Saturday, August 25, 2007

Brits covet a piece of The Rock

The Dobbins of Newfoundland are one of Canada's most respected business families. Craig Dobbin built CHC Helicopter Corporation into the largest helicopter company in the world, and today, most Dobbins are involved in family businesses 'off-shore'.

But Craig's nephew and former assistant, Brian Dobbin, decided to stay on "The Rock." He's busy transforming Humber Valley Resorts into one of the most successful vacation home communities on the continent. What's more, the parent enterprise of NewFound Resorts Inc., which he heads up, is a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Hold on, isn't the middle of Newfoundland one of the bleakest and dreariest places on earth? Who would want to buy a holiday home there ���especially for the winter?

Brits, that's who.
$280 million worth of them, which is what British vacationers have spent so far in buying homes in the Humber Valley Resort, a quick 5.5 hour flight from London, and one of the lowest-cost options for all-season second homes that modern-day Britons know. The average size of a home is an astounding 4,200 square feet on lots running from 3/4 to 1 1/2 acres. You can play golf on an 18-hole championship course, ski down an Appalachian Mountain, enjoy sweeping lake and forest vistas, spa treatments, luxury dining, and as their brochure says: "It is unimaginable how close this secret paradise is."

So, how many Canadians have bought homes in Humber Valley? ... One!

How much Canadian money did Brian Dobbin raise to develop an area that 90% of Newfoundlanders haven't been to? ... None!

Dobbin is very open and frank on this subject: "Most Canadians think Newfoundland is either rainy or foggy or boggy all year round. They're wrong. But I don't waste my time trying to change their minds. I just go somewhere else where these prejudices aren't as large. We raised our money from Europe and Taiwan, and we raised our customers from Britain."

What's the huge appeal to the British that doesn't exist with Canadians? Says Dobbin: "First, the British are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to buying homes abroad. For them, it's no more complicated than for us buying a cottage here. The difference for them is, for $150 a square foot, they can get a small condo in Spain, or they can own a palace in Humber Valley ��� and $150 a square foot is very low in the international vacation property market."

Also, "they want pristine wilderness, lots of space and a way to get to it."
Dobbin provides that way with direct twice-a-week charter flights 38 weeks a year from London's Gatwick Airport to Deer Lake Airport, a 20-minute drive to Humber Valley.

Dobbin is passionate about why the British love Newfoundland. But while he knew from the start who wouldn't want to buy there, he didn't know who would. So he and his colleagues began by hiring some high-end real estate agents in London to help sell the lots and homes that Newfound Resorts was building. It didn't work. So, "we went over to a property exhibition (a trade show where developers show off their properties), put up a booth, played some music, talked our heads off for three days, and came out with 20 sales." Clearly, Dobbins' passion and enthusiasm found a market.
Today, there's a secondary market for the original homes sold in Humber Valley, plus a new phase of property for "bespoke architect designed homes."
But the next stage of development is vacation rentals, where Newfound Resorts acts as a rental agent to people who want to rent a home for a week or two for their vacation. This, of course, makes the home-owner happy as well; it doesn't take many week's rentals to cover an entire year's mortgage costs.
Vacation rentals are growing at the rate of 35% a year according to Dobbin. Some of these renters come from Britain, of course, spurred on by the word-of-mouth from the now 400 Humber Valley home-owners.

But Dobbin has his eyes on New York as a major rental market, which is just a two-hour flight to Deer Lake. Hey, this is slightly less than from��� well, another city that's jumping on the Deer Lake bandwagon, and that now has both Air Canada and WestJet flying between: Toronto.
Article from ReportOnBusiness BOB RAMSAY Globe and Mail UpdateAugust 23, 2007 at 10:53

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please note that, somewhere between 80 and 100 of the owners at Humber Valley Resort are Irish! And Brian Dobbin was apparently born in Ireland so, perhaps he also returned to his roots to find the sophisticated investors.