31st July 2023
Property headlines are dismal reading right now.
Around the globe major capital cities are reporting falling prices and declining transaction levels as buyers respond to rising interest rates and a general sense that now is not the right time, and shelving their plans to move.
But beneath the surface lies a far more nuanced truth.
Because all the data suggests that while London’s mainstream market is ailing its prime market is meeting the current challenges head on.
A whole slew of new research points to the fact that while the UK’s mainstream markets are having an extremely tough time London’s prime market exists in a completely different plane.
Property consultant CBRE counted 562 £1m-plus sales in prime central London during the second quarter of 2023, up nine per cent on the first quarter of the year.
Estate agent Savills, meanwhile, reported a bounce in the number of £5m-plus sales. There were 132 deals between April and June, to 108 in the first three months of the year.
Admittedly sale numbers are shaping up to be lower than last year – but around equal to 2021 and significantly above the turbulent 2017 to 2019 period when Brexit was denting buyer confidence in the British capital.
The reason PCL is sailing through the storm is simple. Affluent buyers are less impacted by rising interest rates (and with around two thirds of PCL homes are owned outright a fire sale situation is unlikely).
Then there is the profile of London’s buyers, who include some of the wealthiest men and women in the world. Last month Indian billionaire Ravi Ruia was reported to have bought a splendid Regent’s Park mansion for £113m. According to the Land Registry, the 25,800 sq ft Hanover Lodge was sold to him by Andrey Goncharenko, a Russian property investor and oligarch.
“News headlines suggest that the world is coming to an end,” said Camilla Dell, managing partner of Black Brick. “But prime Central London has a funny way of bucking trends and being resilient even in the face of a cost of living crisis and higher interest rates.”
This is particularly true of best in class properties. “There is a real lack of quality property that is sensibly priced,” said Dell.
Black Brick recently found itself facing a sealed bids situation with not one but two clients, keen to buy a garden square flat in Knightsbridge and a family house in Chelsea respectively. “We won both bids, but our clients had to pay over the initial asking prices,” said Dell.
“And we have now got a search going on at the moment for clients with a budget of £10m to £12m. They want a turnkey family house in PCL, with a lift. Even though they are very flexible about location there are not a lot of options to show them.”
Two thirds of homes in prime central London have been bought in cash so far this year, according to a report by Savills estate agents. As interest rates tick upward – there have been 13 rate rises in just over a year – buyers with the ability to buy outright are doing so.
Black Brick has seen a similar trend. Last year around a third deals were cash, this year that has risen to 57 per cent.
“Being a cash buyer in the current market is definitely an advantage and is helping us to secure better deals for our clients and win competitive bids,” said Dell. “Sellers will often prefer a cash buyer over one that needs finance as they will be able to transact faster and aren’t reliant on a bank’s valuation.”
Meanwhile, for buyers who require finance to buy a property, the new interest rate landscape may mean rethinking sources of funding.
Traditionally, in a low interest environment, high street banks offered the best mortgage deals, while private banks were a less competitive option.
But as rates have increased this has changed. “Private banks can now make a more healthy margin on lending, and they tend to take a longer term view than the high street,” said Caspar Harvard-Walls, a partner at Black Brick.
“What that means is that private finance could be slightly cheaper than the high street at the moment.”
While buyers are still competing for really top drawer properties, there may be discounts to be had on homes which have slight compromises.
“We are definitely seeing price reductions on vast numbers of properties right across PCL at the moment, including trophy homes in areas such as Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge,” said Dell.
However the key reason these homes are being reduced is that they went on to the market at too high a price in the first place and failed to find a buyer.
“Sellers are finally realising that if they want to sell, the price has to be realistic,” said Dell.
The other thing London sellers need right now is patience.
Buyers, meanwhile, need to avoid overstating their power in the market. If a perfect property comes buyers need to move fast. And although overpriced homes are being corrected there aren’t crazy bargains to be had.
“To think that PCL is distressed and that prices are falling off a cliff would be far from the truth,” said Dell. “It’s more of a recognition amongst sellers that the crazy inflated prices of last year are no longer being tolerated by buyers.”
While everybody seemed to want a suburban house during the height of the pandemic, flats have now been firmly rehabilitated.
In fact, in the first half of 2023, 90 per cent of deals Black Brick was involved with were for apartments – up from 43 per cent last year. Buyers are clearly bored of being out in the sticks, and are looking for the excitement of city centre living once again, particularly if they need to show their faces at the office.
Demand for Black Brick’s services is also strong, as buyers realise in the current, complex market professional help is needed. We closed 50 per cent more deals in the first quarter of 2023 than in the same period last year.
Some 40 per cent of our buyers were British, and another 30 per cent from the USA. The rest were a global crew from all over the world, from Bermuda, to Italy, to Nigeria.
The vast majority – 90 per cent – were looking for either a main residence or an addition to their property portfolio. Only one in ten were investors looking for properties to rent out.
Black Brick saved its clients an average of four per cent off asking price – good going since most of our buyers are looking for a really special property.
