Why London’s Wealthy Are Renting Instead of Buying
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Why London’s Wealthy Are Renting Instead of Buying

Wed, Feb 7, 2024 8:58amGrey Clock 5 min

With London luxury real-estate prices on the slide and a collapse in high-end deal volume, it has been a tough year for prime central London real estate.  But the prime rental market is thriving.   People in need of a London base are increasingly opting to take the flexible, minimal-commitment housing option rather than buying, and paying Britain’s high taxes, in a stalled market. As a result, prime rents are escalating. House price analyst LonRes found that average prime rents in London increased 3.5% between December 2022 and December 2023. Average prime rents are now 29% above pre pandemic levels notched during the period of 2017 to 2019.

Separate research from estate agent Beauchamp Estates found that 63 London homes were rented out for $6,370 or more per week—about $330,000 per year—between January and June 2023.  Buying agent Liam Monaghan, managing director of London Central Portfolio, said many of his prime tenants live a global, itinerant lifestyle. They include soccer players, actors and film producers and tech entrepreneurs.

“They can obviously afford to buy these properties, but perhaps they are on a short-term contract or are growing a business and have got a lot of wealth quite quickly and are jumping between lots of different countries and are still working out where they want to live,” said Monaghan. Nina McDowall, head of lettings at estate agent Strutt & Parker’s office in Knightsbridge, one of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods, said many of her renters are considering buying a London property but only when they find the perfect home at a great price. “There are a lot of people who are weighing up their options,” she said. “They might also be sitting tight to see if prices slide further.”

Others, such as Antonio Volpin, simply don’t see London property as a great investment opportunity. Volpin, who is Italian, moved to London for work in 2011, initially living out of hotels. When his wife and two sons joined him in London in 2012, the family started renting.

The Georgian exterior of a rental property in Mayfair that is renting for $37,900 per week. PHOTO: CHESTERTONS

“We mulled the idea of buying a property, because the market was very strong, but I thought it could not grow forever, and with my work I am not sure where I will be next year,” said Volpin, 61, a consultant for asset and fund management firms.

The family’s decision to continue renting proved prescient, because prime central London’s house prices have stagnated for almost a decade. According to LonRes, average sale prices in prime central London increased by just 2.3% between 2013 and 2023 (from $2,130 per square foot to $2,180 per square foot). In 2016, Volpin’s job took him to Singapore, and now he and his university professor wife are based in Rome. Their two sons, aged 26 and 22, opted to remain in London so their parents, who visit regularly, have continued to rent a three-bedroom, three-level, apartment in the affluent, historic neighbourhood of South Kensington, 2 miles west of the city centre.

Antonio Volpin has been renting in central London since 2012 and considers it a more flexible option than buying. PHOTO: OLGA PODPORINA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Volpin has signed a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from revealing his monthly rental costs, but a spokeswoman for his estate agent, Winkworth, said that a similar property would cost up to $191,000 per year.

“Certainly with that money I could buy, but the point is that at the moment it is more of a kind of holiday home,” Volpin said. “When I come, I want to be close to downtown and to the friends I made while living in London.”

McDowell believes that the reason top-end rental prices have accelerated while home sale prices are falling is simple: Demand for these types of rentals is high and there is a serious undersupply of high-specification, turnkey properties.

“They are as rare as hen’s teeth,” she said. “Super-prime tenants will not sacrifice or compromise on many things. The condition and functionality of the property has to be slick and beautiful, and they will pay big prices, or pay one or two years in advance, to secure the right property.”

But while rents are rising, prime-central London landlords still have to work hard to attract high-paying tenants who expect five-star standards. “I have had people who want walls to be ripped out or massive extension work,” said Sinead Conlon, head of corporate and relocation services at John D Wood & Co. estate agents. “Some of them want interior-design furniture packages costing about $32,000 to $127,000 per month. They are all looking for an add-on.”

In one memorable case, Conlon was able to rent a substantial house in the north London suburb of Primrose Hill to a tenant who wanted the toilets in the bathrooms, 17 of them, to be replaced with Japanese models with built-in bidets. The tenant, who paid around $70,000 per month to rent the house for a year starting in 2021, eventually settled for just 10 new toilets to be fitted.

“But they are around £25,000 [$32,000] a pop, so it was not exactly cheap,” said Conlon.

Another problem facing landlords is dwindling profit margins. Interest rates have jumped and, since 2020, landlords cannot deduct mortgage interest from their tax bills, said Becky Fatemi, executive partner of Sotheby’s Realty UK. The administration of renting a property is also not cheap. Fatemi said landlords should expect to pay their estate agent between 8% and 15% of the annual rent to find and install a tenant. Management fees, if required, add another 5% to the cost.

