Research article

Rules of Attraction

Overseas-born buyers are shaping London’s prime housing markets, here are three key trends.

London is a cosmopolitan city that has built its success on immigration and international trade. Some 37% of all Londoners were born overseas. As long as London remains an attractive place to live, work, invest and learn, it continues to draw people from across the globe.

It is, therefore, no surprise that overseas-born buyers of all kinds are shaping London’s housing markets. This is particularly the case in London’s highly visible (but comparatively small) prime markets, where budgets are higher and purchasing habits dictated by discretion as well as need.

Reading some headlines, however, you may be forgiven for thinking that swathes of London’s housing stock are being bought absentee, buy-to-leave landlords from abroad.

These stories draw on figures on the very upper echelons of London’s housing markets – a tiny proportion of London as a whole. They also overlook London’s role as a global city and the people from around the world that choose to make London their home.

While non-UK buyers made up 40% of the prime London resales market in 2014, prime London accounts for just 8% of the total London residential market. Therefore, taking the market in its entirety, non-UK buyers of prime property made up just 3.2% of all London transactions in 2014. Of these, 84% were purchasing their main residence, a figure not dissimilar to UK buyers also active in the prime market, at 91%.

Figure 13

FIGURE 13London transactions 2014, source of buyers in resale property

Source: Savills Research

The world in prime London: three trends

We have analysed our data on the purchasers of prime London property and highlighted three key trends.

Our findings illustrate how people from other countries bring their lifestyle preferences and home market characteristics into London.

The prevalence of new build, high-rise apartments in Asia, for example, means those buyers feel comfortable with the same product in London. Extended families and generous space standards at home mean that a lot of Middle Eastern buyers seek something quite different.

It is interesting to note those nationalities with a long tradition of buying in London, notably North Americans and Europeans, tend to buy properties most similar to those favoured by many Londoners.

This is an important strategy for buyers of all nations to consider when it comes to resale. A distinctly ‘London’ product is more likely to find a second-hand market than something designed specifically for one particular overseas market.

British buyers are the dominant purchasing group in every prime London region. Taken across the whole of the London market, non-UK buyers of prime property made up only 3.2% of all London transactions in 2014. National groups cluster for a multitude of reasons. French buyers are concentrated in South West London, particularly around the lycées of Kensington and Fulham, for example. For the wealthy Russian buyers, address is paramount and prime central London locations are favoured.

Figure 14

FIGURE 14Top nationalitites by London region (2007-15) (resales)

Source: Savills Research

Buyers from Middle East and North Africa spent the most on average on prime London resale property (£4.7m per property) and prime new build (£4.4m per property), and in 2014-15. The average purchase price of prime London resale property among UK buyers – who make up the majority of prime London – was £2.0m in 2014-15, and £1.6m for new build.

Figure 15

FIGURE 15Average purchase price in prime London by global region, 

Source: Savills Research

Those used to large properties at home seek more space in London. Buyers from the Middle East and the Americas purchase the biggest homes in prime London on average.

Buyers from Pacific Asia and China bought smaller properties on average. City-living in the home markets is characterised by high-rise apartments.

Figure 16

FIGURE 16Prime London property purchase size by global region, 2014-15

Source: Savills Research

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