By Matthew Turner, Founder and Managing Director of Astute Property Search
It has long been the great British dream that when we finally retire, we will sell the family home, or downsize it, and move to warmer climates to enjoy our twilight years in relative peace and warmth. However, since Brexit, that dream has been shattered for many, even for those who have already moved, as the EU’s settled status procedures prove to be full of red tape and difficult navigation.
Since mid-2020 we have seen a dramatic increase, of around 75%, in inquiries from UK nationals who had settled abroad and are now looking to return fully or for months of the year not covered by temporary visas or the legal 90 days in period 180.
The most recent figures indicate that more than 1.3 million Britons currently live in EU countries, so it is likely that this situation will eventually be rectified, but with the persistence of demagoguery between the UK and Brussels, many find themselves with costly decisions to keep their dream. lifestyle in the sun or abandon them altogether. We believe this will see increased activity in the market early in 2022 as many tire of the processes and make the decision to take root in the UK.
Downsizers looking for a pied-à-terre, which they can rent during their periods of return abroad, generally look for two-bedroom apartments outside of London (Notting Hill, St. John’s Wood and Battersea), as well as the greenest suburb. Before the pandemic, they would have preferred something more profitable, like a studio or a bed, but these units are struggling to meet the rents they once did, with tenants looking for more space and flexibility.
Two recent examples of procurement for expats or internationals moving to the UK include a two bedroom apartment in St. John’s Wood which we secured for £ 675,000 and a two bedroom house in Hampstead which after long negotiations, we helped the client to buy for £ 770,000 – against £ 850,000.
Both transactions were occasions when foreign customers could not be physically in London, due to COVID restrictions or wishing to stay abroad to use their “free travel period” and “their visits” were carried out by video link.
Originally clients wanted to focus on new construction and although buying off plan is not new, the properties we normally seek out and encourage clients to buy for investment are existing period properties. not new builds that have yet to be built (think new car and the adage that it loses value as soon as you leave the showroom, we just find there is more value in an older property existing, with a good track record).
Expats looking to relocate completely are more in search of larger apartments or houses, with private green spaces or access to communal gardens, often in home counties or in leafy areas, like Hampstead.
One such example is of a Singapore-based British couple we represent who were not yet ready to return to the UK, but intended to do so within the next 1-2 years and had observed the rising market prices in London since the pandemic, So I wanted to lock in the prices of “2021” before they get too high.
When it came to researching the type of property they wanted (a 3- or 4-bedroom Edwardian style house with good outdoor space) what they wanted to buy was in high demand, with very few products on the market, the competition was therefore fierce. A challenge it turned out to be, as only one suitable house came onto the open market and met all of their needs.
Eventually after two rounds of bidding we were delighted to be the preferred contenders and traded for a fantastic Edwardian house in the counties area at WANSTEAD E11, which our client is now renting until they return to the UK fulltime.