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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Dutch Commercial and Residential Real Estate drama: fighting a losing battle against fraudulent investment funds and overindebted, unwilling consumers.


Today I want to share three stories that each in its own right, are tell-tale signals on the sorry state of the Commercial and Residential Real Estate market in The Netherlands. All stories are coming from (the paper version of) Het Financieele Dagblad (www.fd.nl):


Investors should be aware of suppliers that offer unlisted real estate funds. These funds are often involved in fraudulent and deceptive actions. This is stated by managing director René Maatman of the Authority Financial Market (AFM).

The official supervisor ascertains that investors are often not informed on problems within the fund and marks over 25% of the eighty funds as ‘suspect’. The supervisor is using its power of authority against at least eight of those funds to challenge the discovered abuses.

The AFM can’t yet disclose which parties are involved: ‘The investigations are in different phases now, but within a number of months some names will be revealed’.

The real estate-industry suffers from (structural) vacancy and renegotiated renting contracts that are continued against much lower rents. On top of that, funds suffer from refinancing problems for their (leveraged) investments. This leads to investors running a much bigger risk than originally stated by the funds, while forecasted yields for the investors are not realized. Many of those funds are in dire straits. And Dutch investors invested not less than €5 bln in unlisted real estate funds.

Maatman emphasizes that actually nothing is wrong with aggravated risk by itself. ´Our concern is that investors are informed of this elevated risk. They must know what their money is used for´.  Currently, it happens occasionally that fund managers transfer funds to sister companies-in-need, without informing the investors. Or that money is forwarded as a third-party investment, without a guarantee that it will be reimbursed.

These debaucheries are not only established at little, mediocre player in the CRE-market, according to the AFM. ´Investors cannot simply trust in the decency of the big fund names´, according to Maatman. On his suspects list are small as well as large suppliers of Real Estate funds.

Large parts of the CRE funds industry are officially exempted from AFM supervision, as their minimal investment is €50,000. Therefore the AFM cooperates for this investigation with the Dutch National Bank DNB and with the fiscal criminal investigation department (FIOD).

For investment funds, the threshold for being subject to supervision by the AFM is currently below €50,000. That will be €100,000 as of January 1, 2012. People that invest above these amounts are considered to be ´intelligent and streetwise enough to do their own fact-checking´. That this consideration is rather wishful thinking than reality, is proved by the large number of wealthy investors that lost massive amounts of money on fraudulent funds in the past. These fraudulent funds were not only involved in Dutch Real Estate, but also in exotic investments like teakwood plantations in Costa Rica, the palm islands of Dubai or Real Estate in Qatar. 

The higher the estimated yields were of these investment funds, the more willing rich investors were to switch off their brains and invest at the smooth-talking fund managers, with the expensive rides, the yachts and the golden, Swiss watches.

Although you can´t say that only real estate funds are involved in fraudulent or deceptive investments, there is an over-representation of this industry in investment fraud.

Housing development unexpectedly low (no link available)

Sales of newly built houses are increasingly caving in. In October, only 1189 new houses were sold, according to the Dutch Association for Developers and Building entrepreneurs (NVB).

In September, this number was still 1490 and during the three previous months this number was above 1500. ´We were taken off guard by this number´, according to NVB chairman Nico Rietdijk.

The economic malaise and insecurity seem increasingly serious. Last Thursday during an NVB symposium, Rietdijk assumed sales to be between 1200 to 1400 per month for Q4. On Friday, Rietdijk lowered his estimate to below 1000 houses per month for November and December. 

In October 2006, housing sales were 4000 houses and in October 2009, sales were still 1662 houses.

I wrote so many lines on the utter stupidity of Dutch politics, concerning the Dutch housing and mortgage market and the MID (Mortgage Interest Deduction), that I don´t deem it necessary to do it one more time (see the article list at the bottom of this article). This article speaks volumes about the sorry state of the Dutch housing market and so does the next article:

Higher mortgage for couples (no link available)

Next year, couples with a double income can borrow more money when they want to buy a house. The National Mortgage Guarantee (NHG) is going to loosen the conditions, according to the Guarantee Fund Owned Houses (WEW). Especially lower incomes can borrow more money. ´The extra leeway can mount to €30,000 for couples with two €20,000 per year salaries´, according to Karel Schiffer, managing director of the WEW.

Based on the latest advice of the NIBUD (The Dutch Institute for Budget Education), the income of the lowest earning partner can count for one-third in deciding the maximum mortgage amount. Until now, only the salary of the highest earning partner was used in this calculation.

The change is mainly affecting the lowest incomes and not so much the higher incomes. Couples with double incomes can currently borrow €149,000, but under the new rules this increases to €180,000.

The NIBUD lowered the housing budget for singles. Due to the new rules, these can spend less income on housing.
This kind of behavior by Dutch authorities and semi-governmental institutes, like the WEW,  is almost criminal.

Instead of letting the Dutch housing market do its cleansing work with price and debt destruction as a consequence of dropping demand, these institutes motivate couples in vulnerable categories (young and with a low income) to put their head in the gallows by borrowing more money than they can afford for a much too expensive house.

When the female partner gets pregnant (which young females tend to do after starting to live together) or when one of the partners loses his/her job, this is the start of financial misery and forced austerity for these young families.


This article proofs once more that ´Extend and pretend´ is still the name of the game in the Dutch housing market. Why would you admit that Dutch houses are hopelessly overpriced, when you still can put salve on the wound and hope for the best. That is what we have been doing for almost five years now, so why would we change that?!

Inquiring minds should read also:

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