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London property sales slump as Brexit bites but Indians seeking ‘safe haven’ may take up slack

  • Sales in central London have tanked 41 percent in the first quarter of this year

  • European investors, who were the second largest buyers just two years ago, accounted only for 7 percent of the sales over the last 12 months

  • Indian investors are now the second biggest buyers of London prime properties
David Palmer | E+ | Getty Images

Prime property in central London has lost its attractiveness among global investors due to the uncertainty over the country's future relationship with the European Union.

Sales in central London have tanked 41 percent in the first quarter of this year to just 3406 sales compared with the previous year, data from real estate investment adviser London Central Portfolio showed Monday.

This is "in large part due to significant increases in taxation," Naomi Heaton, CEO of London Central Portfolio, said in a statement Monday, but also due to a "wait-and-see attitude" from European investors as Brexit talks take place.

European investors, who were the second largest buyers just two years ago, accounted for 7 percent of the sales over the last 12 months.

"As the group most impacted by the outcome of the U.K.'s exit from the European Union, a bounce back amongst these investors will very much depend on the result of on-going negotiations," Heaton said.

Data from research firm LonRes showed last month that 58 percent of properties taken off the market in 2017 were withdrawn rather than sold.

Matthew Riley, head of research at Natixis Global Asset Management, told CNBC on Monday that "there's a lot of uncertainty at the moment, certainly geopolitical uncertainty from what we read is pretty much high although market volatility is quite low. So I would expect at some point investors to come back to property, but in the interim period the biggest move we've seen since Brexit has been a reduction in property allocation."

There's a new buyer in town

However, not everything is doom and gloom. There's been a surge in purchases from Indian investors, who are now the second biggest buyers of London prime properties, according to London Central Portfolio.

Buyers from India represent 22 percent of property sales in central London, an increase from 5 percent just two years ago.

International purchases of prime central London property between 2014 and 2015.
Data collected by London Central Portfolio
International purchases of prime central London property between 2014 and 2015.
International purchases of prime central London property between 2016 and 2017.
Data collected by London Central Portfolio
International purchases of prime central London property between 2016 and 2017.

On average, Indian investors are purchasing properties worth £1.77 million ($2.30 million), which comes slightly above the market average of £1.6 million ($2.08 million).

The surge is driven by changes in Indian laws and a weaker sterling. The Liberalized Remittance Scheme in India has allowed investors to send more capital to the U.K. since 2015. At the same time, higher loan interest and rising prices in India have made it harder for people to buy property in their country. Lastly, investors with capital in U.S. dollars can make cheaper purchases in U.K. property due to the recent depreciation of sterling.

"Despite two years of slower price growth due to tax headwinds and the U.K.'s Brexit vote, Prime Central London has remained attractive to international buyers as a safe haven asset class with the rule of law and proper title to property," Heaton said.

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