Vickram Mirchandani currently owns and rents out two prime London properties. He is painfully aware how hard it is to turn a decent profit even in a hot rental market. Mirchandani, 46, who is British, bought a five-bedroom family home in the upscale neighbourhood of Belgravia, about 10 years ago. They lived in the home full time, but he and his wife became increasingly disillusioned with life in Britain and left London in October, then moved to Dubai with their young family in January—they have one child and are expecting a second.

Vickram Mirchandani and his wife
CREDIT:Vickram Mirchandani

Mirchandani has decided against trying to sell the property until London’s property market has revived. In October 2023, tenants moved into the 4,200-square-foot townhouse, paying just under $8,900 per month in rent.

“It was gone within a week, on the second viewing, for the asking price,” said Mirchandani, a renewable-energy developer. “In hindsight, I could probably have got a little bit more.”

Mirchandani also owns a second property, a three-bedroom penthouse in Belgravia, which he had originally hoped to flip. “The plan was to purchase it, develop it, and sell it at a handsome margin,” he said. “But after Brexit that handsome margin never materialized.” The apartment is also rented out, fetching $11,500 per month. “I actually got over asking price for that one because the tenant has a dog and I said, ‘Fine, but that will be an extra 10%,’ ” said Mirchandani. “I am very happy with the prices achieved.”

He is less happy with the yields his capital is earning. He estimates that after costs, including income tax, he is earning around 1.5% to 2%. England’s major banks are currently offering interest rates of around 4% to 5%. Longer term, Mirchandani is still weighing his options. “I could keep them in the hope that someday some miracle will happen and they will go up, but if we like it in Dubai we will probably sell the properties,” he said.


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Hong Kong Takes Drastic Action to Avert Property Slump

The city’s real-estate market has been hurt by high interest rates and mainland China’s economic slowdown

Fri, Mar 1, 2024 3 min

Hong Kong has taken a bold step to ease a real-estate slump, scrapping a series of property taxes in an effort to turn around a market that is often seen as a proxy for the city’s beleaguered economy.

The government has removed longstanding property taxes that were imposed on nonpermanent residents, those buying a second home, or people reselling a property within two years after buying, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in his annual budget speech on Wednesday.

The move is an attempt to revive a property market that is still one of the most expensive in the world, but that has been badly shaken by social unrest, the fallout of the government’s strict approach to containing Covid-19 and the slowdown of China’s economy . Hong Kong’s high interest rates, which track U.S. rates due to its currency peg,  have increased the pressure .

The decision to ease the tax burden could encourage more buying from people in mainland China, who have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s property market for years. Chinese tycoons, squeezed by problems at home, have  in some cases become forced sellers  of Hong Kong real estate—dealing major damage to the luxury segment.

Hong Kong’s super luxury homes  have lost more than a quarter of their value  since the middle of 2022.

The additional taxes were introduced in a series of announcements starting in 2010, when the government was focused on cooling down soaring home prices that had made Hong Kong one of the world’s least affordable property markets. They are all in the form of stamp duty, a tax imposed on property sales.

“The relevant measures are no longer necessary amidst the current economic and market conditions,” Chan said.

The tax cuts will lead to more buying and support prices in the coming months, said Eddie Kwok, senior director of valuation and advisory services at CBRE Hong Kong, a property consultant. But in the longer term, the market will remain sensitive to the level of interest rates and developers may still need to lower their prices to attract demand thanks to a stockpile of new homes, he said.

Hong Kong’s authorities had already relaxed rules last year to help revive the market, allowing home buyers to pay less upfront when buying certain properties, and cutting by half the taxes for those buying a second property and for home purchases by foreigners. By the end of 2023, the price index for private homes reached a seven-year low, according to Hong Kong’s Rating and Valuation Department.

The city’s monetary authority relaxed mortgage rules further on Wednesday, allowing potential buyers to borrow more for homes valued at around $4 million.

The shares of Hong Kong’s property developers jumped after the announcement, defying a selloff in the wider market. New World Development , Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development were higher in afternoon trading, clawing back some of their losses from a slide in their stock prices this year.

The city’s budget deficit will widen to about $13 billion in the coming fiscal year, which starts on April 1. That is larger than expected, Chan said. Revenues from land sales and leases, an important source of government income, will fall to about $2.5 billion, about $8.4 billion lower than the original estimate and far lower than the previous year, according to Chan.

The sweeping property measures are part of broader plans by Hong Kong’s government to prop up the city amid competition from Singapore and elsewhere. Stringent pandemic controls and anxieties about Beijing’s political crackdown led to  an exodus of local residents and foreigners  from the Asian financial centre.

But tens of thousands of Chinese nationals have arrived in the past year, the result of Hong Kong  rolling out new visa rules aimed at luring talent in 2022.


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