Islay Robinson, co-founder and CEO of London-based Enness Global Mortgages, is not one to shy away from tough situations. In fact, that’s exactly what he and his firm specialize in: solving complex, high-value mortgage scenarios.
“We help high net worth and prominent individuals secure mortgage financing against international real estate through our network of over 500 different lenders,” said Robinson. It is a practice that he has been perfecting since the creation of the firm in 2007.
Today, Enness has guided and enabled the purchase of everything from single family residences to multi-million pound real estate developments. We caught up with him recently to find out where UK interest rates are going, why mortgages are good for buying property abroad and where the next luxury hubs are popping up.
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Mansion Global: How did you get into the mortgage industry?
Islay Robinson: When I was in college I took a summer job with a mortgage broker in London. At this point, I didn’t even know what a mortgage was, let alone what a mortgage broker did. During this summer I have met some great people. I also saw the effect mortgage brokers had on people’s lives … and also how much some of them made. I worked in the company until the end of my studies, then I started full time in the same company after graduation. I worked my way up to becoming an associate director in four years.
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MG: What led to the creation of Enness Global Mortgages?
RI: The partner I founded Enness with worked with me at that same mortgage brokerage. During our time with the company, we have acquired a solid position in the company. We specialize in helping international clients purchasing UK properties or more complex transactions. Eventually, however, we realized that we no longer fit the corporate mold, so we decided to branch out. We did it right during what turned out to be the onset of the financial crisis in 2007. Enness was founded between the flight from Northern Rock to the UK and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It was a tough start, and we were forced to be enterprising and really fight for our clients, which remains a key part of Enness ethics today.
MG: International buyers tend to turn to all cash, but have low interest rates prompted some to finance themselves?
RI: It is commonly accepted that international buyers only buy in cash. Usually, this is because a home in a foreign country is considered an investment or a luxury, or because the perceived complexity of using a mortgage deters people from trying to borrow. However, that has changed in recent years. There are significant advantages to using a mortgage to buy property abroad – taxation is one of the main motivations, especially in Europe. Mortgages can also be used to take advantage of low interest rates and flexible lending criteria, which can be very beneficial. Getting a mortgage in some countries is more complicated than in others. The UK has a very efficient mortgage environment for international buyers, for example. Comparatively, Greece and Italy have very limited offers. We work with hundreds of lenders and can get mortgage financing anywhere. We know what to do and who to talk to.
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MG: Where do you see interest rates in the UK?
RI: UK interest rates have been very low for a long time. Every time we think we have bottomed out, we see another lender cutting rates. We now have mortgages starting at 1.2% for high net worth borrowers and long term fixed rates starting at 1.8%. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anything cheaper, but who knows… the market is ultra-competitive, and we have new lenders coming in all the time. On the other hand, the base rate of the Bank of England (the index on which many mortgages are based) is at an all-time low (0.1%). Although the idea of negative interest rates has been pitched, I think it now seems very unlikely. On this basis, interest rate hikes are perhaps much more likely in the medium term. Nonetheless, I believe interest rates will remain at their current, very low level for the foreseeable future.
MG: Where does the foreign interest in London come from these days?
RI: In my opinion, the UK remains the epicenter of international property investment. Even after Brexit, that hasn’t changed. Last year, Enness helped clients of 78 different nationalities buy property in the UK, which is an example of the UK’s continued international appeal.
As soon as the skies open, we expect significant pent-up demand to reach the UK market. We are already seeing considerable interest from the traditional markets of Hong Kong, the Middle East and North America.
MG: What has surprised you the most over the past year?
RI: I was surprised at the rate at which many people reassessed their living environment during the pandemic and made significant lifestyle changes. The movement out of cities has been fueled by people seeking space, security and flexible living. Non-urban housing markets in the UK haven’t been this busy in decades, and the sheer movement of people is amazing.
MG: What are your prospects for the central London market?
RI: We are seeing significant interest in the UK ultra-prime market: there have been a considerable number of very significant acquisitions this year. London has almost universal appeal and remains a fluid market. We have already seen the global elite increase their property holdings in the UK, and I believe that will continue.
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MG: Where are the emerging luxury hubs in the UK?
RI: Luxury becomes local. Areas like St John’s Wood are a good example. It is an affluent neighborhood full of expensive houses and excellent schools. In the past, local amenities were lacking as it was so easy to take a 15 minute cab ride to Mayfair for dinner or whatever you wanted. The local main street of St John’s Wood is now rapidly evolving from a rather disastrous stretch of chain retailers to expensive boutiques, artisan cafes, independent restaurants and state-of-the-art exercise studios. The same is happening across London.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your own home?
RI: My children’s room. We have two young daughters and they are lucky to have a large (pink!) Room full of books and toys. We just put bunk beds and seeing them both in bed with a stack of books at night is a wonderful sight.
MG: What is your definition of luxury?
I’m not the “goods” or “things” type, so for me luxury is anything that gives me more time in the day or gives me time with my family — my [personal assistant] manage my inbox, have my dry cleaners picked up rather than taking it to the store and my plan to buy a second home in France this year. I can live, work and be with my family during the summer without the distractions of London.
MG: What would your dream house look like?
RI: A side house on a hill in a land where the sun is shining and the main living room overlooks the pool and garden. It doesn’t have to be big or extravagant, just private, peaceful, and with super-fast broadband.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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