Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.K. Real Estate an Investment of Choice for Asian Buyers ; British Market Beckons as Pound Sinks and Affluence Rises in Far East

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.K. Real Estate an Investment of Choice for Asian Buyers ; British Market Beckons as Pound Sinks and Affluence Rises in Far East

Article excerpt

Britain has a languishing economy and residents wary of buying property. Meanwhile, Asian consumers are increasingly affluent and in search of places to park their cash.

Wanted: deep-pocketed Asian investors for fledgling London property developments.

In the past few weeks, at least seven London developers have flown east to places like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to persuade wealthy Asians to buy new residential sites in London as building there picks up after the financial crisis.

British developers now routinely start their marketing in Asian cities, another example of the shift in the world's economic center of gravity in recent years. On the one hand is Britain, with a languishing economy and high unemployment that make residents wary of purchasing property. On the other is Asia, whose economies are powering ahead and whose consumers are increasingly affluent and in search of places to park their cash.

"We've got the product. Asians have got the appetite," said Gary Patrick, regional sales director at Barratt, a developer that exhibited a London site in Hong Kong last month. "The industry as a whole is stepping up marketing in Asia."

At its marketing event at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, Land Securities, a British property developer, served up mini-scones and a three-dimensional model of an upscale residential site it plans to build on Victoria Street, a short distance from Buckingham Palace.

A week later, the company behind the redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station, whose hulking red-brick structure and towering chimneys appeared on the cover of a Pink Floyd album, set up a large interactive map that illuminated, upon request, Tube stations and bus stops.

And buyers in search of a home near Tower Bridge had not just one but two property displays to choose from, as developers took their models, price lists and images around Asia.

Visitors to the shows had not just come to stare: They took notes, evaluated options, huddled with calculator-wielding real estate agents, and not infrequently paid, then and there, the reservation fees required to secure apartments. Scores of people put down deposits for apartments at the Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore events for the Battersea Power Station development, for example.

"Sales have gone extremely well," said Rob Tincknell, the chief executive of the company developing the site, just south of the River Thames in West London.

The cost of staging marketing events of this kind -- involving newspaper advertisements, rentals of function rooms and flights for teams of executives and agents -- can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Despite that, such events have become more and more common in recent years, industry executives say, as soaring property prices in Asia and currency exchange rates have made affluent Asian buyers more eager to consider buying properties outside their region.

Diana Fung, a housewife who used to work in information technology, attended one of the recent property exhibits in Hong Kong to research what would be her first property purchase in Britain.

"Nothing big, just 500 square feet or so," she said, referring to a space of about 45 square meters. Her older daughter, she explained, recently graduated from a university in Manchester. The goal is for her younger daughter to get an education in Britain as well.

"We hope one day maybe she can live there and that we can come for visits," Ms. Fung said, poring over a 3-D model of a soon-to-be- built apartment building. …

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