Five Minutes With Future Estate Founder Ben Anderson

Based in Melbourne, Future Estate is one of Australia’s emerging players in the development industry.

Currently developing projects with a completion value of over $1 billion across Australia, Future Estate specialises in all aspects of project development and construction management.  The company is currently gaining attention for its redevelopment of the former Pentridge Prison site with its new Coburg Quarter mixed-use apartment project. Coburg Quarter will offer cafes, bars, markets and outdoor cinemas, while restoring and retaining some heritage elements.

We spoke with founder and Managing Director Ben Anderson to see what’s on the cards for Future Estate.

What was your background before you became a developer?

Prior to establishing Future Estate, I was in investment banking and structured property finance at Merrill Lynch and NAB respectively.

What sparked your interest in property development?

I’ve always loved property, for the tangible, and for the opportunity to see a project through from conception to completion.

Each project is a journey and it is always very rewarding to see it come to life and become a reality.

This is an exciting and dynamic industry that has far reaching consequences; we can genuinely create a lasting legacy if we go about it correctly and can add real value to the communities in which a project sits.

From an early age, I’ve been involved in property, in particular residential, which has carried through my career and ultimately culminated in Future Estate. Since my early 20s I’ve been involved in various small residential development projects, with the ultimate goal always being to make development my full time occupation.

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What skills from your former career as an investment banker have you been able to apply to the development industry?

The conscious decision to work within the property team during my tenure as an investment banker, meant I was able to build a knowledge base and gain invaluable insight into how the industry is financed.

These fundamentals are of particular use when you consider how capital intensive the industry is, especially as a private developer for whom the reality of day-to-day life involves capital raising of various forms.

One of the most rewarding aspects of investment banking is the ability to work alongside highly talented and motivated people, who become informal educators that see you learn and develop your skill set in a practical environment. This experience has made me a more adept problem solver, engendered me with strategic foresight and only served to strengthen my aptitude for stakeholder communications.

Can you explain what the Future Estate brand stands for?

The Future Estate brand has definitely evolved over time and what I have instilled in my business and team is a commitment to providing customers value for money, to remaining ‘true to label’ and to ensuring each of our developments are environmentally considered. Our projects centre on affordability and integrity, with an inherent dedication to high-quality design and amenity. When acquiring new sites, I always look to these values to guide us and ensure we continue to deliver the best outcomes possible.

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Coburg Quarter

What is your design philosophy?

Future Estate’s philosophy is simple; we buy and develop infill sites in popular high growth suburban areas, that enrich the surrounding urban fabric through the delivery of world-class residential offerings complemented by a broad range of services.

We prefer to focus on large-scale sites that offer immense opportunity to improve the areas in which they sit through the integration of retail, culture and lifestyle amenity.

Our ultimate vision is to develop projects that not only deliver residential dwellings, but all the everyday services those residents might need from a supermarket and retail offering through to culture amenity like cafés, restaurants and the like.

Great care and consideration is given to each specific project, we tailor the design, feel and amenity of each of our developments to suit the end user. With the resident at the forefront of our minds we create more than just a place to live, we are able to create homes, communities and an enviable lifestyle of ease and convenience.

Projects such as Parc Vue in Bundoora and Coburg Quarter in the North are perfect examples of this – the fact that these sites are so large means we can shape the very urban fabric of these communities by creating substantial amenity offerings while fuelling organic community integration and job creation at the same time.

For us we are less interested in smaller single-building developments; it’s only once you start talking about large, integrated mixed-use sites that the economy of scale allows us to deliver on this vision for extensive amenity and public use while still remaining commercially viable.

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Your luxury Melbourne developments are located away from the inner-city, where many of these types of developments are traditionally located. Can you explain your strategy?

Future Estate is committed to developing in areas where there is a strong local market demand and where our projects can respond to an obvious need. We look for markets where the supply-demand dynamic is favourable – in many situations this means venturing beyond inner-city sites to inner and middle ring suburbs, where there are locational drivers and demand is clear.

We have found that the local market in Melbourne has embraced higher density living provided it is founded on principals of quality, both in terms of its design and execution. So whilst we look for suburbs that are well-serviced by public transport and supported by the necessary infrastructure – strong education (ideally universities) and excellent healthcare facilities (ideally hospitals) as well as a diverse range of shopping, entertainment and recreation options – we also place great emphasis on delivering an outstanding product at a price the local market can afford.

