Tuesday 22 October 2019

Home truths: On McGregor, Gorse Hill and Bugs Bunny

Gorse Hill
Gorse Hill
Conor McGregor

Mark Kennan

Conor McGregor has just shelled out €8.5m for Gorse Hill, the luxury pile on Vico Road in Killiney, Co Dublin, with some of the best marine views in Dublin.

This was the big property market rumour sweeping Dublin during the week - that the 'Notorious' himself is preparing to move into the 10,000 sq ft six-bed mansion with sea views from Dalkey island to Bray Head.

Along with the trademark $5k-a-pop David August suits, the private yacht (supposedly purchased recently), a house at the K Club and other reports that he has acquired a fleet of luxury cars for friends and family, has McGregor gone the full distance and bought himself a proper big moneybags pile up in Dublin's Rock Broker Belt - as befits someone with em, bags of money?

If so, trips to Spar to buy Coco Pops and disposable nappies will see the nimble one bumping into Bono, the Edge, Van Morrisson and Enya, all of whom reside in the Killiney/Dalkey enclave.

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor

Gorse Hill is as notorious as McGregor, having hit the headlines in Ireland's biggest repossession battle between Bank of Ireland and solicitor Brian O'Donnell and his family, resulting in the latter's ejection of the property and it being placed for sale at the beginning of March this year. Bank of Ireland had applied to have the couple declared bankrupt after they failed to satisfy a judgment for €71.57m obtained against them.

But thus far, stories of the purchase are all just rumour and conjecture. So to check it out, I put in a call to Sherry FitzGerald - the estate agency responsible for selling Gorse Hill. I asked them outright: "Has Conor McGregor really bought Gorse Hill?" The official response from the agency was as follows: "We can neither confirm nor deny whether or not Conor McGregor has bought Gorse Hill."


Initially, this would seem to indicate that there could be more than a shred of truth in the rumour that the Crumlin champ with the verbal right hook has indeed acquired one of Dublin's finest homes.

But suspecting something else entirely, I asked the agents a second question: "Can you also tell me whether Leo Varadkar has bought Gorse Hill?" After an initial expression of surprise, this time the official response was: "Em, What? Well the answer is the same - we can neither confirm nor deny whether or not... em... Leo Varadkar has bought Gorse Hill."

So now the plot really thickens - might we have the possibility of an even better story: Ireland's likely next Taoiseach chipping in with McGregor on a high-brow joint acquisition of the city's best-known trophy home?

This raised more questions: how might the two get on as housemates? The greatest slugger sharing with Conor McGregor, the current UFC lightweight champ? Imagine the rows over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen or do the hoovering? So, on a hunch, I asked the estate agents yet another question: "Can you tell me whether Pope Francis has bought Gorse Hill?" And once again, the answer was (in far more resigned tones this time): "We can neither confirm nor deny..."

Wow. Given his schedule, would the Pope only be able to stay at Gorse Hill in the summer months? Would they all be allowed bring as many friends back as they wanted? Would each get his own shelf in the fridge? They wouldn't need to pay for security at least - because, as Taoiseach, Leo gets his very own guard to stand outside in the garden. So another question: "Has Bugs Bunny bought Gorse Hill?" The by-now thoroughly tormented spokesperson sighs deeply, but is a good sport. And I am told that if I am truly going to ask them whether Bugs Bunny has bought Gorse Hill, then they are legally obliged to inform me that they can neither confirm nor deny the assertion, or indeed any assertion regarding this property.

At this point I have to hold my hands up and admit to being more than a little bit facetious with the harassed media channels at the estate agency. All week, they have had to field questions from various media outlets about McGregor buying Gorse Hill (and now one each for Varadkar, the Pope and Bugs Bunny). The reason I am being facetious is that I now strongly suspect that the agency has been made sign an over-the-top confidentiality clause by the vendors (Bank of Ireland) as is happening increasingly often with the sale of high-profile homes like Gorse Hill.

When applied, super restrictive clauses prevent agents from confirming or denying even the most basic information about the sale of a property and, indeed, any assertion at all made by the media regarding it. In this case, Bank of Ireland has likely been embarrassed by the long running battle to repossess Gorse Hill, not least the spectacle of the former owner turning up at the AGM and chucking the "bloody keys" to CEO Richie Boucher.

Estate agents are bound by professional oath anyway not to reveal any details of deals or vendors or buyers as a matter of course, but the additional gagging clauses pressed by more concerned vendors in recent times can take information restrictions to a new and ridiculous level.

For example, I now ask: "Has the agency been made sign an ultra restrictive confidentiality clause in relation to the sale of Gorse Hill?" And they once again reply: "We can neither confirm nor deny…" So, with particular types of trophy homes, estate agents can't  even tell you that they can't tell you anything. "So is Gorse Hill still for sale?" And once again they say: "We can neither confirm nor deny…" However, they instruct me to take their website as a good indicator of what they are selling generally and Gorse Hill is still showing for sale.

There's no point tormenting the estate agency further to demonstrate the extent to which newly airtight confidentiality clauses restrict information regarding top-end properties. But I can tell you why it happens.

Our obsession with the most expensive trophy homes and their vendors and buyers means media attention is forever focused on such sales. This upsets both vendors and buyers of these types of homes, who are high net worth and ultra security and privacy conscious.

These buyers can be scared off purchasing if they think too much is revealed about what they might pay or where they might live. Banks and vulture funds as vendors also tend to take confidentiality to extreme degrees anyways.

But at least we know Gorse Hill has been/is on the market. What makes life even more difficult for agents is when they are instructed to sell a house without revealing it is for sale at all. So-called 'off market' secret sales are conducted behind closed doors through exclusive buyer and client lists. This happens because, post-crash, being seen to sell a trophy home at the very top end can cause people to assume you are in financial difficulty and lead to a 'run' from your creditors.

Hence, some agencies have busy 'off the books' departments charged with selling homes in secret via an exclusive contact network only. So we still can't confirm that the Notorious has bought the Notorious. Nor can we rule it out. And he might buy it now anyway just to annoy me. And up on Gorse Hill, that's still not all, folks!

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