Sep 19

Master-planned Projects #2 Net Developable Area

The Developer Chronicles: Master-planned Projects

In this series, I describe master-planned projects. The discussion focuses on the difference between a one-off project and a multi-stage, multi-year planned development. I explore the factors that great development teams grapple with every day. I hope you find it of value.

AND via LinkedIN you can also contribute to this opensource education by commenting with your own experiences, strategies, tactics and ideas. That’s where we can really embrace group network effects for continuous improvement in development management. Connect Here.

Master-planned Projects #2 Net Developable Area

What is the very first thing a developer looks at when a new listing for a development site pops up on their screen?

  • The price? Maybe, although most developers don’t pay too much attention to what someone is asking.
  • The location? Possibly, although many think location is only as good as the price.
  • The site area? Absolutely.

The site area number becomes the cornerstone starting point for the back on an envelope financial feasibility calculation*. For a typical one-off development sitewhere it sits within existing roads and neighboring properties its entire site area, all the land you are buying (whether 300,000 sqft or 3,000m2), is the Net Developable Area (NDA).

Site Area = Net Developable Area. You can develop on the whole site and sell 100% of that site. Note: that doesn’t necessarily mean you can build on the whole site, as outside town centers there are likely planning rules for example front yards and maximum building coverage.

However, now let’s bring in the master-planned project.

At a minimum, if you have to build at least one public road, then site area DOES NOT equal Net Developable Area. You are going to lose at least the area of that road and its intersections. Public roads get vested to the local government authority. We talked a lot about roads last time, click here if you missed #1 Roads. You can’t sell that land to construct houses/factories/offices or shops on top of.

What about streams and rivers? Well, normally you can’t sell those, nor the land immediately adjacent. What about space that is already zoned public open space, or as a park? You can’t use that to stick sellable plots on either. Pump stations, power transformers, public walkways, wetlands, native forests, wildlife sanctuaries – all have the potential to steel NDA from your master-planned acreage.

Yes, you might get publically reimbursed for the land that lies beneath some of these features. But more often than not, losing that land is a cost to your development.

And yes it’s more common in greenfield master-planned developments, the ones at the outer reaches of the city, or near a natural feature, than for those large brownfield master-planned inner-city sites.

Therefore, when you purchase land for a master-planned development you are buying ‘Gross Developable Area’ (GDA). Say 100 hectares. But what you can sell, the NDA, is going to be much less. After you deduct soon to be publically owned laned (like roads and parks) you might be down to 70% or 60% of GDA. That means after starting with 100 ha you might now be down to 60 ha of sellable land or ‘super-lots’. And of the land that remains, there may be private access ways and private but communally owned parks, lakes and other natural features that effectively can’t be sold as well. Then, if you have a topography rich site, for example, unusable land on steep cliffs, you might be able to include the square meterage in the sale, but effectively it has no value. We are pushing semantics a bit here but your effective NDA might now be down to 50% or less of GDA.

You mean we have purchased 100 hectares and I can only sell 50? That’s annoying!

As the GDA cloud of fog lifts above your master-planned community, revealing its true DNA, one might ponder this: not all similar sized master-planned sites are the same. No longer can you look at site area alone to determine the sellable footprint of the houses/factories/shops or offices you intend to place-make. You must convert the gross area of what you are buying to the net area of what you can sell, and base your financial decisions thereupon.

Further not all NDA is the same, let’s discuss that a little more:

  • Topography. A flat site almost always lends itself to maximizing NDA. You don’t have pesky hills and valleys to navigate, or to expensively bulldoze into shape. A geographically featureless site also helps maximize NDA. No need to run roads around ponds and over streams and between blocks of native bush. Of course, property development is never so straight forward, and there are occasional exceptions. If you are developing an equestrian estate of 20,000m2 lifestyle blocks, you are going to have a higher percentage NDA, by virtue simply of not requiring as proportionally much road. In that case, the odd river or hill, may not make any difference at all.
  • Density. If you are developing medium density housing with a retail town center surrounded by apartments then road efficiency is extremely important. Every little slope of the land is going to be in the way. And every square yard of additional NDA is a nugget that needs to be mined.
  • Zoning quality can be more important than quantity (they tell me). And it’s not always the size of our NDA that is important. In a master-planned development the site could have multiple planning zones. This is where more NDA in the higher zoned area, at the expense of a greater loss in a lower zoned area may make sense. NDA for apartments zoned land could be more profitable compared to NDA for single family standalone housing. Similarly, light industrial small plots might be more profitable than heavy industrial large plots.
  • Existing value. NDA on a north facing slope (southern hemisphere) – all things else equal – is going to be more valuable than the southern face. NDA with stunning vistas is better than being blocked by the neighbor. NDA close to amenity, more desirable than further away. NDA on the lakeside more prized than a street behind. One ha of $1000 per m2 land ($10m) is more valuable than two ha of $300 per m2 land ($6m).
  • Creating value. Look at an aerial photo of Metro Phoenix, Arizona. Zoom out a bit, what do you see interspersed between many the cul-de-sacs?………..( I can wait while you do this, I have plenty of time)………Some green. Oh and some blue. Yes, plenty of golf courses and quite a few lakes. Now since it all started out as desert, and in most places, relatively flat desert, this on first glance looks like a blatant disregard for what I described above: maximizing NDA. Of course, in the developers profit-maximizing wisdom replacing perfectly good NDA for housing with unsellable (and costly to maintain) fairways and water ski lanes has increased the total land value (at least I assume it worked out that way). Click here to look at some other novel ways of transforming NDA in order to improve profit (or at least create a marketing twist).
  • Destroying value. Take an extreme situation, place some big ole city power transmission lines in your development and watch the value of the NDA underneath and nearby drop.

