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I thought Paris, Vancouver or Hong Kong, had the hottest markets at the moment....

http://finance.yahoo.com/banking-budgeting/article/112579/worlds-hottest-real-estate-market-marketwatch?mod=bb-budgeting#mwpphu-container

Is this the biggest bubble in the world?

I hesitate to use the overplayed word "bubble." But in the case of London property, it's hard to avoid.

What's happening here is absolutely ridiculous.

Look in the window of any real-estate agent here and you think people have gone crazy — and then you realize that the prices are in British pounds, and that to convert to dollars you have to add another 60%.

Half a million pounds ($800,000) for a one-bedroom condo with a small garden on the southern, unfashionable side of the river Thames? Really? And $2 million for a modest two-bedroom condo in Chelsea?

As John McEnroe used to say at Wimbledon, you cannot be serious.

While the rest of Britain grapples with austerity, falling real wages and budget cuts, London real estate — super-prime London real estate, the best of the best — is back in the grip of another mania.

According to an index maintained by high-end real-estate firm Knight Frank, prime central London prices are nearing and may even be surpassing the giddy levels seen at the peak a few years ago. The brokers' windows tell the same story.

It's like that whole Lehman thing never even happened.

What's going on?

"London property is the 'Swiss bank account' of the 21st century," Robin Hardy, an analyst at London investment firm Peel Hunt, explained to me. Rich people in places like Egypt, Syria and southern Europe are rushing to get their money away from the turmoil, and for want of a better alternative, they are plunking it down in the "millionaire's playground" of central London.

"It's seen as a relatively safe place to put your money if your objective is capital preservation," he said. They think money is "safer invested in an apartment in Sloane Street than in a bank account in Damascus."

Foxtons, a high-end real-estate agency, told me that 80% of its sales this year at its Sloane Square branch have come from overseas buyers.

This is just the latest twist to a story that's been running for some time. Gulf sheikhs. Russian oligarchs. Newly rich Indian and Chinese tycoons. London has become a magnate for the international super-rich: a millionaire's playground. Russian money has been flooding in for at least a decade. One hedge-fund manager here told me London property was a "laundromat for Russian money."

You can see it in the fanciest shopping districts, from Jermyn Street and Old Bond Street.

The booms in oil and emerging markets have been very good for prices here for at least a decade. Great Britain, through generous tax treatment of foreign nationals, has cleverly encouraged the trend.

A friend of mine a few years ago described how a Gulf sheikh was steadily buying up more and more of her condo development just north of Hyde Park. The sheikh liked to come to London for two months every summer to escape the Gulf heat, and he liked to bring his extended family and entourage. He didn't care much about price, and he wanted as many condos as he could get.

There are other factors at work. London has become the financial capital of Europe. The giant money machine has spread far beyond the old financial district of the City of London. High-powered hedge funds and secretive commodity firms crowd the alleys and lanes of Mayfair and the towers of redeveloped Docklands. The windfalls have long been seen as a major driver of property prices.

Housing supply is limited, especially in the best areas. London has tough zoning laws, so there is very little new development.

And you can also throw into the mix low interest rates. A friend explained how his grossly overpriced home cost him very little every year, because he is paying just 1% interest on a flexible mortgage.

To hear people tell it here, this miracle will go on indefinitely. Prices will keep rising skyward. You no longer encounter many bears of London property. Most have given up.

But there are a couple of wrinkles that should give people pause.

First, you see more and more dark windows. On Sunday I went to a pub with one of my oldest friends. He described how more and more properties in central London were simply unused most of the year. You'd look up at the windows as you walked down the street, and very few were lit up.

A recent study by Knight Frank found that one of the top reasons the international elite gave for selling a London home was simply that it was surplus to their needs.

The second concern is that more and more actual British are being crowded out of the city. Over dinners in the past 10 days, both a London member of Parliament and a top executive at a fund firm here have bemoaned the fact that young people can no longer afford to move into the usual London neighborhoods when they start their careers here. They've been priced out. Many of the middle-class are suffering the same fate. Ultimately, this simply becomes unsustainable. It will strangle the city's vitality.

The third problem is that 1% interest rates will not last forever. Sooner or later they will have to rise, and when they do, a lot of home loans will become unmanageable as well as unrepayable. Happy times.

