Appeal of London property wanes for foreign buyers

Wealthy foreigners are retreating from the ultra-luxury London property market, as optimism about the global economy sees the appeal of "safe-haven" investments fade, according to global estate agency Knight Frank.

"Super-prime" properties—homes worth over £10 million ($17 million)—were the first part of the London housing market to recover after the global economic crisis of 2007/08. Demand was fueled by rich foreigners seeking London properties as a safe investment in turbulent times.

However, Knight Frank has found that international buyers are now retreating. They have accounted for under half (47 percent) of the super-prime market so far this year, down from 64 percent in last year and 73 percent in 2012.

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"With macro-economic risks receding, fewer foreign buyers are seeking the 'safe-haven' appeal of London property," said Tom Bill, Knight Frank's head of London residential research, in a report on Tuesday.

Investment from mainland Europe and Russia in particular has declined this year, while British buying has risen.

"British buyers are increasingly stepping into the place of foreign buyers as threats like the collapse of the euro zone diminish," said Bill.

"Combined with an improving U.K. economy, it means there are more British buyers in the super-prime bracket than at any time since the collapse of Lehman Brothers."

Foreign buyers may have also been deterred by the steady appreciation in sterling since its trough in March 2013. Since then, the pound has gained around 16 percent against the euro and 13 percent against the U.S. dollar.

The downturn in foreign interest appears to have hit U.K. ultra-luxury property prices. Growth for £10million-plus properties was 3.3 percent in the year to April, versus average annual growth of 7.5 percent for all properties in "prime" central London.

Bill said that an uptick in global economic or geopolitical insecurity could yet reinvigorate foreign interest.

"Instability in emerging markets, triggered by events such as the conflict in Ukraine or China's economic slowdown, could spark a second wave of 'safe-haven' capital into the super-prime London market and put upwards pressure on prices," he wrote.

Either way, London remains a hub for some of the world's richest citizens, and is home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. Last month, the Sunday Times reported in its Rich List that there were 72 Londoners with a net worth of £1 billion or more, compared with 48 Muscovites and 43 New Yorkers.

In addition, a survey by PwC last month found that London beat New York to be the world's best city for "economic clout".