Le Jardin de Fleur (Saïdia)
Le Jardin De Fleur was supposed to be the flagship development within the macro-complex Mediterrania-Saïdia in turn one of the prototype state-of-the-art resorts planned under the umbrella of the Plan Azur 2010 tourism and infrastructures programs designed to quadruple the number of tourist to Morocco.
LJDF was, indeed, an ambitious project that even won some prestigious design awards. It’s variety of apartments, townhouses, villas and Riad style villas all built over 11 different plots ascended to 1342 units. The project also made a provision for in-house facilities such as sporting infrastructure, spas together with cafés and restaurants in addition to that available at the overall resort per se. In those boom years of the first decade of the 21st Century it naturally attracted a good number of International Investors and Private buyers with considerable success.
With the onset of the World Financial Crisis building works stopped in 2009 as it seemed that some of their funding partners went bankrupt and nothing has been done on the building front since then as the developer have found it difficult to raise finance despite impressive associations with leading players in the field and subsequent near misses. 2009 was also the very same year the King of Morocco, HM Mohammed VI, officially opened the rest of the macro-project which had and still has his backing. You have to feel for the Moroccan authorities who have fervently supported the launch of their country as a first class tourist and residential destination and to see some foreign developers, as it is not the only case, start and stop in mid-flight leaving thousands of bona-fide investors stranded coupled with the cost in image for the country as a whole.
Developers Property Logic had a clever marketing strategy, we all thought it a masterstroke at the time getting high-profile premiership players such as John Terry and Rio Ferdinand amongst others to do promotional work for them in return for discounted properties at LJDF worked at first but backfired later. It must have proven very embarrassing for the players so much so that the story was featured in an article in the Daily Mail in April 2013. The developer also collected considerable sums from off-plan deposits paid by buyers, a good number of them British including 25 footballers mentioned but there were other nationalities too. All of them are now with nothing to show for their investment and a great deal of frustration.
Property Logic published their last update also in April 2013 in all probability provoked by the newspaper article. This humble blogger has also tried to contact Sean Cusack, one of the directors there without success. The only information I have is what it’s published together with what I see on the ground in Saïdia and comments made by investors and buyers.
In the newsletter the developer admits that about 50 buyers have taken legal action in Morocco against them and insist that they are going to finish the development. They claim to have invested 10.5 million Euros with 60 or so million provided by the buyers in off-plan deposits. Two thirds of the 70 million went towards land purchase, construction and licenses with the rest going into design, marketing, sales and agent’s commissions.
The 10.5 million euro said to have been invested by the developer, was according to the update, invested by Estonian businessman, Margus Reinsalu through his company KC Group who are also active in other developments in Brazil. There are two further partners involved in Property Logic according to the April 2013 newsletter, the aforementioned Sean Cusack and one Joop Huisman. As KC’s initial loan was not repaid they took over the majority of the shares according to a certain 2009 agreement when building stopped. However Cusack and Huisman appear to still have the option of to reclaim their original equal 2.6 million euro stake in the venture. Property Logic Invest (Spain) also has equal interests in the project with KC, Cusack and Huisman as members of the board.
The Mediterrania-Saïdia resort as a whole is about 45% complete as we write in October 2013. It is now under the control of CDG an important Moroccan Company specialized in the field who intend to finish off the resort including the 9 luxury hotels originally planned. At present there are only 3 hotels operating but they have not fulfilled their intended grand role to cater for the international jet set with many that would have arrived in their luxury yachts at the Marina from places like Monaco and Marbella. Just one look at the hotels gives an indication of how things have changed for the worse. They close their doors in winter and its summer clientele are tour groups and civil servant from nearby Melilla on weekend outings. 50 or 60 euro all in will give you a stay in a supposedly five star grand luxe, gin tonics in plastic cups notwithstanding.
At the very least both Reinsalu and CDG are saying that they intend to finish off their respective projects. Obviously CDG have it easier as they are one of the biggest operators in Morocco and still have the backing of the government and the Monarch. Nevertheless Property Logic are keeping their clients informed from time to time even if it is to say that they have nearly missed yet another important funding scenario or that they have joined up forces with some big fish investor from a far off land. Credit has to be given to them though which is more than you can say for other foreign investors/developers.
If you are a disgruntled investor in LJDF what are your options?
1.) Sit pretty and hope that PL’s messages become a reality that is to say you are going to finally get the property you’ve bought. Better late than never as they say.
2.) Politely ask for a refund that you are not going to get. No money.
