So the housing market was hit badly by the pandemic. It largely ground to a complete halt. It’s now back with a vengeance, but as with so many things at the moment, the future is unclear.
A recent report from CBRE highlighted that the availability of development finance has contracted sharply since Covid; this comes as little surprise, as larger, mainstream lenders withdrew from the market in order to concentrate on managing existing (and potentially compromised) loan books.
Add to that the uncertainty of exit dates and valuations; of materiality clauses being added to contracts; greater scrutiny of banks’ capital adequacy; unforeseen issues with development delays or contractor insolvencies…It’s little wonder that development finance began looking like an increasingly scarce commodity for those still actually looking for it.
Fast forward a couple of months and the lending environment is undoubtedly better…but it’s still a long way from where it was. Complex arrangements in the borrowing stack and time-consuming negotiations with multiple lenders to cover the gaps left by the inelasticity of traditional lenders remain. Indeed, logic dictates that such factors are only going to become worse in the post-Covid world.
This brings to the fore the role of specialist finance providers – the rising importance of whom was also acknowledged in the CBRE report. Specialist lenders, primarily in the form of debt funds, have recorded a 4 percent increase in loan origination over the last 12 months, bringing their total to £7.9bn.
Hilltop’s founding mission was to make access to development funding easier for SME operators, allowing them to focus on what they do best – building properties and focusing on growing their businesses. Our industry experience taught us that SME developers need to be assessed on an individual basis – going the extra mile compared to larger lenders to ensure a high number of reliable, profitable projects get to see the light of day that would have fallen through the cracks of any tick-box appraisal.
Our one-stop funding solution also helps developers looking for assistance on the equity side by putting them in contact with qualified private equity investors looking for thoroughly researched investment opportunities – further support for SME developers during one of the most turbulent economic climates we are likely to see in our lifetime.
Like private equity, we buy deals and we back teams, have aligned interests and focus on successful project completions. Because we have plenty of skin in the game, and because each SME development project is unique, our analysis and our funding has to be the most robust in the market.
The UK’s housing shortage means there will always be a demand for housing which, in turn, means there will always be funding available for decent schemes. But now, more than ever, the specialist lender is becoming an increasingly important part of the process.