Beware Opaque Investments
Too many cooks spoil the broth. Too many companies in the mix may damage your investment.
We are in an era of low returns, but people saving and investing for pensions want – need — to generate more than 1% or 2% a year, and The Corran hotel scheme at Laugharne, ostensibly offering leases of hotel rooms, or of fractions of hotel rooms, appeared to offer just what they required.
Rowanmoor Trustees Ltd, trustee of The Rowanmoor Pensions Self-Invested Personal Pension Scheme, approved investments in The Corran for pension clients. One of those clients showed me a copy of his ‘Agreement for Sale of Membership of a Company’. Not ‘for sale of a lease’, note.
The agreement was between the ‘Founder Member’, Kayboo Ltd, the company owning some of the property shown in marketing materials for the scheme, and Rowanmoor Trustees Ltd.
Kayboo “wishes to procure the admission of the Purchaser (the pension client) to membership of the Company…” The ‘Company’ is Hurst House Fractional K Ltd, one of the fractional ownership companies set up to hold the leases. Hurst House is the former name of The Corran.
“The Company has/shall enter into a 999 year lease (“the Term”) granted in accordance with the laws of England and Wales… The Lease entitles the Company to 365 days usage of the Property in each year,” said the agreement.
Further on, the document says “The Company has entered into a lease agreement with the Founder Member.”
Well, that did not apply in most cases because only three leases had been completed when Kayboo and its sister company, hotel management company East Marsh Operational, went into administration in October 2016, four years after the first ‘leases’ were sold to well over 400 investors who paid in some £19.21 million. Around £2.52 million of that was returned to investors – their own capital, not rents from the hotel, according to abbreviated accounts presented to anxious investors in summer 2016.
The complexity of the scheme is clear from the agreement, which describes roles for the ‘Founder Member’ (Kayboo Ltd), the ‘Company’ (in this case Hurst House Fractional K Ltd), the ‘Purchaser’ (the pension client, represented by Rowanmoor Trustees Ltd), and also the ‘Manager’ (East Marsh Operational Company Ltd, supposed to hold a sub-lease from Hurst House Fractional K Ltd).
Rowanmoor Trustees took care to curtail their own liability. The document states that “In the event that the Purchaser is required to provide warranties under the Sub Lease that the liability of Rowanmoor Trustees Ltd shall in all respects be limited to the assets of the Rowanmoor Pensions self invested person pension for the Scheme Member”.
So apart from a risk to its reputation, Rowanmoor Trustees Ltd – Kayboo’s counter party in the agreement – removed liability risk from itself.
Rowanmoor used to market itself as the UK’s largest independent small self-administered scheme provider, but in July 2016 was bought by Embark Group in a private cash transaction. Rowanmoor’s managing director Ian Hammond chose to retire.
A problem for any investor in such an opaque transaction is that no participant will intend to work for nothing. Everyone will seek a slice of the pie, making the advertised returns – varied between sales agents, but around 10% a year for ten years and 12% annually for the next five, and repurchase at 125% of the sale price in years five to 14 and 150% in year 15, even less likely to materialise.
For reasons that are hard to fathom, the administrators – Harbour Business Group – sold The Corran to Glendore Real Estate Ltd, a company of which Keith Stiles, a director of the failed Kayboo, was in January 2017 the sole director. The price? £150,000 – when investors had piled in over £19 million.
The scandal also raises questions about the due diligence – or lack of it – undertaken by pensions providers.