FOUR REPORTS FOLLOWING INSPECTION VISITS AT THE INVITATION OF DOLPHIN TRUST GMBH FOR THE DOLPHIN GERMAN LISTED PROPERTY INVESTMENT
Leipzig: Inspection Visit On 12 July 2013
As a key account promoter of the German Listed Property investment from Dolphin Capital GmbH (which rebranded as Dolphin Trust GmbH in 2015), on behalf of SIPPclub members, I was invited on 12 July 2013 on an inspection visit to meet some of the people behind the company, to obtain a far more detailed understanding of how it works, and to see the work being undertaken.
I was delighted to accept the invitation on two counts:
1. From An Investment Perspective
Having been involved in financial services for 34 years, I know money is complicated. Yet this is a very simple lending opportunity. So what’s really going on ‘underneath the bonnet’?
2. From An Architectural Perspective
With an honours degree in Architecture, I’ve lived in a number of listed buildings, all of which I’ve restored. Along with my wife, Terry, we currently live in a 15th Century Grade II Listed country house that we’ve restored to a very high standard. So how do they do it in Germany?
German Listed Property from Dolphin Trust GmbH
- Short term property-backed loan
- 2 and 5 year term options
- Income option pays interest six monthly
- Growth option attracts a terminal bonus
- First legal charge on the asset
- Proven track record
- Full Due Diligence pack available
- The asset class is German Listed Property
- Approved for SIPP and Cash
A Brief Description
With the highest credit rating, Dolphin Trust GmbH is one of Germany’s largest and most respected real estate developers, focusing on the renovation of listed buildings. It’s a simple loan note structure. Money is lent to provide a ‘cash fund’ for the purpose of acquiring listed buildings significantly below market value. The investor’s loan is secured with a first legal charge on the property. The buildings are renovated into high specification apartments, which are sold to German nationals who pay high rate tax.
The Purpose Of My Visit
Dolphin had already provided SIPPclub with an astounding number of due diligence documents, all of which are available in the Members Area. Having studied them in great detail, my aim was to establish whether what was presented was indeed a true and honest reflection of the documents.
As a ‘fully paid up cynic’ who’s seen a variety of financial scams over the years, in my experience, sales and marketing documents from all manner of regulated and non-regulated investment providers are often ‘big on the advantages’ and ‘small on the detail’.
So in addition to my list of very detailed questions, I wanted answers to five big questions:
My Five Big Questions
1. As there have been a number of high profile property based investments that are ‘pure fiction’, do these properties actually exist?
2. The investment stacks up if properties are acquired very cheaply, but are significant discounts of up to 80 per cent plus really possible?
3. In the UK, there a relatively few listed buildings, so how big is the German listed building market?
4. How does it work end-to-end, not just to the point the loans are repaid, but right through to the final purchase of the apartments by the German nationals?
5. It all sounds really plausible, but who are the people behind Dolphin and what is their pedigree?
A Detailed Financial Analysis
The day began in a beautifully restored listed villa serving as Dolphin’s Leipzig office. Dolphin has a number of offices across Germany, with its head office located in Hannover.
Presenting the facts and figures was Mike O’Dwyer, an Associate based in Dolphin’s UK head office in Birmingham. Assisting him was Stephen O’Reilly, a Client Relations manager based in Dolphin’s Irish head office in Cork.
Dolphin is a truly international company with offices throughout Germany, the UK, Ireland and an Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. All of these locations provide the investment money for the property renovations.
As the morning progressed, alongside a small number of other UK investment promoters and Dolphin clients, all of my detailed questions were answered with clarity, speed and knowledge. With my years of experience, I tried my best to find any cracks, but despite my best attempts, and those of others too, we were all fully satisfied with what we heard.
I will illustrate what I learned with an example.
An Example To Show How The Process Works
Typically, Dolphin acquires properties that comprise around 8 to 20 apartments, although they’ve just secured an incredible site in the centre of Berlin for €25 million that’s absolutely massive.
Let’s assume one apartment has a value of €30,000, representing 80 per cent below market value. The €30,000 to acquire the property is provided by a loan from a UK national.
The loan is placed into a German lawyer’s client account, with an independent trustee taking responsibility for ensuring the first charge security is registered correctly.
At no time does the loan enter Dolphin’s bank account, so the directors of Dolphin are unable to ‘raid the account’, as has been the case in a number of high profile investment scams.
No property is ever acquired without the necessary finance for the apartments having been earlier approved for purchase by high rate tax paying German nationals. These are generally professionals, such as accountants, solicitors, medics and higher earning employees. Germany has scrapped all other tax incentives, such as film partnerships and alternative energy products, with listed building refurbishments remaining as the only tax incentive.
