Saturday 20 July 2019

Mark Keenan: 'Why downsizing is very different for the De Burghs'

Chris de Burgh and wife Diane
Chris de Burgh and wife Diane
On the market: Bushey Park in Co Wicklow is on sale for more than €12.5m
On the market: Bushey Park in Co Wicklow, with its ‘splendid indoor pool complex’, is on sale for more than €12.5m
On the market: Bushey Park in Co Wicklow is on sale for more than €12.5m
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

The last of your adult kids has left home, you're selling up and have just discovered what a great big pain downsizing is. So imagine how much more complicated it gets if you're a globally recognised celebrity downsizer like Chris De Burgh?

The 1980s crooner made international news last week when he placed his Enniskerry mansion, Bushey Park on the market for €12.5m. In doing so, the Lady in Red singer just joined Michael Flatley and Tori Amos in Ireland's celebrity home sales stakes.

De Burgh says that, at 25,685 sq ft (the equivalent of an entire estate of 25 average semis), the house is just too much for himself and his wife Diane since his three adult children (among them former Miss World Rosanna Davison) flew the family nest. The singer songwriter bought the Georgian mansion in 1996 with 27 acres attached and now it includes a fabulous pool room (pictured) as well as a lift between floors and, de rigueur for celebs these days, a panic room with steel doors.

De Burgh launched the sales campaign internationally through Sotheby's International Realty, which in turn notified the New York Times and the Bloomberg agency. It suggests that his agents are first and foremost (initially) looking abroad for the new owner.

Michael Flatley did the same thing when he brought Castlehyde in Fermoy back to market a year ago, with the publicity breaking in the Wall Street Journal, once again suggesting that Flatley's agents were looking abroad first for a buyer.

The Castlehyde estate on the banks of the Blackwater River with 150 acres attached was originally placed for sale four years ago in 2015 seeking €20m through Knight Frank and Goffs. It has 35,000 sq ft of living accommodation with seven receptions and 12 bedroom suites and its own swimming pool and leisure centre. Castlehyde was later removed from the open market as part of a new sales strategy and then reappeared last year through Sotheby's with a much reduced €12.5m price tag - now equivalent to the price of Bushey Park. However, Castlehyde has now been removed from Sotheby's international website at this time and the agency has confirmed it is no longer selling the property. It remains to be seen whether it will re-emerge..

Meantime at a lower end of the scale the singer Tori Amos placed Ballywilliam House at Kinsale on the market in October last year seeking €1.45m through Wilsons with almost two and half acres attached. The 1816-built historic home enjoys its own freshwater beach on the banks of the Bandon River. It has a moat surrounding it and huge vaults beneath it. The house is still being advertised although a special log-in is required to see the attached marketing video.

These types of country house sales are different. As such require a completely different approach from estate agents, even compared with top end city properties. First, with celebs or high net worth individuals who inevitably live in homes like these, there's a high security protocol required.

There's no such thing as an open viewing for a home owned by someone who could draw stalkers, presents a security risk, or whose contents pose a risk from burglars. So viewers are rigidly vetted to ensure they are genuine and have the resources to buy. This alone means the process of selling becomes a much slower and more studied affair.

Four or five key estate agencies in Ireland employ country home specialists who deal at the top end of the market. Their fields of knowledge and expertise must cross over seamlessly between heritage architecture, restoration, history, genealogy (many homes come with long dynastic histories), equestrian affairs, fishing rights, the Irish hunting scene and mainstream farming - all factors which can affect demand for top-end country homes. There's also a requirement to be tuned in to the hospitality sector and chains looking to open a new country house hotel or wedding venue.

These experts are experienced in playing the much longer game required to sell such properties. Usually they will link up with a British-based international network like Sotheby's or Knight Frank in London, themselves with country home experts on the staff with an international contacts book brimful of borderless high-end home hunters from around the globe.

While the owner of an average home should look at reducing the price if the house remains unsold after eight weeks, a top-end Irish country house property with land attached should generally be left to sit for 18 months before any changes are made. Two years is not uncommon.

Take the sale campaign for the late Tony Ryan's Lyons Demesne in Co Kildare. With 600 acres attached, it was first placed for sale in 2009 for a staggering €60m. But there were no takers. Eventually the agents Knight Frank and Christies cut that price in half, to a still substantial €30m and then in 2012 moved it down to €25m.

Eventually in 2014 it was announced that a sale had been agreed with a US businessman for €25m. But by May of that year, it was reported that the deal had fallen through and that the Ryan family had quietly removed the Lyons Demesne from the public market.

Although Irish buyers comprise about 60 to 70pc of big country home purchases, the international market is where the 'goldilocks' buyer is to be found. This could be a wealthy American with local ancestral links or a Middle Easterner keen on bloodstock, who simply wants this one house and price is not an issue.

Teasing out the 'goldilocks' buyer, wherever they might be in the world, is the first step in selling a property like Bushey Park or Castlehyde, and De Burgh's €12.5m price an be viewed as an opening pitch to this market. Britain is more important now thanks to Brexit. But the USA, Germany and even Asia are equally vital when it comes to finding an early purchaser for a house and estate like this one.

Whether Bushey Park raises this weighty bushel abroad remains to be seen. But Irish buyers in this market tend to wait it out longest. And ultimately, statistics suggest that a home grown bidder is most likely to take the keys.

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