International investors clambering for UK property amidst global uncertainty

Alpa Bhakta (pictured), chief executive of Butterfield Mortgages Limited

COVID-19 cases might be steadily decreasing, though this does not mean we have overcome all of the fundamental challenges posed by this global pandemic. Market uncertainty has made it difficult for investors to plan for the future. While it looks as though we are on the path to recovery, there is nothing to suggest a second spike in infections is completely off the table.

What’s more, we are only beginning to realise the economic ramifications of the coronavirus.

It seems as though the majority of the world’s major economies will stay in a recession for at least the rest of 2020. GDP levels in advanced economies are expected to remain around 3-4% lower than their pre-pandemic projections until at least 2025, according to a Fitch Ratings report.

As such, investors are seeking ways to hedge against this forecast by gravitating towards assets which have historically been able to deliver stable returns and quick recoveries from sudden downturns. In the UK, this has translated into an incredible spike in overseas demand for UK property.

Overseas interest in UK property

While housing in the UK has long-attracted international demand, previously it had mainly been concentrated in the capital; specifically, Prime Central London (PCL) property. However, recently, estate agencies are reporting a surge in interest from Hong Kong buyers in buy-to-let properties in the North of England.

This is not to say that COVID-19 has damped international demand for London property. To the contrary, Beauchamp Estates recently reported that they had assisted with $374 million worth of investment into PCL housing from Chinese and Hong Kong residents between December 2019 and June 2020; representing 20% of all property transactions worth above £10 million in the capital.

Additionally, estate agent Dexters revealed that PCL sales for properties worth over £2 million between mid-June and mid-August were 85% higher than during the same period a year prior. This incredible uptick in demand demonstrates how UK property is seen as a safe and secure asset in times of uncertainty across the globe. Dexters also reported that the majority of these transactions were by cash buyers in Hong Kong, Singapore, the UAE, the US, Italy and India.

Why are overseas investors clambering for UK property?

As well as UK property’s historical positive performance, there are three additional benefits for international investors at present.

Firstly, the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday on the first £500,000 on all property sales across England and Northern Ireland provides substantial discounts compared to previous years. Non-UK-resident buyers can now save as much as £15,000 in SDLT through this tax holiday.

Already, the tax break is having a noticeable impact on the housing market. The first national House Price Index to be released after the introduction of the SDLT holiday revealed an annual price growth of 1.5%.

Secondly, the SDLT overseas-buyer 2% surcharge is due to be implemented from April 2021. Acting now, before the above holiday ends and this additional added cost is introduced, allows for substantial SDLT savings.

Finally, the economic and financial stability of the UK provides many an escape from market volatility they may be experiencing in their own jurisdiction. London in particular is recognised as a global financial capital and bustling cosmopolitan centre, allowing buyers easy access to both further investment opportunities and the luxury lifestyle benefits the capital city can provide.

Property in a time of uncertainty

As 2020 continues and the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, it’s likely that the level of foreign buyer interest in UK property will continue to steadily increase. Overseas investors are becoming more aware of the prime property investment opportunities across the UK.

From a recovery standpoint, this influx of foreign capital is helping to reignite the property market, encouraging buyers and sellers who initially retreated following the introduction of lockdown measures to make a steady return. Supported by the SDLT holiday, this will be vital in supporting the UK’s post-pandemic economic recovery.