Dollar and euro buyers are swooping on bargain (relatively speaking) London properties, as sterling’s value nosedives in the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
While there’s a widely-held belief that house prices will drop as a result of Brexit (championed by the UK Treasury, among many others), dramatic currency movements on Friday – which have continued into this week – mean that opportunistic buyers with US dollars (and pegged currencies, such as Dubai’s dirham) were effectively handed a 7.5% discount on full-fat sterling prices on Results Day, while buyers with euros could snap up a 5.8% price cut. This, it seems, is enough for some investors willing to back London’s continued position as a global high net worth centre.
“Overseas investors will seize the opportunity to buy up housing stock in prime central London,” says Louisa Brodie, as her firm – Banda Property – reported taking a flurry of enquiries on Friday from “interested investors in the States, Europe, Africa and even the Far East, who are seeking long term property investments.”
Jake Russell of Chelsea estate agency Russell Simpson expects “a temporary spike in foreign investment into the UK, as investors take the opportunity to acquire property at a reduced cost”, while Chelsea-based buying agent Charles McDowell has reported doing a deal on Friday which saw the Italian buyer make a 12% saving on an £18m Belgravia house, with currency movements meaning the buyer “got an extra discount on top of a discount on the asking price.”
60-branch London estate agency Dexters (which has recently made a major move on the high-value space) reported agreeing “several dozen” sales on Friday, despite the shock Referendum result.
- How GBP fell against USD after the Referendum result
“We do we expect more interest and volumes from overseas buyers,” says Charles Curran of Chelsea agency Maskells, as Brexit’s “unwanted consequence” of sterling depreciation makes property “cheaper in net terms compensating for the high SDLT”. London became “an instant target for dollar buyers again” on Friday, said Athena Investors’ Camille Letuve.
“We have had some surprisingly upbeat news from our branches,” reported Hamptons International’s Residential Research Director Fionnuala Earley as two of the firm’s buyers from the continent upped offers on London properties, arguing that currency movements would more than compensate. “There is clearly some bargain-hunting going on among people looking to take advantage of the currency change,” says Earley.
Central London investment firm London Central Portfolio said it received “a stream of enquiries from the early hours” of Friday morning, as sterling tumbled against every other global currency.
Brexit is “a massive bonus for Asian investors who have slowed down buying due to the rising pound as the UK economy got better,” says Brett Alegre-Wood, founder of investment agency YPC Group, which specialises in Singapore-based buyers looking at London property. “Now they will get a once in a lifetime discount, but only for the next three months.” UAE-based newspaper The Khaleeji Times, meanwhile, ran with this headline splash on Sunday: “Here’s your chance to hit home run in UK’s realty sector“.
“The vote for Brexit introduces some uncertainty into the market. In a backwards way, this could promote foreign property investment,” noted Charles Pittar, CEO of Chinese property portal Juwai.com. “If the pound loses ground on a sustained basis and domestic buyers drop out of the British property market, the results of the vote could lead to increased opportunities and a more appealing environment for foreign investors.”
UK property is now nearly a third cheaper for Middle Eastern buyers compared to 2007 levels, notes Cluttons’ Head of Research Faisal Durrani, and this currency shift may bring about the “unlocking of London’s stalled residential property market”. Sterling’s post-referendum tanking means that “any US dollar or UAE dirham investors will find the price of an average prime central London residential asset USD 96,000 (AED 350,000) less than it was on June 20,” says Durrani. “Gulf investors eyeing up a London residential asset will find it 31% cheaper than it was during the last market peak in Q3 2007, suggesting that we may be on the cusp of seeing a significant resumption in property investment activity in the British capital… particularly as global investors seek out safe haven assets such as gold and London’s bricks and mortar, which we expect will retain its appeal. The longer term implications are too early to assess, but we may start to see the unlocking of London’s stalled residential property market, with investors both exiting and entering the market as we head towards a period of demand volatility.”
International property marketing service Properstar has “recorded a 50% spike in searches for property in London” since the Brexit announcement, and MD Shameem Golamy says “we expect this to be a continuing trend, especially whilst conditions for international buyers look so favourable.” The international surge is “no surprise,” says Golamy, “when US buyers can now acquire UK property at a third less than a year ago.”
And it’s not just prime central London: Jackson-Stops’ Midhurst branch said it secured a £5m off-market deal in West Sussex within hours of the surprise Referendum result coming to light.
Of course the raging uncertainty that now presides over British (and EU) economics and politics means that many transactions have already fallen over, and there’s an expectation that many more “non-essential” property deals will evaporate in the coming months. Property Vision’s Roarie Scarisbrick says that his inbound calls on Friday were “50:50 between clients putting their searches on hold and those stepping them up.”
This uncertainty could – if some strong leadership does not emerge very quickly to confirm the UK’s continued place in the EU single market – be a long-term situation, as major employers – particularly in London’s financial services sector, which is the foundation of much of the capital’s prime residential sales and lettings markets – up sticks and move to more Europhilic bases.