Property Developers Top 5 Acquisition Strategies

As featured on Property Observer:

The property development scene continues to evolve and developers are always looking to find new ways of improving their product and returns, however there are a number of commonly used acquisition strategies that they continue to utilise and I thought I would evaluate the 5 most common strategies and look at why they are effective.


This is where the developer purchases the property and holds on to it long term while waiting for the right market conditions to maybe reposition its use via a change of zoning and then redevelop it. To be effective there needs to be a cash flow generated from the property via a retail tenancy or similar that enables the developer to achieve a neutral cashflow utilising a level of debt funding that is prudent but maximises his effective use of his capital. Ideally if it can amortise some of that debt over time, all the better. Ideally this gives the developer the option to sell a rezoned site at a profit or assume the development risk and achieve an enhanced return. This strategy requires a significant capital outlay and the return may only be marginal if the full development strategy is not taken up. 


The developer may purchase a property with an intention to purely on-sell it in the short to medium term. This could be due to identifying an opportunity to secure good terms or a low price enabling a profit to be made from a quick turnaround sale. This might be achieved by offering to purchase with a cash unconditional contract that might be attractive to a purchaser under financial stress enabling you to negotiate a lower price. Alternatively you might identify the ability to obtain a development approval and significantly increase the site value enabling a quick on sale where there is strong demand for the amended use. This approach is much smarter the being the biggest idiot who pays top dollar for a prime site already with a DA in the hope that he will then make a development profit. 


A number of creative developers seek to secure a property by putting it under an option contract enabling them to then work up a strategy and either on-sell or develop. This is a creative way to acquire control of a property without having to own it. If they take the on sale route, there is the added benefit of a potential stamp duty saving (please take advise from your solicitor as there are varying state legislations in respect to this strategy), as the developer has not legally purchased or settled the property but has a legal right to deal with it including transferring their rights under the option agreement. This may include obtaining a development approval to increase its potential and enhance its value. This method of acquisition allows a developer to have control over the property buy not requiring to put much cash into buying the property until they have increased the value of the property, example by obtaining a DA. 


Clearly this is the most common strategy that a developer will utilise especially in a quiet market where there are opportunities to buy in at low prices. An example of this was in 2008 during the GFC here a number of developers needed to sell property at liquidated prices. Over the years the market improved and the property would have increased in value to either develop then or sell at a profit. If a developer has acquired a site in a soft market, then there could be good potential uplift in the land. However, if they are in a cooling market then they may have purchased a  site at top prices and find themselves in a challenging situation. The current market does indicate that sentiment is easing and that there may be risk of oversupply in some locations. 


This is where a developer secures a deal with a land owner. This is typically called a Land Development Agreement (LDA), where the developer has the experience and skill set to obtain a development approval and complete a development. The land owner retains ownership of the land for the developer to develop and receives his land value along with a share in the end profits. This is a good win-win solution for both parties. This scenario occurs more frequently where the land size is large with multiple stages enabling the developer to undertake the project without the need to purchase and hold the balance land over an extended period. In most cases the land owner is not experienced in development and benefits from a share in the uplift in value created by the developer which they would not ordinarily get to do if they tackled the DA process by themselves. As always, you need to do your due diligence on who you do business with and take appropriate advice as different states have differing stamp duty rules which may apply. 


Each of the above acquisition strategies have different pros and cons. There may be stamp duty implications that may or not apply to the purchase. The capital component is different for each scenario and market conditions can change as well, so a developer will need to be very mindful of current market conditions and be ready to adapt should conditions change and seek appropriate advice. 

For example, the construction finance with major banks has shifted from fluid to extremely limited within the last 6 months. Most developers who acquired their sites last year had expectations that their bank would automatically provide them with terms as they had done in the past. However, all major banks are now very cautious with their lending and are doing so at reduced levels of exposure with many developers now find themselves committed to their site but not having certainty of the funding required. 

Developers need to broaden their understanding of the growing number of alternative funding options that are available to them as the construction finance sector is rapidly changing. 

Just as you would normally take advice from an experienced town planner before lodging a DA, it pays to seek expert finance advice when considering to purchase a property to develop. By working closely with a specialised financer who understands your needs, the market conditions and the structure being utilised to acquire the site places you in a strong position to find the best construction finance solution for your next project.