When they buy a listed building, German nationals qualify for a Government approved tax break. It gives them up to 100 per cent relief on the total cost of the refurbishment work, spread out over a 12 year period. This encourages long term investment in property, unlike the UK, where “buy, improve, sell” arguably contributes to house price inflation and the problems of boom and bust. No such issue occurs in Germany, where renters typically take tenancies for 10 to 20 years, so the interests of both property owners and tenants are perfectly aligned.
For such a scheme, and in such a stable property market, German nationals can obtain 100 per cent mortgages on listed buildings. They are not dissimilar to our self-build mortgages, where money is released in stages during the renovation process. The initial drawdown is 30 per cent of the market valuation. So let’s return to our example.
The loan from the UK investor is €30,000. The first release from the German national’s mortgage is 30 per cent of the market valuation of €150,000. A sum of €45,000. It’s paid into the German lawyer’s bank account.
This €45,000 is used to repay the investor, together with their interest. As the investor has been repaid, the charge on the security is released. The balance of the mortgage money is passed to Dolphin to begin the renovation.
At this point, the investor is ‘out’.
Loan returned. High interest banked. Job done!
But I wanted to understand the whole process from end to end, for unless all the parties get what they each want, the opportunity will fail at some point.
Shortly after the initial works have begun, further mortgage releases come through, which are more than sufficient to cover the cost of renovation works.
Interestingly, a couple of further tax incentives are available to the German national:
- An extra 2 per cent per year for listed buildings built in 1924 or later, rising to 2.5 per cent for earlier properties
- A further 2 per cent per year where ‘new build’ parking and/or balconies are provided (Germans really love their balconies)
The final mortgage release essentially provides Dolphin with its profit, as the property is handed over to the German national.
With long term tenancies reducing significantly the void risk, even though rental returns are often modest, it’s not surprising Dolphin’s property sales company has a waiting list of high rate tax payers.
An enviable track record, to say the least.
An Architectural Review
In the second year of my architecture degree, I had the chance to visit one of six European cities to study its architecture. I was really tempted by the strength and innovation displayed in Berlin, from the substantial Baroque and Historical Classic styles, to the functionality of the twentieth century classical modernism that is Bauhaus.
In the event, I chose an Italian adventure to Rome, Florence and Venice, and fell in love with the elegance and romance of its Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo beauty. So it was with great delight that I had the chance to examine at first hand the renovation of some of the most important buildings in European history, lcoated in the former East Germany.
I really wasn’t sure what I was going to find. I knew that when it was behind the Iron Curtain, East Germany was one of the poorest countries of Europe. And following the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, it was clear the devastation to the infrastructure was significant.
Leipzig, however, didn’t feel like that at all. Comprising a population in excess of 530,000, the city is spread out over a massive area. In fact, population density is a fraction of what we’re used to in the UK. Like many German cities, the architecture is beautifully set on wide streets and spacious squares, often tree-lined with many useable open green spaces, throughout every part of the built environment. It shows off their properties to their true splendour. Well, at least the ones that have been renovated, that is.
During our talk, we learned there were around 15,000 listed buildings in Leipzig alone. That sounded like a ridiculous number. But as we toured the city in a coach, what we saw was amazing. Street after street of rows of substantial properties, some beautifully restored adjacent to those that looked like they hadn’t changed a bit since the devastation they suffered in World War II.
Graffiti was everywhere, but respectfully so! Those buildings that had been restored were untouched. But almost every one that needed work seemed to display its own unique artwork, suggesting perhaps that “I should be next for a makeover”. German graffiti artists are clearly proud of their renovated buildings. Banksy would have had a field day!
Listing in Germany is similar to the UK. The vast majority of properties are what we would know as Grade II. The exterior has architectural significance and has to be restored to its original. But the renovation is no more than a cosmetic overhaul, for it’s only the external wrapper that’s listed. What goes on behind the façade can be anything. So you can imagine how intrigued I was to see what Dolphin was doing.
The first property we visited was a Bauhaus-style property built in the 1930s. Comprising eight apartments, it was one of a number of similar buildings on one side of a long, wide, tree-lined street, with a vast grassed area in the middle. The front façade had been scaffolded and fenced off at street level. The external renovation had not begun.
Inside, work had started. To say it had been gutted would be an understatement. Every scrap of plaster had been hacked off, exposing the original brickwork structure. Ceilings were non-existent and the original lathes above the ceiling plaster were clearly visible.