Black Brick has been ranked – again – in the prestigious Chambers High Net Worth 2023 guide, as a market leader in the crowded world of London property professionals. Chambers undertake meticulous research every year to compile their rankings, meaning inclusion on their list is based on both merit and reputation.
Chambers described Black Brick as a “fantastic, strong team with great geographical knowledge,” and singled out Dell for her “superb” network of contacts. “She is a force of nature,” concluded the guide.
Not so long ago London’s Bankside was a dismal wasteland of small offices and dingy shops, but the opening of the Tate Modern triggered a wave of investment in an area which is both fabulously located and now full of interesting, often independent, restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops.
Just 15 minutes’ walk to the City, and with the culture of the South Bank and the foodie delights of Borough Market on the doorstep, Bankside has now captured the attention of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
Venturing south of the river for the first time the blue-chip Mandarin has signed a pre-development agreement for a new luxury hotel and 70 branded residences at Bankside Yards, an impressive net zero carbon mixed use development by developer Native Land.
The question is, will the kind of super prime buyers who love the Mandarin brand be willing to venture so far from PCL?
“There is absolutely demand for branded residences amongst super prime buyers,” said Dell. “They love that brand connection, which is why schemes like 20, Grosvenor Square have done so well. But a lot is going to depend on price point. If it looks like a good investment, then absolutely, it will do well. “But if there is going to be a massive premium then I think people might think twice because it is not real PCL.”
When our client first moved to London we helped him find a rental. When he was ready to find a permanent base, he returned for help finding a home to buy within walking distance of his office in Baker Street.
He wanted a two bedroom, two bathroom flat, in a secure building, and didn’t want to have to do any work.
Montagu Gardens is Marylebone’s only garden square, and in demand because of it, but we were able to find him a three bedroom apartment in a well run mansion block.
The property was listed for £1.995m but after a tough negotiation we secured our client a 15 per cent (£295,000 discount). We also introduced them to the right team of conveyancing solicitors and surveyors to steer the sale through safely.
Our client needed to relocate from east to west London for work, and needed our help to navigate a completely new neighbourhood.
We suggested they try well connected, leafy Putney, and found them a house close to the villagey charms of Lower Richmond Road, with its good range of shops and cafes.
The five bedroom house we found them had already been fully extended, and our clients realised it would suit their needs for years to come.
Our research proved that the house was realistically priced at £1.695m. Nonetheless, after a deft negotiation, we still negotiated a £35,000 discount.
Black Brick is discreetly selling a magnificent, six-bedroom duplex apartment in a highly desirable mansion block moments from Kensington Gardens.
The spacious 5,500 sq. ft property which is presented in excellent condition would make a perfect, secure family apartment. Alternatively, its expansive wall space and 3.5m ceiling heights means it would be perfect for an art collector in search of a London home within walking distance of both Knightsbridge and Kensington High Street.
The elegant building, which is on De Vere Gardens, was built in the 1880s, and has a residents’ courtyard garden, a lift and a porter.
Importantly apartments spanning 5500 sq ft are becoming rare as current planning laws prevent amalgamation of apartments larger than 2000 sq ft in many areas of London.
Many of our clients own a global property portfolio, but buying overseas in unfamiliar markets requires expertise, guidance, and trusted partners. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to partner with top buying agents in key locations.
Each month we will be bringing you an “in focus” look at one of the new markets that we now cover, from Berlin to Miami, Dubai to Sydney. This month we take a look at the Big Apple.
After two extremely strong years in the aftermath of the pandemic buyers looking to add a home in New York to their portfolio this year are looking at a considerably less frothy market.
Average co-op and condo prices dropped four per cent in the second quarter of 2023, to an average $1,642 per square foot according to research by Douglas Elliman estate agents.
Rising interest rates have dampened down demand in the city’s mainstream market, but the picture is very different in the city’s prime market.
Knight Frank’s latest wealth report found New York has become world number one spot for super and ultra prime sales, with 244 homes sold for between $10m and $25m, and another 43 $25m-plus homes sold last year alone.
In a two tier market, demand is strong for immaculate turnkey condos in prestigious buildings facing Central Park. Branded residents, like the Mandarin Oriental Residences on 5th Avenue which went on sale in 2022 – are particularly popular with international buyers, who come from Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and western Europe.
But slightly blighted properties – particularly those lacking outside space – are a harder sell.
Commentators agree that homes in the Central Park-adjacent Midtown neighbourhood are set to perform well this year, although as young tech workers return to their offices SoHo and the West Village are also performing strongly.
Address aside, buyers are also increasingly favouring condos over traditional co-op apartments where prospective buyers are scrutinised by the building’s board and must submit to its rules on things like renovations and sub-letting. Condo’s cost around 30 per cent more, on average, but prime buyers are willing to pay for the privilege of greater freedom.
If you are looking to buy in New York we have partnered with several highly experienced buying agents and would be delighted to help. Please contact Camilla.Dell@black-brick.com for more details.
We would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your own property requirements. For a non-obligatory consultation, please contact us.