So as our discussion has progressed it’s getting to the point where hard cash is taking over the importance of hard space. Where your site does have a significant tilt towards such value variances. an improved approach to maximizing total Net Developable Area is to maximize total Net Developable Land Value (NDLV).

But it goes even further than that. You really want to determine the Net Developable Profit Potential. What’s the difference between NDLV and NDPP ?

It’s the cost.

Once you factor in all the costs of trying to create more Net Developable Land Value, you may find you are financially better off to leave the country club features out of the master-plan. In those circumstances, it is easy to go full circle, and you end up with our initial prime consideration: to extract more NDA.

We’ll talk more about the dollars and cents of NDA in the next edition of The Developers Chronicles: Master-planned Projects #3 Feasibilities.

Foot Notes

*The back of the envelope calc involves some key planning rules and a few ‘rules of thumb’ (each to their own) and might go like this:

[3000m2 site area] x [maximum building coverage 50%] = 1500m2

[4 levels high] x [1500m2 ] = 6000m2

6000m2 / [80m2 apartment size incl common area] = 75 units

[75 units] x [$20k per unit land value] = $1,500,000 purchase price.


Andrew Crosby

The DC: Master-planned Projects – All published editions.


Now in this blurred world of social media versus professional media, my opinion versus my employer(s), salary versus side-hustle, middle of the business day versus 11pm on a Sunday evening, it can all get a bit confusing. So, here is my value proposition, and both complement and benefit each other.

  • If you have a master-plannable sized piece of land that you would like to sell some or all of, to develop on, or to build houses on then Universal Homes might be able to help you. We focus on delivering value-for-money homes at the ‘relatively affordable end of the range, like the 1300 home westhills.co.nz or the 600 plus homes we have built at Hobsonville Point, or the thousands of others around Auckland over the last 60 years. Message me at any time. www.universal.co.nz.
  • If you want to learn more about real estate / property development and a continuous improvement approach to development management to maximize profit and decrease risk then visit www.developmentprofit.com

Sep 19

Destiny: Future of Real Estate Development

PropTech – where does this all end up in years to come?

Well here’s my version based on researching the progress of technology to date (318 footnote references) and where it might land in a generation or two.

I look at blockchain, smart legal contracts, asset tokenisation. Onsite, offsite and 3&4D printed construction. The evolution of retirement communities, retail, restaurants, supermarkets, home-technology, autonomous vehicles, sales and marketing, and property management. Robotics and swarm technology. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, generative design, permitting and development financial analysis. Even ethics, waste management, biophilia and biogenetic architecture….and more.

All wrapped up in the life story of a real estate developer, being crushed with debt and his back against the wall vowing to create the most hi-tech and profitable project of all time..

Purchase Destiny from Amazon Here

Credit to Creative Digital for the Cover Art. Click here to see what they can do for you.

Cover Blurb

Set in the latter half of the twenty-first century, told through the eyes of David – a Chicago real estate developer – and his international project team, this futuristic prose asks:

-How will artificial intelligence affect the role of architects, engineers and lawyers?
-Can blockchain change the very essence of property ownership?
-What settles the debate over autonomous transport?
-Where will we attain true building sustainability?

Grasp how work, living, dining, exercising, wellness, shopping and retiring will evolve. Discover how construction will embrace robotics, onsite manufacture and biogenetics.

Learn the impending implications for city authorities, appraisers, real estate agents, marketers and property managers.

“A thoroughly researched fable showcasing the history and predicting the advancement of built-form technology.”

“Take yourself into the authors richly imagined future. It represents the global mega-trends everyone in the property business needs to prepare for.”

This is real estate development’s destiny!


Andrew Crosby

Visit www.developmentprofit.com to see other publications and real estate development resources.

Aug 19

Master-planned Projects #1 Roads

The Developer Chronicles: Master-planned Projects

In this series, I describe master-planned projects. The discussion focuses on the difference between a one-off project and a multi-stage, multi-year planned development. I explore the factors that great development teams grapple with every day. I hope you find it of value.

AND via LinkedIN you can also contribute to this opensource education by commenting with your own experiences, strategies, tactics and ideas. That’s where we can really embrace group network effects for continuous improvement in development management. Connect Here.

