By Richard Lough
PARIS (Reuters) – British investor Robert Drake has bought a luxury flat near the Elysee Palace in central Paris for two million euros, lured by ultra-low borrowing costs, attractive prices and a belief in the growing allure of continental Europe for financiers post-Brexit.
The two-bedroom flat is Drake’s first overseas property investment. His purchase is a reflection of how the damage dealt to London’s global standing by Britain’s tumultuous decision to leave the European Union is contributing to sharp price rises in the French capital’s luxury real estate market.
In the ornately corniced living room of his new apartment, Drake, who is managing director of Bury Street Capital, said Britain’s relationship with Europe had “fundamentally shifted” since its vote to leave the EU in 2016.
“Whether Brexit happens or not I still think we are likely to see a transfer from the financial sector in the UK into the major European cities over the coming decades,” Drake said. “So from an investment perspective that’s a relevant point to me.”
Drake believes international bankers will increasingly seek top-end apartments in Paris, a city where strict planning rules will keep a firm lid on the supply of upmarket properties.
Paris property prices suffered under socialist president Francois Hollande, in power from 2012 to 2017. His 75% super-tax on earnings over 1 million euros reinforced France’s reputation abroad for being hostile to wealth. High earners fled, often to London, creating a glut in supply.
The election of investor-friendly Emmanuel Macron in 2017 spurred a turnaround, driven initially by French buyers. As the Brexit negotiations got messier, foreign investors increasingly lost confidence in London and set their sights on Paris.
“Paris today is the number one winner from Brexit when it comes to real estate,” said Thibault de Saint Vincent, chairman of leading international realtor Barnes International.
Knight Frank, one of Britain’s biggest real estate agents with operations across Europe, expects Paris’s prime market – the top 5% – to post further gains of 5-7% in 2020.
At 19,000 euros per square metre, prime prices in Paris still compare favourably with other first-tier global cities – the equivalent in London and New York would be closer to 28,000 euros and 27,600 euros respectively.
Prime prices in Paris stand 21% above their low in the fourth quarter of 2015, Knight Frank said.
As well as British investors, Belgian, Scandinavian and Middle Eastern buyers are also turning to Paris.
“Whereas in the past overseas investors would have probably gone straight to London, suddenly they are pausing for thought for a variety of factors – Brexit and Paris being on the front foot – being the main two,” said Roddy Aris, London-based associate partner at Knight Frank.
“They see Paris as the best bet over other safe-havens. It’s portfolio diversification.”
House prices in London declined at their fastest pace in almost a decade earlier this year and will end the year in negative territory, hurt by the Brexit uncertainty and its impact on the city’s attractiveness as a global finance centre.
Last year, London lost its spot in Barnes International’s top five most sought after cities, behind Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Paris.
De Saint Vincent of Barnes International said clients in the United States faced borrowing costs of 4-7%, compared with loans of below 1% fixed for up to 20 years in France.
“We’ve got a really lively market here,” de Saint Vincent said. “In New York, Miami, Los Angeles, it’s moribund.”
Drake plans to buy more properties in the French capital – a move he acknowledged was not without risk, given the country’s tradition of high taxes.
“France has never been terribly stable in terms of its fiscal backdrop,” he said. “So there is risk there.”
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones)