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

By RUTH BLOOMFIELD
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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Along with high inflation and weak consumer spending, there’s another key factor pushing a record number of businesses to the edge

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More than 10,000 companies are expected to have entered external administration by the end of the 2024 financial year, a level not seen for more than a decade. Data just released by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) shows 1,245 companies became insolvent in May, the highest monthly number this financial year. At present, a total of 9,988 businesses have gone bust in FY24 with data from June yet to be finalised.

Deloitte Access Economics Partner David Rumbens said the surge in business insolvencies this year was a “clear sign of economic distress”.

He commented: “[ASIC] predicts that by the end of the financial year, the number of companies entering external administration will likely exceed 10,000 – a level not seen since 2012-13, in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).”

Mr Rumbens said the elements contributing to this year’s surge in insolvencies include high inflation and interest rates, weak consumer spending, and the commencement of more proactive tax debt collection activities by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

“One of the key factors contributing to this surge in insolvencies is the [ATO] pursuing debts that were previously put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Mr Rumbens cited ATO figures showing collectable debt rose 89 percent in the four years to June 2023. This has particularly impacted small businesses, which account for approximately 65 percent of the total debt owed at about $33 billion. “But more strictly enforced debt collection is coming at a time of tough economic conditions. High interest rates and cost-of-living pressures have weakened consumer spending, particularly in more discretionary components of spending.”

The construction sector has seen the highest number of insolvencies by far in FY24, mirroring the trend of FY23. Of the 9,988 insolvencies to date, 2,711 of them are in the building sector, which faces several challenges. These include a substantial lift in the cost of construction materials that is well above inflation and has made many fixed-price contracts signed within the past few years unprofitable. There is also a significant labour shortage that is delaying new home completions and new project starts, and also adding higher costs to projects.

“The construction sector has been hit particularly hard, with construction firms leading industry insolvencies in every quarter since mid-2021,” Mr Rumbens said. “They have accounted for approximately 25 percent of all insolvencies during this period. The residential construction sector is already facing a backlog of projects to complete as a result of skills and material shortages in recent years, and increased insolvencies in the sector may only exacerbate the problem of housing shortages.”

The ASIC data shows the next biggest industry affected is ‘other services’, which includes a broad range of personal care services such as hair, beauty, dietary, and death care services. The sector has seen 939 insolvencies in FY24. Retail trade is next with 687 insolvencies, followed by professional, scientific and technical services with 585 insolvencies.

“The food & accommodation sector has also experienced a wave of insolvencies. High input costs, worker shortages, and weak consumer sentiment have put pressure on businesses. Specifically, in March, cafés, restaurants, and takeaway businesses accounted for 5.5 percent of total business insolvencies, the highest proportion in the last three years.”

Mr Rumbens pointed out that while the number of insolvencies was high, it represents a lower share of the business sector at 0.33 percent than it did in FY13 when it was 0.53 percent. “This reflects the increase of registered companies in Australia, which has risen from just over two million to 3.3 million since 2012-13. Even so, the continued lift in insolvencies since 2021 highlights the difficult conditions many businesses face at present.”

 

 

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11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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