3.) The logical antidote for this type of situation, not the panacea but at least you will be protected is to take legal action and get a Moroccan Court to allow for a lien to be inserted against the assets of Property Logic Morocco. This is a type of preventive embargo that will secure your rights if there are any negative official movements against PL, exactly what the 50 or so people that the newsletter mentioned did, they will not get their money back immediately but they have their name officially recognized as a creditor. For more information about legal action see my articles of August 2013 at the beginning of the blog.
The worst case scenario would be that any potential negative official movements bypass the original buyers. A lien will safeguard your interests as the hypothetical new owners would need to take creditors legally into consideration before they do anything else. Let’s hope that this doesn’t happen, for everybody’s sake including Property Logic themselves.
Property Logic Newsletter 05.04.2013
The Daily Mail
Getting a mortgage in Morocco has never been easy for foreigners whether they were residents or not. As in many other areas the cultural gap always seems to creep up. Must be this innate Moroccan ability to charm birds off tress but even in the best of times (2005-2007) the hour of truth always imposed itself and all the previous promises from banks, developers and agents alike went from the original ne pas de problèmes to a straight non. Many investors thought that when they got their letters of intent from their bank that was it but alas this is another world and paper doesn’t necessarily hold water (o promises) here. Ask the many distressed developers who attained fantastic promises of finance in writing with the honest intention of perhaps also making it extensive to their clients and see, just see how it all came to nothing.
For this modest writer there has never been a credit crunch for private individuals in Morocco simply because there has never been credit! At least my long and personal experience says so. Put it this way, banks or any other institution for that matter are not really there to help (and then help themselves in a macroeconomic way), the whole scene works how can I say, in a more… micro way.
This has been real life for me but let’s see how Bloomberg, obviously more concerned about the really big boys, described Morocco’s so called “credit crunch”. So… if Bloomberg says so it must be true. I have to be honest I never got near these players so I couldn’t say, but have my doubts though. In an article that appeared in January 2013 but probably still applies today (September 2013). The first very surprising paragraph bluntly tells us that Morocco’s drive to emulate Dubai’s by turning itself into a playground for rich Europeans was halted due to the lack of investment in the luxury resorts as from the beginning of the global financial crisis as “cash strapped” banks (my inverted commas – I know I’m a tough nut) were hit. This is partially true, Morocco’s Plans Azurs; that is government tourist development and infrastructure plans, had that aim but making comparisons with Dubai and putting the spotlight on the banks is going a bit too far. More to do with the aforementioned financial crisis and how it affected everybody I would say.
The figures are there, the country’s tourist visits climbed to 9.3MM in 2011, very close to the projected 10MM under Plan Azur 2010 but, and here is the but… 83% of those visitors were from Europe who were specially hit by recession in their own countries immediately after that. In any case, I’m pretty sure that the bulk of the aforementioned tourists were that, tourists per se and not necessarily international investors or individual buyers. I am pretty sure that the buyers stopped coming around 2008/9.
Nonetheless, Bloomberg did confirm that homebuyers and companies grew at the lowest pace in a decade last year (2011) through to November according to Central Bank data in September (2012). But grew nonetheless which is shocking but what Bloomberg doesn’t say is who these homebuyers and companies are whether domestic or international. They add that due to this, said Central Bank allowed its supervised banks to reduce reserves to increase liquidity or money in circulation, which in itself is a contradiction in balance sheet terms.
Morocco, like Dubai (here we go again) was in the midst of a major tourist expansion when the global financial crisis stuck, causing investment to tumble, affecting property developers with banks and investors increasing their Real Estate debt. Big boy developer finance apparently surged in the two years before the market stalled in 2009 and with much of the debt maturing this year (2013) it will initiatively lead to the usual vicious circle of distressed property offloads a la southern European and bank balance sheets full of nasty bad and doubtful debts. Bloomberg innocently calls this outcome “property sales”. You bet…
So here we appear to have a certain overexposure to commercial real estate mainly tourism-related which will limit bank advances in 2013 coupled with the fact that the Moroccan market isn’t mature enough to recover all these projects which in themselves are too big and ambitious to be completed by Moroccan players. And… there is no EU to come to the rescue.
Mortgages peaked at 57% in the first 11 months of 2007 and lending to developers jumped almost six-fold in that period (I must have lived in a different planet – how scary) but according to Central Bank data and like in Dubai (uugggg) projects stalled in the midst of the great US housing slump and the subsequent ignition of the global crisis.
