Putting his best foote forward
Back in the early 2000s, ex-footballer and successful entrepreneur Andy Foote decided to spend some of his well-earned cash on an apartment in Spain.
But from the moment the Midlands businessman paid his £60,000 deposit, a nightmare began. No-one kept in touch with him, he received zero updates, and he found himself having to put his trust in people he didn’t know, to deliver a property he’d never seen.
Nearly two years later, he received a letter instructing him to deliver the remaining £140,000 or face the prospect of losing the property. “After paying that deposit I didn’t hear a dicky bird,” he recalls. “Until that letter came out of the blue to say: ‘Come to Spain with the balance or you’ve lost it’.”
Foote did indeed fly to Spain, paid his balance and received the keys to his long-awaited apartment in the sun. And he loved the property. But he hated what had been a “shocking service experience”.
“I expected more after paying that £60,000 deposit,” Foote says. “But I hadn’t even seen the property by the time I had to stump up the £140,000 final payment. Everyone said they’d stay in touch, but they didn’t. What was supposed to be a wonderful experience had become a nightmare. I had to go out to Spain on my own and more or less just had the keys thrown at me.”
Foote soon faced multiple challenges: furnishing his property, sorting out snags, getting someone to clean it, finding trusted people to look after it when he wasn’t there, and someone to manage lettings. “There was nothing,” he remembers. “Just me, the keys and an empty property that took me a year to get set up how I wanted.”
It was a frustrating experience, but one that made Foote realise there was space in the market for a company to provide what he had found missing. A 360-degree service that started with sales and provided everything from mortgages to furniture, from property management to rental, and ultimately – if needed – final exit from a property.
This was the basis of BMS Homes, a company he set up selling properties in Spain and Cyprus, making as many as 2,000 sales a year between 2002 and 2010. His improved services worked, but the sector was hit by the financial crash in 2008 when “you couldn’t give properties away”, and BMS Homes stopped trading in 2010.
But after the crash, when the wheel came round again in the property investment market, Foote started a new property business, this time called Seven Invest, the service arm of a parent company called Seven Capital. And since 2013 the company has boomed, selling an average of 1,000 units a year at an average price of £200,000 a time.
The resulting turnover falls into the accounts of Seven Capital, but it’s Foote’s Seven Invest that provides the quality service that drives the sales.
“Seven Invest is based around my experience of knowing what clients need,” says Foote, now aged 54 and living with his wife Judy in Dorridge, Solihull. “The profile of our customers are males aged 40 to 60, with anything from £50,000 spare cash to invest – plus what they can afford on mortgage.
“We’re talking about busy guys, professional business owners, people who not only need a sales service for their property investment but also need someone they can trust with all the extra things they’re going to need. And they want someone who delivers, not just a promise that’s never fulfilled.
“That’s the thing with the property investment market. It’s saturated with agents, people with no control over the properties they’re selling. So, they can sell you the dream but you could then get let down by the builder. But with Seven Invest, we control the whole thing because we only deal with the properties that Seven Capital have provided.”
Seven Invest is essentially a property distribution and service company owned 50:50 by Foote and his partner, Bal Sohal, a Midlands entrepreneur who owns and runs Seven Capital, which is the actual property developer. Seven Capital does three basic but important things: it buys the land, gets planning permission and builds with its own construction company, Colmore Tang. Then Seven Invest steps in to do everything else with the properties that are spread between Birmingham and the London commuter belt.
“My role is customer service,” says Foote. “That’s marketing, selling and then looking after the customer during the two-year build period. That’s crucial. The property investor has paid their £60,000 deposit, or whatever it happens to be, and that’s when their nightmare can start – is the builder cutting corners, all those natural concerns.
“That’s when we communicate with them all the way through, exceeding their expectations at the end when they finally get their property. I’m talking about bi-monthly emails containing pictures of every stage, descriptions of what’s happening now and next, updates about all the little things.
“During that process, we still tell them we’re going to be serving their lawyer with a ten-day notice for the remaining 70% of the purchase price. But we don’t leave it until those ten days beforehand. We tell them a year before, and we tell them not to worry because by that stage we’ll be in touch almost daily with what needs to happen next.
