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Les Calvert is the owner of overseaspropertymall.com and many other property and travel related websites. Les writes news and articles on the overseas property market for leading websites, trade magazines and newspapers.

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Irish investors have spent more than €12.5 billion buying commercial property in Europe since 1997, according to new figures from DTZ Research. Irish buyers accounted for about 6 per cent of the €210 billion spent on cross-border purchases since 1997, making them the joint fourth biggest acquisitors with British investors. US, German and Dutch investors took the top three positions. Britain and France are the most popular locations for overseas property buyers. Irish investors were particularly attracted to Britain, spending €4 billion there alone last year. The figures exclude hotel purchases, such as the Irish acquisition of the Savoy Hotel for around €1.1 billion.

Irish spend over €12.5bn on European commercial property 26 June 2005 By Neil Callanan Irish investors have spent more than €12.5 billion buying commercial property in Europe since 1997, according to new figures from DTZ Research. Irish buyers accounted for about 6 per cent of the €210 billion spent on cross-border purchases since 1997, making them the joint fourth biggest acquisitors with British investors. US, German and Dutch investors took the top three positions. Britain and France are the most popular locations for overseas property buyers. Irish investors were particularly attracted to Britain, spending €4 billion there alone last year.

The figures exclude hotel purchases, such as the Irish acquisition of the Savoy Hotel for around €1.1 billion. “The main drivers of cross border investment are the low real cost of money and the attraction of sol id income streams,” the DTZ Money into Property report states. “This weight of money is likely to remain strong as slow economic growth in the EU will keep interest rates low.” Michele Fallon, investment director at DTZ Sherry FitzGerald, said that there was increased interest in “newer markets such as the Scandinavian countries along with Greece and Turkey”.

Increasing numbers of British investors have been buying in Scandinavia and Irish investors are now beginning to follow suit. “There’s quite a few Irish people looking at the moment,” she said. “The Swedish economy in particular is regarded as a solid performer with a stable economy. Getting suitable properties in traditional markets is difficult at the moment and investors are now willing to look at places like Sweden if you can get a secure income and tenant.” The demand here reflects the general demand for property across Europe with DTZ Research reporting that “huge wall of equity is waiting to be invested and additional sources of product are coming through from corporate balance sheets as well as local and central government.”

Source: Thepost.ie

An upmarket British estate agency says it is using its ‘establishment’ reputation to reassure buyers worried about the pitfalls of finding a cheap home abroad.

Knight Frank, one of Britain’s oldest and grandest estate agents, is best known for selling multimillion-pound country estates in the UK. But now it has opened an international new homes division aimed at buyers with budgets as low as €130,000.

The new deal for buyers is not modest prices; the innovation is that even for such cut-price properties, Knight Frank will make rigorous checks on who is building what, and where.

Knight Frank’s ‘due diligence’ checklist should in theory mean an end to the uncertainties that plague low-cost overseas purchases – no proof of land ownership, no written planning permission, non-conformity with building regulations, inadequate checks and guarantees on build quality, and worries over the financial propriety of developers.

Other upmarket British agents have occasionally marketed cheap foreign homes in territories beset with such problems (Savills in Croatia and Hamptons in Oman, for example) but Knight Frank’s initiative is the first large-scale effort by a top-notch name.

There has been a spate of stories lately of alleged land grabs in Valencia, where a poorly drafted law has been exploited by Spanish developers who reclassify land reclaimed from owners without their permission. There have also been stories of locals in eastern Europe disputing the ownership of homes apparently sold to foreign buyers. Iberian property sales have been subject to enduring allegations about money-laundering.

Wealthy purchasers could always escape such pitfalls by hiring buying agents to find the best legitimate deals, or by using UK estate agents with overseas offices selling homes at the top end of the market. Knight Frank says it is now providing such services to those with more modest budgets.

‘Put bluntly, we have our reputation to keep up. We’re approaching these sales with the same rigour as with multi-million properties in England,’ says Knight Frank’s James Price.

The firm’s portfolio will include properties in the rural Umbria region of Italy, the Whistler ski resort in Canada, golf and ski resorts in France and so-far unspecified developments in southern Spain, where particular attention will be paid to issues such as build quality.

