Jim Moore considers himself a "victim" of the credit crunch. "But I don't want to whinge about it," he remarked bravely last week. Many of his customers may think that that is the ultimate in barefaced cheek. Not even Max Clifford, whom Moore hired to handle his PR when things began to get sticky last year, will dissuade them that they've been taken for a ruinous ride by "Mr Buy-to-Let".
As The Mail on Sunday points out, the collapse of Moore's property seminar company, Inside Track, "has left an army of amateur landlords wondering whether they will ever see compensation for investments that went hideously wrong".
Moore, a former perfume pyramid salesman, set up shop in 2002 and began carpet-bombing the media with advertisements, says The Guardian. At free taster workshops, packed with inspiring rags-to-riches stories, would-be punters were told they could "start from scratch [and] live on easy street instead of struggling for a living". Those hooked (and the pressure was considerable) were encouraged to pay £2,500 for a weekend of "property investment education".
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They were then invited to join a "property club" run by associate firm, Instant Access Properties (IAP), for an annual fee of up to £10,000, in return for inside gen on thousands of properties, many off-plan (not yet built), promised at a discount to the developer's price. A third firm in the group, Fuel, brokered the mortgages.
The claims were incredible, says The Mail on Sunday, but thousands fell for it, "partly because it cruelly played on people's fears of an impoverished retirement". Inside Track boasted it had sold £2.5bn worth of property "creating hundreds of property millionaires in the process". Yet many had mortgaged their future, and often their homes, to finance portfolios in new-build hotspots such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, as well as Spain and Florida all areas where prices have tumbled.
Moore claims he's feeling the pain, but this multi-millionaire still has cash to burn: The Mail on Sunday reckons that, since 2006, the main company, IAP, has paid at least £15m in dividends to its few shareholders, "with Moore likely to be the biggest beneficiary". Its shares (IAP is still trading) are held offshore in Panama and in three Isle of Man Trusts. The biggest hit to Moore's wealth has come not from the credit crunch, but from a bitter divorce with former wife, Kim, who is thought to have extracted at least £16m from him. Moore laments that his three weeks in the High Court last month cost him £1m in legal fees alone.
Yorkshire-born Moore left school at 16 to become an apprentice engineer in Sheffield, walking straight into an industry in decline. "It was living hell," he tells The Independent on Sunday. He made his first pile making sun-beds, then millions more via his perfume business, L'Arome turning to property when that went bust in 1991, after he was sued by Chanel for trademark infringements. Moore has shown such resilience against these "hard knocks" that it's certain "he'll be back", concludes the paper's flattering profile. Indeed, he's already planning numerous "exciting new events".
Tell that to the many members of his property club who've come a cropper as a result of falling for his companies' misleading claims (see below). For them, Jim Moore is not so much Mr Buy-to-Let, as Mr Die-in-Debt.
Jim Moore: how Mr Die-in-Debt worked his magic
"Give up work and become a millionaire instead." Alarm bells about Moore's operations began ringing almost as soon as the ink on his advertising copy had dried, says Tony Levene in The Guardian. In 2002, the paper attended a seminar at which Moore told audiences they could become rich with little effort or capital by "flipping": selling incomplete properties at profit and then piling the proceeds into more off-plan purchases.
A 2003 Which? report warned that "these courses are pricey, heavy on psychology, but downplay risk and are light on information [about] property investing realities." That was brought home when it transpired one of Moore's "experts" was his then sister-in-law, Lorraine Captan, who sourced and valued properties, although "a newcomer to the property process".
Another charge laid at Moore's door is that developer discounts "were illusory and based on inflated valuations", says The Independent on Sunday. He dismisses this. But many members found the value of their completed properties was far lower than the "discounted" price paid, says The Mail on Sunday. Some, including a divorcee who was egged on to sell her family home to fund seven buy-to-lets, report losses running to hundreds of thousands.
Yet business continued ticking over nicely for Moore, not least because IAP extracted a non-returnable £1,000 reservation fee and 3% of a property's purchase price, as well as the annual membership fee from members. How did he get away with it? Perhaps the biggest scandal is that property remains unregulated by the Financial Services Authority.
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