Country houses for sale

Buyers’ Guides: Fractional Ownership

Second-home ownership—especially abroad—isn’t without its headaches. In the 1980s, the time-share concept provided a solution by sharing the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep among a group of people.

It received some bad press. But in its place is a new concept of fractional ownership that’s taking the high-end market by storm. It offers several weeks per year in exotic locations, plus rental returns and, importantly, a share in the capital appreciation of the property.

Fractional ownership involves buying a share in an item rather than the whole thing—an idea, born in the US, that British investors are beginning to embrace. The concept can be applied to anything, from a handbag to a racehorse, but it works particularly well with property. Take 47, Park Street, which offers 21 nights per year in an apartment in a converted town-house in Mayfair, from £106,000 (plus an annual maintenance fee of about £5,000). The arrangement amounts to staying in a five-star hotel with personality (members can leave photographs to be put out when they’re due to arrive, and the fridge will be filled with favourite treats), and the added extra of potential capital appreciation on resale. With nearly 300 members, this club is already proving popular.

But most of us would like a second home slightly further afield, and other similar propositions with property overseas offer a type of spread bet on global-capital appreciation. Termed property-investment funds, these schemes allow members to buy a share in the equity of a portfolio of high-end properties all over the world, and, in return, they receive a set amount of time to spend in them per year.

After an agreed period of time, the fund dissolves, and the properties are sold for a profit, with each investor getting their share, plus rental profits throughout.

One of the first of these to launch was Rocksure Property. In 2007, the company introduced its Alpha Fund, which sold 40 shares in a portfolio of six properties, and has a lifespan of seven years. Following this success, it began the Bravo Fund, which will provide top-end properties—worth £1 million or more—in Thailand, Brazil, Morocco, the Adriatic Coast, the Algarve and Colorado. From the point of view of the investor, the mix of year-round sunshine and skiing opportunities in a variety of long- and short-haul destinations has a wide appeal, and the portfolio, which combines established and emerging markets, is a canny investment. A single share costs £189,000, and buys you four weeks per year, with annual maintenance fees of about £1,800. After seven years, Rocksure takes 17.5% of anything you earn on top of the first 20% increase on investment, which gives it quite an incentive to choose its properties wisely.

There are other property-investment funds that’re offering similar propositions. For example, Worldwide Private Residences is planning a portfolio of 20 properties, three-quarters in established markets and a quarter in emerging markets, as part of a fund lasting 10 years. For £160,000, members can have five weeks usage a year, with no annual management fees.

This model could never replace owning your own house—you can’t always pick and choose the weeks you want, and the destinations may not be perfect either—but proponents argue that the investment is actually less risky than betting on only one property.