Walls had been removed, and new steels were in place, to open up the interior. Some new walls had been installed, giving an impression of the layout of what would be the finished apartment.
In the stairwell could be seen the original hardwood handrail and bannisters. I was already visualising what it would look like once it was finished. But I didn’t have to wait long.
The second property we visited was a few properties along the street. The external elevation had been beautifully restored. Inside, exactly the same hardwood handrail and bannisters that I’d seen in Property 1 were on show, fully restored, and gleaming. The doors to each apartment were all high specification hardwood, dressed with shiny brass furniture. Some of them had been tastefully personalised by the tenants.
At the top of the building, we met a delighted tenant, who was really proud of his new home.
In the basement, each apartment has its own secure store behind substantial iron railings. Outside, there’s a spacious communal garden, with mature trees, seating and a patio area.
In the UK, a property of this quality would command a relatively high rent. Yet surprisingly, the tenants are, in the main, blue collar workers paying a modest rent.
The next property we visited was quite literally amazing. When I was first introduced to Dolphin, I wondered how derelict their 'derelict listed properties' would be.
Could it be the familiar UK situation? A general tidy up of the mess left by the former occupants, a few quick repairs, a lick of paint, pop down to Ikea for one of their cheap and cheerful ‘property developer packages’, then sell?
Well I really got my answer.
Dolphin’s largest purchase to date in Leipzig is a former music factory. Situated right in the heart of the city in a large parkland setting was a derelict building, par excellence! The music factory was a going concern until the Berlin Wall came down. And that signed the death knell for this building. Business stopped overnight. The building started to crumble. The graffiti artists moved in. And the rest, as they say, is history.
As we carefully picked our way through exposed electricity cables that I hoped above hope weren’t live, making our way gingerly under fallen metal ducting, it dawned on me that this could never happen in the UK. Health and safety wouldn’t allow it. There wasn’t a hard hat between us. And if a risk assessment had been carried out, I’ve no doubt the whole area would have been fenced off a long time ago. Yet, there we were, merrily clambering over piles of rubble and total devastation. And I was absolutely loving it.
This building was first constructed in 1868. It was Germany’s first pre-fabricated steel framed construction building, and arguably the first in Europe. When the renovation occurs, not only will the façade receive its makeover, it’s a requirement that the steel frame will also be shown off. In the UK, this would be classified as Grade II Star, where certain internal elements carry architectural importance and are required to be restored accordingly.
The apartments have already been reserved, and work is due to start on this building shortly, with the intention of completion towards the end of 2014. But the German nationals who have pledged their mortgages to this renovation are not expecting to be able to rent out their purchases until 2015.
It’s a classic case of over-delivering. For the purchasers will be delighted to start generating their rental income ahead of target, rather than the often reverse situation that occurs in the UK, when builders are constantly being nagged for not finishing work on time.
The final property we inspected was all but finished. The outside was a masterpiece of restoration, with all of the mouldings on the front façade topped with aluminium flashings to prevent rain erosion and staining.
The inside hallways were receiving their finishing touches, including a ceiling painting behind the front door of which Michelangelo would be proud. The woodwork on the stair treads and bannisters was beautiful.
As we made our way into a finished apartment, we were greeted by simple white walls and clean, crisp lines. Each room had extremely high specification double glazed windows and the latest temperature control equipment. And the quality of the doors were synonymous with the quality you find on high-end German cars. The door rebates were all sealed, so that when they were closed, they gave that familiar thud, as the air was expelled.
The bathroom had quality fixtures and fittings throughout, including some lovely wall and floor tiles.
High quality is standard on everything that Dolphin does. And it was wonderful to see.
So What About My Big Five Questions?
Here’s what I concluded…
1. Do the properties exist?
Without doubt, it’s a great big YES!
2. Are 80 per cent plus discounts really possible?
Categorically YES. For a couple of reasons. The first is supply and demand. There's a huge supply of suitable properties for this purpose. Secondly, we’re not talking about buying the odd flat here and there, in buildings that need a bit of touch up. We’re talking whole buildings comprising many apartments. The discount is massive because they’re not much more than piles of rubble, albeit very lovely piles of rubble.
3. How big is the German market?
1 per cent of German properties are listed. It includes both residential buildings, like properties 1, 2 and 4 above. And commercial properties that are right for conversion to residential apartments, like property 3, the steel framed music factory. Many of these are in the former East Germany, providing a supply that could last for many years.
4. How does the process work?
This has been summarised above, and the due diligence documents are all available in the SIPPclub Members Area. It’s an intelligent solution that benefits all parties, including Germany itself.
