole the world financial crisis happened. Lehman went out of business that exact day. So my contract was sort of terminated and we moved back to London where I found out I was pregnant again. So I thought, ‘what am I going to do? I've got two children. They're 16 months apart, I need to find something that I find stimulating and will allow me to contribute to the family.’ I had renovated a property before we moved to the US and that was in central London. When I came back, that property had actually made more money than I had made myself in those years that we've owned it. And I thought, ‘okay, there's something going on here in this property business, you can really make money.’
It was that period of time just after the financial crisis, so I got really lucky and a lot of it was timing. I don't want to say that I had any particular skill in that regard. A lot of it was timing. I managed to buy into Hackney before it became cool and ride up the whole Hackney rise to its ultra Uber-coolism now. So, for me, it was a very gradual thing. I renovated that flat. It made a lot of money. I then bought another house which became our home and on paper, it also made a lot of money. I just kept buying more properties, renovating them and selling them, and realised then that I could do this as a career. Right back then, I knew nothing about property and I didn't know who any of the professionals within property were. I didn't really realise how you could arrange debt. I knew nothing. So I really had to learn and I thoroughly enjoyed that that whole process of getting into property.
Liv: At what point for you, Nicole, did you realise that this could actually be something so much bigger and that you wanted to take it further?
Nicole: It was probably five years in, and that's when I wrote my book as well. It was five years into the journey. I'd met another developer who was doing things on a larger scale than me and we partnered up to continue building that. And I will say at the peak of the market, the assets or the properties that we were developing had a gross development value of around 120 million. I have to clarify that it's not the case anymore. The bottom fell out of the market. It’s certainly not worth 120 million anymore, unfortunately; it's probably around half that now. Still, they're very, very big numbers.
Liv: You say that you partnered with someone and I completely champion collaboration over competition and I am especially about women raising up other women. Tell us a little bit about partnership and working with others in the industry.
Nicole: I still am passionate about the idea of collaborating with people and that there are no competitors. I think within property especially there are so many women now and we don't compete against each other. It’s very much a spirit of collaboration and partnership and working together and there's enough of a pie to share around with everyone. You don't have to take the whole pie. And perhaps the pie can be even bigger if you join together and work together. Everyone has different things that they bring to the party. You all just all naturally have your own strengths so of course being in partnership with other people means you can work to your strengths.
Liv: How have you found being such a boss in a male dominated industry?
Nicole: It's been okay and I can only think of a couple of examples where I’ve been discriminated against. I've been on email chains before, and then someone has followed up with me and said, ‘Nicole, can you please sort out the invoice’ thinking that I was the secretary! There's all these men on the email and because I'm the one woman they think that I'm the administrator. So, it does happen. I think what annoys me more, and this is more generally not just in the property industry, is with speaking events. People will contact me and say ‘we want to have a really balanced representation of the industry at this event.’ I think, well, they don’t think I should be there on merit. What I want them to do is contact me and say, ‘Nicole, I’ve read your book and we'd really like you to speak at our event,’ or something along those lines. No agenda, no colour, nothing. Unfortunately, I think, mostly it's men who say these things without understanding how it’s come across.
Liv: I've heard you've actually overcame and beaten cancer twice. Did that experience inspire you and spur you to go on and be more successful? How did that feel and how did that affect you?
Nicole: Yeah, it's interesting. I've got the full full menu of setbacks at the moment. I've had
the divorce, cancer, financial issues related to property transactions. I think at the time, I was really in denial as to the severity of the illness and the way that it would impact me. When I was diagnosed with my first cancer, I thought that I had multiple sclerosis. So when the doctor told me that I had a tumour, I thought it was fantastic. They thought that I'd have MS which is just such an awful disease. The second time around I didn't even think about it. My main concern was as to how I could look after my children and get through this. It’s only now that I reflect back on that and I can see that I had this completely unemotional response to it. It is in hindsight that you look back and think, wow, I had the strength to get through that, which means I've now got the strength to get through anything. I think any anyone who's been through cancer will tell you that at the start, you don't even think about yourself and you think about everyone else around you and how they are.
Liv: So, Nicole, you brought out your own book called ‘Bricking It: From Stay at Home Mum to Millions in Property.’ You incredibly wrote in just 11 days? Nicole: Yeah, that was 11 days, but it was over Christmas. I used the post it note method and the book wrote itself. So the book was written in 11 days but it took months after to get it sorted. It was a completely new concept and I'd never even thought about it. I researched various methods of writing books and this method really just worked for me. If you follow this methodology, honestly, it will just be so much easier to write.
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