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.