You'd be excused for thinking that incentivising high rate tax payers with a capital allowance would cost the German exchequer money. On the contrary. Dolphin companies provide work for around 1,000 people, which generates tax receipts far in excess of the tax allowance.
Here’s the point. Germany is being renovated without it having to spend a single Euro of its own money, for investors from around the world are lending their money for this purpose. Talk about German ingenuity.
5. Who are the people behind Dolphin and what is their pedigree?
The key directors at Dolphin have all worked in this niche for around 25 years. In many ways, the destruction of the Berlin Wall was the trigger for this incredible enterprise. Over the years, the people involved in the business have been able to generate capital for satisfied investors from thousands of properties in Germany.
Since its formation in 2008, the Dolphin group itself has continued this great work. And it doesn’t end when the apartments are handed over to German nationals. The vast majority of them never use the properties themselves, so they simply hand them over to Dolphin’s letting company. I was staggered to learn it manages the lettings of around 6,000 apartments. Dolphin is a major player!
Major players get economy of scale in everything they do. And it’s never more relevant than when it comes to the initial acquisition. For like pretty much everything in life, money talks. Cash, that is!
The reason Dolphin borrows money from investors, rather than from banks is obvious. Banks can be very intrusive, very demanding and they can introduce restrictions that are often imposed upon them by Governments and central bankers. Above all, they have their lending limits and ever increasing committees who have to approve loans. It simply gets in the way of business.
You get none of that with cash. Cash allows Dolphin to negotiate hard and fast, acquiring properties at massive discounts. It’s often sufficient to cover the interest payments at a stroke, repaying the loans of investors who are delighted to have been involved. And that starts the whole process again.
A truly virtuous circle.
A Reassuring Revelation
On the coach journey back to the airport, I sat next to Mike.
I apologised to him for the level of interrogation I subjected him to during the morning session. But he said he appreciated it, for in his view, he thinks it’s vital that anyone either featuring or investing in any opportunity understands exactly how it works, and how it delivers results for all parties.
In the case of Dolphin, a genuine ‘win-win’, he observed.
But then Mike said something that totally sealed it for me.
Mike spent 27 years as a lawyer, working in the litigation department of one of the world’s largest banks. Throughout his career, he focused on litigation, financial fraud and investigating investment scams.
Having earlier managed to bring to book the perpetrator of a multi-million pound fraud, when originally approached by Dolphin, Mike was initially somewhat sceptical as it simply sounded to good to be true.
Dolphin explained it had absolutely nothing to hide. Given Mike's background and experience, Dolphin was simply looking for his input to help refine the model in order that it was fully compliant and attractive to the UK market. Each jurisdiction is different, so each investment opportunity needs to reflect the country’s financial rules and regulations.
Dolphin explained it was happy to be completely transparent and even share documentation that's normally confidential such as lawyers letters, legal advices, company credit ratings and other documents, so Mike and others could make their own minds up as to whether this was a top notch investment opportunity.
Mike spent many months focusing on the tiniest detail, and is proud to have helped create the UK structure that’s currently in place and working so successfully. In fact, Mike was so impressed with the ethos and ethics of the company, he’s no longer in litigation, preferring instead to work with Dolphin, helping UK investors and introducers understand the financial and ethical benefits of this secured loan opportunity.
An Unexpected Conclusion
As we flew back to Stansted, I can honestly say I was completely blown away by what I’d seen. The financial aspects were unquestionable, and despite my best attempts, I couldn’t find a single area where it failed.
From an architectural viewpoint, it was far beyond what I had hoped. I intend to revisit Leipzig at a later date to keep tabs on the work in progress, and I shall also include that fantastic site in Berlin. The plans for it are incredible.
As the miles flew by, I felt totally reassured to have featured Dolphin on SIPPclub. More importantly, as some of our members have lent both cash and SIPP money into this opportunity, I was looking forward to bringing them back the good news.
And then it dawned on me, in a ‘cobblers shoes’ sort of a way.
I was so focused on SIPPclub members, what about me?
I’d recently analysed my pension. Invested in 2007, my stockmarket investments in Aviva, Artemis, Schroder, Jupiter, Henderson, M&G and a few others had produced a net growth of 3.47 per cent per year. I’d chosen a high risk strategy for my pension, risk grading it 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, expecting above average returns.
Boy was I wrong! For all those volatile ups and downs you get when you take a high risk approach, I’d barely grown my pension fund above the rate of inflation.
With the continuing uncertainties of the world’s stockmarkets, the solution was obvious.
