I’ve just been to Rio - to buy a property. Helping my son, who works there, buy a flat located a two-minute flip flop-clad walk from Copacabana Beach, to be precise.
It was on the seafront when it was built in 1940, but planning permission is pretty elastic in Brazil so it’s one block back now — but it still had a great sea view over Lee Dixon’s shoulder in the temporary commentary box built for the World Cup.
Moan by all means at our football team, but not at our property lawyers and agents. In Brazil, agents routinely try to get a fee out of both sides and their lawyers make ours look like greased lightning. When “clean title” is a plus in some flat advertisements, you know you’ve got a problem on the rest.
We first saw the property when we were over in November, made an offer in February and then had to change lawyers because the first one instructed revealed he was trying to buy the flat himself. After my son had paid most of the purchase price at their equivalent of exchange of contracts, the title turned out not to have been properly registered so a judge promised to rectify it orally — but very little happens in writing during a World Cup.
Finally, we met the vendor for their completion meeting, which takes place at the property. You exchange documents and go together to the bank.
But Rio was shut for yet another bank holiday, so we all had to get the ferry over the bay to HSBC in Niterói.
I’ll spare you the agonising details of an hour there, waiting for them to get my son’s cash off deposit - not helped by a ban on any phone calls from inside Brazilian banks. Too many muggers in the past had waited in the street for their friendly cashier to tip them off when a customer had just made a big withdrawal.
So you don’t know how lucky you are to be operating in the British property market with clean titles, straight lawyers, hard-working agents and banks where only the bosses mug you. We did fit in some football too - with 12 Arsenal players we saw some great games, in super stadia with fabulous fans. I’ve been to four World Cups, this was by far the best.
Political stability matters for property as well as our world-class legal system and honest, open market with high-quality income and covenant strength. Anyone who thinks hard about the future of Britain as a magnet for commercial property investment should be very worried about two referenda.
The first, on Scottish independence on 18 September, is casting a long shadow over the investment market north of the border - I ensured that the last Scots property I bought had a lease guaranteeing the rent would be paid for the next 25 years in sterling, with reviews linked to the UK Retail Price Index. And although the Scots legal system will remain clearer and simpler than the English, the inevitable long, drawn-out agony of separation, and change of currency, if Scotland votes yes, will be deeply damaging to property and business generally - not just in Scotland but in the rest of our country.
A referendum on Britain pulling out of the European Union could be even more dangerous. It will come right onto the agenda in the run-up to the general election next year, as David Cameron tries to fend off the threat from UKIP and stay centre-stage until 2017 - if there is a Conservative majority or minority government. World-class businesses see Europe as a single market, which they supply from wherever is most efficient within it. Perceived threats to the free movement of goods, services and labour throughout the EU are already putting major investment here at risk.
Don’t underestimate, either, the benefits we get in Britain from being seen as an accessible, welcoming, inclusive country, not just in London but all over the UK for higher education, retailing and tourism. The Tour de France will do no harm at all to the pubs OLIM Property has bought in York. But if we are seen as Little Englanders blaming foreigners for our problems and trying to pull up the drawbridge of Fortress Britain against them, we’ll be showing the yellow card to thousands of British businesses and millions of British jobs.
We haven’t had many winners in this magic summer of sport, but never forget we’re world champions in property — don’t put that in danger by gambling with our future both as a United Kingdom and a positive partner in Europe.
Matthew Oakeshott is chairman of OLIM Property