“We ask them: how do you want to find the property on the day you get the keys? Do you want it managed? Do you need someone to arrange the letting? How would you like it furnished? We understand everything about that. We have clients from all over the UK and world, and when they first buy they perhaps don’t see the value of the service.
“But we insist on excelling in customer service, and that’s where our focus is. We can help with the mortgage, the management and even things like the furnishing. Have you ever tried fitting one of those Ikea flat-pack furniture units? It can be a nightmare. But we not only arrange the fitting, we also negotiate deals with stores that can save them 50% on furnishing prices.
“And what we offer is unique. Whilst our competitors’ agents’ focus is on the sales profit, we’re providing our customers with the access to everything they need.”
Seven Invest employs a staff of around 80 to provide this service, based in offices in Birmingham, London, Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong. But the company outsources all the specialisms like law, furniture, mortgage, management and rental.
“We want our partners to earn money for the services they provide, and we want our clients to get great service,” Foote says. “We have a panel of lawyers charging £500 for the legal aspects, which compares to anything from £1,000 to £2,000 charged by other companies. The lawyers are on our panel and if they’re no good they’re off that panel.
“Then we have a panel of lettings agents that works the same as the lawyers’ panel – lettings agents have to perform, and the percentage they charge is about half or what others charge. And we provide everything from mortgage referrals to the furnishings.”
Seven Invest has pumped £2m in its delivery services, which continue after handover. It even has a new app containing all the manuals for the equipment in the property, making life even easier for the owners. And, for two years after the purchase, it provides a 24-hour dedicated “man with a van” on every development, sorting out every snag during a two-year warranty.
What started as a nightmare out in Spain all those years ago has now become a dream business – making life as a property investor easy for thousands of people who buy Seven Invest apartments.
From football dreams to personal tragedy
Andy Foote was born in Sheldon, Birmingham back in 1963, one of four children in a working-class family. He managed to get into a local grammar school but didn’t excel in the classroom – leaving without taking his O-levels and with a one-minute exit interview when his headmaster summed up his school life as a “waste of time”.
But he did shine at sport, playing twice for England rugby under-16s schoolboys. And his skills saw him become a professional footballer in a short-lived career when he turned out for Luton Town, Shrewsbury and Port Vale, abruptly ending at the age of 20.
“It broke my heart when I never made it as a player,” recalls Foote, “but I then wanted to own a wine bar, so I got a job at Banks brewery to learn about the business.”
Within five years, Foote was an area sales manager for Banks, but by now he was after more money and glamour, and went to work for BMW as a finance manager. After a further five years, he was offered his own dealership, and was soon winning every BMW competition for finance every year.
Foote realised he could add up, and so left in 1994 to launch his own motor finance business called BMS Finance, which he sold to Bank of Scotland for £8m in 2002. It was then, after his Spanish apartment experience, that he launched and ran BMS Homes from 2002 to 2010.
Despite his business success, tragedy struck Foote’s personal life when his son, Joseph, was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. Years of treatment and setbacks followed, and on 31 August 2007, Joseph died, aged nine.
What struck Foote, his wife Judy and their daughter Nancie, now aged 22, was the level of uncertainty in the medical world about Joseph’s condition. The words “we don’t know” were the typical and recurring answer whenever they had asked if he would survive.
“Basically, brain tumours are the Cinderella of the cancer world, left way behind the likes of breast and prostate cancer where treatment and survival rates were constantly improving,” Foote explains. “So, we decided to set up a charity to raise money to find a cure.”
What started as the Joseph Foote Trust – which merged with Brain Tumour UK, and then merged again to form The Brain Tumour Charity – has raised tens of millions of pounds, becoming the biggest brain cancer charity in the world.
Remembering his son Joseph, Foote says: “What stood out about Joseph was his great sense of knowing what was right and wrong. Every day we speak to families who are devastated by the news of brain cancer. That’s all we’ve needed to drive us on.
There are 105,000 people living with brain tumours in the UK, and only 15% or 20% survive.
“The charity has raised more than £34m during its life. Our funding is helping to make advances in research and we now have a strategy to raise the survival rate over the next 20 years and, in the meantime, are looking to halve the harm of existing treatment. That focus keeps us going, and keeps Joseph alive in our memories.”
Published: 02 January 2018