So first thing the following day, I sent an email to my SIPP operator, instructing them I that intend to lend £150,000 of my SIPP to Dolphin. I’ve already lent other money from my SIPP, and now I’m done with the stockmarket. Quite frankly, I’m very relieved.
My pension fund is much better deployed being lent to Dolphin, for predicable high interest, and a first charge on property to protect my money. The fact is if I’d been in Dolphin instead of the stockmarket, I would have earned four times as much.
Of course, the future is unknown and past performance is never a guide to the future. But with 'self-investment', you pay your money and you take your choice. And I, for one, am very happy about that.
No longer will I be exposed to the ups and downs of the market, and the occasional complete loss of investment when companies in my portfolio go bust. It transpired I’d lost money in Comet and Woolworth through my UK equity holdings. And I never even knew!!!
For me, Dolphin is more than a financial return. It’s an ethical, environmental and architectural investment that’s entirely in line with my own philosophy.
IMPORTANT NOTE: ALTHOUGH I'VE LENT MONEY TO DOLPHIN, THIS IS DEFINITELY NEITHER AN IMPLIED NOR A SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATION THAT YOU SHOULD DO THE SAME. BY DEFINITION, MY PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES ARE NOT THE SAME AS YOURS, AND THIS MIGHT WELL MEAN DOLPHIN IS THE WRONG INVESTMENT FOR YOU. IF YOU'RE IN ANY DOUBT, YOU SHOULD CONSULT A SUITABLY QUALIFIED INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL ADVISER, FOR SIPPclub DOES NOT PROVIDE PERSONAL FINANCIAL ADVICE.
A Postscript For Property People
If you’ve ever thought about property investment, or if you’re a developer, check out your financials thoroughly. If you’re not making a double-digit return on your money, net of all expenses, then think again.
Why suffer all that worry? Put your feet up and let Dolphin deliver that return for you.
But it’s much more than the money. It’s about the property itself. Dolphin focuses on quality in everything it does. So if you’re in property, I strongly urge you to look at how Dolphin does things. I appreciate that ‘German quality and efficiency’ is a stereotype. But in this case, it’s spot on.
Dolphin has an open door policy. So take up its offer, go to Leipzig, and see what quality looks like.
I’ve seen it for myself. And I’m much better for the experience.
ONE YEAR ON
Berlin: Inspection Visit On 21 July 2014
Since lending half my SIPP money to Dolphin last year, and having received the interest due on my loan in full and on time, I was keen to see the latest projects in various stages of renovation. As Dolphin’s largest project to date is underway in Berlin, that’s where I headed.
Prior to visiting the properties, I wanted to check how the business was going, with the German team in Berlin.
Dolphin was pleased to report that in addition to raising private equity in the form of loans from people in the UK, Ireland, Singapore, Japan and a number of other countries, since my visit to Leipzig a year ago, Dolphin has attracted investment from Hedge Funds, Institutional Investors and Family Offices. In fact, several wealthy individuals and families have purchased whole buildings for many millions of Euros. These specific deals are often structured on a joint venture basis, giving investors the potential for an even higher return than the attractive loan interest rates.
Coupled with its enviable credit rating, Dolphin is arguably recognised as Germany’s leading firm involved in the renovation and refurbishment of listed buildings.
I was armed with a list of questions from SIPPclub members. These were all answered in full and with complete satisfaction. I have now published them alongside the due diligence documents in the SIPPclub Members Area, under a tab called FAQs. You can see them here.
Dolphin’s Incredible Renovations In Berlin
Just like Leipzig, there are properties everywhere waiting for refurbishment. They’re primarily on the East German side of the Berlin Wall, and they all display the familiar "come and get me" graffiti. Dolphin came and got a lovely little property as you can see in the scrolling pictures below, which will be turned into six luxury apartments.
Carrée Alte Post
Built between 1925 and 1929, “Post Office Lichtenberg I” on Dottistrausse is a striking and impressive 4-story building in Berlin. With a deep history spanning over seven decades, the post office was a hub of communication throughout some of the city’s most troublesome years. Built in an era when highly decorative and ornate facades were being forgotten, it was purposely in an economical and practical style. The office was built by the Berlin Oberpostdirektion and remained a major focal point for postal communications until 1945. After World War II, the Soviet Army took over the building and set up a long-distance telephone operator for the telephone service in the Soviet Union. The Stasi, one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies known to ever have existed, also used the building as a ‘listening centre’ and also set up a ‘safe house’ in the building.