Future Estate is currently redeveloping the site of the old Pentridge Prison with Coburg Quarter. What design approach do you take when you are redeveloping sites like these and how important is the history of the site in the design process?

We have high aspirations for the site to become the new heart of Coburg and Melbourne’s North and have approached the redevelopment of the site in such a way that will see a number of key amenity assets up front, such as the former laundry building which we are converting into a micro-brewery/bar/restaurant in collaboration with the Post Office’s, Daniel Caneva.

There is a dedication to public amenity and high quality design here, we want residents and members of the wider community alike to use and enjoy the site with the open public spaces and rich mix of distinctly local retailers that we will be introducing.

We believe that actions speak louder than words so we’ll be delivering in order to build faith and trust with the surrounding community that we are the right team to deliver everyone’s vision for the site.

We are also working closely with Heritage Victoria and ROTHELOWMAN to ensure the historical elements of the site are retained, rebirthed and integrated into a more modern aesthetic for a new generation to enjoy. 

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Some would think it would be easier to build a development from scratch, instead of working on a site that comes with so much history. Why take on such a challenge?

Fixing something that is seemingly broken or has been denigrated and put in the ‘too hard box’ by others is a wonderful challenge. Finding a way to work with what’s there, bring that ‘value-add’ and improve it, whilst rewarding, also makes financial sense. By acquiring assets with some form of distress or issue, we are able to lower land content input into a feasibility, which in turn means we can develop a better product and deliver it at a better price.

What is your view on the growing trend for mixed-use precincts?

We see mixed-use development as more than just some ground-floor, high-street retail, which is quite often the case. We define mixed-use as the culmination of a broader range of services that have been curated to suit the individual needs of a particular location and its demographic.

This might mean a commercial component, meaningful retail activation, childcare, retirement or aged care, community space and a public open space, however, it is the interrelationship between these uses that will determine whether it functions as a living, breathing precinct.

In the case of Coburg Quarter, we have undertaken significant research in an effort to better understand the community, the demographic (both now and in future) and the needs of the residents. We envisage it will ultimately house up to 3,000 residents in a range of residential typologies from apartments to townhouses and incorporate significant retail and commercial space. The aim is to reinvigorate what is currently an underutilised site and transform it into a vibrant destination that will become the civic and community heart of Melbourne’s diverse and authentic Northern suburbs.

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What has been your career highlight?

I would like to think that is still to come!

So far our most significant project is Coburg Quarter, with the ultimate end value being an estimated $1bn, however, all the hard work lies ahead. It’s often hard to ‘pat yourself on the back’ for something successful when there is always another challenge before you and more work to be done. In saying that though, we as a team make it a priority to celebrate the small wins along the way and acknowledge the contribution of each individual, without whom Future Estate wouldn’t be able to achieve all that it does.

What does the future hold for Future Estate?

Long term, the sky is the limit for the number of industries the model can be applied to but I’d like to focus on retirement, childcare and health and wellness as priorities within integrated developments.

Structurally we are dynamic and eager to apply our mindset to a number of different sectors which are tired and could do with some disruption – the principles of value for money, true to label and putting the customer first, will always drive our thinking.

For now though, our focus is delivering affordable luxury in sought-after inner and middle ring suburbs. We are all about delivering quality, beautifully-designed apartments and townhouses in great locations at prices people can actually afford to buy.

With the advances in automation and technology we see great opportunities for integration; we want to build high quality, beautifully designed developments that last a lifetime but are committed to delivering this type of product at a price that is still accessible for the typical consumer.

What drives you – has there been someone or something that has inspired your career? 

More than a single person or entity, as a developer, I am motivated by a desire to do things differently. Over time I would like to see Future Estate become known as a ‘champion of renewal’ and for our customers to embrace the journey that we embark on. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial side, even before I transitioned from my previous career, so I think that really drives me to take on new challenges and pushes me to, not only see opportunity where others can’t but then take that a step further and realise that potential.

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What are your thoughts on the development industry in Australia right now?

I feel that it’s an exciting time in the industry. The population is growing and ageing, which we are cognisant of factoring in to any future development plans. We want to ensure our developments go above and beyond when it comes to satisfying and facilitating the needs and lifestyles of the residents that ultimately come to live there. 

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