One low-cost territory that Knight Frank will avoid, for now at least, is Dubai. There have been queries about the titles of some properties sold here, and about whether demand can be sustained for the thousands of new flats built each year. ‘A lot of units are being traded like shares before they’re even completed. We need to wait for the market to mature to see whether it’s something we want to offer,’ says Price.

Another unlikely entrant to the budget overseas property market is Thomson Holidays. Hit by a slump in package holidays, Thomson announced a link-up last month with Parador Properties that will allow it to offer homes for sale in Spain, Portugal and Cyprus from its 750 high-street shops. Villas start at around £65,000, with an average selling price of £120,000.

Both Knight Frank and Thomson hope to tap into the strong demand from Brits for buying overseas – more than 500,000 have already done so – including first-time ‘jet-to-let’ buyers.

Source: The Observer (Guardian Unlimited)

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THE property boom that has seen house prices in the UK double since 1998 is not unique. A decade of low interest rates has pushed up property values across the European Union.

Anyone who owns a holiday home in France or Spain will almost certainly have seen the value of their property shoot up dramatically in recent years, with double-digit rises in 2004 alone. You can add to this a further 37% over that period, as the euro has strengthened against the pound.

A recent report on European residential property from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) reveals that price rises in France had already reached double figures by 2003.

But in 2004 they raced ahead of the rest of Europe, with strong increases in the Paris area, as well as in the Mediterranean holiday regions.

‘The prices of existing housing rose by 16% over the year and new housing by an annual 10% in the first half of 2004,’ says the RICS report. ‘Prices have now been rising for eight years. Over that period, they have doubled nationally, with almost half of the increase occurring in the past three years.’

Spain, too, has continued to see big increases in property values, although many pundits had predicted a cooling off in 2004. Prices rose nationally by 17% during 2004 and, according to the RICS, ‘could be setting a world record’.

For property investors who want a holiday home where they can cover their costs by letting for part of the year, the big question is, will prices in France and Spain continue to rise? And, if not, where else can you buy that offers the possibility of capital growth?

‘France is a good barometer for the rest of Europe because of the wide diversity of properties and geographical areas,’ says Simon Conn, of international mortgage broker Conti Financial Services. ‘Demand for France is still strong. I thought it would be quieter in 2004, but it wasn’t.’

But are there bargains to be had elsewhere? Says Conn: ‘We are inundated with calls from UK buyers wanting property in Croatia and Bulgaria, but in both countries, particularly Croatia, there are problems with title [proving ownership of property or land].

‘Where we are actually doing the business is in Greece, particularly the islands, many of which have been demilitarised and foreigners can buy for the first time – and also in Cyprus, Crete, Corfu and Rhodes.’

This could be interesting for investors. Of all the EU countries, Greece was the only area where house prices fell last year – although by only 4% – having seen substantial increases in the run-up to the Athens Olympics.

Says Susan Clay, European business director for Barclays’ overseas mortgage operations: ‘We do a lot of overseas property exhibitions, and our experience is that Spain is still the number-one place for buying abroad. But France, Portugal and Italy are also still popular. Wherever the lowcost airlines go, the property buyers follow.’

Barclays has more than 700 branches that lend in euros to those who want to buy in these main holiday and retirement areas. She points out that £57bn of equity was taken out of UK property in 2003, much of which, she believes, found its way into homes abroad.

The interesting point here is that, like some other banks, Barclays will lend in euros, regardless of whether or not you have a euro income. Most lending is linked to Euribor, the European equivalent of bank base rate, which stands at about 2.33%, so borrowing in euros can prove relatively cheap.

Loans are between 0.75% and 1.7% above Euribor, giving a present pay rate of between 3.08% and 4.03%.

In Italy, Barclays will lend at fixed rates for 20 years at 5.6%, not as attractive as the variable rate, now at 3.4%. But remember, if you borrow in euros and the euro strengthens against the pound, your debt will increase in sterling terms.

But having seen property prices rise so spectacularly in Europe, could we soon be in for a fall? Not according to the RICS. ‘Overall, there does not seem to be a strong likelihood of a crash in any of Europe’s housing markets in 2005,’ says its report. ‘Greece may indicate that a soft landing is possible when interest rates and economic variables are relatively benign.’

Let’s hope the experts are right.

Source: Thisismoney

Millions of Britons dream of owning a home abroad. But just how do you raise the money and what are the pitfalls along the way? Our guide to buying your foreign home answers your questions.

