However, 2018 saw only a marginal increase (0.8 percent) in the size of the ultra-wealthy population, which Wealth X describes as a “marked slowdown” from the year earlier. The combined net worth of the ultra-wealthy declined 1.7 percent, the first annual fall in three years, according to Wealth X. However, it’s important to view these changes in context, because 2017 saw dynamic wealth creation with double-digit growth in the number of ultra-wealthy and impressive gains in asset markets.
The global outlook this year is nuanced. Rising interest rates and the end of quantitative easing means we are reaching the end of super-charged returns on everything from classic cars to art and property, according to Knight Frank. Government policies continue to transition as some countries seek to attract wealth, with a record number offering citizenship and residency through policies regarding investment, while others restrict outflows of capital. Others, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK will continue to make it more difficult for wealthy non-residents to purchase properties.
Looking ahead, expectations are for slower price growth in key markets. But, as with any correction, a shift in values is an opportunity to which buyers respond, something that is already happening in London, where agents see a potential turnaround, particularly for higher-priced properties, underway.
“London’s general property market has experienced a slowdown and fall in housing prices. That said, the luxury property market is certainly bottoming out and we are experiencing buyers returning to the market, which is demonstrated by our revenues being up 146 percent year on year,” says Martin Bikhit, managing director at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kay & Co.
“Given all the uncertainty of Brexit, values in London have come down significantly. It’s a buyers’ market,” says Jalbert.
The exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to sterling makes the value equation even more appealing. “American buyers have been able to take advantage of savings up to 45 percent compared to the 2014 peak of the market. U.S. buyers believe that the market is going to spike post-Brexit and there is now an opportunity to buy competitively. Indeed, this is illustrated by the fact that American hedge funder Ken Griffin was the buyer behind two of London’s most expensive property transactions within the past year,” according to Bikhit, who calls this surge a “pre-Brexit boom.”
Hurwitz sees luxury penthouses in many traditional hot markets, including London, as good opportunities for buyers, since those prices have seen a big decline. Other recommendations in Europe include France as well as Tuscany, which, he says, has an appeal that transcends the strictly financial. “Finding something totally renovated in an authentic manner is key.”
A flat or pied-à-terre in Paris has become a rite of passage for Americans, says Anton, noting reports of particular interest coming from Silicon Valley. Paris is one of the bright spots in Europe, placing third on Knight Frank’s list of the
fastest-growing luxury markets.
“France and Italy are still two of our top locations and our offices are expanding in numbers and experiencing a very solid claim in the market,” says Craig Hogan, vice president, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.
Berlin is Europe’s rising star. It has topped Urban Land Institute’s list of markets to watch in Europe for four years in a row, and currently ranks second after Madrid on rankings of the fastest-growing luxury real estate markets. Luxury residential here is a small but vibrant niche, with the number of privately owned apartments selling above 1 million euros growing by 17.5 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Stefan Schulze, COO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Rubina Real Estate, says, “If Berlin succeeds in further expanding its potential in scientific and culture fields and remains one of the influential centers in Europe, it can be deemed certain that not only the number of premium new development projects but also the quality of luxury real estate will continue to grow sharply.”
Global Buyers in the U.S.
From the perspective of foreign buyers in the U.S., Hurwitz says, the market has changed multiple times over the last few years, fueled by factors as diverse as the attitude and oversight of a foreign buyer’s own government regarding money leaving their country, to crushing economic changes in their country of origin, to U.S. government restrictions on shell companies buying, to various others. Hurwitz says, “I still believe the U.S. is a safe bet and I am telling my clients to buy here.”
During the 12 months from April 2018 to March 2019, global purchases of U.S. properties fell sharply, with purchases declining by 36 percent. The dollar volume as well as the average price also declined. Rather than lack of interest from potential buyers, Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cites what he calls “a confluence of factors — slower economic growth abroad, tighter capital controls in China, a stronger U.S. dollar and a low inventory of homes for sale.”
John Smaby, NAR president, adds, “There is still significant interest in U.S. properties across the globe, and the U.S. is still seen as a safe, secure place to invest.”