Fractional Ownership – Exit Strategies

Fractional ownership schemes are marketed using the advantage that fraction valuations are underpinned by the value of real estate. However as soon as real estate is put into a fractional ownership scheme it will no longer be valued in the same way as it would have been as a complete unit.

When is Real Estate Not Valued as Real Estate?

Answer: When it is part of a fractional ownership scheme!

This is not always a bad thing, because resale fractions could (and sometimes have) been valued at more than their fraction of the original real estate value. However a proper exit strategy is required to cope with the possibility that the fractional valuation may be less than the value suggested by the underlying real estate.

Why is Real Estate a Good Long-Term Investment?

Real estate has proved such a reliable investment over the long term (ignoring the last year or so) because:

1. It is “produced” using a scarce/finite resource – land. This has a greater effect in crowded countries like the UK but is true to a greater or lesser extent with all locations.

2. It has an enduring utility value. Everyone needs a place to live. Even properties in typical vacation locations have this utility value, since they can be used by the support staff that are needed to run a resort.

3. Unlike most investments, you can borrow to buy it. This gives the potential benefits (and losses) of investment “gearing”.

Why Are Fractional Valuations Different?

If you compare a fractional ownership unit with the above you can see that point 1 is still true, 2 is not (or is much reduced) and 3 is difficult to achieve (perhaps more so with the recent credit problems). The fractional ownership unit will be owned with other people and probably looked after by a management company. Part of the valuation of the fraction will be based on the perceived quality of these external factors. In some circumstances these external factors could push the valuation of the fraction below that suggested by the underlying real estate value. In this case an exit strategy/contract clause is required to safeguard the fraction owners investment.

The Exit Strategy

I would personally advocate a winding-up clause in fractional ownership schemes, to enable re-alignment with the underlying real estate value after a specified number of years(if advantageous). In this case the fractional ownership scheme could only continue if all fraction owners agreed to another period of ownership.

Alternatively it would be possible to specify a clause in the fractional contract that would permit termination of the scheme with the agreement of a specified number of fraction owners.

Either of the two approaches above make sure that the investment interests of fractional owners are protected by the underlying asset value.

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