From Mr Buy-to-Let to Mr Die-in-Debt: the door to riches opened for Jim Moore and then it slammed in his face

Martin Baker talks to Jim Moore, the investment adviser who still sees hope for property even though it has pulled the rug from under his feet

Sunday 11 May 2008 00:00

Easter, a chocolate-flavoured afterthought of a religious festival in these secular times, has come and gone again. But if by chance you're putting on a passion play and looking for someone to nail to a tree, Jim Moore is your man.

Moore has made a fortune out of investment property, providing training courses for 25,000 people and ancillary services, from snagging to mortgage advice, on behalf of 17,000 of them. His companies have accounted for some £2.3bn worth of transactions in the property market.

And now that market is in sharp decline. Moore has just had to wind up Inside Track, the seminar company whose programmes used to attract hundreds of visitors at a cost of £2,500 per couple for two days; just a dozen or so turned up at the last one. Formerly known as Mr Buy-to-Let, Moore is now vilified by some as Mr Die-in-Debt. The market has gone backwards and some of the more recent investors have lost money and are quite sure it's all Moore's fault.

Well, he is far from perfect, as he himself would be the first to admit, but frankly that verdict is really rather harsh.

We meet in a Pall Mall club and Moore takes a little time to figure out. The Yorkshire accent, the dark suit (with an electric-lilac silk lining), the pale-blue silk tie and the bottle-blond crew cut certainly make an unusual combination.

As he grinds through the gears of his property market analysis – it is immediately obvious he is very smart and a natural salesman – I feel as though I've stumbled across someone who is deadly serious about business but needs to be loved on his own terms. Imagine Peter Stringfellow's younger brother – with a considerably better haircut and an eye primarily for a house rather than the ladies.

In Moore's own words, he is "a victim of the credit crunch. Absolutely. No question about it. But I don't want to whinge about it."

It's certainly been a very tough period for him. He has just finished a nasty three weeks at the High Court, where his bitterly contested four-and-half-year divorce was finally settled.

"It was a million-pound bill for those three weeks," he says, matter-of-factly. "It cost between £60,000 and £80,000 a day." His wife's share of the matrimonial cake, believed to be greater than Moore's own, has been reported at more than £16m.

The divorce, he says, was part of the reason that the seminar company folded: "I don't want to sound like I'm whingeing, but I'd definitely put some of that down to the divorce process. I was deeply and desperately distracted by it. I was spending two to three days a week on the thing for at least the last 12 months."

While the climate of fear and loathing in the market means the demand for seminars has disappeared, Moore insists this is partly because of a failure of nerve and a lack of sophistication on behalf of the investing public. "It's complex and the complexity is all around the credit crunch," he explains. "I don't think people really understand what's going on."

That said, Moore reckons these complex problems have been very serious indeed: "It's my belief that we've witnessed the collapse of the Western banking system. What's happening is that the money's not getting through to the retailer because the banks daren't be transparent with each other."

This has punched holes in Moore's business model. Previously, his companies would use their marketing muscle to deal with developers and negotiate a price discount for a bulk purchase. A mortgage would also be provided for investors.

Then came the crunch. "When we get a developer who says, 'you must get your members to complete or we'll take the discount off you,' the problem isn't that we can't get our members a mortgage – it's the fact that no mortgage is available.

"We may have a mortgage product available at midday, but it's gone by four o'clock. There's been no wholesale money for so long that there's a three or four-month backlog of people wanting mortgages now. When the wholesale money appears, there's a massive scramble for it. Brokers all over the country are drawing on it."

This, says Moore, is why some of his clients felt under pressure to complete a transaction. Among other criticisms levelled at his business model is that the discounts negotiated with developers were illusory and based on inflated valuations.

Moore dismisses such claims as nonsense. "Some people question the model, and rightly so in this climate. But I don't think there's some big conspiracy between valuers. We use the same ones as the banks."

So is there still value in this difficult market? The old king of the bulls can't quite bring himself to be pessimistic: "I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm not bullish right now, but everybody's in difficulty unless they're buying bankrupt property.

"I think we're possibly beginning to see the green shoots of recovery. When the Federal Reserve in America changes capital requirements for a bank, what it's really saying is that the rules don't work in this environment. It's a new world. It has almost abandoned capital requirements and made quarter of a trillion, I think, available in the hope it will kickstart their market."

So Moore has had a kick in the teeth, but he's still standing. And it's not as though he's a stranger to hard knocks. He left school at 16 to become an apprentice engineer in Sheffield, walking straight into an industry in decline. "It was living hell."

He made money manufacturing sunbeds, then millions through a perfume-distribution company. But that got hit by a trademark-infringement lawsuit and he lost everything. That was when he turned to property.

"When I lost all my money in 1993, in a way property saved my life," he says. "It was a similar situation to now. Property had gone down a bit but I'd started early enough and I'd made money."

You sense that Moore still has the drive and determination to succeed. He's lost a lot of money for personal and business reasons, but one way or another, he'll be back.

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