The DC: Master Planned Projects #1 Roads

When you purchase a single project site in an established area, more than likely you don’t have to think too hard about the location of public roads. That’s because they already exist and there is little you can influence their design and configuration. Sure, you might be able to tweak a corner, add some trees, move around driveways, but that will be about it.

Of course, existing roads come their own problems. If it’s a tight site you might need to consider road width to fit a crane or delivery truck in. Do you have to shut down the road to connect to water and utilities? Is a bus stop in the way of your proposed garage entrance? Are you allowed a driveway from that particular road? Are you obliged to have retail along the frontage? And the list of planning and practical requirements goes on.

But today we are not talking private roads or internal ‘joint-owned’ accessways that you need to get cars parked and in and out of your development. We are talking about the big new roads – the public roads that will be owned by the local authority.

Let’s assume your development involves people that arrive and leave using vehicles with wheels (just in case it’s 2030 and you have found this on the interweb, and everyone now flys around in some sort of hydrogen powered drone). When you embark on a master-planned project, for a period of time, and potentially the entire time, roads are going to occupy both the right and left sides of your brain. The right side, because as boring as it sounds roads require creativity. The left hand side, because you are going to bombarded with a whole heap of technical analysis where logic should prevail.

What on earth’s tarmac can be creative about roads you ask? Traffic engineers will give you a whole heap of answers to that one. To the rest of us only a few of those will sound marginally creative. But from a developer’s point of view, how you deal with roads can maketh a project. And when I say maketh, I mean maketh money — or loseth.

When commencing a master-planned development from scratch, staring at a prairie of nothingness, one of the first things you must decide is what sort of roads you need and where they are going to go. Sounds easy right?


Occasionally the location and size of the roads within your site will be prescribed through planning regulations. In other cases, you may only be dictated to as far as where the roads must start and finished, based on the intersections, to the existing roading network that border your site. In that case, where the road routes within, is up to you. Even so, that direction is typically only for the larger roads, the main highways, arterials, avenues and collectors.

In addition to those significant roads, you have a whole roading network to design. You must allow for the movement of vehicles from the existing network to the homes, shops, warehouses, offices (or whatever your master-planned estate includes). And allow for the traffic generated on every journey.

Your local authority/council will have a plethora of rules to help your architect complete a roading design. More than likely you will also need a traffic engineer to model the numbers, to determine what size roads and intersections you need. That’s where the left side of the soft stuff inside the cranium is tapped. Well at least should be, since it’s just all numbers and logic, right? Unfortunately, no. You would think an engineer’s trip generation model (you know: how many drivers are going to be backed up at the lights at Monday 7.45am trying to access the freeway) would be purely analytical and not subject to opinion. But, at least where I have worked, that is not the case. Traffic engineers and their pac-man like digital scenarios square off against one another all the time. 

Usually, it goes something like this. 

Developer: My development on this piece of road will only generate 385 trips per hour.

Other side: We think it will generate 500 trips per hour.

Developer: The data shows I only need a 20-yard-wide road and a small roundabout.

Other side: Our projections say you need to put in traffic lights, another lane and by the way, you will also have to upgrade the existing intersection 2 miles down the street. Oh yes and you also need another road over here.

And then the argy bargy continues, quite often ending in court. All manner of arguments, with creative number crunching supporting them. And the local community gets their say – mainly those NOMS (Not On My Street) who are opposed to a single additional car in their neighborhood and every commercial enterprise who wants to stop the competition coming to town. So, it can get political. Who knows who has influenced who and how in the background. Eventually, someone banging a mahogany table in an ivory tower decides whose data and argument is best.

Why then can’t the two parties, the developer and the local authority see eye to eye?

Well roads are expensive to build. The bigger they are, the more expensive they are to build. Intersections are especially costly, so are retaining walls holding them up, let alone bridges or tunnels. If you have to upgrade existing public road infrastructure, then the costs go stratospheric. The bigger and more elaborate the ‘traffic device’ the more money it takes away from the developer’s margin. Or put another way, the higher the price the developer has to charge buyers for their new homes/factories/business premises. Naturally, developers want to keep costs down. And that usually means building the fewest least expensive roads (and all the civil paraphernalia in tow) as possible.

But, not always.

More expensive roads can add value. A wide tree lined avenue with a generous plant packed median, can add prestige to a residential subdivision. A solid dual lane expressway, linking to the local freeway may be your new industrial estate’s main drawcard. Having enough lanes so morning commuters can easily access their offices without a traffic jam at the business park entrance could help increase the lease-up velocity.

However, no developer enjoys paying for road infrastructure that has no direct financial benefit to their sales and marketing effort. The river of roads, both existing downstream and future upstream, can impact on what the developer is asked, or forced by the authorities, to pay.

When you are seeking approval for a master-planned project that eventually will see hundreds or thousands of people live, work or visit there, then there will likely be downstream impacts on the local network. i.e. you are creating additional traffic that must drive on an existing road, through an existing community, and navigate existing intersections to get to your development. At certain triggers – the number of cars each peak hour or similar — the local roading network authority will need to upgrade those existing roads. And unless lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a budget already in place, the developer will be asked to pay.

