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Fergus and Judith Wilson – to some property villains, to others entrepreneurs – are in the process of selling their 700 houses one at a time, making a swift exit from the market having built an empire worth an estimated £225 million at its peak.
Initially the couple had wanted to sell their assets in one go, telling The Times in September last year that they had various foreign buyers interested: “There’s a Bulgarian, a Saudi, one from China, one from Japan and one from India. We’re just sitting back and waiting to see who comes forward.” They said.
“It’s only if we were unable to sell in bulk that we would consider selling one at a time, but that would be the last resort.”
But it seems that the last resort was the only resort and the windows of Ashford estate agents have since filled up with Wilson properties.
But for many, the ‘stress’ or ‘comeuppance’ of selling such a large collection in this way won’t be enough; because for them the couple have become figure heads of the controversial lending boom widely blamed for bringing the economy to its knees.
To them, Fergus and Judith – with their landed gentry ways that include wardrobes of tweed and a stable of racehorses – make an easy target, representing all that has gone wrong in the housing market.
Formerly maths teachers, the couple began buying houses as routine in the mid-1980s, and over the course of a decade went on to make millions from the booming buy-to-let market.
With strict criteria as to what to buy and to whom to let it out to, (they’re wary of young people, large families, flats and anywhere outside Kent), the couple collected houses like Ashley Cole collects blondes, before peaking in 2003 when they bought 350 properties in one year alone.
But now, taking full advantage of the current 18 per cent capital gains tax, they’re selling up and getting out of the market – no doubt leaving a trail of nervous estate agents in their wake lest a property flood should drown Kent’s market.
For the tenants of course it’s just as worrying. Though the Wilsons have promised to try to sell the houses with sitting tenants, for many the situation looks precarious, their futures uncertain.
But Fergus is unfazed by any extra negative publicity this might generate, telling The Guardian earlier this month: "We recognise a lot of people are upset that we own so many properties. Some people say no one should have more than one property, but I thought communism was out of favour. One or two people want to douse us with petrol and set us on fire, but I think that's going a bit too far."
And for those still critical of the empire, he said: "They can always buy them off us."
Source: Bridging and Commercial