There is more than one path to becoming wealthy.
And some of them don’t revolve around grinding out a decade or two in an office job.
It turns out that some people make money from starting a business that they enjoy. Some even make money from businesses that they enjoy so much that they would do it even if they weren’t getting paid.
Meet Charlotte Grobien OBE. I bumped into Charlotte in London a few weeks ago. She told me about what she did…she’s a property developer…but with a difference.
She’s made £1.7 million pounds of profit over the last 12 years. She did this without any professional background in construction or property development. She just did it. And then she gave it all away to charity.
How cool is that?! This reminds me that people who think all rich people are evil a) probably haven’t met any and b) are keeping themselves poor via limiting beliefs.
One of the most powerful side-hustles for the rest of us is buying a house that needs “doing up”. Buying (relatively) cheap and then adding value by extension / renovation. Remember, the capital gains on your own house are tax free. When its finished, you can either live there or take your profit, move on…then rinse and repeat…each time releasing spare capital which you can re-invest into the stockmarket for passive income.
This story tells me that almost anything is possible with enough motivation. No, its not guaranteed…that’s because there are no guarantees. And yes, some luck helps. But many things in life look impossible at first glance. People as motivated as Charlotte don’t give up easily…they adapt, improvise and overcome.
The Escape Artist
I don’t find my own “story” remarkable – from the outside I can see that it can be, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I will share my story and you can judge!
Philanthropy is not often associated with the cut throat, high risk, (potential) high reward of property development.
But it can be done if you have a single-minded idea of what you want to achieve and a simple, common sense approach to business.
I’ve never worked in the property industry but, following a complicated extension on our own house which we managed to live through for 5 difficult months, I decided I could be quite good at it.
So having established that I’d made no enemies amongst our building team (who were happy to continue working with me) I set up a registered company in the name of Give it Away Ltd. The idea was to renovate an existing property just like you see on the TV, but to give ALL the profits to local charities that I would thoroughly research and vet.
However, what popped up in my area was a demolition with a build of two new houses – a bit much for an amateur “handbag developer”. But we got going and in the middle of this first project I took on another new build. Suddenly I was building 3 new houses at once, never having done this before. Yikes.
This was all in 2007 before the dramatic property “crash”. Despite of buying door handles (really nice ones) from Screwfix, the 3 houses all sold for over £1 million each which was astounding!
Along the way, and in between making all the buying and purchasing decisions, all the interior and landscaping decisions, pacifying irate neighbours and controlling the finances, I had been contacting charities that I would like to benefit.
I’d been able to attract good discounts from suppliers and pro bono professional advice which helped the bottom line. I was very touched that even without any track record at that stage, people believed in me and got into the spirit of what I was trying to do.
I injected lots of fun into the project – builders are not used to having scaffolding parties, wearing pink high viz jackets, welcoming kids on site in wheelchairs, TV cameras following them and uploads via video cams for U Tube!
I tried at all times to consider and be thoughtful to everyone who made up this project – the build team, the suppliers, the professionals offering advice, the Press who loved the thought of someone giving away money and the charities hoping desperately that I was for “real” and that I would make a profit. Well I was and I did!
So that formed the base for Give it Away – my profit was over £600,000 on my first venture and the visits that followed to the charities were emotional to say the least (and 12 years on continue to be so).
I had chosen smaller charities around London whose focus was children with disability be it emotional, physical or financial, families in distress from unemployment, bereavement, social isolation, homelessness, violence, young people on the edge likely to head into Youth Offending Institutes and kids needing educational support or coping with life limiting conditions with no family support.
It was an amazing feeling to think that this idea had come really out of nothing, I had taken a big financial risk, the work load was huge and way out of my comfort zone but by seeing it through I was actually going to make some people’s lives a lot better.
How to continue after the first big success was tricky, as the property market was in a state of collapse in 2008. It was a time to be a buyer not a seller.