Similarly, your development might be on the outskirts of town and you are forced to provide a through-route to allow for upstream development by others in years to come. That may be a much wider, more expensive road than is required for your development alone. Again, unless the beneficiary of an established budget you will be asked to pay.

Doesn’t sound fair does it? When developing your master-planned project, just because you are first off the rank, you might have to pay for big ticket public infrastructure that benefits others – existing residents and adjacent developers!

There might be ways around paying for every road and intersection though. On one hand it depends on the sophistication and political proclivity towards public infrastructure investment of the authority presiding over your location. On the other hand, it depends on your ability to creatively hustle deals together with landowners and road network operators.

Targeted rates, where everyone who benefits pays additional rates/tax on their land for a period of time is flavour of the month in New Zealand. Public road infrastructure funding by governments is often more forthcoming to those building homes during a housing crisis (not always though!). If the road is big enough to deserve a toll, then public-private-partnerships might be an option. Or simply try lobbying officials and politicians for your project’s share of the next budget.

Doing a deal with neighbouring developers (whose projects will benefit from the public roads when built) sounds simple in theory. Why wouldn’t they want to unlock their own development? But in practice, unless the local authority has a mechanism to compel everyone to reach agreement, it often comes down to a first-come, first served basis. And by served, I mean with a big fat invoice! If other developers are not as eager as you to get their project underway, then they might be able to wait you out. In that case you might be left with no option but to pay everything for these roads.

And guess what? Resolving all this takes a painful amount of time and money. When you are dealing with significant public roads and the public are involved along with officials and politicians it is not going to be simply a case of here is a design, please approve. It can be a long drawn out process, even if you don’t end up in court. And local politicians have elections, different government projects get priority and authority funding changes. All of sudden progress on your grand master plan with beautifully rendered perspectives of meticulously landscaped roads meandering through a tranquil coastal subdivision, all approved ‘in principle’ by the officials of the day, can come to a screeching halt as there is no longer public funding to help pay for it. Or they change their mind. Now your road is the prime candidate for a bus station – please adjust your plans. Or we don’t want the cycleway there anymore – please adjust your plans. Or our structural criteria rules have changed, that road is too close to the stream for that retaining wall – please change your plans. Or the community is not allowing a right turn into that street – please adjust the plan. Frustratingly this is all time and money down the curbside drain for the developer – albeit heaps of fees for consultants redoing all their plans!

Eventually, you get the main public roads resolved and figure out who is paying for what*. Now you can finally design your internal road network. That’s all the smaller roads that will link up with the bigger ones to create the blocks of land where you can construct some buildings. Where I am, we call those blocks of land ‘super-lots’: a parcel of land bounded by public roads (and occasionally a topographical feature like the coast, a stream or a park). Often this parcel of land can then be subdivided further into smaller individual lots for sale.

* Developers can find themselves running the significant public road ‘negotiations’ and the complete road network design concurrently. This adds considerable risk and cost though, especially when changes are made, as now everything must be changed. The risks go up a magnitude when you are under time pressure to get roads resolved, so you can start the fun part – selling and building!  Ideally, you sort all this big-picture roading infrastructure out before you purchase the land, or purchase it so cheap that you don’t care!

So, what do you need to think about when designing the entire road network?

–         The optimum size of super-lots, primarily the width, depth and orientation. For example, if your project is a housing estate then you need to consider the size of the houses, the preferred lot sizes encompassing the houses and how they will be arranged within the super-lot. No point having an efficient roading network, which gives rise to inefficient lot depths and everyone’s back yard receives no sun.

–         Private vs Public. What should be a public road and what could be made a private internal road? Public roads cost more money, primarily because they have more rules, like footpaths and driveway restrictions. Sometimes you can have less public roads but integrate more private access roads to separate ‘Super-lots’. This will mean a different ownership structure though, because if the roads are privately owned, the owners need a legal mechanism for control and maintenance.

–         Flexibility. For a project that is expected to be built out over a decade or longer, it is highly likely what you think you are about to develop will evolve into something quite different in the future. Real estate markets change. Your large format logistics warehouses on 5000m2 sections of today might have to make way for smaller 200m2 commercial condos tomorrow. Six-bedroom McMansions with two kitchens for extended families on 500m2 plots, may prove no longer be affordable in your market. But terrace homes on 100m2 plots become all the rage. Zoning restrictions will usually limit the degree of flexibility you need, but not necessarily so. You might be forced to undertake a complete rezoning on part of your master-planned project because of market conditions half-way through your generational project schedule. So flexibility needs to be considered. Simply, the further out in time a piece of land is likely to be developed the more flexibility your road network should allow.

