I know everything about property. There’s nothing anyone can teach me. So there’s no point me dragging myself out of bed for 3 consecutive days over a weekend to go to the Homebuyer Show.

If only it were true, I could have lain under my warm cosy duvet until lunchtime, instead of fighting my way through the roadworks on the M1 to get down to Docklands. However, the simple fact of the matter is that these shows represent the greatest concentration of property investment talent you’re ever likely to come across. There isn’t an investor on the face of the earth who can’t learn something genuinely useful about property there. And I for one was certainly not going to miss it. Even on Sunday morning, when I’d already spent 2 full days at the show, I still managed to find the energy to extricate myself from my big comfy bed and drive down to Docklands. (Yes, I drove. The DLR was being fixed. That’s my lame excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

This show has changed radically over the last few years.  Previously, there was a huge range of UK property, and a fair smattering of associated services targeted specifically at homebuyers rather than investors.  For example, there used to be public-sector people promoting keyworker schemes and suchlike. The show is now vastly more investment focussed. Gone are the government suits, along with most of the swish UK flats. In their place are a huge range of international property merchants plus a range of stalls selling investor support services. There are eager suits selling property in every country you can think of, from Albania right the way through the alphabet and back round to Australia. For the UK investor, there was also a small selection of busy stands covering the Below-Market-Value industry. Of course, all the usual brokers, lawyers etc. were there too. This makes it absolutely perfect for investors looking for the properties and support services they need. I’ve got my own opinion on the mix of stands, but it was also interesting to get the organisers’ perspective. When I was enjoying my press jolly (in the VIP lounge with free drinks) I chatted with Nick, who runs the whole show. He was explaining to me that lots of the visitors are looking for UK property, and he’d like to get more UK homes on the stalls. Personally, I’m quite happy with the status quo, as it’s great for investors and overseas homebuyers. A lot the opportunities in the ‘old’ UK investor market have dried up. People just have to accept that the days when you could wander around randomly buying UK property and make a fortune doing it are over. You’ve got to be cuter. I think there’s plenty of help for UK investors at this show, but you can’t expect the world to hand you success on a plate. The UK stalls you need are still here, it’s just that they’re predominantly selling information and services rather than actual properties. Obviously, there are plenty of stands selling stuff that doesn’t particularly interest me, but despite this I still found everything I needed to keep me busy for three days. Many people don’t take me seriously when I say I go to every day of these shows, but I most certainly do. You’ll learn more in several short days than you do in one long one, so spreading out your time benefits learning (that’s my argument for staying in bed late). These shows represent the most concentrated learning experience in the entire property calendar, so making the trek three days in a row is well worth it. They’re simply unmissable.

So, what did I pick up from three solid days of networking and learning?  I can’t possibly sum up the whole experience in just a few short paragraphs! All I can hope to do is pick out just a few choice snippets to pass on.

The Panel Debate

As is usual, there was a panel debate – usually one of the highlights of the show. This involved Richard Bowser, the editor of Property Investor News, and John Wrigglesworth from Hometrack, among others. John is one of my favourite commentators in the whole industry. He’s got a really clear understanding of property economics and a great track record of predicting the UK market. Only his deviant habit of drinking red wine over ice makes me suspicious of him. During the debate, and afterwards in the VIP party, we discussed many aspects of the property market. Key areas that any avid market-watcher needs to be boned-up on were: the UK’s vulnerability to a US slowdown, the risk of a wage-price spiral, the collapse in the sub-prime mortgage market in the US, etc. I could pick up the phone to John anytime I like, and I’m confident he’d take the time to talk to me. However, I’m sure he’s a busy chap, and in practice I don’t want to pester him on a day-to-day basis. Coming to property shows represents a unique opportunity to get one-on-one time with him and with many other experts. If you don’t come to these things, you won’t even know what opportunities you missed.

Invaluable Seminars

Going round all the stands does give you some great opportunities to quickly sift through all the companies you might want to deal with. However, in my view, the seminars are probably the most valuable part of the whole experience. You can spend three days virtually non-stop in them, and you’ll get stuffed with the very latest news and information. These lectures come from some of the finest minds in the industry (and a few complete duffers as well). In fact, some of the speakers were so incredibly good that I’m going to try to work some of their talks into a whole separate feature.

