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The country's most exclusive 'ghost estate'

A home in the K Club was once the ultimate trophy asset but today many who acquired them are unable to sell up and find themselves stuck in Ireland's most exclusive ghost estate.

Ireland's rich and famous were among the first big spenders to acquire houses and apartments built around the Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses at packaging tycoon Michael Smurfit's hotel and golf resort. Mr Smurfit and other member of his family wanted to use this base for entertaining and networking and many of his friends and business associates followed suit.

Billionaire financier, Dermot Desmond invested in a property at the exclusive development and soon his neighbours included Dublin solicitor and property developer Noel Smith and former European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. Property developers Sean Dunne and Sean Mulryan also bought homes at the K Club, as did businessman Ben Dunne, Boyzone's Ronan Keating and internet entrepreneur and Dragon's Den star Sarah Newman and her partner DJ Carey, the Kilkenny hurling legend.

It was the place to be and to be seen in the boom times. Indeed it became even more desirable when it was picked as the venue to host the 2006 Ryder Cup and hundreds of newly-minted golfers and property investors scrambled to buy there. It looked like a good investment as they hoped they would have plenty of visitors to the world famous course who would pay a handsome rent to stay there while playing a few rounds of golf.

Mr Smurfit and his partner at the K Club, developer Gerry Gannon, sold more than €150m worth of houses and apartments built on its 550 acres in Kildare at the height of the boom. A range of different types of properties were offered in four developments -- The Courtyard, Churchfields, Ladycastle and the Ryder Cup Village -- that ranged in price from between €1m and over €5m, with buyers easy to find.

Five years on, everything has changed. The K Club itself is shouldering huge losses as international business has dried up. Mr Gannon's property empire has crumbled under massive debts and has been transferred to Ireland's bad bank. In the meantime, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) is handling Mr Gannon's assets, that include his 49pc share of the K Club.

All around the resort the impact of the property crash is evident. One resident says few people live there permanently and the place often looks deserted.

"It is very private, very secure and extremely quiet. There are few people actually living here."

The trophy investments are well and truly tarnished, and banks and even NAMA have begun to take over some of the loans used to purchase homes at the K Club from financially distressed borrowers.

This week the loan for Sean Mulryan's K Club apartment in Ladycastle went into NAMA. The property was purchased through a company called Peltier Investments, which valued it at €2m.

Ms Newman's properties also featured earlier this month when AIB ordered that she and Mr Carey repay almost €9.5m they owe to the bank. The Commercial Court heard that €8m of that money relates to a mortgage on two properties at Ladycastle, which the bank may take as part payment for the debt.

Those who borrowed heavily to buy these homes are now facing huge losses as the price of houses and apartments at the golf resort has fallen in line with the slump and are down as much as 50pc.

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Almost 20 properties at the K Club are currently advertised for sale on myhome.ie alone and many have been on the site for months

They range from a two-bed apartment at the Garden Courtyard, which is offered at €249,500, while a large three-bedroom detached house in Ladycastle is for sale for €1.75m. Most of the properties on the market are in the Ladycastle and Ryder Cup Village, which were amongst the newer stock of homes built there and were bought at the height of the market.

As an inducement, some of the sellers are offering life memberships of the K Club, worth €85,000, as well as international membership worth $25,000 (€17,500) as part of the deal. Many other homes are being sold by other agents. But buyers are not biting. A local auctioneer says he hasn't heard of a property being sold there for a very long time.

The expensive annual service charges associated with each of the properties, together with the annual membership fee of around €7,000 which goes with each property, is mentioned as adding to these seller's woes and can amount to as much as €25,000 a year.

Dunne and Keating were amongst the few who managed to sell their properties when things were booming. Those who are under pressure from the banks and need to sell now are deep in the rough. Their dream investment has become a nightmare.


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