We’re back with another instalment of Women in Property Investment (slightly delayed thanks to technical difficulties caused by pesky Christmas gremlins).
This week, we catch up with Rosanna Lawn, the co-founder of London development company YOO Living and recently-appointed head of global brand and PR director of Project Etopia, a modular homebuilder.
Following her growth in property investment and being crowned Estates Gazette’s Rising Star of 2019, Lawn, 25, explains how she came to make waves in the property industry.
Property wasn’t on my radar when I was growing up, and especially the prospect of working in the industry. I actually wanted to be a vet, and houses were just something you lived in.
Then one summer, my grandfather needed some help managing his portfolio of properties and my eyes were opened to the industry, and its opportunities. Suddenly I was learning how to assess a market and find a new investment, add value to a property, and manage yields.
It’s safe to say I relished getting involved, and there was no other path for me after that, so I enrolled on a Real Estate degree course.
My passion for property was further fuelled by meeting other people striving to get into the industry, some with eyes set on a job with local authorities, others planning to become an architect. I joined the Westminster University Property Society, eventually becoming its president, with the aim of bridging the gap between students and the professional world.
When I was embarking on my first post-university job at Cushman & Wakefield, it became clear that there was a gulf between graduates and industry professionals. It was difficult for young people entering the industry, including myself, to access networking events and talks, which either involved expensive memberships, or were aimed at boardroom-level.
A friend and I realised that no-one would fill the gap in networking opportunities for newcomers in the industry for us, and we needed to create something ourselves — and the CREation Property Network was born. It is a platform for young people starting out in their property careers who want to form enduring relationships with like-minded people at talks and social events.
It is already based in four locations around the UK, and due to expand further in the coming months. We have more than 20 volunteers who run committees in each location and organise roughly one event each month. It provides a support network to help people who are taking their first footsteps in all areas of the property world, from management to development and estate agency.
The enthusiasm and buzz in the room at our events is palpable. And all that energy was being lost within the industry because it was so difficult for graduates to meet and network with each other, learn more about other areas of the property industry and meet the CEOs who could be their future bosses one day.
Over the last four years, I’ve seen the industry from all angles, from property management at an estate agent, to investing in property, managing a portfolio, and now helping to grow a brand specialising in Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).
The last few years, in particular, have been a bit of a whirlwind, as I’ve gone from being headhunted and jointly launching a London-based investment and development property business, YOO Living, to a new role at a fast-growing modular developer, Project Etopia, which is set to be a real disruptor in the property world.
At YOO Living, a subsidiary brand of YOO, I worked with my business partner to create a new brand in London from the ground up. We invested in, and developed, residential properties and I also helped to create its Build to Rent brand. I have first-hand experience of how the industry is susceptible to political and financial trends, and how vital it is to keep on top of the risks they pose to business.
I have always had a love for buildings aesthetically but through working in the industry I have a greater appreciation for how disrupting the norm can contribute towards creating a better world.
What can get lost when we talk about yields and profit is the fundamental fact that community starts with real estate, within a masterplan for towns and cities. Houses are not just investments, they are people’s sanctuary where they create memories, socialise and build a family. This means that how real estate is planned, built and delivered alongside infrastructure will have an impact on how a community will form.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the homes we are building now will still be standing when we are gone and so we should make every effort to ensure they are well designed and play a role in enhancing a community.
The real estate industry has been slow to adapt to changing technologies, but there are many fresh voices out there now, aiming to revitalise archaic approaches.
That’s the reason why I’ve joined Project Etopia. We want to do things a bit differently, not just in the way we build our houses, but in every area, from marketing through to the smart home technology homeowners will use.
There is an urgent need to build more houses and nothing can get this done quicker than MMC. Every other industry has embraced technological innovation, and the time is ripe for house building to do the same.
We are witnessing a revolution in how technology is used in the property space, from data-driven software to VR walkthroughs, through to new construction methods which deliver homes at a faster rate than ever before.
The greatest shift, though, is in sustainability, as developers need to also consider the impact their building will have on the environment, both during construction and during the lifetime of the home. My interest in this area has grown over the last few years, and utilising green technologies is at the forefront of Project Etopia’s builds, so the stars have aligned in this respect.
In building its brand and message, Etopia wants to stand out and make an impact. It’s an exciting time to be working in the modular homes sector, with MMC rising in prominence and stealing market share from traditional house building. I’m sure 2020 is going to be busy, and full of innovative projects which will demonstrate how homes fit for the future should be built. I’m looking forward to being a part of that.
*Rosanna Lawn is the co-founder of YOO Living and head of global brand/PR director of Project Etopia.
This is part of an ongoing series focusing on women in property investment, with the next article appearing on Friday December 20.