Celebrity investors defy property fears with launch of new fund

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The Independent Online

Commercial property group Active Asset Management (aAIM), which counts Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as an investor and shareholder, is this week expected to unveil plans to launch a new fund, defying concerns about a downturn in property markets.

The group, which invests on behalf of celebrity clients including X Factor judge Simon Cowell and a number of footballers such as Newcastle United's Alan Smith and Aston Villa's Gareth Barry, will seek to raise investment for a commercial offering just months after it launched a £400m fund to take advantage of falling property prices.

The company is led by entrepreneur Robert Whitton and has more than £2bn worth of property assets under management.

Unlike mainstream property funds, investors in aAIM vehicles are typically asked to invest for a minimum of around five years. It means the group hasn't suffered the rash of withdrawals that have affected other high-profile property funds such as New Star's. Last week the company said it had seen more than £500m worth of property assets redeemed since June last year.

A number of fund management groups are expected to stop investors redeeming cash in order to stem outflows, with Norwich Union mooted likely to put a freeze on withdrawals for small savers anytime soon.

Grant Bovey, founder of the buy-to-let property group Imagine Homes, told The Independent on Sunday that he believed the general hysteria surrounding property markets was massively overblown.

"Sure, things aren't easy but in 12 months' time the market will have forgotten about this," said Mr Bovey. "I can only speak about what I see and January has proved to be a really good month for us. Like-for-like sales are 20 per cent up on the same time last year. When we came back after the Christmas break, I was wary like everyone else, but it has been a good month so far. We haven't any lost completions."

He added: "If things were as bad as people are saying then we'd be seeing the major house- builders trying to sell off a lot more properties. We haven't seen that because they aren't panicking. We sold a flat in Chelsea last week worth more than £5m, and we saw a property go in Richmond Lock for £4.9m. There is appetite out there."