A 28-year-old Rolls Royce Wraith-driving, private jet-flying, $4m 87-foot launch owning, inner-city Christchurch housing developer says his company is New Zealand's busiest privately owned residential builder.
Matthew Horncastle is co-owner of Williams Corporation with Blair Chappell. The company was named by BCI Central's latest report as second only to the franchised national housebuilder G.J. Gardner.
Williams is now the second-largest housebuilder by annual number of homes completed but Horncastle says it's the biggest privately owned house builder in New Zealand.
Horncastle and Chappell, both 28, used their middle names to name the company.
They have an Insta-splashed lifestyle synonymous with wealthy young developers, flush with an annual $520m turnover: a new boat, WW (guess why it's called that?) brought down from the United States and moored in Viaduct Harbour, and luxury resort stays, most recently at Peter Cooper's Mountain Landing in the Bay of Islands.
They charter a white-leather-seat Bombardier Challenger 604 jet from Christchurch's GCH Aviation for a fortnightly return Christchurch-Wellington-Auckland staff trip: "We bulk buy 100 hours at a time. I've always wanted to fly in a private jet," Horncastle confesses.
This week, the company's head project manager based in Christchurch flew to Auckland to meet project managers in this city. That is an example, Horncastle says, of the usefulness of the twice-monthly scheduled flights, to keep staff connected, enhance links, share expertise, work together.
As managing director, Horncastle is the son of Bill Horncastle whose eponymous business, Horncastle Homes, was prominent and busy in the garden city for years until it was shut in 2017 when Bill retired.
"I like to say we're the Hilux," Horncastle says in a reference to what he says is the straightforward, dependable, reliable, non-flashy style and quality of Williams' homes.
So how did the company get to be New Zealand's busiest privately owned housing developer?
Matthew and Blair met in 2003 when their families were holidaying in the Marlborough Sounds with Geoff Ball, who now supplies all Williams' windows.
Horncastle went to Nelson College, and worked for Bill at Horncastle Builders from 2011 till 2013. He did a building apprenticeship: "The duo were friends growing up. However, they only started a business together because of an efficient connection and mindset that created high business productivity," the company says.
Chappell studied at what is now Ara Institute of Canterbury and has a bachelor's degree in information and communications technology. He worked part-time at McDonald's to support himself.
The pair established businesses in contract building, temporary fencing, waste management, solar panels and composite decking, and Horncastle says his father's only help was to guarantee a $20,000 credit card - but does acknowledge how important the connections from his father are to him.
The pair made $11,000 profit on their first development but a $60,000 loss on a Rolleston project. In 2016, Matthew's mother Kathryn joined the business, bringing "a significant amount of property development experience with her", Williams says.
That year, Williams built and sold 12 homes, but by 2020 it had become the eighth biggest housebuilder, building 279 homes annually worth $31m.
In 2018 when they were both aged 24, the company built just 40 homes in the inner Christchurch city and surrounding suburbs and sold 80, with an overall sales value of about $35m.
But last year, it was second only to the powerhouse of the sector and built 761 homes in the year to October 2021 for $107m, selling houses for what might seem like an unbelievably low average $141,164. It doesn't include the land.
In 2019, Williams Corporation Capital was founded and now has $145m funds of which Williams has around $130m drawn. Qualifying wholesale investors are drawn to a 10 per cent guaranteed return.
In the year to October 2021, Williams built 761 homes, mostly townhouses. G.J. Gardner built 1645 homes and, although Williams' output is less than half the largest builder, it's been a steep rise.
"Look at this development's location," Horncastle says pointing to a Christchurch CBD project.
"These spots in Christchurch are unbelievable," he says of a new St Asaph St project where works are under way for retail on the ground, two and three-bedroom apartments above, near the Justice & Emergency Precinct.
"Oh, look at that car!" he says pointing to his own grey Rolls Royce Wraith, number plate Develp. No shrinking violet here.
He concedes some people will criticise or envy him: "I'm a 6ft tall white caucasian male that has a great family and a great life," he says laughing and spreading his arms.
Christmas has been celebratory, not just for the company's financial success: Auckland staff were entertained on the luxury WW. Wellingtonians were treated to steak at the harbourfront Foxglove.
Aside from staff, the company is outwardly philanthropic, being the primary sponsor of the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service and donating to a number of charities, car rallies and children's sport.
Its focus is on affordable, high-density townhouses in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Tauranga "and soon we'll move into Napier, then Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane", Horncastle says. Staff are in Singapore as well, and around 80 Williams homes were sold to citizens of that country, exempt under Overseas Investment Act rules banning foreigners buying our homes.
Williams' homes are some of the smallest in the sector too, averaging just 69sq m because they are mostly townhouses.
The company claims to be breaking tradition: "Most residential property developers in New Zealand build on empty greenfield land separated from the communities around it. Our approach is different. We buy land and build in existing suburbs near vital amenities and transport links. Our homes are built in the heart of Christchurch, Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland."
Christchurch's earthquakes continue to offer huge opportunities. In Auckland, they've targeted established, affordable areas - more Massey than Mission Bay and Glen Innes than Glendowie.
Horncastle shows disdain for some politicians, picturing himself binning book Jacinda Ardern, Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani and Carl A. Harte. "We need competence, not empathy," he says, explaining he supports Act/National over Labour: "I think the Government has managed the housing market and Covid very poorly."
He stopped smoking at 21, is drinking zero alcohol beer, exercising daily and quit vaping after reading Allen Carr's Easy Way to Quit Vaping.
In Christchurch, his Williams apartment faces the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral.
Around the middle of this year, the company will shift into the Spark building, 2 Cathedral Square.
Horncastle plans to buy a $5m townhouse which Williams will build as one of 12 at 16 Shelly Beach Rd, St Mary's Bay.
That, it seems, will fulfil yet another dream for this housing developer.