Who lives in central London now?

52 per cent of all £2m+ homes in central London are bought by overseas buyers.

Who lives in central London now? Anybody who has strolled the stuccoed streets of Belgravia and the verdant squares of Mayfair will have inevitably asked this question. The streets are filled with imported supercars and the sound of foreign languages, not to mention the thoroughly un-British clothes, shops and restaurants. Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Mayfair and, to an extent, Chelsea are no longer desirable addresses for the well-to-do British, such is the extent to which their prices have been driven up by foreign buyers.

There has been a tidal wave of recent research to underpin this point. Earlier this year, Savills announced that all the property of London’s 10 most expensive boroughs are more expensive than the entire combined worth of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The capital sees more house deals in excess of £100m than anywhere in the world and in the past year.

Then, releasing its April figures, Knight Frank revealed that London’s ‘super-prime’ market had risen again – 0.7 per cent in April and 7.7 per cent over the past 12 months. This, estate agency revealed, was driven by foreign demand: 52 per cent of all £2m+ homes in central London were bought by overseas buyers from March 2012 to March 2013.

Last week, further research was published by WealthInsight that shows London contains the most multimillionaires (individuals with over $30 m) in the world and the third most billionaires after New York and Moscow. Savills say that 32 per cent of these individuals are not UK domiciled. In fact, only 45 percent of buyers in central London are UK nationals. 

Furthermore, anyone who has flicked their way through this year’s Sunday Times Rich List will have noted that most of the top 10 are not British born.

Most of this research tells us what we already know, but who are these overseas multimillionaires who are dropping £50K on an Eton Square apartment. Researching this is no easy task due to the amount of London that is owned through offshore corporate vehicles. Only after months of laborious research could Vanity Fair reveal who actually owned One Hyde Park – the capital’s most expensive condominium.

Of the research that has been published, it should come as no surprise that most overseas buyers are Russian. Knight Frank says that 33 per cent of purchasers of properties over £10m between 2010 and 2012 were Russian. In second place were Middle Eastern buyers at 15.4 percent – in 2012, buyers of properties above £10m, 6 per cent were Omani and 3 percent from both Qatar and Kuwait. Again, no surprises here to anyone who has visited Knightsbridge in the summer, a migration focal point when the heat gets too hot in the Gulf. Buyers from the US are further down the list at 7.7 per cent, but estate agents expect the number to rise significantly over the next five years as the dollar exchange continues to favour such buyers.

Predictable as this research may be, we know one thing – it is not the British who are buying central London. And, as long as prices rise, the more the central London becomes an exclusive domain available only to the capacity of international wealth.

But how long can this continue? Surely there is only so much someone can pay for a studio apartment in Belgravia and finite number of overseas shoppers. The truth is London has an international appeal not only for finance, tax and business, but also lifestyle, education and, importantly for some, political exile. As long as London retains this edge, the longer prices are set to rise.   

Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496