Global super-rich agreeing to rent luxury London homes without visiting

High-end estate agents say smartphones have transformed lettings and the wealthy are making decisions based on video tours

Wealthy foreigners are prepared to shell out as much as £25,000 a week renting luxury homes in London without bothering to set foot inside before opening their wallets.

High-end estate agents report that overseas demand for super-prime London homes is so strong that the global super-rich are agreeing to rent properties after only viewing them on FaceTime or WhatsApp.

In one of the latest examples of the growing trend an unnamed person, described by the agent only as “a global superstar”, agreed to rent a seven-bedroom, Grade II-listed terraced house overlooking Regent’s Park after watching a live video tour on an iPhone.

“I was livestreaming for the best part of 45 minutes,” said Henry Pryor, a luxury buying agent who let the John Nash-designed regency property, which came complete with a mews house for staff quarters. “I had done the same exercise at three other properties, and then he picked this one.”

Another property agent gave a recent example of a South African investor agreeing to rent a seven-bedroom Hampstead mansion for £12,000 a week, after only watching a FaceTime tour of the north London home, which boasts a private cinema, spa and staff quarters.

“He [the tenant declined to provide his name due to security concerns] couldn’t come over to London, and he was going to lose it if he didn’t make a decision then and there,” said Trevor Abrahmsohn, the owner of Glentree Estates, a top-end north London agency. “So our agent showed him the property on a walk around on his phone.”

Pryor said the capabilities of smartphones had transformed agents’ approach to sales and lettings and his super-rich clients have a lot of money but are often “very time poor”, so doing video tours makes sense.

“I deploy FaceTime and do it live or record tours,” he said. “Apple and the iPhone have enabled us to have the client in one ear while showing them around, and they can ask questions: ‘Show me that cupboard’, or ‘can you run the shower for me, I want to see that it’s a power shower’.

“They can be anywhere else in the world, on their superyacht, up a mountain or wherever.”

He said the client who took the £25,000 a week, or £1.3m a year, Regent’s Park home was not able to travel to London for viewings and would not have wanted their identity known by the letting agent. “Had they been there in person it would have made everyone overexcited and distracted,” he said. “If you’re looking for a house for Tom Cruise or you pitch up with George Clooney it spoils the deal because people become greedy and otherwise sensible or practical deals get screwed up.”

After their 10th night in the Hanover Terrace property the tenant will have spent more on rent than the £32,900 which the average UK first-time buyer spends on the deposit for their home.

Pryor said that although it was an “absurd” amount of money to spend on rent, rich overseas clients are increasingly choosing to rent properties rather than buy in order to save on the government’s increased stamp duty on homes owned via by offshore companies.

Renting also lets wealthy individuals maintain their privacy, as the government prepares to force the declaration of the identity of the true owner of all properties. At the last count, 200 wealthy foreigners are choosing to pay £218,200 a year in tax rather than declare which of London’s £20m-plus mega-mansions they own.

Research by property data service LonRes found that the number of homes let for more than £5,000 a week – or £156,000 a year – in the first six months of 2017 increased 21% compared with the first half of 2016.

The increase in costly rentals comes amid a slump in sale prices of prime central London properties. The average sale price in the £2m-£5m bracket fell by 8.4% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, according to LonRes. Prices of super-prime properties – valued at more than £5m – dropped 3.2%.

“Uncertainty over the outlook for houses prices combined with significant buying costs at the top end of the market continue to benefit the top end of the prime lettings market,” said Marcus Dixon, LonRes’s head of research. “Those who considered buying can now rent for four or more years for the equivalent cost of the stamp duty on a comparable home, leaving them in a good position to buy if and when the time is right.”

A property on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead, north London
A property on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead, north London, a location with a number of multimillion-pound homes. Photograph: Alex Segre/Alamy

Abrahmsohn, who has sold dozens of multimillion-pound homes on and around The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead to billionaires from across the world, said his agency had secured a series of “mega deal” rentals recently and let properties worth £40,000 a week in aggregate.

“The properties these people want could be valued at £30m or more,” he said. “The stamp duty on that would be near £5m – that’s the equivalent of five years’ rent even at £20,000 a week. And you save on all the maintenance costs, as they become the owner’s responsibility.

“The number of high-end rentals has been gradually increasing for the past two years, but now they’re quite a regular event.”

Stamp duty on properties selling for more than £1.5m is 12%, rising to 15% if it is a second home. Last year, stamp duty raised £7.3bn for the government – £3.4bn of it from London.

Georgina Bartlett, a director of Savills’ prime central London lettings team, said she had let several expensive properties by giving clients from around the world guided tours live on WhatsApp.

“The trend for WhatsApp tours seems exponential,” she said. “It’s not necessarily always of properties at the top end, but it is high-net-worth individuals [who want the video tours]. It’s about their wealth and the value of their time. Their time is more precious for other things – they don’t have the time they would like to dedicate to property viewings.”

Bartlett said that in the past tenants would have sent their personal assistants or hired relocation experts to go to viewings on their behalf, but are now utilising technological advances instead.


Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
London to remain a 'magnet for global super-rich despite Brexit'
UK capital will continue to pull millionaires and billionaires from Asia and Middle East, says report by property consultants

Rupert Neate

01, Mar, 2017 @1:46 PM

Article image
Super-rich spot bargains as luxury London townhouse sells for just £15m
Wealthy buyers are snapping up homes at a big discount in Covid-19 crisis after viewings via Zoom

Rupert Neate

06, Jun, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Global super-rich bought 153 homes for at least £20m each in past year
Highest number of sales in Hong Kong as London’s ultra-prime housing market slips amid Brexit concerns

Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

10, Dec, 2018 @2:02 PM

Article image
Super-rich may quit London homes under new anti-corruption rules
Estate agent predicts some billionaire clients will sell property if no longer able to keep identity secret via offshore firms

Robert Booth

12, May, 2016 @6:46 PM

Article image
Super-rich renting London homes for £5,000-plus a week amid Brexit worries
Weak pound means overseas tenants able to increase budgets, says Knight Frank

Julia Kollewe

07, Oct, 2019 @2:03 PM

Article image
Rise of £5m-plus mortgage: low interest rates lure super-rich
Wealthy take out 185 such mortgages for London houses in year to end of September

Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

31, Dec, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
House for sale in London, good location, overlooks park, a bargain at £185m
Developer seeks to cash out of investment in John Nash-designed terrace with views of Regent’s Park

Jasper Jolly

09, Aug, 2020 @1:03 PM

Article image
Sales of ‘super-prime country houses’ outside London hit a 15-year high
Rich bankers and lawyers from the capital are using big bonuses to buy Downton Abbey-type mansions

Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

30, Dec, 2022 @11:55 AM

Article image
Buy-to-let rents rise to all-time high as demand for homes outstrips supply
Average landlord rents increased 5.2% in a year reaching average of £846 in England and Wales, says estate agents Your Move

Hilary Osborne

08, Sep, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
London rents fall sharply as monthly bill drops across UK
Lettings agents say new tenants in capital are paying £100 per month less than a year ago, with demand from tenants falling, possibly because of Brexit vote

Rupert Jones and Patrick Collinson

28, Apr, 2017 @6:01 AM