Turning up at a McGuinness costing meeting lately is like heading into a casino, says Willis Bond managing director David McGuinness. 

The quip, made in reference to constantly evolving build budget negotiations with construction company LT McGuinness, was made at the sod-turning last Thursday for the firm’s Catalina Bay development at Hobsonville Point.

The $150 million, 82 unit venture is already 75% pre-sold, but McGuinness admits the pricing parameters are a moveable feast, particularly given the challenges of building an apartment complex on a seaside wharf and the “wild ride” of construction costs - which are steadily whittling down developers' margins.

Willis Bond bought the former Defence Force base site from Kāinga Ora Housing NZ in 2017, part of a broader 167-hectare peninsula jutting into the Upper Waitemata Harbour. 

A total of nine development companies are in the process of constructing more than 4,000 homes across the wider Hobsonville Pt project, of which 20% are reserved as 'affordable' under Kāinga Ora’s Axis programme, which sells homes to buyers through a ballot system - similar to government's labouring KiwiBuild model.

The Homestar 7 rated Catalina Bay apartments, which boast an on-site concierge, theatrette, parking and direct access to the ferry terminal, aren't included in that ‘affordable’ category.

Assets of $1.6b

But buyers who did sign the paperwork back in May 2020, got in at the relative basement price of $700,000 for a one-bedroom unit, with some three bedrooms selling for $1.2m. 

Last year, the two penthouse offerings were snapped up at the $5m level.

Catalina Bay is one of a raft of developments on the go for Willis Bond. Since 2010, it has had 18 developments under its belt, estimated to now be valued at $1.6 billion.

Auckland Council’s development arm, Panuku, which has worked closely with the firm at its Wynyard Quarter precinct, has also turned to the firm for its $400m residential, office and retail precinct in Takapuna. 

That development, Takapuna Central, will eventually span five sites between 40 Anzac St and 30-34 Hurstmere Rd, centred around the newly developed Waiwharariki Anzac Square. 

In 2020, the firm established an income fund to invest in long-term yielding assets, focused on high net worth and institutional investors. To date, it has raised $250m with headroom to invest up to $500m. 

That, according to recent reports out of Australia, has made it the likely sale and leaseback partner to Australian Petroleum company Ampol, the new owner of Z Energy, as a buyer for Z Energy's 52 freehold service stations.

New blood  

McGuinness (50), a trained lawyer and one of 11 children, took on the mantle of managing director last month after his uncle Mark McGuinness moved into an executive chair role.

He’s no stranger to the family-owned business, however. “I grew up on construction sites with my father but had no ambition to get into property or construction.”

But, after a discussion with his father and uncle in 2005, he opted to move into the 33-year old family business. His first major project was the 12 level, mixed-use Chews Lane, in Wellington. 

That development, as with its Wynyard Central apartments, One Market Lane and Clyde Quay Wharf, were collaborations with cousin company LT McGuinness.

The latter, established by Lawrence McGuinness in 1950, was passed onto sons Jim, Peter and Brian and now also employs David’s brothers – Matt, Dan and Jack. 

Today, 11 McGuinness family members work across both businesses. “It’s been fantastic working with my brothers, father and uncle and it’s been a genuine privilege to work with this business.”

He subscribes to the adage that “family businesses are the worst types to be involved in until you’ve tried all the others”.