Which city has the most bubble-tastic luxury property market?

Joining the glamorous ranks of cities you can no longer afford to live in. Image: ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty.

Prime property – expensive flats in prestigious bits of cities – is all the rage. Not as somewhere to live, you understand (do me a favour), but as an asset class. Posh flats are an increasingly popular place for the rich to stash their money.

But which city, we hear you cry, has the fastest growing prime property prices? Where, CityMetric’s well-heeled readers demand to know, should we put our money?

One might think, from all the talk of rich Russian oligarchs buying up chunks of Mayfair, that the answer would be London. One would be wrong. According to Knight Frank, in the year to June, prime property prices in London rose by a measly 8.1 per cent: in the ranking of 32 cities accompanying the research, the British capital barely scraped the top 10.

You’d be much better investing your riches in New York, which ranked 3rd, with prices up by 18.4 per cent. Even better would be Dublin, which ranked 2nd, after prices rose by 23.5 per cent in a year. (Investing money in the Dublin housing market has always been a good idea in the past.)

Topping the charts, though, is Jakarta, pictured above. The Indonesian capital may not spring to mind as a luxury destination. In the last year, though, the cost of its prime property – that is, the top 5 per cent of its real estate market – has risen by 27.3 per cent. Here’s the full ranking.

So what’s driving this vertiginous climb? Liam Bailey, Knight Frank’s head of residential research, identifies the usual culprits: “very strong demand” and “limited supply”. This is fantastic for investors who own Jakarta apartments, but it’s not so great for the locals.

So unsurprisingly the authorities have been attempting to slow things down. In September 2013, Bank Indonesia passed a regulation reducing the maximum loan-to-value ratios on investment properties. That required buyers to pay deposits of at least 40 per cent on second properties, and 50 per cent on any beyond that.

Such measures have been known to work. Singapore has been gradually reducing loan-to-value ratios to cool its own property market for the last five years. In 2013, it also introduced an additional 15 per cent stamp duty for foreign buyers who already own homes.

As a result, the luxury market – many of whose occupants are covered by these criteria – hasn’t seen significant growth since mid-2010. This year, prices fell by 7.7 per cent, placing it at the very bottom of Knight Frank’s ranking.

Here’s a chart comparing prime property prices in Singapore with those in other major Asian cities:

So, it is possible to calm a property market down – but you have to really want to do it. Beijing introduced its own cooling measures in 2013 – but they were swiftly rolled back again, after prices fell rather quicker than the central government had hoped. The US-based National Interest magazine accused the city of having a “housing addiction”.

As ever, there’s a tension between the need to stop the market from turning into a bubble – and the benefits high property prices can offer to their powerful owners.

 
 
 
 

Meet the YIMBY campaigners hoping to ease the housing crisis

Some houses, being built. Image: Getty.

The nimby is a wearily familiar political breed. Though individuals may support new housing and infrastructure projects in theory, they oppose them in practice (“not in my backyard”). For fear of consequences such as a fall in property values, locals reliably revolt against proposed developments – and politicians retreat. The net result is that cities and countries are denied the housing they need. For the past decade, the UK has fallen far short of the 250,000 new homes required annually to meet demand.

But the nimby has now met its dialectical opposite: the yimby. In contrast to their opponents, yimbys not merely tolerate but welcome development (“yes in my backyard”). The earliest known usage of yimby was in a 1988 New York Times article (“Coping in the Age of Nimby”) and the first organisation was founded in 2007 (Yimby Stockholm). Sister groups have since been established in Toronto, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Helsinki and, most recently, London.

John Myers, a 44-year-old former barrister and financial analyst, co-founded London Yimby with four others last year. They were inspired by the capital’s dysfunctional property market (London is the most expensive major global city for buying or renting) and the success of groups elsewhere.

“We saw what was happening in the States,” Myers said when we spoke. “The San Francisco group has just had three new laws passed in California to get more housing built. There are now more than 30 US cities with yimby groups… There really is a feeling in the air that something has to be done.” Myers lives in a small mortgaged house in Camden, north London, but most of the group’s volunteers are private or social housing tenants and range from “the very young to retired grandparents”.

“The big problem with the housing crisis,” Myers told me, “the dirty little secret that politicians don’t like to talk about is that, actually, people quite like house prices to go up.”


In 2013, shortly after launching the Help to Buy scheme, the former chancellor George Osborne told the cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up” (the average London house now costs £484,362). Though the exorbitant price of housing (such that there are now more outright owners than mortgagors) has become an electoral problem for the Tories, homeowners remain an obstacle to development.

In a recent report for the Adam Smith Institute (“Yes In My Back Yard”), Myers made three proposals to win over this bloc: allowing individual streets to grant themselves planning permission to extend or replace buildings; permitting local parishes to develop “ugly or low amenity” sections of the green belt; and devolving planning powers to city-region mayors.

“There are ways to get support from local people for high-quality developments but we have a system right now that doesn’t try and get that support,” Myers said. “It just imposes measures from the top down.”

In some US cities, yimbys have antagonised anti-gentrification campaigners by supporting luxury developments. There is a tension between the aim of greater supply and that of greater affordability. Myers argued that it was crucial to have “clear rules on what percentage [of affordable housing] is required up front, so it gets priced into the land and taken out of the landowner’s pocket”.

The replacement of stamp duty with a land value tax, he added, would leave both “the buyer and the seller better off: the buyer doesn’t have to scrape a deposit together and the seller doesn’t have the price reduced by the amount of stamp duty”.

That some Conservatives are now prepared to consider previously heretical measures such as building on the green belt and borrowing £50bn for housing investment may herald a new era. The yimby bulldozer is beginning to dislodge the nimbys from their privileged perch. 

This article previously appeared in our sister title, the New Statesman.

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