Stamp duty land tax (SDLT) can be a substantial one- off cost when purchasing land and property. With an increase in property prices the SDLT payable…
We sat down with Sam O’Connell and Carla Bennett, together the brains and the muscle behind female-led property developers Leo and Taurus Developments, based in Plymouth. Passionate about encouraging other women into the industry and enhancing the environment, Sam and Carla tell us about how a chance meeting in a local park led onto a six-year-long business partnership.
Tell us a bit about Leo and Taurus Developments and the business journey so far
We met by total chance on a dog walk in 2015! It was an instant click of personalities. After chatting we realized we both have a passion for property, particularly restoring old buildings, so we swapped numbers and kept in touch. We both went to visit a couple of each other’s existing projects and realized we were doing very similar things, so we decided to give doing a project together a go. Our first project, which we affectionately named ‘Doing it for Dot’, was a two-bed property in Plymouth which a lady called Dorothy had lived in before she passed away in a nursing home. We felt very sad that Dot had lived her last years in this house, which was riddled with damp and in such a poor state of repair, so we made it our mission to do Dot proud. We gutted and transformed the property into a lovable family home.
Each new project we’ve taken on has been larger than the previous one, with a church on Dartmoor being one of our biggest projects. Carla and I had always liked the features of a church so when that came up on auction I said “Fancy doing this with me?” and it all went from there! Once planning had been approved there wasn’t enough to keep us both busy, so Carla went back into working as a Project Manager part time. I quickly realized with a few sales going through and opportunities coming up at local auctions that I needed a business partner, so Carla came back on full time and we haven’t looked back.
What do you think makes your partnership so successful?
As business partners we play to our strengths and weaknesses, and we both maintain complete transparency about what’s going on with everything. We lead quite different lives and I do love how different we are.
We both have a lot of experience in the property industry and bring different things to the table, but our friendship and passion is at the core of our success.
We regularly challenge each other when making decisions, for example kitchen designs and layouts, or when picking out other finishing touches to a project. We often ask each other “What if we do it this way?” and we compromise along the way. It is important we have a reason for every decision we make together, every decision is meticulously thought through and role played out so that we can justify what we have done. No decision has been made on a whim or just thrown in there without considerate thought.
We do approach things differently but we never argue. I wouldn’t want to be business partners with someone who didn’t challenge my way of thinking or push me out of my comfort zone, and I think that’s why we work so well together. The end result is always a perfect mix of both of our tastes and everything we’ve done has sold within three weeks, so we must be doing something right!
What do you consider to be your biggest business success so far?
It has to be the church! We got to the auction by the skin of our teeth and calculated the budget on an A4 bit of paper just before. We knew this was going to be a challenge as we’ve never done a project of this scale before. As the groundworks and renovation got under way the budget we had initially allocated trebled, but thankfully so did the valuations of the property, so it all balanced out. Everything was sold three weeks after going on the market.
We always look back on that project and think ‘’we did good’’.
How has PKF Francis Clark helped you and Leo and Taurus Developments on the business journey so far?
For us the best part of being a client of PKF Francis Clark is how much expertise is under one roof. If we have a VAT question, we can phone up and get an accurate and detailed answer. Everyone we’ve spoken to has always been helpful. Covid-19 was a challenging and uncertain time for everyone, including us, and our main contact, Amy Hammacott, was so lovely and supportive.
What’s next for Leo and Taurus Developments?
We want to continue doing what we are passionate about, and that’s restoring empty buildings back into use. We are currently converting a mill. There are three different plots on the site – we’ve got the five-bedroom house, an upper mill building and a lower mill building. Once the house is finished, we’ll move onto the restoring the water wheel. It’s a very exciting and unique project to say the least!
We’ve not taken on a project involving any new buildings yet, we’re focused on giving old buildings a second life. It’s exciting and it’s fulfilling. We also ensure everything we do uses renewable energy as we are conscious of the environment and are passionate about sustainability. We are also focused on the biodiversity in every location. At the mill we are doing everything we can to protect and encourage the bat habitats in the area – as we are both massive animal lovers this is important to us.
As women we are also focused on supporting other women in this still very male-dominated industry. We’ve recently found female decorators that we use regularly who are great, and Carla’s niece wants to become a carpenter, so she often comes on site with us. Our business inspector is also female, so we are surrounded by talented property-minded women! Our focus will always be to get the best people in for the job, and when that’s a female then great.
To find out how our Property & Construction team can help your business achieve success, contact us today.