So I used a bit of common sense and bought two show apartments on a
whim hunch one afternoon, rented them out (paying the rental income to Give it Away) and then sold them when the market recovered.
Sounds simple? Yes, it was, but I was adapting to what was going on around me and trying not to take undue risks. Of course, I negotiated excellent purchase terms and achieved non-stop rentals so that helped!
The Press (who as we all know can sometimes hinder) have actually been a great help to me – being able to heap praise on supportive suppliers in public got me good discounts, other property development opportunities were offered to me and of course my charities got additional publicity.
I once made a wild statement once when asked by the press what my aim was and replied “to make a million” so I was then forced to continue!
Building and construction is never easy, straightforward or predictable. How can you know in a year’s time what a new house is going to sell for? You can’t know for sure: it’s a tricky costing, budget and risk evaluation process. As a one (wo)man band, it is more difficult.
During the course of my next big project, I was hit with repeated blows: first, the death of my husband, then the death of both my parents. I also had some health challenges of my own: a hip operation (crutches on a building site are a menace) then a broken wrist (a sling is not much use either!). It was at times a real challenge to continue.
But I made my million pounds target and threw a party for all the suppliers, charities and pro bono team. I got 13 charities in a room together, getting on so well and finding ways of working with each other – another positive by-product for Give it Away!
I regularly speak at events for my charities about my experience of being a repeat “donor”. This helps inspire confidence in other potential donors giving me another way to help the charities. Give it Away has turned into a whole circle of “Giving and Receiving.”
In the 12 years I have been doing this I have built 8 new houses, bought, rented and sold two apartments, bought a house for rental and eventual sale, renovated and extended a property in Chiswick and am currently building two more new detached homes in West Clandon, Surrey for completion in Spring 2019.
Barney asked for my view on the current property market around my area of SW London and Surrey. There seem to be quite a number of properties out there being reduced in price…so it feels a bit nervy but probably a good time for buyers. Brexit, in whatever form it is going to take, will hopefully not affect small developments like mine (at this stage due for completion in the Spring) too much. I would not like to predict a year on! The ease of getting mortgages will probably be the most powerful influencer. There is no substitute for good old fashioned research into your local area (including previous transactions and local trends) when you are considering any purchase.
Give it Away has become my life. I am so close now to the charities I regularly support that we are personal friends. Suppliers continue to offer me discounts, the pro bono team grows in strength and I am invited to many wonderful occasions. I feel extremely privileged. Being honoured with an OBE was a very humbling experience and one that I wished my family could have been part of.
It has not all been plain sailing. Working solo can be difficult – when you are alone, with whom do you share your worries or your tough moments? But on days when I am not that thrilled walking around a wet, cold, muddy, windy site looking at boring but essential concrete foundations and sewage works and worrying about the budget, I cast my mind back to the visits I make to the families and the situations I see which make me first want to cry with frustration and then to help.
How would I sum up this whole experience?
The hard bit is keeping spending under control and under budget by endlessly and patiently seeking discounts on absolutely everything.
But I love the thrill of getting it right – of finding the next development (often the hardest part) negotiating the purchase – get that wrong and there is a rocky road ahead. The research into all the latest interior “looks” for the houses is a girls dream and working with a team who understand why I do what I do makes the process easier.
I love being able to see the works of the charities at close quarters – if they don’t allow me access to their causes and they don’t “make my heart beat” they will not be on my donation list! So I do see deprivation and distress and chaotic domestic environments and as difficult as that is I am glad that I see it.
The biggest thrill is getting the pro bono (thank you!) lawyer’s call to say that the house is “Sold” and the money has arrived…..then I am on my way with my pink logo branded envelope to try and make some change in someone’s life.
My own end goal now? Just to keep going and bring the current total donated, up from £1.7 to £2 million!
There is this trite expression “I would like to make a difference” used a lot these days. Its not been easy but I can honestly say that I am able to!