Finding a homeMany people spot something while they are on holiday. Otherwise, several magazines list foreign properties for sale, including Homes Overseas, Foreign Property News and Exchange & Mart. The internet is probably the best search tool at your disposal.

Raising the money

If you can buy with cash, do it. You will own the property outright without increasing your mortgage debt. This will mean fewer bills on your new property. If you don’t have the cash, there are two ways to pay for a foreign home. You can extend your main mortgage, or you can get a new mortgage for the property. Extending your mortgage is presently a cheap way of raising cash, but you may not be able to get a remortgage for more than 75% of the second property’s price. Remember, you risk losing both homes if you cannot keep up payments.

The other option is to take out a second mortgage on your holiday home. Several companies offer mortgages overseas, including Halifax, Abbey, which runs an overseas property service, Norwich & Peterborough building society and Barclays, which specialises in the French market.

You could also consider a mortgage in the local currency, but you need to be aware of all the risks. Taking out a foreign currency mortgage could be dangerous. The pound can move against the euro – if it weakens, your payments will increase. Properties generally have continued to rise in price this year (2004) as the pound has weakened against the euro. On the other hand if you are buying property in another country your home will be valued in that currency so it could make more sense to take out a mortgage in that currency. Abbey and Barclays both offer euro mortgages but the drawback is that you have to be paid in euros to be eligible.

Timescale

It depends on the country you are buying in. Buy property in France and it could take up to 20 weeks to complete the transaction. In Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal it will average between 12 to 18 weeks. Be aware the longer it takes to complete the transaction the more at risk you are from rate fluctuations, which could add thousands to the real cost of the property in the time it takes to complete.

You can, however, protect yourself from currency fluctuations. One option is to arrange what is called a spot transaction. Basically an instant transaction, it allows you (the buyer) to transfer funds ‘on the spot’ to the agent or vendor abroad, in line with the exchange rate at that time.

You could also arrange a forward transaction. This is when you agree to fix the exchange rate at the current level for an agreed completion date up to 12 months in the future.

Halifax will arrange both forward and spot transactions to other banks for a charge. Transferrals to the Spanish arm of Halifax are free. Barclays will arrange forward transactions for existing customers, providing you meet certain conditions, again for a charge. Abbey National offers a telegraphic transfer service which takes between two to five days in Europe. There is a charge to send a sterling or foreign currency transfer.

Currencies Direct specialise in helping people who are buying property abroad and can offer spot and forward transactions where they fix a rate for up to two years. There is a flat fee and the exchange rate will also include a small weighting for profit but there are no charges on transfers over £5,000. Contact 020 7813 0332. Travelex has an information pack on how to carry out a spot or forward transaction up to 12 months in advance. Contact 0870 010 0095.

Language barriers

You will need a reputable solicitor and valuer who is local. Ask your bank or mortgage lender, they should be able to help you find these professionals who also speak English if you don’t speak the local language. The Federation of Overseas Property Developers, Agents and Consultants has a list of lawyers who specialise in buying abroad as does the Law Society. Beware that in some countries lawyers act for you and the seller, so make sure you’re getting independent advice. Talk to a British lawyer before you sign anything, and remember, you often cannot pull out of an agreed offer as you can in England and Wales.

To help make life easier, This is Money has a free brochure service for properties abroad. Merely tick the relevant boxes in our brochure finder.

The costs

These will probably be more than you thought. Britain has some of the cheapest homebuying costs in Europe. For example, French legal fees are high – ranging between 10% and 15% of the house price. There is also a regional tax and an occupancy tax if you live there more than eight months a year.

In Spain, valuation will costs you, and loans must be signed by the public notary. Taxes and legal fees will normally amount to 8%-10% of the property value.

In Italy, costs are between 8% and 12%. In Bulgaria, which is growing in popularity with buyers, there is a notary tax and local taxes to pay, which may add a total 3% to the sale price. Solicitors can cost a further 3%, while setting up a company to make the purchase will cost £1,000 or more.

In Florida, you need to allow 4% of the price of your holiday home to cover stamp duty*, local taxes, legal fees and set-up costs.

In Cyrpus, you face stamp duty at the rate of 0.15% on £100,000 or less and then 0.2%. There is also a transfer fee of 5% on homes of £50,000 to £100,000 and then 8% after that. There is also an annual property tax of up to 3.5%.

