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Devil In The Detail

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Property Report SEA. Posted: 10th Nov 2014

The fast track straight to hell is again laden with timeshares and promises that are meant to be broken.

Let us begin by harking back to the superficial days of the 1980s when big-haired bands ruled the world of post-modern MTV. Remember that? If not, please go to YouTube and search "Mtley Cre", or better yet, take on board this classic quote from the Crew's "Nikki Sixx": "Selling my soul would be a lot easier if I could just find it."

Which brings us squarely back to the subject at hand - real estate. As we keenly careen into the middle of a rather jaded decade, stained by glossy consumerism, we notice the small hairline cracks are starting to appear in our tablet device.

Despite headlines here in Asia being grabbed by those well-groomed high-net-worth individuals, or even Jack Ma (note to self: I love Jack, he's a poster boy for normalcy), the engines of commerce are overheating as we speak. Ultra flats are selling out, middleclass families now have their own homes and fringe products are creeping into the mainstream.

Once again exotic opportunities are being aimed at anyone with a heartbeat and 20 dollars to spare. Call them Mom and Pop investors, but these guys have literally been priced out of the property market, still they remain attracted to it like... bees to honey.

Indeed, high-end hotels are alive with property seminars; promos for self-help books are arriving on email blasts and newspaper ads bombard you with double-digit annual returns. Beelzebub is amongst us again, and just when we thought the spectre of subprime had vanished.

In the classic 70s adult movie, The Devil in Miss Jones, the heroine does a deal with Lucifer after living a pure life and takes on an entirely different persona to pursue her insatiable lust.

Hence we get to the trigger point of what drives the lowest common denominator of the investment market - they simply want to tap into The Dream.

Instead, they usually find themselves at the mercy of cold calls, boiler room operations and dodgy ownership schemes that are so complicated that even MBAs can't figure them out.

Travelling around Asia of late, I've noticed that these schemes are becoming more frequent across all markets. There is no longer security in legacy property, such as titles or formal ownership, instead the fast track straight to hell is now laden with shares and promises that are meant to be broken. 'Luxury' may be the most overused term from the last decade, but it's quickly being replaced by 'guaranteed returns'.

To this day, I still receive emails from readers talking about the losses they incurred in the boom of the early and mid 2000s and how they wish they could get their money back. It's absolutely heart breaking to hear these stories.

My best advice to those looking at alternative or exotic investments in property, which do not result is actual ownership, is to turn and run fast from any such offer. The only guarantee we have in life is death, and while you might meet the devil at the glossed over real estate seminar, you don't really want to spend eternity with a guy in brown shoes.

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C9 Hotelworks Founder and Managing Director Bill Barnett is a noted columnist, author and leading authority on travel trend, hotels and property.

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