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Renovation tips from New Zealand’s
top property developers

Today he is one of New Zealand’s richest people, but when I asked him for advice on buying my first home, Ted Manson (pictured below) was still making his mark in residential property renovation. “Don’t pay more than $80,000,” he advised. “And add another bedroom to maximise its value.” Unfortunately I didn’t listen to my brother-in-law’s school friend. The house, which I sold in the early eighties, is now worth more than $1.4 million.

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“Stick to your budget and add value by meeting the needs of the market.”
Ted Manson, property developer and Rich Lister

Manson was telling me: “Stick to your budget and add value by meeting the needs of the market.” (The house, in Auckland’s seaside suburb of Westmere, had only two bedrooms.) I ended up paying $85,000 and painting and wallpapering before selling just two years later for nearly twice what I’d paid (this was in the mid-eighties property boom). At the time I was happy with what I’d made but, looking back, I would have made far more by following Ted’s advice and keeping the house. No doubt that’s why he’s worth more than $250 million today.

Fix It ezine March 2014Some years later I looked at buying a house in Remuera being sold by Olly Newland, a property developer well-known for his books and public appearances. The house was a lovely old villa but looked as if a coat of paint had hurriedly been slapped over the weatherboards and inside wallpaper. The paint could have been hiding all kinds of evils so I decided not to go ahead. Years later I read an article by Newland in which he opined: “The biggest error made by ‘doer uppers’ is to spend too much money and time on any one project and end up going backwards.” While I agree with him, in the case of the Remuera house I believe he should have spent a little bit more to restore her to her former glory rather than make her look like a quick do-up.

He should have spent a little bit more to restore her to her former glory rather than make her look like a quick do-up

Someone who understands this only too well is little-known property developer, Andy Davies. One of his most notable projects was restoring the old telephone exchange building in Mt Eden that became Mantell's function centre (see photos below). With his then-partner, Germany-registered architect Jan Bernau, he set about scraping back the bad additions and restoring one of the largest and most gracious villas in Auckland.

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Now at 55 and with a net worth estimated at around $75 million, Davies (pictured below) is showing no signs of slowing down. Although, like Ted Manson, he is more likely to get involved in higher-value commercial projects today, Davies hasn’t given up on the market that brought him his first taste of success in property development – residential renovations. Eight years ago when he was house-hunting in Freemans Bay, he found a house that hadn't been touched for some 25 years.

Eight years ago Andy Davies found that holy grail of property renovators – a house that hadn’t been touched for 25 years.
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“The bathroom was a horror,” he remembers. “It had a red stained-glass window between it and the living room - we could watch someone taking a shower. Charming!”

When asked what makes him different from other property developers, Davies laughingly says he’s the only one who’s gay. But two of the real secrets of his success are in surprising contrast to each other. One is his down-to-earth attitude and strong work ethic. Sixteen hour days are the norm for Andy, who comes to the office each day in old t-shirts and can often be found working with his contractors on building sites. His other and very different attribute is his distinctive and flamboyant style – when it comes to property, if not his own appearance. Recently he developed Ponsonby Central (pictured below), a mixed-use precinct that houses some of the trendy inner-Auckland suburb’s most popular retail and café operators.

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Not bad for a man who dropped out of high school and started his career working in a menswear shop.

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