–         Staging. What roads are you going to build first? Do you want to impress your potential market by putting in the public highway complete with mature cherry trees at the outset? Or can you defer big expense items to later in your build out? Do you need access to the public park you are building today, or can that wait? It might be as simple as starting from the entrance and working your way back into the site, stage by stage. Or because of complicating factors (like a whole heap of issues yet to be resolved) you might be forced to stage road construction in a piecemeal approach.

–         What lies below? Rarely do you just build a road. Roads and the berms adjacent serve as a conduit for other infrastructure and utilities: water, stormwater, sewer, power, gas, and communications. Dealing with the authorities on those aspects might dictate where your roads can go. Capacity restraints in those other networks might also limit when you can build them.

–         Topography. Designing a roading network that creates the most efficient and flexible super-lot layout is challenging when you have varying terrain to navigate. Hills have this problem of always getting in the way. There are usually rules on how steep your street and driveways can be. Even if you are allowed a steep street, it will make the house and individual lot construction more complicated as you have to build retaining walls as part of the house (expensive) or as part of the section (difficult to make look good if really high and in the backyard). Sure you can bulldoze it down to a nice flat template, but then you have our next point to consider.

–         Civil construction cost. We discussed this before, but it’s always good to remind oneself to consider the total value proposition: how much does it cost versus how much value does it add? It costs money to dig up or retain hills, fill in valleys and move dirt around so you can build roads. Therefore any decision when designing your road must also take into account the cost to build. Shorter is cheaper. Thinner is cheaper. Fewer traffic lights are cheaper. Lower water crossings are cheaper. No point making the most efficient road network in the city, if you are forced to build the Golden Gate to get from one side to the other.

Finally, all of the above leads us to consider probably the most impactful decision when designing your road network. How do I minimize the loss of Net Developable Area (NDA) when I am designing these roads. Increasing NDA is like finding a diamond in the bitumen: it is land that you can sell!

We’ll talk more about Net Developable Area in the next edition of The Developer Chronicles: Master-planned Projects.


Andrew Crosby

The DC: Master-planned Projects – All published editions.


Now in this blurred world of social media versus professional media, my opinion versus my employer(s), salary versus side-hustle, middle of the business day versus 11pm on a Sunday evening, it can all get a bit confusing. So, here is my value proposition, and both complement and benefit each other.

  • If you have a master-plannable sized piece of land that you would like to sell some or all of, to develop on, or to build houses on then Universal Homes might be able to help you. We focus on delivering value-for-money homes in the ‘relatively affordable’ range, like the 1300 home westhills.co.nz or the 600 plus homes we have built at Hobsonville Point, or the thousands of others around Auckland over the last 60 years. Message me at any time.www.universal.co.nz.
  • If you want to learn more about real estate / property development and a continuous improvement approach to development management to maximize profit and decrease risk then visit www.developmentprofit.com

Aug 19

Let’s Talk About Profit


Let’s talk about profit, baby.
Let’s talk about you and me.
Let’s talk about all the good things.
And the bad things that may be.

Every time I see a news article stating developers are ripping off the public, making huge profits and are being treated like the enemy to modern society, my blood boils. I saw one just yesterday that was particularly misinformed.

But the propaganda is rife, throughout the media, in movies, television shows, and often at the mercy of naive politicians: developers being portrayed as the bad guys. To the bigotry collective and do-gooders, a developer is seen as nothing more than someone who takes a cash windfall from the needy and produces a development that seemingly benefits no one else but themselves.

The truth is property developers are creators. There is no other vocation that can create profit in so many different ways. And unless you have been on the front line of a property development (that’s real estate development to you Americans) project you simply cannot understand what it takes to create a profit. I will go further, you can’t even comprehend what the word profit means, let alone understand who is actually making all the profit!

But, luckily for you, I am going to do my public service, free of charge to tell you everything you need to know – in the world of property development – about profit.

Let’s dig our foundations then. The word ‘profit’, as far as I can tell, is derived from Latin words prōficiō  and prōfectus which means to “make, accomplish, effect”, and then later early 14th century this evolved into “to advance, benefit, gain.”

Today, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary ‘profit’ can be either a noun or a verb. As a noun profit, is defined what many a business person would expect it to mean, with a purely financial focus:

  1. “net income”, or
  2. “the excess of the selling price of goods over their cost”.
  3. “the compensation accruing to entrepreneurs for the assumption of risk in business enterprise as distinguished from wages or rent.”

As an intransitive verb though, the definition of profit expands beyond commercial gain and includes:

  1. “to be of service or advantage”
  2. “to derive benefit”

Further, as a transitive verb, profit is defined as:

  1. “to be of service to”, with an emphasis on service to

While according to dictionary.com it can also mean

  1. “to take advantage”

So now we have seven different definitions. Definitions 1 & 2 are clearly commercially related. Definition 3 is also financial but introduces the term ‘risk’. The first two definitions carry no emotion whereas some might be excited and others scared by the word risk in definition 3. Definitions 4 & 5 carry a positive tone and 6 almost implies a servitude or sense of duty to others. On the other hand, definition 7 could be construed as a negative, especially in the context where no one likes to be taken advantage of.

