Buying investment property overseas can be extremely tricky. Not being from a place means you don’t have the benefit of local knowledge about the investment itself or the suppliers you are dealing with. Add to that complicated tax and visa regulations and you can see how it can become problematic. Seasoned property investor, Lisa Bathurst, has made it her business to assist foreign buyers negotiate the hurdles of purchasing property abroad, whether they’re South African buying in Europe or the UK, or foreign nationals buying in Cape Town. Over the years this tenacious and hard-working former model has made her mark on the property market through her boutique global real estate advisory based in Cape Town, Hurst & Wills.
Born in a small town in Lancashire, Northern England, Lisa left home when she was 18 to pursue what became a successful international modelling career. Modelling took her to exotic locations around Europe and Asia, fuelling her passion for travel. When she bought her first apartment in Manchester at 19 years old, which she renovated and sold for double the price, she discovered her passion for property. “I started investing in property, buying houses in the North of the UK, renovating and developing. This soon became an international calling, and I began making investments worldwide,” says Bathurst.
Like many before her, after a visit to Cape Town she’d found her home and moved to the city in 2010. “When I bought my first property in Cape Town, I felt that the foreign buyer was not represented fairly,” she says. “Independent advice was discouraged, and I was only shown properties that were obviously over-priced. The process was excessively complicated and dominated by a handful of suppliers. It reminded me of my previous experiences purchasing foreign property. I decided to use my local and international experience to assist foreign buyers in Cape Town.”
However, with on-going economic and political uncertainty, more and more South African investors began contacting her for assistance purchasing investment property abroad, prompting Lisa to launch an offshore division of Hurst & Wills for SA investors in 2015.
“The same principles apply wherever you are buying,” says Bathurst. “The complexities of foreign property searching, purchasing, investing and being an overseas landlord are the same across continents.” Hurst & Wills focuses on Northern England cities like Manchester and Birmingham, and European cities like Lisbon and Porto, that still offer reasonably priced, good investment properties, perfect for South African buyers. “My personal experience spans the globe, but a majority of my personal portfolio is invested in South Africa and Europe. With a 20-year investment history in the UK, that was a natural first step. Being from there with 20 years of contacts has also been extremely beneficial,” she says.
“Most property specialists represent the seller, I felt it was time to change that. Buying property overseas is a minefield and you do need guidance and local expertise to make sure you put your money in the right place. What makes our team special is that we are independent and not tied to any one developer. We work for the buyer, offering buyers good, tailored advice – backed up by years of personal experience – as they negotiate the complicated process of buying property abroad,” says Bathurst.
Bathurst now spends a good part of her year travelling to personally assess all the developments on offer to Hurst & Wills clients. “In my experience I’ve found that they key to success in international property is choosing reputable developers and agents,” she says. “Hurst & Wills only works with partners that are credible and pass our strict due diligence, such as being in business a certain number of years and having a proven history and track record. I only sell developments that I have physically been to and vetted,” she says. “We work with several developers and sellers, so we’re able to match clients to the best property for them, in line with their personal objectives and wealth strategy.
“The most rewarding part of my job is when the paperwork is done and the client receives their title,” she says. “They are always very happy and grateful for the hand-hold through the complex process. This is especially rewarding for clients who have had the misfortune of a bad experience in the past, which sadly many have. South Africans are vulnerable in the global market and developers have preyed on that, with some devastating results. When those clients sit in my office recalling their stories, but with the admirable optimism of trying again, I am deeply motivated to find them the best property and help them kick start a great portfolio,” says Bathurst.
“When it comes to buying property, the best advice hasn’t changed: location, location, location. That is why spending time in the city, or working closely with someone who has, is imperative. Foreigners do not understand the nuanced difference between neighbourhoods that could be separated by only one street. One side is popular and easy to rent out, the other not. That is part of the independent advice we can offer,” she says. “Also, choose properties that are hands-off and well managed. You don’t want to get a call at 3am about a leaky tap when you’re 10,000kms away.”