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Only the beginning of great sell-off by Ulster Bank

HIBERNIA REIT is out of the traps to become the second Irish real estate investment trust to buy property loans here, but the big news is that Ulster Bank is the seller.

Ulster Bank has upwards of €3bn worth of property loans here which it has committed to remove from its books as part of a restructuring mandated by its parent, Royal Bank of Scotland.

The bank is widely expected to sell about a third of that this year but had not done any deals up to this point.

Now that the first sale is out of the way though, we can expect a lot more to come. Ulster Bank was one of the biggest lenders in Ireland during the boom, as the company pushed harder for big profits. This worked for a while but we all know what the end result was.

Famously, it financed Sean Dunne's purchase of the Berkeley Court and Jurys Hotels in Ballsbridge in 2005 – a deal which made that land more valuable than property in the heart of Manhattan.

Dunne's plans for a €1bn skyscraper on the land never came to fruition, and he has since filed for bankruptcy in the US.

With UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne pushing for a quick solution to Ulster Bank's problems, the bank is now pursuing a much tighter timeframe for selling its loans and properties than had been previously expected.

Ulster is one of the biggest property owners in the country and, at a time when activity in the commercial property sector is at a five-year high, the time is ripe for much of this portfolio to be formally put on the market.

The bank is understood to be splitting its properties and property loans into tranches, rather than selling things off individually.

Having said that, there are still going to be deals similar to this one – relatively small in value but covering a lot of different properties.

The great UIster Bank sell-off is only beginning.

Irish Independent