A number of years later, another telephone centre was established in the west wing of the building which was responsible for connecting the telephone network in East Berlin. After the reunification of East and West Germany, the Telecommunications Office was also reunified and operated until 1995. The building lay idle until 2013 when Dolphin bought the building. It’s currently working on constructing 48 luxurious apartments within the walls of the historic building. It’s also constructing four residential buildings with 91 stylish individual apartments on the additional courtyard, with a large common green area.
Built in 1871, Spindlersfelt is a monumental building in Köpenick. Purchased as a 50-acre site by businessman William Spindler, the building was one of the very first facilities to bring dry-cleaning to Europe. Having previously ran three laundry and dyeing facilities, Spindler purchased the site to develop one large industrial laundry, dry cleaning and dyeing factory.
Spindler built several housing projects for his workers, including schools and sporting clubs. He introduced health insurance. The area was unofficially called Spindlersfeld by locals, and following significant lobbying with the local government, it recognised the area had grown into a self-sustaining city district and the name was changed.
After World War II, in 1946, the factory was put under the control of a Trustee. At the height of its success, the factory employed up to 4,500 workers, with an additional 600 female prisoners and several hundred Vietnamese guestworkers doing shifts. The factory was finally closed in 1992 and has laid derelict since. Dolphin purchased the building in late 2013 and is currently working on reconstructing the site and offering its residents a new bright future. The finished gross development value of the project is expected to exceed 110 million Euros.
TWO YEARS ON
Berlin: Inspection Visit On 5 May 2016
Since making my original SIPP loan to Dolphin of £150,000 in August 2014, I have made several further SIPP loans to Dolphin: £55,000 in December 2014; £218,000 in July 2015; £61,500 in February 2016; £15,000 in December 2017. In the same period, SIPPclub members have lent more than £15 million from their SIPPs and in cash, so it was about time I checked up on Dolphin's progress. I wasn't disappointed.
My first port of call was Carrée Alte Post, the Stasi 'listening centre' I saw in 2014 above. It was no longer shrouded in scaffolding. It now proudly displays its beautifully restored brick façade, with lovely detailed motives between its regular window pattern. The solid oak entrance doors are bounded by strong brick columns befitting a building of such importance.
At roof level, Dolphin has added a row of dormer windows, behind which sits some generously proportioned double-aspect penthouses.
Whilst the entrance hall and internal walkways are still under construction, they will be splendid when finished, featuring some exceptional glazed bricks and tiles. Behind the building, excavation work has just begun on the new build block, which is now a common feature of Dolphin's purchases. Renovating listed buildings isn't always straightforward, so Dolphin now tends to focus on large sites where new build apartments can be added, for that provides a significant opportunity to maximise the profit from the site.
All the apartments have been sold in both the renovated building and the new block, with some of the apartments in the renovated building already being occupied.
My next stop was the lovely little property I saw in 2014, featured above. It's Wilhelminenhofstrasse 6, Berlin. The original building at Wilhelminenhofstrasse was constructed in 1902 in the district of Berlin-Köpenick. It sits in the south-east of Berlin's city centre and is very close to the River Spree which is only a few minutes walk away.
Now fully restored, Dolphin handed over the keys to the new owners in October 2015. In total, 15 luxury apartments were created. Each one has either a balcony or a terrace and has been fitted out to the highest standards. The apartments were created with two, three or four bedrooms each.
The pictures below show the 'before' and 'after'. It's so wonderful to see these lovely old buildings enjoying a brand new lease of life. And because they're finished to such a high standard, it's reassuring to know they'll be enjoyed by generations to come.
I then travelled to the massive Spinderlersfeld site, also featured in my 2014 visit. Not much has changed here as Dolphin is about to start work on the renovation. It's so huge, it'll be carried out in phases, including a large number of new apartments which will be built beyond the central courtyard of the restored buildings.
That said, some restoration has taken place and the apartments are now occupied. The people living in them love their new homes, a little taster perhaps of what's to come.
Dolphin continues to produce a fantastic standard of work. As it's focusing on ever larger projects, it was good to hear Dolphin has just negotiated terms with Germany's largest building firm, who will be employed to build out future projects. With that in mind, it was time to visit a recently acquired site - a Berlin brewery.
Berliner Bürger Bräu
Berliner Bürger Bräu, Josef-Nawrocki-Strasse, Berlin has been brewing German beer for decades. It's widely reckoned to be some of the best beer Germany has to offer. I can confirm this to be the case as I was lucky enough to sample it, for right next to the building is a large restaurant, bar and terrace which has been retained by the brewery. It sits on the edge of Berlin's largest natural lake, and as the day of my visit was a bank holiday, basking in 25 degrees, the place was packed.