The buying process is not the end of the expense. Check carefully what other local taxes you must pay, and be aware that in many blocks of flats you have to pay a service charge. You’ll need to open a local bank account, as services such as water and electricity may connect you only if you sign a direct debit. Local bills must be paid in local currency – this costs money to buy and in some cases foreign banks charge extra for transactions.

Tax implications

If you rent out your property abroad income will have to be declared to the British taxman. Check out the tax laws of the country you’re buying in. There may be implications if you rent or sell the house. Many countries have reciprocal tax agreements with the UK so that you don’t end up paying tax twice. You also need to make a will, as local inheritance tax laws may also come into play. For example, in France if there is no will a property cannot be passed solely to a spouse, but must be shared among any children.

You should also consider the extra insurance costs. There are a number of specialist insurers who cater for this. But you can also ask your own home insurer if they offer a deal to insure a property abroad.

The pitfalls

Don’t get carried away with the holiday atmosphere and think very carefully before committing. Most homes look nice in the warmth and sun. Make a return trip out of season to make sure you still like it and that there is the same level of local services – many resorts close up for the winter. If you are buying a ski chalet, check what happens once the ski season ends. Then ask yourself these questions:

If you buy somewhere that needs renovation, do you really want to spend your holidays doing DIY or negotiating with local builders?

If something goes wrong, can you drop everything to sort it out?

Do you really want to go to the same place every year?

 Can you afford the expenses to get to your holiday home? Remember budget airline flights may not remain at rock bottom cost forever.

Property prices

Remember that, like in the UK, the value of your home may rise or fall. Britons have a peculiar obsession with property prices, and wrongly expect them to rise above inflation indefinitely. You might find your holiday home will not rise in value and could be difficult to sell. Always bear this in mind.
Source: ThisisMoney

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China Overseas (0688.HK) +2.9% at HK$1.42 on plan to sell construction business, which will then seek separate listing. BOCI positive on move, says spinoff “will streamline China Overseas’ operations and allow it to focus on the more profitable property business”; keeps outperform call on stock as it trading at 51% discount to NAV of HK$2.79/share. Still, stock’s further upside in short term likely limited due to caution toward China property shares; immediate resistance at 10-day moving average at HK$1.46.(RLI)

Source: newratings

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BEIJING: China is keeping up its guard against the dangers of a property bubble despite growing evidence that prices are coming off the boil after a decade-long boom.

Steering the real estate market to a soft landing is a priority for China’s policy makers, caught between worries of speculative overheating and fears that brusque curbs could cause prices to crash and fuel unrest among a rising middle class.

The authorities have implemented a string of restrictions, including higher mortgage rates and larger downpayments. From June 1, a 5.5 percent capital gains tax is due to take effect on residential property sold within two years of purchase.

The People’s Bank of China expressed satisfaction in a report on Thursday that property lending and investment in real estate had eased considerably in the first quarter thanks to the curbs.

“But in some areas of the country the scale of investment in the property sector is too great, the structure of supply is not rational and prices of residential property are rising too quickly,” the central bank added.

Shanghai, China’s financial hub, is the main concern. More than 22 billion yuan ($2.7 billion) of overseas capital poured into the city’s property sector in the first 11 months of 2004, according to a separate central bank report. It said 76 percent of all loans in Shanghai last year went to the property sector. “Shanghai should guard against financial risks in the real estate industry and promote its development in a sustained, stable and healthy way,” the Economic Daily paper quoted the report as saying.

Shanghai slowdown: Yet even in Shanghai the government’s steps are blowing some of the froth off the market, property professionals say. The number of deals is falling and, in what they say is a striking change, sellers are being more flexible in their asking prices.

“There remains some concern by buyers over what the government may do in the future, which has led many to take a wait-and-see approach,” said Reed Hatcher, senior research manager at real estate firm DTZ Debenham Tie Leung. Figures compiled by China Index Academy, a property research group, support the anecdotal evidence.

Prices in Shanghai rose 14.78 percent in January from a month earlier. But they rose just 0.45 percent in February and fell 0.45 percent in March before rising 1.05 percent in April.

From a year earlier, the pace of price rises in the city slowed to 15.99 percent in April from 21.06 percent in January.

