Real Estate

London’s property market loses shine ahead of Brexit vote

Michelle Loh
JLL on how 'Brexit' will impact property prices

Britain's historic vote on whether or not to remain within the European Union might still be two weeks away, but the impact of Brexit has already been felt in London's property market.

Investors who are worried about the impact of Brexit on their London house prices are taking a "wait and see" approach, said Alistair Meadows, head of international property consultancy JLL's Asia-Pacific International Capital Group.

JLL has already seen a 30 percent fall in UK transactions in the first quarter of this year, with some 45 percent of investors expected to put off any buying or selling decisions until after the referendum.

Now even property investors in Asia are getting skittish. One Asia-based property agent CNBC spoke to noted that Asia-based investors had already hit the "pause button" until after the vote.

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Duncan Peacock, a client relationship manager with Johns & Co., a firm that connects international investors with premium new homes and luxury real estate, said that many UK-based agents and developers are concerned that Britain losing its EU membership could make London property a less attractive proposition.

"Brexit is generating many more questions than answers, which is certainly hindering most current buying decisions," he said. "Foot-fall is good but it is definitely more of a window shopping exercise only."

A Reuters report over the weekend found that property investors were writing Brexit clauses into their contracts that would allow them to follow Britain out the door if it decides to leaves the EU following the referendum on June 23, and data from international property consultancy Knight Frank found that demand was subdued even after prices of certain properties were slashed by 10 percent.

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Ratios of buyers to available properties have also fallen, with only 4.8 active buyers per available property now even in prime residential areas such as central London, compared with 10 available buyers this time last year.

"Buyers and sellers are postponing decisions due to the prospect of entering unchartered economic and political territory", said Tom Bill, Head of Knight Frank's London Residential Research unit.

Buying opportunities for savvy investors

Knight Frank's research also found investors to be more price sensitive, with Brexit uncertainty presenting some fantastic buying opportunities.

Indeed, some Asia-based investors are already looking to capitalize on the weaker pound and slower property market, with research by JLL finding that some 58 percent of investors were on the hunt for opportunistic investments.

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JLL's Meadows said that some of the company's clients have looked at the volatility as a counter-cyclical opportunity, and noted that there was still a fundamental imbalance in London between real estate supply and demand.

Anecdotally, other real estate agents that CNBC spoke to also said that the weaker pound worked in Asian investors' favor, with some observing that the uncertainty meant that agents would be more willing to negotiate.

The long view

In the long run, JLL's Meadows thinks that the fundamentals remain positive for UK property investors.

"Asian investors typically take a much longer-term view," said Meadows. "Those investors that have bought in the last 5-10 years are doing well from a capital growth perspective."

"I think irrespective of what happens on the 23 of June, investors will still see the UK as a positive place to invest."

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