Two really useful perspectives on international property were provided by John Howard of International Law Partnership and Property Secrets. These come from different perspectives. John Howard is a lawyer, and his firm also does some sourcing. Property Secrets is an outfit that both educates people and supplies properties for them to invest in. There are of course disadvantages to both of these perspectives. It could be argued that John doesn’t focus enough on leverage, and perhaps fails to take a strategic economic view. It could also be said that Property Secrets are too blinkered on their Eastern European stomping ground, which they love (and sell). These two heavyweights each set out specific, country-by-country comments on the investment market, which is always a brave thing to do in a public forum where people are able to come back three years later and point and laugh if you get it wrong. Broadly speaking, I agreed more closely with Property Secrets, which focussed only on Europe. It places countries like Russia towards the bottom of the heap (politics and corruption) and Poland near the top (inward investment, urbanisation). The middle tier included countries like Hungary (good fundamentals but unattractive current political/economic situation). John Howard came up with some really leftfield stuff. His top ten included Argentina (I’d never even thought of it) as well as obvious investment stalwarts such as China. However, I’d have to say I disagree with a lot of his top ten. They seem often to have either low gearing, or are stuck firmly in ‘old Europe’ with its sluggish economic growth and Byzantine regulations. I’d love to do a full article on this, but would you love to read it? E-mail me and let me know.

The UK Contingent

Despite occupying a relatively small proportion of the floor space, the UK below-market-value stalls attracted a huge amount of attention. Their lectures were frequent and crammed. Many people had clearly come to the show to find out about investing in UK property with little or no money down. I follow this approach full time, but I’m always happy to attend competitor’s seminars. Just picking up one or two little ideas can make me thousands of pounds – so it’s worth me sitting patiently through the stuff I’ve heard before, waiting for that one little nugget. The most noteworthy speakers in this field were:

Glenn Armstrong, founder of Repossession Angels. This is a BMV franchise operation that focuses specifically on UK repos (as you’d expect from the name). He a good friend of mine, and we share tips and thoughts on a regular basis. We’ve got a different approach. I make my money almost exclusively from my trading, whereas Glenn makes money from franchising, seminars, bridging finance, etc. As a result, Glenn makes money by educating people, so he’s very keen to talk when he gets the chance. I like his overall approach to doing business, and he seems to be doing very well.

Parmdeep Vadesha is another long-time contact of mine, and he gave a couple of useful talks about buying BMV property. He’s currently operating a system that allows people to purchase BMV leads off the internet, without the need to go to all the hassle of doing their own marketing. Sadly, I couldn’t find the web address with a brief search on the net, so you’ll have to Do Your Own Research. However, I’m going to be launching my own leads broking system soon, so why not register in advance at invest.freedomproperty.co.uk, or email me your contact details?

The words ‘mezzanine finance’ are not familiar to most investors, but they should be. Mezzanine finance is second-tier finance: the money you borrow for a project that you can’t get from the main bank. Mostly it comes from private investors and specialist lenders. Most investors will be familiar with the idea of a mortgage deposit, and mezzanine can be used to cover this. It can also include construction costs on relevant projects. Typically, lenders will allow you to borrow only about 70% of the money you need to pay the builders on a decent sized project. So, if you’re a big developer, you obviously need a lot of cash. However, if you’re not lucky enough to have buckets of money lying around, you can just use mezzanine finance investors. Offering developers this kind of backing is obviously subject to a lot more risk than the lending from the bank on a normal mortgage, and consequently the rewards are a lot higher. If you choose your partners wisely, this can be a very good way of getting hands-off investments to pay hands-on money. True Blue Group was exhibiting at the show, and was offering just such a deal – apparently 11% guaranteed. I personally offer about 16% secured to my backers, which is an interesting comparison. I may be able to do a full piece about mezzanine soon, so drop me an e-mail about this if you’d like to read more.

