International Buyers: 2020

February 2021

Covid-19 may have halted global travel last year, but that didn’t dampen interest from international buyers purchasing London property.

In 2020, international buyers purchased 30% of homes sold in Greater London, up from 27% in 2019. However, this figure remained below the last peak in 2018 of 35%, even though international buyers stood to gain last year from both the stamp duty holiday and beating the upcoming introduction of a 2% surcharge (on international buyers) from April 2021.

While there were 11% more sales agreed in Greater London last year compared with 2019 and despite a promising start to 2020, Prime Central London’s housing market has been much slower to recover from the onset of Covid-19 with fewer sales agreed than in 2019 (-13%). 

Against a backdrop of fewer sales, international buyers purchased 49% of homes sold in Prime Central London last year, up from 45% in 2019.  Again, this figure stands below 2018’s peak of 55% and is in part explained by a drop-off in UK buyers, many of whom headed for the suburbs or further afield to the country.

However, the weakness of sterling, impending Brexit and various political factors across the globe, such as the new security legislation in Hong Kong, all combined to support international buyer numbers.

In prime central London there was a notable pickup in both EU and Hong Kong buyers.  Hong Kong purchasers, who have been offered a favourable path to citizenship in the UK due to political uncertainties with China, focussed their search on London’s most exclusive areas.  Here, they purchased 8% of homes sold in 2020, four times 2019’s figure and reaching the highest percentage on record.  In fact, Hong Kong buyers became the joint second most common buyer nationality in prime central London, tied with Middle Eastern buyers and behind those from the EU. 

Nearly one in four (23%) homes in prime central London were bought by an EU citizen last year, up 7% on 2019.  Many of these buyers were already based in London, but for various reasons decided that 2020 was time to set up home, or perhaps retain a base in the capital.

Travel restrictions have had more of an impact on Middle Eastern buyers, many of whom visit the UK during the summer.  Last year buyers from the Middle East purchased 8% of homes in prime central London, the lowest share in seven years.  Similarly, the proportion of homes bought by Chinese citizens also fell to the lowest share since 2013. 

Across Greater London, the increase in international buyer numbers was predominantly driven by a rise in EU purchasers, many of whom were already renting in the capital.  Buyers from across the EU remained the biggest international buyer group, purchasing 16% of homes in London last year – the highest share on record.