The sell-off of trophy assets in Paul Kemsleys 500 million property empire began yesterday as the former headquarters of Burberry in London was put on the market with a price tag of 20 million.
The sale marks the start of what PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the administrator for Rock Investment Holdings and Rock Joint Ventures, estimates will be a two-year process to offload properties in the tycoons portfolio, after its appointment in May.
Mr Kemsley, a former vice-chairman of Tottenham Hotspur whose CV includes appearances on Sir Alan Sugars The Apprentice, has amassed 40 properties in the UK, two office blocks in New York and a development in Turkey since setting up the group in 1995.
However, his portfolio, which includes the freehold to Selhurst Park stadium, home to Crystal Palace Football Club, as well as the Regency Arcade in Leamington Spa, has been decimated by the fall in commercial property values in the past two years.
The sale of the Grade II-listed Burberry building on Haymarket will be viewed as a sign of growing market confidence and may encourage other owners of troubled assets to capitalise on increasing demand for distressed commercial property from foreign and domestic investors.
The administrator had said that it would hold Rocks assets until market conditions improved. Commercial property values rose by 1.8 per cent in September, the biggest monthly increase for three years, according to the Investment Property Databank, fuelled by a shortage of offices, shops and industrial units.
PwC is marketing the Burberry building with Jones Lang LaSalle, the property agent appointed by the Rock Group, and said that it had received interest already from a number of potential bidders.
Barry Gilbertson, real estate partner at PwC, said that he also anticipated a lot of interest in the freehold to the Crystal Palace ground, which is not yet on the market.
Although eight buildings worth less than 1 million each have been sold from Kemsleys portfolio in the past five months, PwC said that the market conditions were suitable only now for selling big ticket assets such as the Burberry building, because of the high demand relative to short supply.
Mr Gilbertson said: We said we would take a hold view as our default position on the portfolio. However, we thought that this building would appeal to investors in the current market. We anticipate a foreign buyer, as there is a large amount of interest from abroad at the moment because of the weakness of the pound.
Billions of pounds have been raised by foreign and domestic investment funds with the intention of snapping up cheap commercial property. CBRE, the property consultancy, said yesterday that 82 per cent of investment in office blocks in Central London came from abroad in the last quarter, the highest proportion it had recorded. Goldman Sachs is the latest large fund to confirm earmarking equity for property investment. The banks real estate division, headed by Ed Siskind, said yesterday that it had set aside $6 billion (3.6 billion), some of which it would use to buy British property.
British Land signalled its interest in buying assets in the West End of London yesterday with the purchase of 39 Victoria Street, home to the Labour Party and lastminute.com, from Aviva Investors for 40.25 million. It is thought that the purchase is the biggest acquisition by a big UK Real Estate Investment Trust in the West End since the beginning of the credit crunch.
Rock Group bought the Burberry building from the luxury fashion retailer for 30 million at the peak of the market in June 2007. Burberry vacated the premises in March to move to Horseferry House in Westminster. The building has since been let to Sports Direct on a short-term lease, but Jones Lang LaSalle said that it would be sold with vacant possession.
Mr Gilbertson said: The sale provides potential buyers with an incredible chance to secure a very rare thing in the West End the freehold of a prestigious property, with tremendous development opportunities, just at a time when the international real estate market is starved of quality.