Foreign Property Is A Flight From Reality
Harvey Jones thinks we should steer clear of overseas property investment.
In recent weeks I have been furiously deleting email after email from property companies hyping the latest thrilling investment opportunity.
As you might expect, none of these opportunities are to be found in the blighted UK property market but increasingly further afield, in fact, as far as possible from these shores.
The press releases all follow a similar pattern. Property prices may be collapsing in drizzly Britain and beyond, but there are still plenty of overseas markets where canny investors can make merry.
Only the name of the country changes. Brazil, Cape Verdi, Croatia, Dubai, Egypt, Morocco, Northern Cyprus, Panama and Turkey are just some of the exotic names tickling my Inbox.
Frankly, I'm amazed they think people still have the heart for this kind of stuff.
You would have thought that given the global property meltdown, the last thing most people would want to do is sink more of their precious money into bricks and mortar.
Have you felt it, this diminishing passion for property? Do you spend less time drooling over house buying websites, watching TV property makeover shows or dreaming of a second home in the sun?
I'm not completely cured, I have to admit. I still click on the residential sales section of local estate agency websites, mostly to see how much prices have fallen (answer: not as much as you might think).
And although I did browse a Spanish property website the other day, I could tell my heart wasn't in it.
So when somebody pops into my Inbox raving about the latest investment opportunity, I feel they've missed the point of everything that has happened in the past 12 months.
Our love affair with property is going through a sticky patch. I'm sure we'll kiss and make up, eventually, but the time isn't right yet.
Pound for pound.
In any case, who has the money to invest in overseas property, given the crumbling value of sterling?
Some cheeky property companies even use the weakness of the pound as a selling point. One property developer is advising British foreign property investors to look outside the Eurozone, to places where the pound will go further. Places like Egypt.
Given the weakness of sterling, I'm hardly confident the British pound can hold its own against the Egyptian pound.
I'm also not convinced that a two-bedroom apartment in in Egypt's "Red Sea Riviera" is such a great deal anyway.
I was in the Red Sea several years ago, and the Egyptians were pouring concrete onto their coastline at an even more reckless rate than the Spanish, and look how that ended.
Flight from reality.
And all these countries seem so far away. How often will you fly to your second home in the Maghreb or central America? No, really?
These developments may claim to be within five hours flying time of London, and served by plentiful cheap airlines, but how long is that going to last? If your cut-price carrier does a Zoom, you might find the only way to reach your prime residential gated development is on a leaky night boat from Cairo with a connecting mule.
And even if the airline does survive, five hours flying plus check-in and connections is an awful trek to visit your second "home", unless, of course, you are retired and plan to spend several months soaking up the sun every year.
But these companies are not just selling homes, they are selling "investment opportunities", because you can also make money by renting out your property to holidaymakers.
Presumably, you will do that via a local property management company, which, hopefully, will arrange and manage all the bookings for you. This involves both effort and risk, and personally, I'd rather put the money into a fixed-rate bond paying upwards of 7%.
End of the affair.
All these press releases work on the assumption that rising property prices are healthy for investors, because they will make money when they rise even further.
But the reverse is most likely to be true. The chances are you are buying at the top of the market, one step ahead of the liquidity squeeze. Unless you somehow think Egypt, Morocco and Panama will prove immune to the global contagion.
Right now, I would rather buy where prices are falling, although I'd wait a couple of years, until they have fallen even more.
Happily, I can't see many people being seduced by this foreign property proposition: we've all learned a painful lesson.
And perhaps that is why these developers are anxiously chasing investors halfway around the world, because they're needy and desperate, and as every lover knows, that is never an attractive combination.