Taxed Out of Mansions, London Investors Head Down-Market

7 August 2015, Bloomberg

London’s swankiest neighborhoods of Knightsbridge and Belgravia are becoming no-go areas for even the wealthiest property investors.

They are being driven out by higher sales taxes introduced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in December, which rise to as much as 12 percent of the cost of the most expensive homes.

Buying agent Camilla Dell says that her clients are spending an average of 2 million pounds ($3.1 million) less on each transaction this year and they’re more interested in cheaper areas such as Hackney and Shoreditch. That’s because an investor buying a 5 million-pound home pays almost 364,000 pounds more in tax than if they spent the same amount of money on 10 apartments costing 500,000 pounds each.

Osborne has “really depressed” the luxury market, said Dell, managing partner at broker Black Brick Property Solutions. Investors “are still spending the same amount, but they’ll split it up between several properties in the sub-1 million-pound market,” she said.

Through July 23, Dell’s Black Brick broker advised clients on 25 home purchases with an average value of 1.5 million pounds compared with 12 deals averaging of 3.54 million pounds in the same period last year. Sales of London homes for 2 million pounds or more fell by a third in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to property data provider Lonres.

With investors now buying more homes in less expensive districts, prices below Osborne’s threshold are climbing and owner-occupiers, who should have benefited from his tax cuts, are being penalized, Dell said. The tax increases kick in at 937,000 pounds.

“The very buyers Osborne was setting out to help, he’s put at a disadvantage,” she said. “At the same time, sales at the higher end have frozen. It was a very, very bad move.”

The number of investors registering an interest to buy a home in prime central London with Hamptons International dropped 10 percent in the first half compared with the same period last year, said Johnny Morris, head of research at the broker.

Investors who buy multiple apartments for about 500,000 pounds in London typically receive a rental yield of 4 percent to 5 percent, compared with about 2 percent for a luxury home in London’s best districts, Morris said.

In Kensington & Chelsea, the U.K.’s most expensive property borough, 137 homes were sold in April, the lowest monthly total since March 2009, according to the Land Registry.

Values in some of London’s best districts have been falling since the stamp-duty changes, according to broker Knight Frank LLP. Prices in the seven months through July dropped 2.3 percent in Chelsea, 2.1 percent in Knightsbridge and 0.6 percent in Notting Hill, according to data compiled by the broker.

The decline in values in prime central London “is a temporary correction, but I think PCL will eventually continue to grow,” said Giles Hannah, senior vice president at Christies International Real Estate. “That’s because there has been historical shocks before and the market has recovered.”

About 5,000 U.K. homebuyers paid the higher stamp duty levies in the first half, two-thirds of them in London, according to Nationwide Building Society. If the levies had been raised a year earlier, 6,900 purchasers would have been affected, Nationwide estimates.

The average value of a London home sold by broker Savills Plc fell by 200,000 pounds to 3 million pounds in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2014, while transactions fell 15 percent in the period, the broker said on Thursday.

“The buyers’ market has returned,” William Carrington, chairman of data researcher Lonres, wrote in a report on London’s best districts on Monday. “I do not see an improvement in market conditions before September.”

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