The Savoy, London

Bankrupt Irish property developers fleeing London


The Savoy, London

During the boom years, dozens of London landmarks found themselves under Irish ownership. Once known as the “Irich” for the cash they could bring to a property deal, the Irish are now fleeing the scene, according to the Guardian.

"Easily 90% of the sellers in the last year have been Irish," says Phil Cann at property company CB Richard Ellis.

Some of the most prestigious properties in britian were owned by Irish.Tiffany & Co on Old Bond Street, the Savoy, Claridge's, Connaught and Berkeley hotels, Battersea power station, prime office space such as the Unilever building on Blackfriars Bridge, and retail blocks in some of the choicest parts of central and west London, including Mayfair, Regent Street, Oxford Street and Knightsbridge were bought.

The properties were not just owned by professional developers, but also by teachers, lawyers, tax inspectors and bakers who wanted part of the irish land grab. Much of the property was bought by debt, and now the developers and investors who once enjoyed a lavish lifestyle are under immense pressure. Many are bankrupt and are desperately trying to sell the properties.

During the financial crisis, the Irish government set up the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) to take control of its struggling banks' failing assets. A fifth of the €81bn of toxic property loans now under the control of Nama relate to the UK, making the Irish "bad bank,” one of the most important property financiers in the country.

 Fears have been expressed that Nama, charged with clearing Ireland's debt mountain over seven to 10 years, could end up destroying property values by flooding the market.

But international property consultant King Sturge says it is not concerned about Nama, and that London is still seen around the globe as a safe haven for commercial property investment. "Middle Eastern, Malaysian, Chinese, Russian and Libyan purchasers, and the Norwegian acquisition of a share in Regent Street over the last year, signal an increasing trend," says King Sturge in its annual forecast.

Chris Ireland, the head of investment at the consultancy, says that  "the issue with Nama and the UK banks is whether they flood the market with secondary stuff, and they all have loads of it.” "Secondary" property  means "assets outside London.”

It is already too late for some developers. Nama has pre-prepared "enforcement strategies" drawn up against each member company's business plan and will use them against any developer that does not co-operate.

“There is no point selling in today's market as they will get completely hammered on price. It's my guess that Nama will become adept at doing joint ventures with savvy, financially strong partners to extract value from its portfolio, rather than sit around and wait for value to accrete on its own,” says British commercial property millionaire Nick Leslau of Prestbury Investments.


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