“Sentiment certainly seems to be that it’s time to be cautious,” said Michael Hart, head of research at real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle in Shanghai. Hart said he expected prices to correct over the next six or 12 months. The luxury end of the market would probably be spared, but city-centre properties of lesser quality bought by overseas investors could be vulnerable, Hart said. “The declines wouldn’t be substantial, but it would be significant if they declined at all because it would be the first time that the market was taking a bit of a breather,” he said.

Rural exodus: China Index Academy’s figures for Beijing, another hot property market, paint a similar picture. After rising 5.86 percent in January from December, prices in the capital were flat in February. They then rose 0.69 percent in March and 0.49 percent in April, leaving them 7.12 percent higher than a year earlier.

“I think the new policies will play a role in curbing inflated prices, but in the long run the solution is to increase supply,” said Wu Xiang, a senior manager at China Index Academy.

Andy Xie, Morgan Stanley’s chief economist in Hong Kong, agrees. He says China needs to increase its urban population by 400 million over the next two decades as peasants leave the land, generating demand for five million flats a year.

If prices are too high, owner-occupiers who have bought their current flats from the state will be unable to afford to upgrade, leaving nowhere for the migrants to move into. “Hence, high property prices are very detrimental to China’s development,” Xie said in a report. Xie estimates that prices in many Chinese cities average 20 percent of urban per capita annual income per square metre. In developed countries the ratio is 3-5 percent, and perhaps twice that in other Asian cities, he said.

Source: Daily Times India

HUNDREDS of investors have lost millions of pounds after being duped by a string of property companies that promised to make them rich. In the first of a special two-part investigation, Financial Mail unravels the web and examines the companies that conned the public.

Kieran Connolly has done well out of misusing other people’s money. He drives a Jaguar and the house he rents is a grand affair. The Department of Trade & Industry has linked Connolly, 48, to several companies involved in bogus property deals. His wife Elizabeth, 31, has been linked to three companies.

The bungalow next to Connolly’s in the Leicestershire hamlet of John O’Gaunt, near Melton Mowbray, is home to Philip and Tina Waterfall, who have connections with five of the eight companies investigated by the DTI.

In three years, hundreds of investors handed over thousands of pounds in membership fees and deposits, expecting to receive a portfolio of buy-to-let properties. Most ended up with nothing.

Financial Mail this week focuses on the four companies most closely connected to Connolly.

Quicksell

QUICKSELL Estates was founded in 2002 in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, with Connolly and his wife as its two directors. For £46.94 a month, investors were offered options to buy investment properties. Reservation fees were charged on each deal.

Quicksell advertised for investors and recruited those who attended courses run by Turningpoint Seminars and Portfolios of Distinction. Philip Waterfall, 41, was a founding director of Portfolios. His wife Tina, 38, was company secretary.

Glen Lawrence paid £4,000 to attend a Turningpoint course in 2002. Glen, 53, from Castle Bromwich, West Midlands, is married to Yvonne, who has multiple sclerosis. ‘I wanted a job at home to spend time with her,’ he says.

Glen and Yvonne, 48, paid seven £1,000 deposits on different properties. Glen says: ‘Not one of the deals was completed and we found the developers had not heard of us.’ The Lawrences have not had a penny of their £7,000 back.

In spring 2003, Quicksell was put into liquidation and Connolly was declared bankrupt.

Mansion Investments

CONNOLLY was soon promoting opportunities through Mansion Investments with Ian Jamieson, pictured below, a financial adviser in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

David and Louise Wilson were among the investors. David, who runs a car repair business, and Louise, 27, a financial controller, wanted to create a letting portfolio. David, 39, from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, says: ‘Connolly promised to get me £1m worth of property.’ To help the Wilsons raise a £31,725 membership fee, Jamieson arranged a remortgage of their home, releasing £50,000 of equity.

The couple paid £3,160 in deposits to reserve properties in Manchester and Swindon and two in Northern Ireland. But the deals fell through or were delayed. They completed on a flat in Hampshire for £229,000, only to discover that the developer was selling them for £15,000 less.

Mansion Investments was formed in 2002 with engineer Barry Frost, 68, as sole director. In August 2003, Richard Smith took over. Both Smith and Frost were registered as directors from an address in Streatham, south London. This property was sold three months ago and Financial Mail has been unable to trace them.

