The Irish have always had an affinity for property, notwithstanding the massive knock to the collective psyche that came in the wake of the financial downturn. But those who still have wealth are yet to be seduced by the more manageable prices in the Irish market - a signal of the low levels of confidence in the market's ability to recover.

This is not to say that bricks and mortar are not a good haven for protecting wealth. People just need to know where to look. Many of the issues that current investors have with the property market come from unrealistic expectations in the past. There is an entire generation of investors who have witnessed only the massive gains and losses which characterised the property market over the past 20 years, whereas property is generally seen as a more defensive asset and one which traditionally is less prone to the volatility of equities or currencies.

"When Augusta started eight years ago, our asset management model was not predicated on rapid capital growth delivering unrealistic returns," said Jerry Purcell, director of Augusta, an Irish-based asset management company which focuses on the German commercial property market. "Instead, we have a sustainable asset management model which is designed to protect wealth and generate an income, rather than to accumulate wealth."

Such a defensive approach may have seemed at odds with the rapid growth models operated by some asset managers during the boom years, but its worth has become obvious during the downturn. In the German commercial property market, Augusta has found the ideal venue for this sustainable, low-risk approach to investing.

"Wealthy Germans have been investing in their property market for more than 100 years, through world wars, hyperinflation and the ups and downs of 20th century," said Philipp Matuschka, director of Augusta. "In a country like Germany, real estate is seen as a defensive asset, whereas other asset classes have created problems for investors."

Given its more conservative expectations, combined with the prospect of a stable asset class, German real estate could be the ideal route back into the property market for Irish investors who require a better return on their money, especially now that deposit rates are climbing down from their unsustainable highs.

"We feel that German commercial property offers the best balance between income generation and security," Purcell said. "The commercial market is more landlord-friendly, more easily managed and more scalable. Not to mention the fact that it consistently delivers around 6 per cent per annum, with very little volatility."

The flip-side of this stability, however, is that it does not deliver massive capital growth. But, according to Purcell, this has never been a consideration for Augusta.

"Our advice is modelled on a basis of the market delivering no capital growth," he said. "Any growth in the model comes from the repayment of debt or from contractual increases."

This is not to say that the market has not increased over the years; rather, the sustainable growth model is predicated on predictable factors, and any capital growth is a bonus. Additionally, Augusta can help Irish investors to circumnavigate any difficulties with local ordinances and statutes (traditional barriers to overseas investment) by taking on the responsibility for regulations and management.

"We provide an end-to-end management service, to whatever depth the investor wants," said Matuschka.

 

ARTICLE BY DAVE BOLAND, SUNDAY BUSINESS POST 18TH NOVEMBER 2012