Overseas Offerings

I’m not a big fan of most of the overseas developments on the market. Not because I think they won’t go up in value, but because I think there are smarter ways that a professional investor can use their money (than by purchasing holiday homes off-plan). However, there are of course some great opportunities out there. One area that has always interested me is North Cyprus. This region has been fraught with legal difficulties, due to the fact that it’s an occupied territory which doesn’t have proper recognition from the international community. Large amounts of land in what is now North Cyprus were quite simply stolen from their rightful owners under military force. There are all kinds of legal complexities concerning this ‘stolen’ land, and it’s doubtless more risky than ‘normal’ land elsewhere. There’s at least some risk that you might have your investment taken back off you by the original rightful Greek owner, or their heirs. However, there were developers at the show selling so-called ‘pre-1974’ title land (i.e. land that didn’t change hands when its owners were gently persuaded to leave by the advancing Turkish Army). Basically, this means that there’s essentially none of the usual political risk associated with other land in North Cyprus.  The whole North of the island still trades at a massive discount to South Cyprus, and when (or if) everyone finally gets organised and sorts out a political settlement for the island, this price gap will tend to close. If you’re holding genuine pre-74 title land, you stand to capture this gain without the worry of fines or land loss that might result from a forthcoming political deal.  Should I do a whole article on North Cyprus? Let me know.

Software

And now, a short boring bit. If you’re trying to run your business more efficiently, you might like to invest in some decent software. There were a couple of providers selling differing packages, one of them being Property Intellect. I don’t use this myself (I run ordinary office and accounts software), but there’s doubtless a number of investors who’ll find this kind of thing ideal. As usual, if you’ve spent your weekend watching football on TV and having a quiet pint in the local, you won’t have had the chance to find these little gems that can make such a difference to your business.

And Various Nuggets of Information

Sometimes you end up finding out things that you just didn’t know you didn’t know. Seamus Nugent from Dandara taught me just such a piece of information. Apparently, the UK offshore islands market is a fascinating place to invest. I’m happy to admit I know nothing about this, but it provides something genuinely unique: a series of UK markets that are counter-cyclical to the UK economy. So you’ve got most of the convenience of a conventional UK investment, but the advantage that you’re able to hedge your bets. If the mainland does well, Jersey’s probably stagnant.  If the mainland’s faltering, the Isle of Man is probably on its way up. All of this information is pure hearsay – so as usual, Do Your Own Research!

An Added Bonus This Year

Luckily for visitors, there was an added attraction at the same time as the Homebuyer Show. Christopher Howard is a NLP trainer from the US, who was doing a free Docklands show at the same time. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Basically, this is the idea that you can use a process of reflection and analysis to fundamentally reprogramme major aspects of your life. For example, you may want to work out why you keep getting angry, or why you can’t control money properly. This may all sound a bit wacky and leftfield for property investors, but in reality that’s really not the case. Working hard in your business is worthless unless you’re also working smart. Working smart has two components:  you’ve got to have a business strategy that works, and you’ve got to have a personal mentality that allows you to carry it out. If your business strategy is not aligned with your personal goals and abilities, you’re not going to get very far. Let me use an example to illustrate this. Maybe you’ve started your business because secretly you like showing off to people about being a bigshot investor. If that’s the case, you might find you waste money on ‘investments’ that you think will impress your friends, rather than buying properties that make sound financial sense. If you’ve never taken the time to really focus on properly setting your personal goals, this process can be really powerful. The event was very impressive in both presentation and content, and despite the fact that the ‘free intro’ was of course there to sell the main course, there was easily enough valuable material to justify attending for its own sake.

Overall, there’s just no substitute for getting down to these shows. If you’re serious about getting on in the property world, you simply have to go. Of course, I blagged my way into everything because I’m a sponging hack, but as far as I know the show is free and the seminars are only about a fiver. So there’s just no excuse… Look out for the Property Investor Show and the Homebuyer Show. Visit www.propertyinvestor.co.uk or www.homebuyer.co.uk for details of future shows.

Don’t miss them next time!