In 2018, international buyers were behind a staggering 55% of all property sales in prime central London. This figure dipped slightly the following year – and then came the pandemic, which led to fewer property sales and tight restrictions on travel, which upended the market for international investors. Now that markets are open and travel has returned, are the international buyers back in town, and if so, are they still leading the way?
It seems that they are definitely back, according to Neil Sloam of Winkworth St John’s Wood. He says: “The international market is back since covid and has started to recover – with the notable exception of the Russians. We are finding there are a number of buyers who have been unable to transact because of covid previously and have an appetite to buy, but the choice is limited. This is creating an increase in property prices even with inflation and utility bills, however more property is now coming on the market in a nod to the old days, when properties always came on in March.”
But shortage of stock seems to be the current refrain all over London. In Notting Hill, the race is on for family homes, says Winkworth’s Charles Irwin. He reports: “Freehold family houses are doing exceptionally well, with demand outstripping supply. This has meant that family homes often have multiple interested parties and are going to best and final bids. There are some record prices being achieved and it is certainly a sellers’ market for family homes.” International buyers are back, he says, as are pied-a-terre buyers, who might have moved to the country and now require a flat in Notting Hill as a London base, but the family homes drive is primarily a domestic market. Henry Synge of Winkworth South Kensington agrees. “With the arrival of spring and the lengthening of the days, the market in South Kensington continues its positive trajectory,” he says. “We are seeing an increase in applicants and enquiries at all price points, but still require more stock to satisfy the demand.”
So it looks as though the current strong market isn’t so much down to the return of international buyers as much as to a general increase in demand, coupled with a lack of homes available to buy. Josh Grinling of Winkworth in Kensington is reluctant to see the market divided into international versus domestic anyway. He says: “Who are international buyers? In reality many Londoners are of international background. Many of these European, Asian, American and Arab London residents have been very active during the pandemic.” Though he will concede that the overseas market has shifted. “Genuine overseas buyers have been largely absent during the pandemic. As travel restrictions have lifted, overseas buyers have begun to reappear in ever increasing numbers. We have recently had more enquiries from international buyers. However, just yesterday we told our client from Hong Kong not to come over yet as supply remains exceptionally low. Recent sales have been to Australians, Jordanians, Italians, Malaysians, Chinese, French, Swiss, Indians and South Africans.”
In Notting Hill, the desire for a garden is still an important factor, says Erwin: “The main requirement is for outside space, which will remain for some time.” And Grinling in Kensington has a positive outlook all round. “Despite Brexit, London clearly remains an attractive destination for investment, or as a pied a terre, or a new home to settle down in. All adding to London’s vibrant international character.” International or domestic, the prime central London market remains just that: prime.