Laetitia Laurent, a South Florida interior designer, has long had her heart set on a Parisian pied-à-terre. This summer, with the dollar soaring and Parisian real-estate prices holding steady, she took the leap. The 42-year-old, who lives in Boca Raton, paid 758,000 euros, or $US758,606, for a 460-square-foot, one-bedroom in the Golden Triangle—the prime residential and commercial area between the Seine and the Champs-Élysées, in the French capital’s pricey 8th arrondissement.
“I had been looking for a place for a long time,” says Ms. Laurent, who plans to use the apartment for work when she visits Paris to source designs for American clients, and for vacations with her husband and three young children. What helped propel her from just looking to outright buying was the strength of the U.S. dollar—“a huge factor” in the purchase, she says—15% over the past year, hovering at or near parity since mid-July.The dollar is rising so much, and so quickly, that Ms. Laurent estimates she saved around $80,000 between the time she first saw the apartment in early 2022 and when she closed in July.
Taking advantage of the most favourable exchange rates in a generation, and reeling from exploding prices at home, buyers are disregarding other sources of instability—including the threat of coronavirus flare-ups, rising interest rates, travel disruptions, and the war in Ukraine—to sink their dollars into European residential real estate, with savings on luxury properties, compared with last year, reaching into seven figures.
Kate Everett-Allen, head of international residential research at London’s Knight Frank, identifies six European markets where American interest is now the most notable: London, Paris, Provence, Tuscany, northern Italy’s Lake Como and Lisbon.
With the exception of Lisbon—where prices rose 11.5% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022—price gains in local currencies are modest to nonexistent in these markets. According to the most recent Knight Frank Global Residential Index, prices in greater London and Paris rose less than 5% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, while prices in Florence, Tuscany’s capital, dropped 1.6% during the same period. By comparison, America dominates the Knight Frank study, with nine of the top 20 spots held by U.S. cities. The top three, Phoenix, Miami and San Diego, have seen prices rise 29% or more. Ms. Everett-Allen points out that, though increases in both London and Paris are modest by American standards, they are both seeing their strongest performance in several years.
Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of foreign exchange and commodities research at Germany’s Commerzbank, says that the current parity between the euro and the dollar is actually somewhat deceptive—making the euro seem stronger than it is. Using the more relevant metric of real purchasing power, he says, “The euro is weaker than it’s ever been.” He credits America’s status as a net energy exporter and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies with helping to strengthen the U.S. currency, and he puts part of the blame for the euro’s weakness on instabilities generated by the war in Ukraine.
Dollar-based buyers can expect the bargains to last. He is forecasting a short-term continuation of current exchange rates, with the euro staying just below the dollar through the end of the year.
The dollar is also soaring against the British pound, allowing London, Europe’s most expensive capital, to become even more attractive to a range of American buyers, says Rory McMullen, head of Savills’ North America desk in the real-estate company’s private office, which specialises in multimillion-pound listings. With the pound hovering around $1.15, the current exchange rate is offering the best opportunity in London for the dollar-based buyer since 2008, he says.
Mr. McMullen says Americans are looking for trophy homes in central London neighbourhoods like Mayfair, Chelsea and Knightsbridge, and are generally less willing to look farther afield in more recently gentrified areas of the city that Londoners themselves might consider the height of luxury, such as Clerkenwell, near the traditional financial district, noted for its Victorian-era lofts.
Savings on high-end London properties can seem mammoth. A 3,229-square-foot, four-bedroom, Savills-listed apartment in Knightsbridge has an asking price of £13 million, or $15.13 million. When it came on the market in mid-January of this year, the price, which has been the same in pounds since listing, was $16.4 million.
Even Americans with more modest budgets are taking notice. Robin Adkins, a Nashville-area business owner, has “fallen in love with Capri,” the Italian island off the coast of Naples. She says she has been thinking about buying for some time, and the new exchange rate means she has increased her budget from around €450,000 up to €500,000, which now converts to $500,000—enough for a starter apartment in high-altitude Anacapri, the island’s exclusive western community, known for its historic villas and hairpin-curve roads. The dollar’s strength has “definitely affected my search,” she says.
Ms. Adkins’s agent, Capri-based Cristina Carrani of Engel & Völkers, says she is starting to see clients from the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest—a first, she adds, in her several years of selling homes on the island.
Elsewhere in Italy, American interest is way up in longtime favourite markets such as Lake Como and Tuscany, but is also finding its way to new areas, says Diletta Giorgolo Spinola, head of residential sales at Italy Sotheby’s International Realty. American second-home buyers are splurging everywhere from Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot, to the heart of Milan. She says sales of around $2 million are of greatest interest to her U.S. clients.
Once upon a time, American second-home buyers were eager to find romantic fixer-uppers in places like Tuscany and Umbria, but now, says Ms. Giorgolo Spinola, Italy-minded Americans are looking for turnkey properties “with few exceptions.”
In the Lisbon area, Americans have established a conspicuous presence among buyers in Cascais and Estoril, the plush resort-like suburbs west of the city. Rafael Ascenso, founder and CEO of Porta da Frente, a Lisbon-area Christie’s affiliate, says that Americans now make up a larger portion of his agency’s clientele than any nationality other than native Portuguese and expatriate Brazilians, who have long made up the majority of buyers in the area.
Mr. Ascenso says Americans now have bigger budgets than the Portuguese speakers, with average sales in the €1.7 million, or $1.7 million, range for the first half of the year. Another local real-estate agent, Teresa Almeida Pinto, a sales manager at Portugal Sotheby’s International Realty’s Cascais office, says American buyers tend to break down into two categories: young digital nomads looking for walkability in the densely built-up resort centres, and retirees who may want access to golf courses further out along the Atlantic coast. “We get more and more Americans every day,” she says.
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RMIT expert says a conflation of factors is making the property market hard than ever to predict
A leading property academic has described navigating the current Australian housing market ‘like steering a ship through a thick fog while trying to avoid obstacles’.
Lecturer in RMIT’s School of Property Construction and Project Management Dr Woon-Weng Wong said the combination of consecutive interest rate rises aimed at combating high inflation, higher property prices during the pandemic and cost of living pressures such as the end of the fuel excise that occurred this week made it increasingly difficult for those looking to enter or upgrade to find the right path.
“Property prices grew by approximately 25 percent over the pandemic so it’s unsurprising that much of that growth ultimately proved unsustainable and the market is now correcting itself,” Dr Wong says. “Despite the recent softening, the market is still significantly above its long-term trend and there are substantial headwinds in the coming months. Headline inflation is still red hot, and the central bank won’t back down until it reins in these spiralling prices.”
This should be enough to give anyone considering entering the market pause, he says.
“While falling house prices may seem like an ideal situation for those looking to buy, once the high interest rates, taxes and other expenses are considered, the true costs of owning the property are much higher,” Dr Wong says.
“People also must consider time lags in the rate hikes, which many are yet to feel to brunt of. It can take anywhere from 6 to 24 months before an initial change in interest rates eventually flows on to the rest of the economy, so current mortgage holders and prospective home buyers need to take this into account.”