It will come as little surprise to anyone who knows Marcus Magnier, head of residential, development and country homes at Colliers estate agency, that he preferred going horse racing to studying when he was a pre-med student at Trinity College Dublin back in the early 1970s, where, for him, fun took precedence over physics. “I was enjoying myself too much. A little lad, up from the country, released into the big city.”
He comes from a family of farmers in Fermoy, Co Cork. His grandfather stood the famous racehorse Cottage Rake at his Grange Farm stud, so in a way it was predestined that Magnier’s work and life would be influenced by the equine side of the family, acting for the partners in the world-renowned Coolmore stud, his cousin, John Magnier, and the late Vincent O’Brien and Robert Sangster.
Following an introduction to Laurence McCabe of Jackson, Stops and McCabe Auctioneers, he left Trinity and began his apprenticeship in the world of property in 1973. “I thought estate agency might be a bit of fun,” he says, before recalling that his first sale was a small farm outside Clonmel. “It was 46 acres, two roods and 21 perches with a little cottage [for] £38,600,″ he says, rattling off figures as if the deal had just been done yesterday. “I was on commission, so I was delighted.” His first “big sale” was Balreask Stud in Navan, Co Meath, which he sold for £800,000 in 1977.
I tried to persuade the State, the local authority, to buy Lissadell. They could have got it for a fraction of what was paid for it and they would have had everything – the kitchens downstairs, all the memorabilia for Countess Markievicz
With the departure of McCabe, the renamed Jackson Stops became a more commercially focused firm, and formed an association with Colliers, a US-headquartered global agency, becoming Colliers Jackson Stops, and later on, Colliers International. “Then we dropped the ‘International’ to become Colliers, but it’s [the global brand] handy for the country property, it gives huge, international exposure for those places.”
He established a reputation over the years for handling the sale of substantial, prime properties in both the residential and commercial sectors. “I set up a hotels division. The first hotel I ever sold was the Cashel Palace Hotel for Vincent O’Brien and Robert Sangster – that’s going back a long time, the mid-1980s. More recently we sold the former Kilternan Sports Hotel, which had been in Nama, to Luke Comer’s Comer Group.” Other high-end sales over the years have included Fota Island Resort in Cork, which was built at the height of the boom in 2006 at a cost of €90 million by developer John Fleming. Magnier brokered its sale jointly with Cork auctioneer Coholan Downing during the bust that followed for €20 million to Chinese hoteliers the Kang family.
At one point Magnier even tried to sell the former 100-acre racecourse at Phoenix Park, Dublin. “Phil Danaher, Robert Sangster, Vincent O’Brien were all involved. I came up with the brilliant idea of it being a cemetery. There was great excitement and a survey was undertaken but rock was discovered about a foot down so that was the end of the cemetery. It was eventually sold for housing, but not by us.”
Memorable prime residential transactions over the years included Lissadell House in Co Sligo, which Magnier sold in 2013 for €3.75 million. “I tried to persuade the State, the local authority, to buy Lissadell. They could have got it for a fraction of what was paid for it and they would have had everything – the kitchens downstairs, all the memorabilia for Countess Markievicz – but Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh bought it and they have done a great job on it.”
David Davies, a British banker, entrusted him with the sale of the Abbey Leix estate (1,120 acres) in Laois in 2019. John Collison, a billionaire co-founder of Stripe, acquired it for €20 million. “Sir David did a lovely job on the house and the garden. It needed someone to continue the journey, to continue the restoration of the estate. John will do a superb job. It will take millions to get it right, and time, but he will take the estate on to the next level and guarantee its preservation.”
Unfortunately, not every stately home in Ireland will attract such investment. “If there are estates worthy of being maintained they are going to need help. They are going to need tax relief,” says Magnier. “The whole problem is when the generations change and the taxes come due, they have to basically take the eye out of the chop to maintain the estate.
“The owners want to see it passed on, intact, to the next generation. There’s no equivalent to the UK’s National Trust in Ireland. We are dependent on the families who take it on themselves, at huge personal cost. We should be more grateful to them.”
A good day for Magnier is “a cracking auction”. On this, he says: “I would do the odd charity auction and the property auctions. They’re a bit of fun. When they work, they are great: you sail past your reserve, your vendor is happy.” The downsides include the “chain”, where a buyer is dependent on the sale of their property to complete the purchase, sometimes with several sales involved.
“You try to avoid the chain like the plague,” he says, “but bad title and bad mapping would be the most frustrating thing: when you find the right buyer, then you find there’s a problem with the title, then the whole thing falls out of bed and you have to start all over again.” While he counts the sale of the Abbey Leix estate as one of his best days in the business, he still thinks back to his early days as an agent. “My first memory was my little farm. I think I was hooked after that,” he says.
All my life it’s been personal introductions and people I’ve met. With that, there is an extra responsibility that you really need to give good advice and sometimes that advice isn’t to sell
In terms of the property market, he notes that not as many buyers came from the UK after Brexit as expected. But “the American market has picked up a lot. Then there are the buyers from the Middle East – Ireland has become a little more global. The overseas buyers with Irish connections are coming back. Buyers are returning who can operate from Ireland, bringing their families home.”
No client ever really walks in the door, according to Magnier. “All my life it’s been personal introductions and people I’ve met. With that, there is an extra responsibility that you really need to give good advice and sometimes that advice isn’t to sell. Very often when people are emotionally involved, the common sense goes out the window, so I like to think I give the right advice.”
To relax, he returns to his country roots. “I head off with my dog and my shotgun in the winter. I go anywhere that will have me – Wicklow, Wexford, Galway – I’m open to invitations, hoping for them. But I’ve had great fun. I’ll keep going as long as I have friends with property who want to sell,” he says.