DRUMSHEUGH GARDENS, EDINBURGH
The move from Brookmount to Walden was another sea change in my life. And the point at which one, Crispin Auden, began to figure really large in my career! I had originally met Crispin briefly when we were both at Richard Ellis and he had then recruited me to be a director of Brookmount PLC. My time at Brookmount was cut short when the company was taken over by Ford Sellar Morris, another story, and Crispin and I then decided to form our own property company 'to be founded on the twin pillars of investment and development' - Crispin always had a way with words, being related to W H Auden.
And I was the 'Wal' and he was the 'Den' if you are wondering where the company name came from.
Well, Crispin and I were actually fairly cautious chaps and our first venture was to dip a toe in the water by introducing a friend (who shall remain nameless) to an investment opportunity that we felt was a snip at £4.5m. The property was in Edinburgh and occupied by the Law Society of Scotland. And getting a friend to buy it meant we could keep our own cash in reserve.
Alas, it had not occurred to us that the Law Society might be rather argumentative. Indeed, at rent review time the best lawyers and valuers in Scotland were lined up to negotiate against us. And the upwards only rent review went down! And so did the value of the property. By a huge amount.
It was at this point Crispin and I were to collect our fee for the this ill fated introduction. Fortified with plenty of red wine we went to collect it. Offered a cheque we refused to accept it, on the basis it would be stopped as soon as we walked out of the door. No, it had to be a bankers draft, that alone would do. Expecting an atomic explosion at our gall, we were stunned and relieved by the sound of laughter from the MD's office above us. 'What a couple of cards' we heard from the booming voice over us - 'If I was in their shoes, I would have said the same thing!' So we got our bankers draft, and were told later that the little mattar of Drumsheugh paled into insignificance against the problems they were confronted with in Australia, where property prices had crashed.
Drumsheugh Gardens, home of the Law Society of Scotland, and in 1989, not the greatest property investment in the world!
ABOVE BAR, SOUTHAMPTON
Well, still undeterred from property investment, we decided to make a little investment of our own. This time at the opposite end of the country, down at Above Bar in Southampton. This property, secured by three worthy tenants, including Jaegar and Grand Metropolitan, we thought could not fail. It also looked very good value at £0.75m, just needed a little bit of maintenance and in a couple of years time we would be laughing all the way to the bank. Well, we did the bit of maintenance and that was no problem. What was a slightly greater snag was the third tenant. A hairdresser. Well, all our property friends thought it very funny that someone as bald as me should own a hairdresser's but there you go.
And the problem was that the hairdresser was slowly sliding into bankruptcy. Well, you say that's not a problem. Kick 'em out when they can't pay the rent and get a new tenant in. Simple. Well, not so simple actually.
I was idly browsing through our lease (we owned the property leasehold, not freehold) when I came across a paragraph which said something I didn't really understand - about the property returning to the freeholder if the tenant went bankrupt. I said to Crispin 'Hey Crispi, what does this mean?' He grabbed the lease from my hands. 'Cripes, we're in the poo' he said, his skill with words deserting him momentarily. Anyway to cut a very long story short, we got the lease changed and the property did not revert back to Southampton Council. But the recession had arrived. Property prices were dropping like a stone and our backers needed cash, and quick. So we set about selling it. I think at one time we had eight contracts out at one time. Eventually, it was bought by a Jewish charity! And I hope they did well out of it!
But don't get the wrong impression. Both Crispin and I loved Walden Properties. We had a huge amount of fun. We had some great ideas - Shakepeare's World - a yet to be developed dream, and we made some great friends. Nobody, no mattar how clever, can make money from property in a crash and 1990/91 was as bad as they come! So chastened and wiser men, we moved on to the next stage in our careers.
The quaint little property in Above Bar, Southampton, eventually sold to a Jewish charity!