“Why does all this matter?”

Well as I will show, profit means different things to different people. And it also means different things if you are on the giving, receiving or taking side of the equation.

“I mean, why does it matter to a property developer?” you ask.

Yes, property development is all about the profit.  You simply must extract more value from your project than it costs. As I am fond of quoting, no profit = no project. On the face of it, it looks like the profit generated in property development is firmly covered by definitions one and two.

But how far do you go? How much excess profit, as in definition 2, does a property developer want?

The easy answer is to say, as much as possible – and most bias anti-developer commentators conveniently believe this means robbing the seemingly innocent for every cent.

Now I do admit, I am always challenging the team to extract every last ounce of profit out of any project feasibility. When the team is new to a project it goes something like this: Let’s look at another scheme, and another, can you do five different options? How do we fit more units in? Can we get rid of the access-way? What about reducing the size of the homes? Can we fit more car parking spaces on? Do we even need car parks? Higher? Wider? What happens if we turn it from terrace homes to live-work? Look at that competitor down the road, how does their concept work on our site?…..And it goes on and on and on, typically until everyone is completely sick of me which is about the same time as we have exhausted every conceivable option – although you never really know if you have tried everything. (Can the AI hurry up in this space to help us out please!).

Of course, sometimes you don’t have any choice but to persevere to increase profit, if you can’t meet the financiers or board hurdle rate and especially if you already own the land. The hurdle rate is the term referring to the  minimum financial profit (typically expressed as a percentage return on costs)  required before you are allowed to start spending money on things like consenting, selling and construction.

For most developers, in all but extremely uplifting markets, the minimum hurdle rate becomes profit they aim for. Once you reach the goal of having enough profit (say 20% return on costs) to get funding approved, it is time to draw a line in the sand.  No point trying to extract further profit – at least as defined in 1 & 2 –  now we just have to get on with it.

And as soon as the funding is approved, the rest of the developer’s time on the project is spent protecting that profit. The one time (and the moons really have to be aligned because it doesn’t happen too often) when you can take a little breather, is when you have units still to sell and the sales market is still going up much faster than construction costs are rising.  Except for that super-lucky situation, a developer’s key focus will be managing all the risk that can seriously erode the project’s profit. Sometimes to the point of bankruptcy, simply through a change in market conditions.

That’s where definition number 3 kicks in: developers assume risk and because of risk developers deserve compensation — a profit. And property development is all about risk. Lots of it. Whilst experienced developers know this, the inexperienced and many outside the industry simply don’t appreciate the fact that property development requires the assumption of substantial exposure.

Development profit means dealing with development risk. There is so much risk I have written two books on addressing this verifiable reality and I’m still learning – every single day. Is it not enough to stress the point that my website www.developmentprofit.com also carries the clone address www.developmentrisk.com?

You see, the anti-developer brigade simply ignores risk and views a developer trying to make a profit as definition seven: to take advantage. To these people development profit is evil. How dare they charge home buyers? How dare they buy land, draw a couple of pictures, build a building and generate a profit. How dare someone risk their own livelihood trying to create places for other people to enjoy!

However, like I said developers are creators. This quote sums it up:

“We used to call them our founders and we honored them by erecting their statues in our town squares. Today we just call them ‘developers.’” — Andrés Duany, Cofounder and leader of the New Urbanism. Urban planner of Porta Norte

And being creators, developers, far from taking advantage of others,  create advantage as defined in number 4, for many. Developers derive benefit, as per definition 5, not just in remuneration and civic pride for themselves but in tremendous quantity and quality for wider society. Indeed, this leads us to definition 6: developers are of immeasurable service to their communities, cities and nations.

“Who else profits then?” – I can hear the cynics of you ask.

Let me tell you then, baby.

First there is the obvious candidates. These are the people the developer pays to progress a project. All you have to do is check the developer’s accounts. This includes everyone on the development company’s payroll, every employee from the receptionist to the board members. They get a cut of the profits via a paid job complete with salary, perhaps a bonus, certainly experience and if they are motivated career advancement.

And second there is every professional consultant that is required. When reading this list, just bear in mind, none would have much of a job, nor would their families have too much in the way for dinner each night if developers didn’t exist.
– Architects, designers, draughtspeople
– Engineers, (civil, geotechnical, structural, mechanical, hydraulic, acoustic, traffic, facade & many more)
– Town planners, surveyors
– Quantity surveyors, cost consultants
– Project managers, development managers

Third, everyone involved in construction:
– main contractors, construction managers, site forepeople, health & safety advisors
– plumbers, electricians, carpenters, tilers, concrete layers, carpet layers, drainlayers, roofers, scaffolders, fencers, and a hundred other subbies
– window joiners, kitchen makers, appliance manufacturers, every building product ever invented makers and suppliers.

Fourth, everyone involved in approving, policing and serving a project: inspectors, consent administrators, council officers, city officials, utility and infrastructure providers.

Fifth, banks don’t lend funds out of public duty, they lend funds to make a profit. And with them also profiting is the appraisers, valuers and engineers to the contract.

