Friday 20 July 2018

Buyers hit by London drop

An artist's impression of a redevelopment of Battersea Power Station in London
An artist's impression of a redevelopment of Battersea Power Station in London

Neil Callanan

International investors who have paid millions of dollars in down payments on new luxury homes in London's biggest residential development are being squeezed between a more expensive pound and slumping real estate values.

Malaysians who bought units under construction in the Battersea Power Station site from May 2013 have seen costs surge as much as 35pc as the pound strengthened against the ringgit. Kuala Lumpur-based developer Sime Darby Bhd. said management and their families bought $12.8 million of the homes costing from 338,000 pounds ($526,000) to 6 million pounds. The first phase is set for completion next year.

The value of luxury homes in the Battersea and Battersea Park district fell 10pc in the 12 months through June, according to broker Douglas & Gordon Ltd. Investor confidence has been undermined by higher sales taxes introduced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in December, which climb to as much as 12pc of the cost of the most expensive homes.

"A lot of these purchases are linked to political risks in Asia and concerns about an economic slowdown in emerging markets," said Joe Valente, head of research and strategy at JPMorgan Asset Management in London. "A sharp appreciation of the pound could certainly have an impact."

When the Battersea project was first marketed in 2013 a weak pound spurred demand from international investors and the number of new London apartments and houses due to commence construction surged to the highest in at least 26 years.

Interest is now waning, with the number of Asian investors buying properties in London's best locations falling in the first half of the year, according to data compiled by broker Knight Frank LLP.

"We are witnessing softening of interest among buyers from Malaysia and southeast Asian regions, probably due to the prevailing volatile currencies and uncertainty in economic outlook," Sime Darby, which owns 40pc of the Battersea project, said in a statement. "No exchanged contracts have been cancelled to date."

Malaysian buyers accounted for 0.6pc of prime London homes sold in the first six months, compared with 0.9pc in the previous period, while Hong Kong-based purchasers dropped to

3.3pc from 5.6pc and Singapore investors fell to 1.4pc from 3.8pc, Knight Frank said. Chinese homebuyers fell to 9.4pc from 10.9pc.

The pound has gained more than 14pc against the Singapore dollar since May 2013, and 4pc against China's yuan.

The worst hit investors are the Russians, with the ruble depreciating 55pc against the pound in the period after sanctions were triggered by President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea last year. Purchases by Russians slumped to

2.9pc in the first half of the year compared with 6.7pc in the previous six months.

"Given the movement in the pound over the past two years, our model would predict a fall in the price of prime central London to the rest of the U.K. of 10pc to 15pc."

Said Philip Lachowycz, an economist at Fathom Consulting in London. "In our judgment, most of that is yet to come."

While values have started to fall in the Battersea area, investors are being cushioned by increases from 2013 and 2014.

Prices in the South Bank district, which stretches from Battersea Power Station to Tower Bridge, climbed 22.8pc since January 2013, according to Knight Frank.

The decline in international buyers is hurting presales of homes in the U.K. capital. The number of London apartments and houses sold before they're completed fell 27pc to 5,109 in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to broker Chestertons, citing data compiled by Molior London Ltd.

"The London property market is an extremely risky buy at the moment regardless of exchange risk and especially at the top end," said Paul Cheshire, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics.

Developers are competing to sell 18,000 new homes planned for the Nine Elms neighbourhood, which includes 4,000 at Battersea Power Station. They're also having to contend with buyers seeking to flip the apartment purchase contracts before they have to complete the deal and pay sales taxes.

"The developers are losing their pricing power to those speculators looking to flip their deposits," said Mike Prew, an analyst at Jefferies Group LLC.

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