Buyers from Arab countries hit by unrest snap up London ‘boltholes’

9 March 2011, South China Morning Post

By Richard Warrem

Arab businessmen, some connected with Middle Eastern regimes toppled by popular uprisings in January and last month, are buying London “boltholes”.

London estate agents Kay & Co has sold two homes to Middle Eastern businessmen since a popular revolt in Tunisia triggered anti-government uprisings across the Middle East.

“One purchased on our recommendation without viewing,” managing director Martin Bikhit said.
His firm had received 17 enquiries from Arab buyers, including eight from Egypt, since the unrest started. They were looking for central London homes in the £4 million (HK$50.6 million) to £20 million range. ”

Bikhit said buyers were “mainly wealthy businessmen, all of whom will have had a loose association with the former regime but not necessarily an intimate one. They are mainly looking for `London bases’, but given the size of some of the homes being sought, we feel that these individuals are looking at spending more time in the UK than before, with some admitting they are trading up from smaller homes they already own.”

The buyers were mainly interested in purchasing homes in the districts of Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Bayswater, Bikhit said.

Central London property search company Black Brick has helped Arab purchasers complete deals on two homes since the unrest began.

Camilla Dell, Managing Partner of Black Brick, said her company had received six enquiries from Middle Eastern buyers, which was higher than usual for the time of year.
The buyers included Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, Egyptians and Bahrainis. Budgets ranged from £500,000 to £20 million, Dell said. “We anticipate enquiry levels will get higher as the year goes on,” she said, “It’s slightly early days at the moment.”

London buyers agency Property Hunt had received 10 enquiries from Middle Eastern clients. The company’s managing director, Russell Hunt, said this level of interest was “far more than normal. People from the Middle East are gauging what and where to invest in London as it is seen as a safe market, or looking for somewhere for them and their families to use in case there is further unrest – in other words, a London bolthole”.

Howard Elston, associate director at Aylesford International, said growing demand for London homes from wealthy Arabs could mean sales prices increase. “I am sure it will add another pressure on the price of prime property in London, but I think it will not be seen overnight,” he said.

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