Sixth, most developments are leased and/or sold. An army or marketers, designers, realtors, property managers, agents and sales consultants benefit from the developers creation.

Phew! That’s a lot of people. Then again, now think about all the associated services that profit. The ones that exist because everyone above, who works on a development project, needs to get around and simply live – all those truck and car retailers, grocers, restaurateurs, fashion and flatscreen television merchants. Profit multiplication en-masse.

And it’s not just financial profit. It’s much bigger than that.

“If it’s not just money, how else does anyone profit then?”  you question.

Look at the symbols of humanity, all  those new iconic buildings that create inspiration. The ones that deliver places of community gathering in town centers. Buildings that protect and support thriving families, tourists and workers in all aspects of their life-long pursuit.

And unlike many other business pursuits, development profit is not just a one off, short-term event. It reaches far beyond the instigating developer’s wallet, it keeps on being generated, for generations. The developer creates an asset that delivers advantage and benefit for years to come for all who come to the land a building sits on, and many who never even step close.

So the next time you think that it’s all plain sailing developing a house, an office building, an estate or a town centre, and the next time you jump to the conclusion a developer is profiteering at the expense of others, consider this very carefully while you look around:  have you and your family benefited – profited – from a developer lately?


Andrew Crosby



Aug 19

Imagine: Maraenui 2025

Reprinted today because I see more new houses going up in this suburb much deserving of a transformation. 

Below is a little story I put together, in 2013, in desperation, to try and get approval for a kick start renewal project. I remember back then my first visit to this struggling community. To set the scene of just how neglected “The Nui” was, read this: http://shorthand.radionz.co.nz/maraenui/index.html 

I don’t know if my attempt to set a vision made a difference, but back then the first project in Maraenui in a long long time, did eventually get approved. It’s good to see that development is now continuing and that further progress has been made.

Nikau Johnson closes the front door to his 3 year old 2 bedroom terrace home at 27 Bledisloe Road. After a great night’s sleep in a warm sustainably built home, he relishes the fact the heating bill is so low given the solar principles applied and the Maraenui community organised electricity co-operative started in 2017. Plus he also likes the fact he and his partners are living in a reasonably safe part of Napier, a bit different to what he can remember growing up down the road.

Nikau walks down the red brick paved footpath, crosses the bike lane, and picks up the pace as jogs across the road – careful to avoid one of the regular electric buses on the Napier to Hastings route. As he approaches the entrance to the recently expanded Westfield Maraenui Shopping and Community Plaza, he notices a teenager walking in the park adjacent. “Hey Scotty, you are going to be late for school, pretty sure you don’t want a miss a day given how close exams are do you?”  Nikau asked.

Scotty turned around and replied “No probs boss, I am taking some photos of that artwork done by my father 10 years ago that we fixed up, – it was our art class renovation project and I need to put together a portfolio to get into uni.”

Nikau carried on through the sliding doors and rather than turning left into the shopping precinct – which was already bustling with the sound of shop keepers putting their wears out front he turned right into the community precinct.

Napier City had set up in Maraenui their international virtual business and co-learning centre with the sister city of Lianyungang, China  in 2019 and added Tomakomai, Japan and Victoria Canada in 2020. This initiative provided a continuation of the Maraenui student exchange and young business entrepreneur program sponsored by Fonterra that started in 2018 and continues to run.

Nikau thought to himself ‘here’s something that now contributes $12m to the Maraenui economy. Just seems like yesterday my fathers friends were getting in trouble with the police and all that gang stuff and here’s one of them on the webphone talking to some Chinese suit!’

Past the community precinct’s centre for sports excellence office and right alongside the entrance to the elevator Nikau spots a sign on the back door of the Barfoots Maraenui office. The table on the sign reads:

house price
Last 10 years
average annual
capital growth
Sales this month
Marewa $323,000 2.5% 17
Maraenui $318,000 9% 22


Nikau feels good about his home investment off the plans 4 years ago. Whilst his friends who live in Hastings said, ‘yeah Maeranui seems on the way up…..lots of young families taking advantage of the Welcome Home Loan + Renovation package, buying ex state houses and doing them up’ – his uncle living locally on Shackelton street did have reservations – ‘yes a lot has changed over the last few years but I don’t know if it will continue, seems like the place is already getting too busy man’.

Nikau jumps in the elevator and moves his finger to the 3rd  level button that reads ‘Housing Napier’, ‘HNZC’  and ‘Whare Maraenui Inc’.

He notes the 2nd level has a new tenant. ‘Spanner and Fixit Ltd’ had relocated a number of times in Maeranui – first from the vacant office they took over in the old retail center in 2015, then from their temporary office, a renovated home on Geddis Ave and now into plush new premises on  in the heart of the expanded mall.

Nikau knew this maintenance company well. As a teenager, he got his first real break with them…..