The brewery had earlier moved its operations to larger premises, so this listed building has been the focus of Dolphin's attention since the last quarter of 2015. Large restoration projects take many months of detailed financial, technical and architectural planning to ensure every aspect is covered for lenders, the German buyers and ultimately, those people who will rent the finished apartments.
Dolphin was pleased to tell me the acquisition had recently been completed and the buildings were being emptied of their brewing contents. Restoration work will begin immediately and sales materials for the German buyers have already been created. With such a beautiful lakeside location, they're expected to sell out fast. I can't wait to see the finished apartments and that means I'll have to go back to Berlin again. Quite frankly, I can't wait.
I'm pleased to report that Dolphin continues to honour its promise. Not a single lender from anywhere in the world has ever missed receiving either an interest payment, or the repayment of their original loan. It's an unblemished track record from a top quality company that continues to deliver exceptional renovations, restorations and new build apartments.
FOUR YEARS ON
Berlin: Inspection Visit On 6 March 2018
Incredibly, almost five years have passed since my first visit to Germany to report on Dolphin.
Where does the time go?
A General Update
My visit started with a one hour presentation at Dolphin’s Berlin office, to bring everything up to date.
It’s been ten years since Dolphin first offered its first UK Loan Note. In that time, Dolphin has completed 60 projects with a gross development value of 1.8 billion Euros. Many of the early projects were relatively small, comprising a handful of apartments. But as the business has become established, Dolphin now dominates the larger end of the listed building market.
Currently, Dolphin has 18 developments in progress, with a gross development value of 1 billion Euros. Most are located in the Berlin commuter belt, but there are other developments planned in Frankfurt and a few other locations.
Because of its unrivalled reputation, it acquires properties directly from the German real estate department for listed buildings. Recently, supported by massive new investment, it’s increased its sourcing teams in Hannover and Berlin to capitalise on the private market too.
As the German economy prospers, and as a consequence of the huge influx of immigrants, housing development is a top priority. Dolphin enjoys great relationships with Germany’s largest builders, enabling it to negotiate fixed price contracts to produce predictable returns on its investment.
A Word About The German Tax Break
One of the most important aspects of any investment is the exit route. It follows that if there’s no definitive way to get your money back at a pre-determined time, it’s arguably irrelevant how much you might make.
There’s no doubt the Dolphin model is well put together. That’s because the German nationals’ who buy apartments in a listed building need to acquire them off-plan, before any work has started, in order to qualify for their tax break, worth 100 per cent of the renovation costs. This effectively returns investors money at a very early stage in the process, reducing risk accordingly.
Dolphin is arguably a bridging scheme, spanning the time between the purchase of the site, to the off-plan sales of the apartments. Investors’ money is returned as the German nationals acquire the property on a stage payment basis.
This tax break is up for review by the German government within a year. Whilst there’s every indication it will continue as it has done for many years, it’s become apparent in recent years that if it’s scrapped, it won’t affect Dolphin’s work at all. Here’s the reason.
Most people rent property in Germany. Tenancies often last 15 years. The primary choice of property is new build. Dolphin has experienced the fact that off-plan new build apartments sell as quickly, if not more quickly than renovated listed apartments, and often for a higher price.
Carrée Alte Post shown above is an early example: 48 renovated apartments and 91 new build apartments. All pre-sold off-plan. Pretty much all sites now purchased are significantly larger than this, with new build being a significant part of every project.
So if the tax break goes, Dolphin won’t be affected. Its track record is proof that new build apartments are a valuable and important part of its business. They almost always cost less to construct and are more profitable compared with renovating an old listed building, where unexpected costs can arise at any time in what is often a complex building project.
We visited two sites.
Berlin Steglitz-Birkbuschstrasse - Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk is located in south-west Berlin and has recently been bought by Dolphin. It’s a listed former film studio and an electric power station. The architecture is typically industrial, symbolising an earlier age. Although the power plant has long been abandoned, it currently plays a major role in the Berlin art scene, hosting parties, events and fairs. Inside, it has many vaults, halls and high ceilings, which will make for an interesting conversion.
Dolphin has recently acquired this site. It has planning permission for 480 apartments. The development will involve the renovation of the red brick listed buildings. The yellow brick power plant will be demolished, to be replaced with a 16 storey high new build apartment block, featuring stunning penthouses with 360 degree views of Berlin. Dolphin will also excavate a large part of the site to provide a two storey underground car park with landscaping at ground level, and a private marina alongside the canal. These additional facilities will be sold to generate substantial additional revenue.
