“While the top of the prime central London market may be undergoing a weaker period in the face of the election, London’s suburbs are still experiencing strong growth, fuelled in part by buy to let investors benefitting from a reduction in lenders stress testing…”
Sales in London’s prime property market have continued to fall for the second month in a row in 2015, with transactions down 22% year on year.
According to real estate firm W.A. Ellis, a JLL company, this comes on top of a 34% year on year fall in sales recorded in January.
A breakdown of the figures shows that the most dramatic reduction is sales of houses within Belgravia, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Kensington which have dropped by 100% from 40 sales in 2014 to 19 in the same period this year.
‘Whilst at first glance, these figures may sound alarming, it is always the same in the run up to an election, particularly when property and potential taxation surrounding it, has been at the forefront of all parties’ manifestos,’ said Richard Barber, director at W.A.Ellis.
‘That said, if one uses the same parameters, namely houses sold in the preceding postcodes in previous election years, 2010 and 2005, 47 and 38 houses were sold respectively.
He pointed out that an interesting trend that the firm has observed recently is the off market sales sector. ‘With sentiment amongst domestic buyers so cautious, it is not surprising that vendors wish to keep their houses away from the internet, where its exposure and time on the market can so easily be measured,’ he said.
‘There have certainly been several off market sales recently, but these will not contradict the general downward trend in transaction levels,’ he explained, adding that while the top of the prime central London market may be undergoing a weaker period in the face of the election, London’s suburbs are still experiencing strong growth, fuelled in part by buy to let investors benefitting from a reduction in lenders stress testing.
He explained that loans of up to 75% (LTV) can now be acquired and the stress test for rental income has in some cases been reduced from 125% to 110%. ‘This is good news for investors, however one must remember that the government, as of 06 April, will be clawing back greater Capital Gains Tax revenues from both foreign owners and corporate structures on all capital gains made after this date,’ said Barber.
‘whilst the outlook for the market over the next 64 days remains tentative, we are still registering strong international interest at the very upper end of the market which is indicative of London’s perception as the number one safe haven and front runner for long term capital growth over the next 10 years,’ he added.
In the lettings sector Lucy Morton, director and head of agency at W.A.Ellis, said that the firm is seeing both savvy investors and a cautious buyers entering the lettings dynamics. ‘The savvy investor is looking to buy to let to increase their portfolio prior to the election foreseeing that there could well be a boom in the sales market once the uncertainty is over and a government in place for another term,’ she explained.
‘The cautious purchaser favours renting rather than buying until the elections are over and they will then make their decision as to whether to continue renting or purchase. The lettings market thrives during uncertain times as it gives greater flexibility,’ she added.
She also pointed out that tenants tend to remain in situ at this time of year and also prior to the elections, and overall tenancy termination rates are down year on year. Some 45% of outgoing tenants are currently moving for work relocation reasons, 14% moving to their own homes, 14% downsizing, 9% upsizing, 9% following end of studies and 9% for miscellaneous reasons.
‘When analysing the tenant profile in prime London, despite predictions that the finance centre would play a less prominent role, in practice this is not the case. A large proportion of our recent lettings are from senior directors within this sector, not only banks such as Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs but also hedge funds and private equity firms,’ she pointed out.
These tenants generally have budgets in excess £2,000 per week and their focus is on prime locations favouring prestigious garden squares such as Cadogan Square, Lennox Gardens, Eaton Square and Onslow Square while the more junior directors favour developments which offer lifestyle facilities to include a concierge, cinema, business facilities and health club.
‘Of course finance is not the main source of tenants, we are witnessing an increase in tenants from the wider corporate sector including energy such as oil and gas, as well as insurance,’ she added.