Blair Chappell and Matthew Horncastle, 28: both first names are William. Photo / provided
28-year-old Rolls Royce Wraith, private jet pilot, owner of a $4 million 87ft launch, Christchurch city center property developer, says his company is the busiest private residential builder in New -Zealand.
Matthew Horncastle is co-owner of Williams Corporation with Blair
Chappel. The company was named by BCI Central’s latest report as second only to national franchise builder GJ Gardner.
Williams is now the second-largest homebuilder by annual number of homes completed, but Horncastle says it is New Zealand’s biggest private homebuilder.
Horncastle and Chappell, both 28, used their middle names to name the business.
They have an Insta-splattered lifestyle synonymous with wealthy young promoters, with an annual turnover of $520 million: a new boat, WW (guess why it’s called that?) brought back from the United States and moored at Viaduct Harbour, and luxury resort stays, most recently at Peter Cooper’s Mountain Landing in the Bay of Islands.
They charter a white leather-seated Bombardier Challenger 604 jet from GCH Aviation of Christchurch for a fortnightly Christchurch-Wellington-Auckland staff return trip: “We buy roughly 100 hours at a time. I always wanted to fly in a private jet,” admits Horncastle.
This week, the company’s Christchurch-based project manager flew to Auckland to meet with the city’s project managers. It’s an example, says Horncastle, of the usefulness of twice-monthly scheduled flights, to keep staff connected, to strengthen ties, to share expertise, to work together.
As Managing Director, Horncastle is the son of Bill Horncastle whose namesake business, Horncastle Homes, was large and busy in the garden city for years until it closed in 2017 when Bill retired.
“I like to say we’re the Hilux,” says Horncastle in reference to what he says is the simple, dependable, dependable, unflashy style and quality of the Williams houses.
So how did the company become New Zealand’s most active private property developer?
Matthew and Blair met in 2003 when their families were vacationing in the Marlborough Sounds with Geoff Ball, who now provides all the windows for Williams.
Horncastle went to Nelson College and worked for Bill at Horncastle Builders from 2011 to 2013. He did a construction apprenticeship: “The duo were friends growing up. However, they only started a business together thanks to a effective connection and a mindset that has created high business productivity,” the company states.
Chappell studied at the current Ara Institute in Canterbury and holds a bachelor’s degree in information and communications technology. He worked part-time at McDonald’s to support himself.
The couple set up businesses in contract building, temporary fencing, waste management, solar panels and composite decking, and Horncastle says his father’s only help was securing a $20,000 credit card – but recognizes how important his father’s relationships are to him.
The pair made a profit of $11,000 on their first development, but a loss of $60,000 on a Rolleston project. In 2016, Matthew’s mother, Kathryn, joined the business, bringing “a wealth of real estate development experience with her,” Williams said.
That year, Williams built and sold 12 homes, but by 2020 he had become the eighth-largest homebuilder, building 279 homes a year worth $31 million.
In 2018, when they were both 24, the company built just 40 homes in Christchurch city center and surrounding suburbs and sold 80 of them, for an overall sale value of around $35 million.
But last year it was second only to the area’s powerhouse and built 761 homes in the year to October 2021 for $107 million, selling homes for what might seem like an incredibly low average of $141,164. It does not include land.
In 2019, Williams Corporation Capital was founded and now has funds of $145 million, of which Williams has raised around $130 million. Qualified wholesale investors are attracted by a guaranteed return of 10%.
In the year to October 2021, Williams built 761 homes, mostly townhouses. GJ Gardner built 1,645 homes, and although Williams’ output is less than half of the largest builder, it has seen a sharp increase.
“Look at the location of this development,” says Horncastle, pointing to a Christchurch CBD project.
“These places in Christchurch are amazing,” he says of a new St Asaph St project where work is underway for ground floor retail, two and three bedroom apartments above , near the Justice & Emergency Precinct.
“Oh, look at that car!” he said, pointing to his own gray Rolls Royce Wraith, registered Develp. No shrinking purple here.
He concedes some people will criticize or envy him: “I’m a 6-foot-1 white Caucasian male who has a great family and a great life,” he laughs and spreads his arms.
Christmas was a celebration, not just for the company’s financial success: Auckland staff entertained themselves on the luxury WW. Wellingtonians were treated to a steak at Port Foxglove.
Apart from the staff, the company is outwardly philanthropic, being the main sponsor of the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service and donating to a number of charities, car rallies and children’s sports.
It is focusing on affordable, high-density townhouses in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Tauranga “and soon we will be moving to Napier, then Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” Horncastle said. The staff are also in Singapore and approximately 80 Williams homes have been sold to citizens of that country, exempt under Overseas Investment Act rules prohibiting foreigners from buying our homes.
Williams’ homes are also some of the smallest in the area, averaging just 69m², as they are primarily townhouses.
The company says it is breaking with tradition: “Most residential developers in New Zealand build on unspoiled land separate from the surrounding communities. Our approach is different. We buy land and build in existing suburbs nearby vital amenities and transport links. Our homes are built in the heart of Christchurch, Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland.”
The Christchurch earthquakes continue to provide huge opportunities. In Auckland, they targeted established and affordable areas – more Massey than Mission Bay and Glen Innes than Glendowie.
Horncastle shows contempt for some politicians, imagining himself throwing a book away Jacinda Ardern, Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani and Carl A. Harte. “We need competence, not empathy,” he says, explaining that he supports Act/National rather than Labour: “I think the government has handled the housing market and Covid very badly.”
He quit smoking at 21, drinks non-alcoholic beer, exercises daily, and quit vaping after reading Allen Carr. An easy way to quit vaping.
In Christchurch, her Williams apartment faces the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral.
Around the middle of this year, the company will move to the Spark building, 2 Cathedral Square.
Horncastle plans to buy a $5 million townhouse which Williams will build as one of 12 at 16 Shelly Beach Rd, St Mary’s Bay.
This, it seems, will fulfill yet another dream for this property developer.