Life in 2013 seemed to not offer much. Struggling to stay in school, let alone get passing grades he often skipped class. He would walk down Shackelton Rd past the Housing New Zealand properties and past the private home that seemed to be owned by someone out of town because it was falling down and always had the cops outside. Then he and his mates would break into the two story houses that the government were about to tear down and smash whatever was left to break. Even that got boring, a few times early on the police would drive by but they didn’t seem too interested in a couple of kids, just par for the course for them, kids in Maraenui out of school.

One day, late 2013 things started to change.

Not that Nikau took much notice but everyone was talking about all these meetings and the stuff that the government and council was going to do. Nikau’s dad initially didn’t like them, “we had all these meetings ages ago, nothing happened, all piss and roar and nothing happened”.

Nikau remembered there were lots of flash cars coming into town, even once a silver beemer and the guy in that car stayed for a barbeque. Was funny though some of his fathers out of town mates started yelling at him, but he just kept on smiling.

Nikau did take notice when a lot of signs started to go up around town. It seemed like there were blue signs popping up everywhere. There were signs on Longfellow with a picture of some flash new houses. There was signs on Bledisloe next to the houses the government were going to pull down ‘Watch this space’ and another ‘Home of BMX Hawkes Bay’. There was even one at the corner of Geddis Ave and Chambers, the interesction Nikau and his mates would get out of Maraenui to go into town ‘‘Maraenui – loving it’.

Then the Housing New Zealand office seemed to change. Someone put some pictures of local kids running around on the windows and weirdly there were also pictures of the faces of a couple of guys in suits and some drawings. The steel things in front of the doors were removed and a couple of weeks later it looked like they rebuilt the whole front of the building.

All good Nikau thought, but he had his eye on one of the signs as a target. One night he and his mate decided to create some of their own artwork. They walked done Bledisloe and pulled a spray can out – as Nikau was about to put his signature on the sign, a person from across the park, outside the Housing New Zealand office yelled out – “hey you, what are you doing?”

Nikau and his mate were about to run.

“Aye, you guys wanna earn some cash?  the guy bellows.

Nikau’s mate yelled out “Whaatever man, what you know?”

“Get over here I have $50 bucks for you if you can pick up all the rubbish on Percy Spiller Ave” – the man said – it was the same man with his face was on the window but he wasn’t wearing the flash suit.

And that was all it took.

Nikau quickly found himself in a local maintenance program with Spanner and Fixit ltd, where every weekend he could earn $50 just by picking up rubbish – soon that moved onto mowing the grass where the government had pulled down the houses and then onto fixing fences around town. Not only Nikau, most of his mates also got involved. Some pushed their luck a little too far and tried to not finish properly, but the guy from the office always came round to have a chat – Nikau remembered thinking that guy Bill from the office seemed alright; but really he was just checking up on them!

Spanner and Fixit then opened an office in one of the run down stores where they stored all their gear. Next door a tool shed was opened where anyone could borrow a lawnmower or some clippers and some of Nikau’s cousins helped get involved in that.

Nikau remembered how if it wasn’t for Bill catching them that night when they were about to tag the sign he may of never even passed school let alone become Area Manager of Housing Napier.

….The lift doors open, the receptionist greets Nikau, “good morning Mr Johnson, how are you this morning?”

“Yeah great” he replies. Nikau continues “Although looks like it may be a bit of a tough day. Those guys from Australia are coming to town with the Minister of Property Development  and want a tour around Maraenui, so we have to put on our best performance!”

 “Yes I have prepped the troops, Mr Johnson”,  the receptionist, Sally goes on “Why do they want to see Maraenui, everything seems fine to me, not like we are doing anything much different to what they do in Taradale”

Nikau agrees “Yes I know, I think the Aussies have a few problems and want to change one of their towns back home and think we might have the answer, don’t really know what I should show them – what have done recently besides the best street award?  I guess I could talk about the joint initiative that was started in 2015 where rates relief was granted to private owners who kept their properties to a high standard, but we finished that last year because everyone is doing that anyway now”

Sally quickly looks up Maraenui on Wikipedia to look for some ideas

Maraenui is a suburb of the city of Napier, in the Hawke’s Bay Region of the eastern North Island of New Zealand. It is a lower socio-economic neighborhood with a mix of owner occupied and state owned (Housing New Zealand) properties.

Maraenui is a suburb of the city of Napier, in the Hawke’s Bay Region of the eastern North Island of New Zealand. It is a medium socio-economic neighborhood with a mix of owner occupied, and rental housing. Maraenui undertook a positive identity and image transformation from 2013 to 2017 with initial  funding by a government, council and corporate sponsorship through a regeneration programme with extensive resident participation and on the ground management.  Maraenui was presented to the United Nations in 2023 as a case study by the University of California, Berkley Haas School of Business, socio-economic transformation project.

As Nikau walked to his desk Sally enquires

“Also Fa’alele wants to know if they will be attending tonight’s residents meeting of the Maraenui 2035 business growth forum”

Andrew Crosby
September 2013


“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
 — Alvin Toffler




Andrew Crosby
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