London’s International Communities

2 December 2010, Country Life Magazine

By Liz Rowlinson

International buyers account for a considerable proportion of those spending money in London on property, from Hampstead to Mayfair.

For centuries, London has been a magnet for incomers from all over the world. The 17th century brought Huguenots, Sephardic Jews and the Irish; the 18th saw influxes from the Americas; and the revolutions of the late 19th century brought refugees from across Europe. Today, the city’s benign tax regime and gold-standard property market lure the 50 different nationalities currently house-hunting in central London and redrawing the ex-patriate map.

At the top end of the market, overseas buyers now account for 60% of purchases in Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Hampstead, according to Knight Frank. The Russians are most active at the top, with Knightsbridge and Mayfair tempting the most. Tim Macpherson, head of London residential sales at Carter Jonas, agrees, adding: ‘They go for mostly flats and penthouses in portered buildings in Mount Street and Lowndes Square, as well as Park Lane and the Eatons [Square and Place]. They prefer these areas to Chelsea, and spend £3 million to £30 million.’

They also like kerb appeal, and go for the best-looking buildings, according to Roarie Scarisbrook of buying agents Property Vision. ‘In the mid 1990s, oligarchs began fighting over the most impressive properties, and now, their newly monied neighbours from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are copying them by buying statement houses and the most glitzy and secure apartments.

These offer the ultimate status symbol. Highly serviced buildings with doormen that tip their hats appeal to Russians -for example, Trevor Square, Lancelot Place, Hans Crescent and The Knightsbridge.’ Last summer, the city’s reputation as a safe haven for wealth also attracted a wave of Greek tycoons keen to transfer their assets out of troubled Athens.

Although, traditionally, Greeks have bought in Bayswater and north London, the new ‘cash Greeks’ have made a real impression on Mayfair in the first half of the year, according to Peter Wetherell of Wetherell. ‘Properties in Grosvenor Square were in high demand as the Greeks prefer large, lateral apartments in a portered block as pied à terres.’ Camilla Dell of Black Brick Property Solutions adds that Greeks and Cypriots are also buying investment properties: ‘They’re buying 20-odd one- or two-bedroom flats in the £500,000-plus price range, with high rental yields.’

Indians are now 20% of her client base, and share the desire of the Russians and Hong Kong Chinese for prestigious addresses in smart, portered blocks. ‘Indian buyers especially like Onslow Gardens and Onslow Square and buildings with grand entrances. Hong Kong Chinese clients want a front door facing north, for the correct feng shui.’ For Americans, Hampstead has been the big hit, according to Marcus Oliver of Chesterton Humberts, and they have recently accounted for 80% of foreign buyers in the area. ‘There’s an American School in nearby St John’s Wood, and young buyers like high-end properties just off the High Street in roads such as Cannon Place. They love the quintessentially English feel of the Village, Kenwood House and the family-friendly Heath.’

For Italians, a tribal love of world-class shopping and stylish bars has meant a 30-year love affair with Chelsea, according to Ed Mead of Douglas & Gordon. ‘A series of domestic tax amnesties has brought northern Italians, especially the Milanese, seeking elegantly proportioned conversions and traditional houses. They like areas where they can be seen out and about-around Sloane Square, especially Sloane Gardens and Draycott Place-and spend £500,000-£1.5 million.’

The French cluster around the Lycées of South Kensington and Wandsworth, as well as Battersea. ‘They go for the rows of large family houses (especially off Trinity Road, Clapham Northside and Northcote Road),’ says George Franks of Douglas & Gordon.

  • The French like to live laterally, as they do in Paris
  • Russians rate sleek and high-end decor, the latest gadgets and fingerprint recognition systems
  • Indians and Nigerians like their kitchens to be separate to cut off cooking smells
  • Far Eastern buyers need new-builds (period means water and heating problems)
  • The Italians must have period; they hate modern
  • Chinese love new-build waterfront properties, especially around Tower Bridge

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