A Personal Recollection by Martin Morris, Chairman of the Surrey Based Group.
The Woodgavil Group was established by my father EJ Morris in 1954. Born and brought up in New Malden, Eddie had worked as an apprentice for a local estate agent and thought that the only way he could enjoy his role as a rent collector would be if the rents due were owed to him and not his boss’s clients! Eddie formulated a plan and set himself up as a developer, building modest house extensions to learn the building trade. His business grew and before long he had built a number of blocks of flats in the New Malden area. In the early 1960’s cash flow had improved sufficiently to allow him to retain certain flats in Charter Court as investments. He had begun to fulfil his dream.
In partnership with a local estate agent, Eddie then saw an opportunity to develop war damaged commercial premises. Properties of this type were not subject to the onerous planning regime and red tape that followed the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act. Eddie quickly established a considerable commercial portfolio in New Malden and sought to diversify geographically when he swapped a small estate on Coombe Hill for various commercial premises in Exeter and East Devon. At that point he decided that, whilst he would continue to maintain cash flow by the development and sale of residential units, he would never sell his commercial portfolio which he would establish as the cash cow for the continued growth of the Group. Up until the mid 1980’s, residential investment was governed by the Rent Act legislation whereby rentals were restricted to fair rents established by local Rent Tribunals. As well as controlling rentals well below true market values, the Rent Acts offered tenants security of tenure for their entire lifetime. Eddie’s bias towards commercial premises under the less onerous Landlord & Tenant Acts was entirely understandable. Nevertheless Eddie had the foresight to retain a number of substantial residential investment blocks that still form the nucleus of the Gavil Group portfolio today.
In the 1970’s, in an effort to maintain a sensible geographical diversity, the Group acquired commercial investment properties in Reigate & Ashford whilst retaining a considerable residential building program. The rental return from the commercial portfolio allowed Eddie to pursue his development activity without significant financial gearing. As a result he was able to survive the various cyclical downturns that proved the death knell for so many of his property contemporaries.
The 1980’s saw the gradual loosening of Rent Control in the residential markets. The new style Assured Tenancy emerged whereby occupiers still retained security of tenure but landlords were able to charge market rents for their properties. Still seeing lifetime security of tenure as a significant obstacle, Eddie realised that if he sought to satisfy the growing demand for student accommodation in the Kingston area, the transient nature of his tenants would provide significant comfort. Woodgavil become one of the first registered Assured Landlords in the UK and quickly established the significant student portfolio in which Gavil Group continues to specialise today.
The downturn that followed the late 80’s boom also provided some excellent opportunities for the Group. With the banks trying to reduce their exposure to property, credit was extremely tight and commercial property values spiralled. A cricketing chum introduced a significant good quality and well let industrial portfolio that was acquired for less than it would have cost to build the units – analysing the deal, the cost of the land was free and the quality of the tenants (including Barclays Bank and several other “blue chips”) completely ignored. Our lack of gearing and excellent relationship with our bank manager allowed us to pursue a number of similar opportunities in the early 1990’s, before a stronger market heralded a period of consolidation for the Group.
By the turn of the century Eddie saw the need to seek advice in relation to IHT planning. Aware that his brother and individual family members working for the Group may wish to pursue different interests, he sought to establish independently controlled individual companies. As a result, the portfolio was divided into 3 sub groups with our part of the portfolio (most easily recognised as the Woodgavil Group) controlled from the original Walton on the Hill offices.
In recent years Gavil Group’s philosophy has evolved from the original acquire/develop/hold principle to a more dynamic approach to financial management. The Group now recognises that it remains an option to sell low yielding investment properties with little opportunity to create value, to assist in the funding of projects that can yield 20% and much more. Our expert team of employees, agents and consultants have allowed us to develop a program of projects that will optimise the value of our retained portfolio as well as allowing us to pursue significant profits from the acquisition and development of major new sites. The recent introduction of a new trading arm will add another significant element to the Gavil Group portfolio.
Martin joined his father in the family business in 1988 and property is his passion. Renowned for working very strange hours, Martin always covers the 4 am to 8 am shift for the team.
Malcolm has been retained as Group QS for 3 years or so. Nothing on site escapes his scrutiny and he chairs our fortnightly project meetings with efficiency and good humour.
Dave is the new kid on the block having taken over from John as Head of Operations. Dave is a qualified accountant and engineer and has that much-needed attention to detail that every organisation needs.
Having worked as PA to the General Managers of the RAC Club for 25 years, Debbie knows how to solve a problem and provides much-needed support for the Executive Team
Paula has 30 plus years experience in residential lettings and management and is always available to help our agents make the right decisions
The Accounts Team is headed by Eric Young (Finance Director) FCCA, CTA. Eric is supported by the charming Chen-Ru Harriss and Martin Banks provides background support in a consultancy role. There is nothing Martin doesn't know about the Group; he has been working at head office since 1970.
John devoted 7 years as Head of Production and has agreed to stay on as a consultant. John is uber intelligent and is the font of all knowledge on anything technical.
James is the stereotypical favourite uncle and knows a thing or two about finance and business generally. His bigger picture guidance to the executive team is invaluable.
Mark owns and runs Epsom Builders Ltd which has recently formed a strategic alliance with the Group. Mark is a knowledgeable local builder who has been trusted to run all of the Group's major projects in recent years. He has never let us down and has taken an extended role since the completion of Crossways House in 2016.
Andrew, and his father before him, have been principal architects to the Group since 1960. Andrew is available 24/7 and has an uncanny ability to solve the most complex of problems with a "cunning plan". A lot of the Group's success since the Millenium is down to Andrew.
Brother and sister team, Andrew and Anna of Laytons, undertake all of the Group's legal work. The most "thorough" solicitors in the world, Andrew and Anna constitute the ultimate dream team.
Katy, Jess and Jenna handle all of our major planning applications and provide invaluable technical support to Andrew Sloan and his team.