A fast car and a dream home. Big mistakes

The third in our series on bad investments.

Quentin Bell, 51, is chairman of the Quentin Bell Organisation; the PR company he started as a one-man band in 1973. Today it employs 60 people, with clients including BT, Norwich Union and Faberge Fragrances.

'In the 1980s, when QBO was growing rapidly, I was looking for alternative investments," he says. "Rather than leave the rest of my money in the bank, I started investing in things I could either look at or use.

"I have always had a love of quality cars, and when Aston Martin announced the launch of its new Virage Volante in 1989 I decided to buy one. I put down a pounds 20,000 deposit and was given a chassis number.

"This was the time when people were playing the futures market with cars. One of the first of these new Aston Martins to come off the production line was immediately sold at auction for pounds 50,000 more than the owner had paid.

"The Inland Revenue expects cars to depreciate, so as long as you're not trading, profit is tax-free.

"I already had an Aston Martin Volante, and I had seen its value rocket to pounds 120,000, so I was pretty confident.

"But by 1991 the bottom had fallen out of the car market. The car would have been worth less than I had had to pay for it. I was faced with a dilemma - either I went ahead and paid up pounds 150,000, or I lost my pounds 20,000 deposit.

"Have you ever seen pounds 20,000 in notes? If you've got it sitting on a table in front of you, you tend to think, 'I don't want to lose this'. But it was the lesser of two evils, so I just had to bite my lip.

"You have to remember that this was in the Thatcher years and it was a very buoyant time when supposedly nothing could go wrong. The recession took me by surprise because human beings don't expect change. Once you are on a roll - as we were in the 80s - you expect it to continue.

"Unfortunately, in 1989 I also bought a pounds 60,000 holiday home in southern France. It was a beautiful farmhouse but it needed a lot of money spending on it.

"I bought it on a whim. I thought it would be a good alternative investment. I had also planned to use it as a holiday home. It took me a year to refurbish it, at a cost of around pounds 115,000. I was flying down every weekend to do what became affectionately known as Le Peage. It was an hilarious scene: the plombiers and the carpenters in their berets and boiler suits would queue up around my table while I wrote out endless cheques.

"Looking back, I simply hadn't thought it through. I broke my golden rule of being focused. Fabulous though the property is, I ended up with neither a holiday home nor an investment.

"When the weather is good, the place is being let. But that only accounts for eight to ten weeks a year. I really loved doing it up. You could argue that it was extremely therapeutic, but it was a very expensive exercise because I wasted pounds 175,000.

"Had I put it into the Stock Exchange, I would have doubled it by now instead of sitting on a dormant asset.

"The problem with alternative investments is that emotions come into play. You start to look at expensive tiles and sofas, or cars that are wonderful to drive. And that's where everything goes wrong. Generally speaking, it is dangerous to combine investments and emotions.

"Of course life isn't easy. If all investments were going to come right, then everybody would do it. You can't succeed every time. But if you're thinking of a holiday home as an investment, don't, because it isn't."

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