The fourth issue is one that often gets forgotten. In the age of the Internet and modern technology, the comparative advantages of big, expensive cities like London are actually in decline. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to run a hedge fund in the British Isles, you probably had to do it in London. That is no longer the case. It is a lot cheaper — and the quality of life much better — if you move out of town.

The fifth problem, though, is probably most ominous: the plunge in rental yields.

According to Knight Frank, while prime London sales prices have doubled in the past 10 years, prime London rents have risen by less than 10%. The net result is that landowners are getting a gross yield of maybe 3.6% on average, compared to more than 6% a decade ago. Conversations I've had — with renters and owners — suggest some are getting even less.

Once you subtract all the costs of buying and selling a home, maintenance, taxes and condo fees, some landlords are making very little — if anything.

As usual, the defenders of current prices are quick with a rebuttal: "But people aren't investing for the yield," they say. "They are investing for the capital gains!"

Alas for this argument, in a rational market, yields are the drivers of capital gains. The price of an asset goes up because the current owners are earning so much money that outsiders want in. The idea that people will keeping bidding up prices of an asset that makes no money is quixotic at best.

Will it turn? If so, when? It's anyone's guess. But for those living and working in Britain, the conclusions are pretty obvious. If I moved back to this country, I would avoid living and working in London if at all possible. And if I had to be in London, I'd rent.

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Agree it is possible to run hedge funds outside of London, but not many of them are doing it yet.

In USA, there are plenty of funds running in Conneticut, for example, and the likes of Warren Buffet stay in their own towns, but over in UK they are still blinkered towards London.

The other issue with running a hedge fund is recruiting graduates. The top quality grads are still attracted to London like flies to shit.

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You're on to something here. I rent in an affluent part of west London close to the Kings Road. I remember hanging out here as a teenager years ago, when places like Notting Hill and the Kings Road were the coolest places in town. I moved back here partly out of nostalgia only to find the area has changed dramatically.

Sky high prices have excluded the young - or in fact anyone under 40. Absentee property owners have turned parts of west London into a ghost town (eg. between Knightsbridge and Hyde Park). Local residents are of an age and inclination that does not support the vibrant social scene that originally attracted many of them to the area. The result is that west London has become like Switzerland without the mountains - rich, smug and UNBEARABLY BORING!

I'm moving back to east London where I work and where I lived until recently. It's fun, it has a great social scene and it's what living in London is all about (IMHO). Even if I could afford to buy in the wealthy parts of west London I wouldn't. Frankly, I'm a bit slow on the uptake. Many of my friends have moved already and I believe this shift will have fundamental implications for London over the next 30 years. Leave west London to the rich. Ultimately they'll get bored of their own tedious company and move too.

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I'm moving back to east London where I work and where I lived until recently. It's fun, it has a great social scene and it's what living in London is all about (IMHO). Even if I could afford to buy in the wealthy parts of west London I wouldn't. Frankly, I'm a bit slow on the uptake. Many of my friends have moved already and I believe this shift will have fundamental implications for London over the next 30 years. Leave west London to the rich. Ultimately they'll get bored of their own tedious company and move too.

Really? Switzerland seems to be doing A-OK as far as I can tell. Boring? Rich? Yes. People moving out? No. :lol:

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You're on to something here. I rent in an affluent part of west London close to the Kings Road. I remember hanging out here as a teenager years ago, when places like Notting Hill and the Kings Road were the coolest places in town. I moved back here partly out of nostalgia only to find the area has changed dramatically.

Sky high prices have excluded the young - or in fact anyone under 40. Absentee property owners have turned parts of west London into a ghost town (eg. between Knightsbridge and Hyde Park). Local residents are of an age and inclination that does not support the vibrant social scene that originally attracted many of them to the area. The result is that west London has become like Switzerland without the mountains - rich, smug and UNBEARABLY BORING!

I'm moving back to east London where I work and where I lived until recently. It's fun, it has a great social scene and it's what living in London is all about (IMHO). Even if I could afford to buy in the wealthy parts of west London I wouldn't. Frankly, I'm a bit slow on the uptake. Many of my friends have moved already and I believe this shift will have fundamental implications for London over the next 30 years. Leave west London to the rich. Ultimately they'll get bored of their own tedious company and move too.

I cycled up the Kings Road this week, I used to travel up and down it every day a decade ago. It is now really just an any town high street. Some shops that closed a decade ago are still empty.

What they have done to the Picasso Cafe beggars belief, horrible.

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  • 312 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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