In prime central London, it’s open season for wealthy investors from abroad with dollars to burn.
By Emanuele Midolo
The property developer Nick Candy has always had a talent for attracting new wealth. In the early 2000s it was Russian oligarchs; in the 2010s, with the creation of One Hyde Park, he added sheikhs and Chinese businessmen. Now the husband of the former Neighbours actress and singer Holly Valance is trying to lure wealthy Americans.
“Because of the pound slump it’s a unique time to buy prime triple-A real estate assets,” Candy, 49, says. He adds that this is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, with the pound expected to strengthen against the US dollar over the next few months.
Candy is personally hoping to cash in on the slump in sterling — the most severe decline in the history of the currency. He is selling a three-bedroom flat in the Mayfair area of London for £8.75 million. Having finished refurbishing the property two weeks ago, he opted to put it on the market immediately. “The size of the apartment is perfect,” he says. “It was just a bit tired and run-down; it needed a new kitchen and new bathrooms — it needed to be ‘Candyfied’.”
Land Registry records show that he bought the duplex in November for £5.6 million. The vendor was Bernard Looney, the Irish-born chief executive of BP.
“We were considering letting it, but we’d prefer to sell,” Candy says, adding that it had already been viewed by potential buyers, mostly from the US, Canada and the UAE. “It’s Mayfair, it sits by the Connaught Hotel, it will always interest international buyers. I’ve been told that the building has got six FTSE 250 chief executives in it.”
“As soon as the pound crashed against the dollar we got inundated with calls,” says Guy Bradshaw, managing director of Sotheby’s International Realty. “Dollar buyers hold the trump card these days . . . When you are a cash buyer, not having to worry about interest rates and mortgage products being pulled off the market, you’ve got an ace in your hand.”
Bradshaw adds that many such buyers are shrewd businessmen. “They say that if they buy now, at the current exchange rate, they pretty much have a guaranteed exit strategy in three to five years’ time, once the [value of the pound] goes back up,” he says. “They’re going to make a lot of money.”
Marc Schneiderman, director of the Arlington Residential estate agency, sold a John Nash terraced house near Regent’s Park to an American businessman last month. It had been on the market for £15 million, but the buyer eventually managed to negotiate the price down to £13 million. Combining that discount with the currency fluctuation, he has saved about $5 million on what he would have paid in March, when he first viewed the property.
“These are people who have been looking for properties for a while, some since the beginning of the year,” Schneiderman says. “They’re now flying in determined to buy. The US buyers have been reacting quicker, jumping on a plane and coming here, but Middle Eastern investors are following suit.”
Owners of large properties in London are moving quickly too. Rosy Khalastchy, a director at Beauchamp Estates in the capital, says that she had a number of instructions with vendors hoping to lure foreign buyers. “We have had about half a dozen new listings,” she says, “and we have also had a flurry of clients asking us to inspect their homes and keep them in mind should a dollar-based buyer want a property in their area.”
Khalastchy adds that she knows of 11 dollar-based buyers looking to buy super-prime properties in central London, each with a budget of between £70 million and £100 million. “From these buyers alone, this is potentially £1.1 billion worth of London real estate being sought due to the market conditions,” she says.
According to Savills, price growth in central London paused in the past quarter, with the figure down by 0.2 per cent on the previous quarter. But properties in the city valued at £10 million or more continued to outperform, recording year-on-year growth of 4.3 per cent.
“Our client list looks a bit like it did in 2007 and 2008, before the great financial crisis,” says Camilla Dell, managing partner of the Black Brick buying agency. “[Other than the Americans], a lot of them work in the oil and gas industry, and a lot are from west Africa. I think that we will see a ‘flight to quality’ as we did in 2007. Buyers looking to diversify their wealth will be drawn to best-in-class assets.”