Here is another one: The Arab spring caused mayhem in a number of North African countries but thankfully left Morocco aside but nevertheless the country paid a certain price with economic growth slowing to 2.9% in 2012 as compared with 4.9% in 2011. In addition to this we had Morocco’s chronic decease, droughts, which caused agricultural output to drop by 8.4% in the third quarter of 2012 which obviously had an effect on the country’s trade deficit, down 11.9% in November.
Like in those economies once highly dependent in Property and Tourism such as those of southern Europe we apparently have a situation of overexposed banks in the real estate sector whose priority in to complete those projects they are already involved in and forget everything else. Unfortunately for the banks those Projects were mainly targeted to foreigners that have simply stopped investing.
The Plan Azur 2010 provided for the building of six mega-resorts together with the infrastructure around them. The crisis prompted foreign investors to look for an exit halting further development. Amongst those projects was Mediterrania-Saïdia, the only one by the Med, as the rest were planned for the shores of the Atlantic. What should really have been the playground of the jet setting rich shuttling to its 800+ berth marina from relatively nearby Marbella has become semi deserted with only 3 of its 9 luxury hotels operating and that in turn are now relegated to cater for Spaniards from the enclave of Melilla a few kilometers away on super budget weekends all in.
The Central bank also say some, for me, very puzzling things. Like for example that private sector lending increased (yes increased) by 2.8% the lowest rate since 2002 when it was 1% with loans for housing rising 6.8% for the eleven months through November again the smallest increase since 2002. The reserve ratio of banks was thus cut from 4% to 2% to counteract “liquidity shortage”. Almost needless to say, banks now have a very selective (if at all) approach to request for funding.
In its heyday mortgage rates ranged from 5.5% to 6.75% whilst developers offered finance at rates ranging from 6.21% to 7.75%. However I have met very few foreign clients that have obtained finance from banks, promises yes, finance no, and certainly none that have got it from developers.
Obviously developers as at today (2013) have totally rationalized their approach to building mostly to pay off or restructure their loans as they mature. The general bottom line is to offload their assets before they get in even more trouble.
Another thing altogether is the incentives offered by the Moroccan Government to encourage the building of low cost subsidized housing in a nation of 32MM people. FOGARIM is a state fund that guaranteed mortgages as long as 25 years for low-income workers. The loans cover as much a 100% of the purchase price applied to homes that don’t exceed 200,000 Dirham.
Spanish developer Fadesa, the original Fadesa that is, who were awarded for a song the Mediterrania-Saïdia Plan Azur project by the government in 2003 was also asked in return to contribute to the building of social housing as well as the improvement of general infrastructure and even a clinic in Saïdia town. Le Jardins de Moulouya a complex of over 22 hectares and only 1Km from the beach were thus built under this umbrella. This idea was quickly picked up by the relative higher earning Moroccan expatriate workers in Europe who saw it as an investment opportunity. The idea was good and well intentioned but like many other things it may not have achieved its aim.
Coming back to the King backed Plan Azur 2010 which came under the wing of Vision 2010 tourism strategy originally sought to more than double the number of visitor beds to 230,000 up to 2010 only achieved under half that amount when the crisis started in 2008 starving the market of takers. Needless to say the six mega resorts under the plan suffered the consequences of this scenario with about half now being built. We are now in a position where the government has to reset the Vision and make it 2020 to meet the goal.
Property owners in some parts of the kingdom including Marrakech are facing the value of their properties, many in semi deserted resorts with relative unused golf courses going down in price with villas now at 50 or even 70% of their original “happy days” price. Some homes in the centre of “can’t go wrong” Marrakech that were priced at 20,000 Dirham per square metre can now be bought for about 12,000 or even as low as 8,000 Dirham per square metre.
However, the Taghazout Plan Azur Atlantic coast project has now been restarted under the new Plan Azur 2020 with a new goal to double tourists by that year according to the government. It remains to be seen how the present signs of recovery in Europe, Morocco’s main source of visitors, will affect the revival of the Kingdom’s tourist industry since France, Spain and Italy provided the bulk of pre-crisis visitors and potential investors.
The customers have changed, there are fewer foreigners buying but this is cyclical and one would hope the trend will change, say some experts in Morocco but… Will it ever be the same again?
The bulk of this piece is taken with permission from the Bloomberg article of January 2013 with my own comments thrown in, mainly to balance up some data typically offered by foreign journalist from their Kuwait desks.
I cannot offer a firm conclusion of how things will evolve with the Moroccan tourist and real estate market because I am still not sure even that I try to get as much information as I can. To offer a firm forecast would be misleading and commentators should know better. One hope is Europe’s recovery in the next few years but I would tend to think that people have learnt their lesson by now. It will be stupid to hope for the riches of the good years but this goes for Europe too.