Sterling Mansion (UK)

CONNOLLY and Jamieson, meanwhile, were expanding through the similar-sounding Mansion Investments-UK), founded in July 2003 with Jamieson as sole director. Customers of Mansion Investments were not told of the switch.

Mansion Investments (UK) and Mansion Investments had virtually identical stationery, shared premises, staff and customers, and marketed the same properties. Yet when investor David Wilson asked for his money back, Jamieson claimed the two firms were not linked.

Mansion Investments (UK) changed its name to Sterling Mansion (UK). It claimed falsely to be regulated by the Financial Services Authority and to be a member of independent financial adviser trade association IFAP.

Jamieson paid himself £200,000 in just 18 months at Sterling Mansion. As a bankrupt, Connolly could not take a big salary, but unconventional payments and ‘loans’ benefited Connolly and his associates.

Sterling Mansion went into liquidation in March. At a meeting, the liquidator stunned creditors by detailing payments such as school fees for Connolly’s children and £40,000 to cover credit card bills. Regular payments were made to Seal Properties, run by Tina Waterfall. These ‘loans’ totalled £651,000. The company completed on only 14 property sales.

SMI (Overseas)

LATE last year, Connolly moved to Sterling Mansion International, trading from Stamford, Lincolnshire. The founding directors were Tina and Philip Waterfall and within weeks the company’s name had changed, first to SMI Limited and then to SMI (Overseas) Ltd. Investors who inquired about Sterling Mansion were sold into SMI. Though his name was not on the paperwork, Connolly was in charge.

A former employee said: ‘Kieran and Liz Connolly did the hiring and approved letters sent out. Tina Waterfall was Kieran’s PA.’

The Waterfalls quit in November, and two months later Tony Nunn emerged as a director. Nunn was connected to Sterling Mansion, arranging international mortgages. He argues that SMI, backed by a mystery company in Belize, should continue trading. But questions have been raised about the company’s deals in Turkey and Spain. The DTI wants the business closed.

Connolly: ‘I’ve not got much to say’

FINANCIAL Mail caught up with Kieran Connolly as he arrived home in his Jaguar saloon. He denies wrongdoing. ‘I’ve not got much to say,’ he told us. ‘I don’t want to go into details until I lay documents before the court that will clear my name.’

Financial Mail hand-delivered a list of questions to Tina and Philip Waterfall and to Tony Nunn at SMI’s offices. They did not respond. Ian Jamieson claimed to be ‘liaising with the DTI’, but refused to discuss his role or answer questions.

The High Court wound up Sterling Mansion and Mansion Investments this month. Three related companies were also wound up. Portfolios of Distinction, Turningpoint Seminars and SMI (Overseas) are contesting winding-up orders. Hearings are due next month.

Source: thisismoney

THE travel giant Thomson will tomorrow move into the estate agency market, making foreign properties available for people walking into high street shops for the first time.

Properties in Cyprus, Portugal and Spain will go on sale, with customers able to take a virtual tour of individual homes using computers in the travel agent’s 750 stores. A survey of 1,600 people by Thomson, the high street’s biggest tour operator, revealed that 55 per cent of Britons want to buy abroad, either as their main residence or as a second home.

The company estimates that Britons have already bought about half a million foreign properties, half of them in Spain.

Thomson research showed that Portugal was the most popular place for people aged between 40 and 50.

Miles Morgan, the company’s marketing director, said: “Thanks to the growth of low cost travel, television programmes about living abroad and people looking to invest in property rather than pensions, owning a home abroad is now a realistic option for lots of people. The travel industry has changed massively over the last few years. To survive in a very competitive market, travel agents need to broaden the range of what they sell. This is a natural step.”

Mr Morgan added: “This is a ground-breaking partnership that for the first time makes overseas home ownership available from High Street travel agents.”

Sean Tipton, from the Association of British Travel Agents, said: “Many more travel agents are looking into new areas and it makes sense for them to start selling property abroad.

“If you look at places like Spain, where property prices are traditionally lower, the trend for holidaymakers to buy property is growing. Thomson are well placed to get involved because they are the experts at selling holidays in these places.” Thomson aim to cash in on the growing market for purchasing foreign homes by making the process easy for would-be buyers. As many as 66 per cent of people it surveyed did not know how to get information about properties abroad.

Diversifying its business may help Thomson in its battle with online travel retailers, who now offer flights, accommodation and car hire at low prices over the internet.

