Being passionate about the sport was never going to be enough to turn Tim Bradford into a professional cricketer, so he did the sensible thing and went off to be a bank clerk.
However, after joining Lloyds at its “Above Hill” branch in Lincoln, it didn’t take Tim too long to figure out this wasn’t going to be his ideal long-term career – but it proved an excellent match (for romance) because that’s where he met his wife of 24 years, Kim.
Pondering his next move, Tim decided the career chosen by his late brother Stephen had serious potential: plenty of challenges, the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and a way of avoiding hours spent scrunched over a desk.
There was just one obstacle, the prospect of knuckling down to some serious studying, in addition to “on the job” training. It was a tough call, but Tim had found his true niche.
Within a decade he was shaking hands on a very attractive deal, the chance to become a partner and managing director of Lincoln-based Banks Long & Co.
Since joining the firm in 1999 and taking over from Peter in 2011 – who has “retired” but who remains a consultant to the firm – the professional practice has more than doubled in size to employ 23 people and offer a wider range of services than ever.
Banks Long & Co’s “for sale/to let signs” can be spotted everywhere. Numerous private negotiations and development discussions are also going on behind the scenes, involving the full commercial property spectrum.
“I went to Branston School and Community College and played a lot of cricket. I dreamed of playing professionally but, by the age of 17, with a few injuries in the bag, I decided I wasn’t going to make the grade. I left when I was 18 and got a good job in a bank,” said Tim.
A change of pace
“After a while, I took a tip from my older brother Stephen. I thought his career as a chartered surveyor was much more interesting and in the late 1980s the property market was booming. I joined J H Walter as an assistant trainee surveyor, took a 50% cut in salary, and immersed myself in the world of property. At that time, the market crashed.
“I wasn’t particularly academic, but now I faced five years of day release study at Nottingham Trent University alongside doing my job. I became very ambitious, very focused and determined to gain my professional qualification.
“One of my early deals involved assembling, developing and letting premises in Lincoln High Street to Pizza Express, in the mid-nineties, and then selling the created investment,” said Tim.
“I still get a real buzz from every deal. It doesn’t matter if it is large or small. It’s all about the journey, the challenge, from the first introduction through to closing the deal. That kind of satisfaction sticks with you.
“After three years with J H Walter, I spent 7 years with FHP (Fisher Hargreaves Proctor) which had offices in Newark and Nottingham.
“Agents in Nottingham, working East of the A1, tend to see Lincolnshire as foreign territory. It’s like another, unknown world. That job involved me in lots of driving and dealing with regional and national clients, including well-known names, such as Boots, Schuh, Bass Taverns, Allied London and Capital Shopping Centres.
“It was excellent experience and I believe that all surveyors need to gain experience of the wider market, rather than simply working locally where they are apt to get a bit insular.”
Tim and Kim have two sons, Benjamin (20) and Oliver (16), and it was around this time that Benjamin was born. Tim’s long days involved daily commuting to Nottinghamshire. Should the family relocate?
Fortunately they didn’t and in 1999 Tim was delighted to accept Peter Banks’ offer of a partnership and a real say in how the business should be taken forward.
“Peter brought me in with succession in mind. Alongside Peter, and another former colleague, Trevor Smelt, I learned a lot about developing the business and generated a larger number of new clients. That allowed us to do more regional and national, as well as local work.”
The world of commercial property is always edgy, but Tim is never complacent – with good reason. One day the market can be booming, the next everyone is crying “free-fall”!
“From 2000, our business flourished with a pick-up in the market. We advised on a number of large developments in Lincoln, such as The Carlton Centre/Bunkers Hill, Valentine Retail Park, student schemes including The Junxion, Brayford Quays and The Pavilions.
“But the market was fuelled with the easy credit offered by banks which believed the bubble would not burst.”
In 2005 Tim was advising clients to pull out of the investment market, as the gap between prime and secondary property closed to an unsustainable level.
“It was too easy in the period between 2005 and 2008 to do deals. We had to become very selective with acquisitions, whilst doing very well with sales.
“I remember the sale of a shopping centre in the East Midlands, where a number of bids were received above the asking price of £4 million pounds. The successful buyer paid £1 million over the asking price! Those were barmy days!”
Tim said the crash of 2008 was overdue, but the sheer severity of the fall was unprecedented. The industry faced a bleak period with markets taking years to recover.
“It was as though someone had turned the tap off. There was no real transactional activity to speak of. Thankfully in Lincoln we do not experience the real highs of a property boom and it follows that we do not feel the real depths of the crash,” he said.
Keeping a constant eye on the country’s economic fortunes is vital. Doing so has ensured Banks Long & Co has been able to react quickly to changing times and successfully break into new markets.
“Fortunately I saw the last recession coming and I had already begun diversifying into other markets. Over the years, I have tried to be ahead of the markets – concentrating on town centre bars and restaurants in the 1990s, student schemes, health and fitness and retail parks in the early 2000s and, more recently, GP surgeries/medical centres and cinema/leisure,” said Tim.
“I have bought 43 medical centre investments with a portfolio value in excess of £75,000,000 from Scotland to Plymouth, for one London-based client, since 2006.”
Since 2011, Tim has boosted his firm’s expertise with the assistance of fellow Directors Will Wall (who deals with industrial and office premises), James Butcher (who specialises in the retail and leisure sectors) and Simon Bridge (who has building surveying expertise).
Lincoln’s time is now
“We have an excellent team, which includes exceptional young talent. We are determined to put the client first and offer an unrivalled service. We are confident this approach will allow us to grow the business, through advising clients on a local, regional and national basis.”
Tim is proud of Banks Long & Co’s achievements and the fact that his firm is in the thick of the action at a time when Lincoln’s profile is growing fast within the East Midlands.
“It is a great time to be running a thriving business in Lincoln. The city is growing and there are real opportunities within Lincoln and the wider county which will need property solutions.
“It feels that we are at the start of a period which hopefully will see Lincoln rise and become recognised as one of the leading commercial centres in the East Midlands.
Tim is particularly delighted to be working with client Lincolnshire Co-operative on the £50 million Cornhill Quarter project, moves to regenerate The Mall in Lincoln’s upper High Street and a number of other key developments in the city.
“The £12m first phase of the Cornhill Quarter project is a real opportunity to kickstart the transformation of the Cornhill/Sincil Street area of the City Centre. Planning consent has been granted and work on the landmark Corn Exchange building is programmed to start in the first half of 2016.
“The scheme is attracting strong levels of national interest but we are also working closely with independent traders to accommodate their needs,” said Tim.
After over 25 years in property Tim is still up for the challenge – putting developments together, doing deals and working closely with his clients – “it is what Banks Long is all about,” he said.
Tim is currently Chairman of The Commercial Property Investment Panel of Property Agents Independent (its 26 independent members represent all regions of the UK).
This feature interview was first published in issue 58 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.