Global luxury real estate market showing ‘strong momentum’

Report: Wealthy continue to pay top dollar for trophy properties

The international luxury real estate market remains relatively immune to the economic and political trends that drive the general housing market and is off to strong start in 2013, according to a report from high-end real estate affiliate network Christie’s International Real Estate.

The report compared 10 top property markets around the world: London, New York, Hong Kong, Paris, San Francisco, France’s Cote d’Azur, Toronto, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Miami. The company, a subsidiary of Christie’s auction house, also rolled out a new index, the Christie’s International Real Estate Index, which ranks markets across metrics such as record sales price, prices per square foot, percentage of non-local and international purchasers, and the number of luxury listings relative to population.

The 10 markets were also chosen for the network’s strong market share locally. Christie’s International Real Estate has 125 affiliated brokerages in 41 countries.

London, which topped the index, achieved a record sales price of more than $121 million for a residential property in 2012, followed by an $88 million sale in New York. In all of the cities studied except Dallas and Toronto, the highest sales price for the year exceeded $35 million, the report said.

Economist Robert Shiller has predicted U.S. home prices will rise only one or two percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms for the next half decade due to "lingering uncertainties" in world economies, the report said. By contrast, a study by the The Boston Consulting Group expects global sales of personal luxury goods, such as fine art, to grow about 7 percent annually through 2014, assuming there are no new major economic crises, the report added.

"Except where there is government intervention luxury residential real estate values will likely follow luxury goods and not the general housing market, and are therefore poised to increase in many of the cities studied in 2013,"  the report said. "This is particularly true as (high-net-worth individuals) turn their luxury investments toward nonconsumables and experiential luxury products that have lasting value."

Bonnie Stone Sellers, CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate, said in a statement that "strong momentum" in the luxury property market "is also being driven by scarcity of quality inventory and demand from international buyers in many of the world’s top destinations."

There are more billionaires worldwide now than before the 2008 financial crisis and 55 percent more millionaires than in 2000, the report said.

"This is a large part of the reason the cities surveyed have done so well: the international crossborder purchaser has continued to buy the trophy properties at top dollar," the report said.

This is particularly true for buyers from countries where local economic uncertainty encourages the rich to park their cash in international cities least affected by the global downturn. In seven of the 10 cities studied, more than 30 percent of the luxury homebuyers were from other countries.

High-net-worth individuals "find the world to be a small place, and geographical distances between cities are not relevant to purchasing patterns, which are more similar to each other in the 10 cities surveyed than other cities within the same country," the report said. "Globalization, economic development, wealth deposits, and technology attract HNWIs to the key global urban centers, where knowledge, capital, and culture intersect."

In the most of the cities studied, the share of all-cash deals rose with the sales price. Nearly 100 percent of Los Angeles transactions above $5 million were in cash, followed by 90 percent in New York and 70 percent each in San Francisco and Miami.

Recent tax law changes in many of these markets will likely have a negative effect on 2013 high-end market activity, the report said. For instance, in Toronto, new restrictions on mortgage financing intended to cool the housing market, are expected to lengthen days on market for luxury properties, which have hovered at 46 days for the past two years.

"Government actions relating to taxation and lending standards can significantly influence buyers worldwide, including luxury home buyers. In nearly all of the cities examined, recent changes to capital gains taxes, wealth taxes, transfer taxes, mortgage restrictions, and secondary residence taxes have created notable catalysts in the market," the report said.

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