Words 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’ll sell up the family home, or downsize, and move out to warmer climes to enjoy our twilight years in relative peace and warmth. However, since Brexit that dream has been shattered for many, even those that have already relocated, as EU Settled Status procedures prove full of red tape and difficult to navigate.
Since mid-2020, we have seen a huge spike, c.75%, in enquiries from UK nationals that had relocated overseas now looking to return altogether or for the months of the year not covered by temporary visas or the statutory 90-day in 180 period.
The most up to date figures state that over 1.3 million Brits currently live in EU countries, so it is likely this situation will eventually be rectified, but with grandstanding continuing between the UK and Brussels, many are being left with costly decisions to retain their dream lifestyle in the sun or give up on them altogether. This, we believe, will see a surge in activity in the market at the beginning of 2022, as many tire of the processes and make the decision to put roots back in the UK.
The downsizers looking for a pied-à-terre, which they can rent during their periods back overseas, are typically searching for two-bedroom apartments in outer prime London (Notting Hill, St. John’s Wood and Battersea), as well as the leafier suburbs. Pre-pandemic they would have preferred something more cost effective, such as a studio or one-bed, but these units are struggling to command the rents they once did, with tenants looking for more space and flexibility.
Two recent examples of us sourcing for expats or internationals relocating to the UK include a two-bedroom apartment in St. John’s Wood that we secured for £675,000 and a two-bedroom home in Hampstead that after lengthy negotiations we helped the client purchase for £770,000 – down from £850,000.
Both transactions were occasions where the overseas clients were not able to physically be in London, due to Covid restrictions or wishing to remain abroad to use their ‘free travel period’ and their viewings were undertaken through video link.
Originally, the clients wanted to concentrate on new-build stock and whilst buying off plan is nothing new, the properties that we normally source and encourage clients to purchase for investment are existing period properties and not new builds that are yet to be constructed (think new car and the adage of it losing value as soon as you leave the showroom, we just find there is more value in old existing property, with a good track record).
Expats looking to fully relocate are more in the market for larger apartments or houses, with private green space or access to communal gardens, often in the Home Counties or prime leafy areas, such as Hampstead.
One such example is of a Singapore based British couple we represent that were not yet ready to return to the UK, but had plans to do so in the next one to two years and had been watching the market price rise in London since the pandemic, so wanted to lock in ‘2021’s prices’ before they became too high.
When it came to sourcing their desired property type (an Edwardian-style three or four-bedroom house with good outside space), what they wanted to buy was high in demand, with very little coming to the market, so competition was fierce. A challenge it proved to be, as just one suitable home came to the open market that ticked all their needs.
Eventually, after two rounds of bidding, we were delighted to be the preferred candidates and exchanged on a fantastic Edwardian house in The Counties Estate in WANSTEAD E11, which our client is now renting out until they return to the UK full time.