Travel agents say that their personal approach makes them more attractive to customers but industry experts believe spreading out into other areas will help to save the traditional high street shops.

Thomson’s survey showed 38 per cent of people wanted to buy abroad just so they could have their own place and avoid traditional hotels and resorts. This figure rose to 50 per cent among 16-24 year olds.

A spokeswoman for Thomson said: “We find that the most popular place for Scottish people to holiday in is Spain and so we’re pleased to be offering Spain as one of the areas where people can buy properties.”

The company expects to sell about 1,000 properties during its first year in business, which is being run in conjunction with overseas property firm Parador Properties.

TOP TEN HOT SPOTS

THE top ten destinations for British people buying property abroad are …

Costa del Sol (Spain)
Côte d’Azur (France)
Costa Blanca (Spain)
Costa Brava (Spain)
Balearic and Canary Islands (Spain)
Algarve (Portugal)
Madeira, Azores (Portugal)
Italy
Cyprus
Greece

Source: What Mortgage magazine, Scotsman

BUY-TO-LET is back in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. This month, the Department of Trade and Industry shut down several schemes that promised “and failed” to make millionaires out of investors.

Rivals quickly moved to condemn the cowboys in their industry. Inside Track, one of the biggest companies in the business, went so far as to put forward its own four-point plan for regulating the property investment sector.

But against the background of a stagnating UK housing market, some property professionals are questioning the way that many of the remaining schemes operate.

Marketing material tends to be long on the potential to make money and short on the pitfalls. An Inside Track marketing leaflet tells you “how to make a million in property investment – even in a falling market”. The website of PropertySecrets.net, an agent for overseas property aimed at UK investors, proclaims: “Buy-to-let and property investment. Maximum profit “minimum risk”

At the moment, such claims do not have to be substantiated, as they would if made by firms which came under the aegis of the Financial Services Authority. In fact, the Inside Track promotion’s boast that “last year we created over 200 property millionaires’ relates to the gross value of its investors’ property.” The company admits that the net value, after deducting the debt taken on to acquire the assets, would make their clients’ wealth look far more modest.

Ray Boulger, of John Charcol, the mortgage adviser, says that such claims are misleading. He says: “To be a property millionaire properly, you need to have net assets of £1 million. In the boom markets of three to four years ago, that was possible. In today’s quieter market, that is much harder.”

But the criticisms go much deeper than the promotional material. These buy-to-let companies typically aim to negotiate special deals with developers of flats or houses. In return for tying up the sale of a large chunk of a new development in advance, the agent will obtain a “discount” on the purchase price. This sum, often from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, should then be passed on to the buy-to-let investor.

Someone who has lined up a mortgage to cover 85 per cent of the value will then own a property with minimal outlay of their own. In a rising market, with a tenant covering the costs of a loan, this so-called off-plan buying is a licence to print money.

Lee Grandin, of Landlord Mortgages, a specialist buy-to-let broker, describes it as “a high-risk, high-reward, high-loss strategy”.

He points out that new properties tend to be sold at a premium anyway, while a valuer’s figure can be out by as much as 10 per cent. Taking account of either of those factors could wipe out your discount. Not only that, but when the property is eventually built, an investor’s flat will be coming on to the letting market along with all the others in the development. This “investor flooding” could make it harder to find tenants.

John Heron, managing director of Paragon Mortgages, the third largest lender to the market, is much more blunt. He says that such schemes are “fundamentally about property speculation and not about long-term investment in private rented property”.

Less than 5 per cent of the property his firm lends against is new because professional landlords find it difficult to let. “Much of the new property is higher value, whereas much of the demand is affordable,” he says.

Not surprisingly, such criticisms are rebutted by operators of buy-to-let schemes. Tony McKay, chief operating officer of Inside Track, says: “Our activity is completely transparent. We negotiate a discount with a developer and pass the whole of that discount to the investor.”

Such discounts are genuine, he says, because the developer saves on certain marketing costs by selling to an investment club, while a pre-sale reduces his risks. A valuation 12 months ago of 2,600 properties bought by Inside Track investors showed an uplift of £80 million on an original cost of £395 million, according to Mr McKay.

He admits that the subsequent flattening of the market may have left some property below the pre-discounted price, but he says that the discount provides insurance against falls in values.

Source: Times Online