Nearby, Dolphin is hoping to acquire another site. It’s currently operating as a substantial electricity station, but this is due to close soon. It’ll be converted into a large number of high specification ‘retired living’ apartments, which are as badly needed in Germany as they are in the UK.
Carrée Alte Post
Having first seen this building in 2014, reported above, it’s been an absolute delight to follow its progress, as new life is created within the walls of this infamous Stasi ‘listening centre’.
The renovation of the listed building is now fully complete, and all 48 luxurious apartments are fully occupied. There’s evidence of life throughout the building, including bicycles in the ground floor corridors and all manner of household goods in the basement storage units.
The 91 new build apartments, all of which were sold off-plan, were no more than a piece of derelict land when I first visited in 2014. They’re now half way through their construction, with completion expected in December 2018. They bound the site, the middle of which will comprise an underground car park and a landscaped courtyard.
The following video was part of the presentation materials available to German investors. It's been revoiced in English.
Investors funded the acquisition of the site. The renovation and development costs were funded by German nationals in stage payments. All seven stage payments have been received by Dolphin for the renovated listed building. There are four stage payments left to drawdown for the new build apartments.
The result will be a substantial profit for Dolphin, as well as an attractive return for investors.
Current And Future Funding
With an enviable track record, Dolphin now attracts investment from many sources. Here’s a snapshot.
From the Far East, Dolphin has more than 4,000 investors in Singapore who provide money via a regulated fund. Japanese investors also invest in a similar manner, as well as Asian institutional investors.
From the UK, Dolphin receives a substantial amount of debt and equity investment from private investors, family offices and hedge funds.
Not wishing to miss out, German funds and institutions are now providing multi-million Euro sums to support Dolphin’s work.
It’s testimony to Dolphin’s position as a leading player in the market, adding up to a very bright future.
Only Members Can See Full Details Of The German Listed Property Investment
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DOLPHIN INSPECTION VISIT REPORTS
The visit was genuinely an inspiration. Don't miss "A Reassuring Revelation" and "An Unexpected Conclusion" within original report above.
A Few Comments From Many Of The SIPPclub Members Who Collectively Have Invested More Than £15 Million With Dolphin
DOLPHIN DELIVERS: In July 2014, one year after Philip and his wife lent money to Dolphin, their final interest was paid on time, together with their original loan amounts. Both of them reinvested for another year, and when these loans matured, they reinvested again for a longer period. They keep supporting Dolphin, having made further investments at the end of 2017 and the start of 2018.
As a company dedicated to transparency in everything it does, Dolphin keeps lenders up to date with regular newsletters, so they can monitor the superb work being done with their money. Below is a list of recent publications which are well worth a read.
- 31 July 2018
- 21 May 2018
- 20 April 2018
- 20 March 2018
- 20 February 2018
- 17 January 2018
- 18 December 2017
- 17 November 2017
- 19 October 2017
- 19 September 2017
- 15 August 2017
- 14 July 2017
- 16 June 2017
- 24 May 2017
- 20 April 2017
- 21 March 2017
- 22 February 2017
- 26 January 2017
- 9 November 2016
- 22 September 2016
- 11 July 2016
- 30 May 2016
- 29 April 2016
- 5 April 2016
- 29 February 2016
- 3 February 2016
- 29 October 2015
- 28 September 2015
- 18 August 2015
- 2 July 2015
- 26 May 2015
- 22 April 2015
- 16 March 2015
- 18 February 2015
- 19 December 2014
- 18 November 2014
- 21 October 2014
- 30 September 2014
- 4 June 2014
- 15 May 2014
- 25 April 2014
- 7 March 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
Dolphin's Investors Are Both Small And Large
15 March 2015: It's not just cash and SIPP investors that put their trust in Dolphin. Large investment groups too have profited from investing in Dolphin, as illustrated by this EUR 42 Million UK Hedge Fund Deal.
Listed in the press are major milestones in Dolphin's dominance of the listed buildings property renovation market.
- Dolphin's Plans Can Help Ease The German Housing Shortage - February 2017
Dolphin has successfully negotiated the purchase of German land that exceeds 650,000 square metres. This equates to 148 acres and 60 hectares. This strategic land acquisition project encompasses more than 40 listed building projects. In addition, Dolphin has recently acquired a further three projects in the city of Berlin.
- Tie Up With Europe's Largest Construction Company Zublin - January 2017
Dolphin has enjoyed significant growth across the last five years and the signing of the agreement with Zublin further underlines the Company's intentions and ambitions to be regarded as the undisputed leader in the niche area of German Listed Building renovation and development.
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