How about buying a property in Ireland? Yes you read that right, Ireland, the country which has suffered some of the biggest price falls in the global property crash. Ireland where one in five homes is vacant – compared with one in 32 in the UK – where hundreds of new-build estates are empty, good only for the bulldozer. Ireland – the decrepit and emasculated Celtic tiger economy.
But even in the darkest of economic times – and Ireland's recession makes the UK's look like a walk in the park – there are some properties and locations that stand out as offering a little bit of, well, the extraordinary. "The key in recessionary times like these is to have a proposition which stands out, which appeals to people not just from Ireland or the UK, but globally," said Alan Cornelius, sales director at Firstlight international. Firstlight is offering properties for sale on the K Club estate, 30 minutes from Dublin.
Housed in a 18th-century chateau, the K Club is Ireland's premier sporting destination offering a range of country activities such as fishing, shooting and horse riding as well as a luxurious spa and fine dining. But it's golf for which the K Club is most famous. It has two courses, the Smurfit and Palmer (the latter designed by Arnold Palmer), and had the distinction of hosting the 2006 Ryder Cup when the European team triumphed over the US to emotional scenes and more than the odd pint of the black stuff being downed.
"The difficulties in the Irish property market have given us the chance to offer something unique, one of the top golf destinations in the world," Mr Cornelius said. But housing crash or no housing crash, property at the K Club is still very expensive – think central London or Kensington and you're in the right ball park. However, Firstlight's offer is not a straight property sale but the option to purchase a fraction. In essence, buyers can purchase an eighth share of any in a range of properties at the K Club, from two-bed apartments up to four-bed houses. All have spectacular course views, are fully furnished to very high standards and, crucially, family membership of the golf club and spa is included while in residence. "Membership of the club alone costs an €80,000 (£67,000)fee and an annual subscription of nearly €8,000. For a couple this rises to €120,000 joining and nearly €16,000 per year. If you buy a fractional share in a property through Firstlight, membership is thrown in. We think that makes the whole package exceptional value," said Mr Cornelius.
One-eighth shares start at €160,000 for the smallest two-bed apartment (measuring a still sizeable 1,500 sq ft) up to €325,000 for a 3,800 sq ft four-bed house. A one-eighth share entitles owners to a maximum six weeks' residence a year for life, with golf/spa membership during their stay. If residents tire of golf they can exchange their weeks with other Firstlight developments around the globe, such as ski accommodation in the exclusive Aspen resort or Noosa on Queensland's Gold Coast. Buyers could also choose to rent out their home privately and could expect a return on the larger properties of several thousand euros a week from golfing nuts wanting to play on the course that Arnold built. The fraction can also be resold or willed to a loved one.
However, fractional ownership, which really took off as a concept at the tail-end of the last property boom, has its detractors. They suggest that it is in effect just tarted-up timeshare. What's more, as the boom turned to bust, some people who invested in fractional ownership found that what they had bought wasn't as glossy as the marketing literature promised. "A couple of years ago there were all sorts of fractional ownership developments bobbing around. Some offered to rent out property for you and give you guaranteed income but some of the properties and the promises weren't as described," said Andrew Montlake from mortgage broker Coreco. "However, as with most things property related there has been a clearing of the decks during the downturn with the cowboys run out of business; what we see now is a focus on quality."
This is view echoed by Darren Ettridge, vice-president of resort sales from holiday property exchange company Interval International. "Fractional ownership following the global recession makes more sense," he said "Developers sell easier because it's a smaller outlay, whereas consumers get residence rights which are more in tune with their actual usage periods."
But can they be classed as an investment? Mr Ettridge says buyers should tread carefully. "If you look to buy a fraction of a property as an investment, to make money, then you really have to be careful," he said. "What is the resale market, and if you rent it out, what are the likely returns? Overall, it's best buying for leisure and lifestyle and if you make a little money, then all the better."
Nevertheless, Mr Montlake says that lenders still steer clear of fractional ownership. "They will do every-day arrangements such as shared ownership through a housing association for someone trying to get on the housing ladder, but for someone trying to buy a share of a property in a luxury location, then it's no dice.
"The problem is that lenders always need to have easy access to their collateral and you can't get that if they a lending against an eighth share of a property, for instance." If you're not a cash buyer then one option is to remortgage your UK property to raise a sufficient sum, but this is an unlikely way for most to finance a fractional purchase.
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