London luxury homeowners turn to Airbnb as sales slow

Luxury-home owners in London’s best districts, of whom 41 per cent are from overseas, are turning to companies such as Airbnb and property brokers to secure income as their properties languish on the market.

Others are trying to boost leasing income with shorter contracts after long-term rents in the most expensive districts fell 5.1 per cent in the year through February.

For overseas landlords, the devaluation of the pound is also hurting their returns and prompting them to look for ways to generate revenue.

Frustrated after searching for a buyer for two years, the owner of one luxury apartment overlooking London’s Hyde Park decided to rent it out for £1,500 (Dh6,920) a night.

“It was a very lofty valuation and I think they’ve always been chasing the market,” said Hasan Hasan, the co-founder of the property broker Xenyos, which is handling the rental. Now the landlord, a developer trying to sell the property at a reduced price of £8.65 million after a refurbishment, will at least recover some of his investment while he waits for a buyer, he said.

The number of London properties listed on Airbnb almost doubled in a year to 50,000 at the end of 2016, according to data compiled by broker Jones Lang LaSalle. The London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned the city’s policymakers this month that the rise of short-term rentals risks making fewer homes available for permanent residents.

A record 35,000 new high-end London properties – enough to cover Hyde Park twice – are planned in the coming decade, 40 per cent more than in 2014, according to the consulting firm Arcadis. Sales of London homes under construction in 2016 dropped to their lowest in four years, leaving developers with a record inventory of unsold properties, after tax increases dented demand for high-end homes.

That has encouraged sellers to offer properties for rent while they wait for the market to recover, according to the Knight Frank associate Tom Bill. The number of properties available to rent in London’s best districts rose 20 per cent in the six months through February, according to research published by the broker.

“Demand in the long-let market has not been very strong after the Brexit vote, but property owners need to maintain their profit,” said Gao Xiang, the president of JC International Property, a broker that specialises in Chinese and Japanese investors in London. “The price-to-rent ratio is far less than investors expect.”

Landlords will see cuts in tax breaks for mortgage-interest payments starting next month. The growing pressure on returns has sparked interest in short-term leasing, according to Mr Hasan, whose company has recently taken on properties in the South Kensington and Notting Hill districts that had previously been long-term rentals.

“The tax changes for smaller investors have had a real effect – in some cases they are looking at loss-making properties,” he said at a luxury apartment his company manages in London’s Maida Vale district.

Many landlords are unaware that there is a 90-day limit on short-term rentals for entire homes, or deliberately seek to subvert it. That prompted Airbnb to announce in December that it would bar London listings for longer than the permitted period unless they have the correct approvals. Previously, almost a quarter of the homes listed for rent in their entirety on the website had exceeded that limit, said the researcher IPPR in a report sponsored by Airbnb.

Overseas buyers have another incentive to seek higher returns from short-term rentals. The pound has fallen about 16 per cent against the dollar since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23. That means pounds paid in rent will not go as far in servicing mortgage payments.

“My biggest concern is the scale, cost and currency of overseas mortgage debt secured against new build homes, particularly by Asian buyers,” said the real estate researcher Neal Hudson. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these buyers have been using local mortgages to fund their purchases.”

Among Xenyos’ current short-term rental listings are several apartments in Chelsea Bridge Wharf, an apartment block in the Nine Elms districts developed by Berkeley Group. One of those homes is financed with a mortgage from a Saudi bank, Mr Hasan said, underlining the owners’ desire to maximise returns.

“The central London housing sales and rental markets have been weak in recent years and this has put pressure on developer and investor returns,” Mr Hudson said. “With a large number of new homes expected to complete this year, prices in both sales and rental markets could come under further downward pressure due to increases in supply.”

* Bloomberg

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