A few days ago, the British comedian Simon Brodkin went viral on social media when he asked some New Yorkers what they thought of Rishi Sunak. “Of who?” most of them replied. Oddly a few thought he was a DJ. “Techno DJ. Doof doof doof.”


12th June 2024


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The (not so) quiet Americans snapping up Britain’s best homes

Rishi who? Wealthy US buyers don’t care about UK politics, they just want to splash their cash on prime properties

By Emanuele Midolo

A few days ago, the British comedian Simon Brodkin went viral on social media when he asked some New Yorkers what they thought of Rishi Sunak. “Of who?” most of them replied. Oddly a few thought he was a DJ. “Techno DJ. Doof doof doof.”

The video was captioned “DJ Sunak taking bookings from July 5” — in the comments some were wondering what would have happened if he’d asked the same question about Keir Starmer.

Although they may not know (or care) much about British politics, Americans seem to love Britain. Taylor Swift is reportedly renting a £3 million cottage in Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds, a stone’s throw from Soho Farmhouse, the exclusive members’ club. Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres are also rumoured to be on the hunt for houses there. Since the pandemic US buyers have snapped up trophy mansions, penthouses and huge lateral apartments in some of England’s best addresses — particularly in London.

Last year four in ten London homes valued at £15 million and above were sold to an American buyer, according to an analysis by the super-prime agency Beauchamp Estates. This accounts for more than half a billion pounds’ worth of properties. The data, from the property portal LonRes (plus Beauchamp’s own market insights), also shows that 70 per cent of all purchases were made in cash.

“Americans don’t give a flying f*** about non-dom status,” Beauchamp’s founder, Gary Hersham, says, referring to the tax status of “non-domiciled residents” — like Sunak’s wife, the Indian businesswoman Akshata Murty — who do not have to pay tax on money they earned outside of the UK.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced in the spring budget that he is scrapping the non-dom tax regime. There were worries in property circles that the change, which will take place in April 2025, may dampen foreign investments. When it comes to American buyers, at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case — yet.

“They’re taxed worldwide and they’re not concerned about politics here or in America,” Hersham says. “They’re wealthy enough to live anywhere they want. And they love it here. They love the quality of work of the properties in London, which they just do not get in California or New York. Nothing to compare.”

In the past two weeks alone American buyers have snapped up properties in London worth £150 million. Not even the prospect of a Labour government, which may introduce higher taxes on foreign ownership of UK homes, seems to be denting their enthusiasm.

“None of [our American clients] are really talking to us about a Labour government or the general election and how that may impact them,” Camilla Dell, managing partner of the buying agency Black Brick, says. “Some of them have been talking to us about Donald Trump, saying that if he gets elected [in the US] they’re going to think twice whether they want to stay there or even come here permanently. But others think Trump is good news for anybody in America who’s got money.”

Many of Dell’s American clients are professionals — either working in tech or finance — living on the Pacific west coast who want to buy a pied-à-terre or a holiday home in Kensington and Chelsea. Their budgets range from £1.5 million to £8 million, she says.

“Many of them have business links here,” Dell explains. “They like being in London and everything the city has to offer: theatres, shopping, parks. But they also love to use the capital as a springboard into Europe. Here in London we take the continent for granted, whereas Americans really see how close amazing places are — Paris, Rome, Greece — and they make the most of it. They move around and explore.”

London’s top agents agree that, historically, US buyers have been interested in period houses with period features. “Some of our houses are older than the cities they come from,” says Jessica Bishop from DDRE Global, the super-prime boutique agency that is the subject of the hit Netflix show Buying London. About half of DDRE’s clients are American, and it uses a US brokerage model to do business.

Bishop says US buyers dream about the charm and character of traditional British homes. “I’m looking on behalf of a very influential American at the moment. Their focus is particularly on the exterior of the house, the stucco façades that you see in Belgravia and on [the Netflix period drama] Bridgerton.”

Another drive is the quality of schools in England. Bishop has just sold a multimillion-pound townhouse in Notting Hill, west London, to an American family — they want their children to be educated here.

Peter Wetherell, head of the estate agency Wetherell, which specialises in properties in Mayfair, is selling a house in Hay’s Mews, priced at £6.75 million, for the third time in his career. “I sold the house to an American lady back in 1987, then in 2000 it was purchased by another American buyer, a Chicago financier, Ralph I Goldenberg,” Wetherell says. “Now his daughter, Jane Goldenberg, who is based in Chicago, has asked us to sell the house again. Our main focus is marketing it in the United States.”

Wetherell says that for London’s super-prime developers, marketing to an American audience has become “essential” and “mission critical”, so roadshows for London trophy homes regularly take place in Manhattan, Miami and Chicago. “UK property firms are spending vast sums of money advertising in American newspapers and magazines.”

More recently American buyers have started to hunt for new-builds too, partly due to a lack of available stock in addresses like Mayfair, Chelsea or Belgravia.

“Americans have never been as prevalent in the London market as they are now, and as more have come in, they’ve massively diversified the types of properties they buy,” Claire Reynolds, managing partner at UK Sotheby’s International Realty, says. Reynolds has just sold a two-bedroom flat in a development on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair to an American businessman for £23.5 million.

“This was a guy who was opening an office in London and just wanted an apartment that could double up as a wardrobe,” she adds. “He said that even if he flies by private jet he doesn’t want to bring anything beyond his phone, wallet and passport.”

This trend is not exclusive to prime London. Americans have been flocking to the Cotswolds for some time. “The north, close to Soho Farmhouse, tends to attract celebrities who want to be noticed,” says Henry Sherwood, founder of The Buying Agents consultancy, which covers the home counties. “If you want to be more discreet you should go to the south. There’s a lot of old money in the Cotswolds, they don’t need to sell and are very selective.” Sherwood adds that the Royal Air Force airport at Brize Norton, around 15 miles away from Chipping Norton, now accepts private jets.

Trevor Kearney, who for 20 years sold prime properties for Savills and has just set up his own firm, the Private Office, says that the private estates in Surrey — including the Wentworth Estate and St George’s Hill — are also extremely popular among Americans.

“They might have been aware of them in the past but they’re now looking to buy there and make home there,” Kearney says, adding that there are two big ACS international schools (formerly known as American Community Schools) in Surrey, one of them in Cobham, close to St George’s Hill, and the other in Egham, close to Wentworth.

Kearney says he is advising two American families looking for large family homes in Surrey. “Both originally came saying they wanted traditional British homes,” he explains. “They had a typical Cotswolds cottage in mind. They don’t any more. Both want sleek design, security, high-tech facilities and amenities.”

Neither prospective buyer, it seems, could care less who the next UK’s prime minister will be.

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