Pause and thoughts on Overseas Property Investments

Pause and thoughts on Overseas Property Investments

Interesting article from Peter Conradi Editor of Times Online Overseas section and Overseas Property Weblog. To view the full article click here or read below: Almost a year ago in this column, I sang the praises of Shanghai as a destination for the foreign property investor. China’s commercial capital appeared to have it all: some spectacular modern developments, high capital growth, decent rental returns all underpinned by one of the world’s most dynamic economies.

It was not, to put it mildly, the most prescient of pieces. The ink on the page was barely dry when the Chinese government stepped in with a raft of “market-cooling” measures that triggered a collapse almost overnight of as much as 20% in the price of some properties turning potential paper profits into immediate losses.

Like others selling property in the city, Dominic Keogh, managing director of the London office of agent Shanghai Vision, is putting a brave face on developments.

Prices, he insisted last week, have been recovering in the months since the crash and, in most cases, are back to their previous highs. The future prospects continue to be good, thanks to the growth of the Chinese economy and continuing shift of population into the cities. “Last year, 500,000 more people moved into Shanghai alone,” he says. “Even for a city of 17.5 million, that is a very big number.”

China is not the only property hot spot that has been given British property investors pause for thought in recent months: in Dubai, another favourite with foreign buyers, there have been gloomy predictions of a glut in property and perhaps even falling prices when the latest wave of new flat developments comes on stream next year.

As for the even more heavily hyped Bulgaria, the merest mention of Sunny Beach or one of the other Black Sea resorts is enough to prompt knowing looks from those in the trade.

Underlying it all is the growing question mark over the biggest one of them all: the US property market. After five years of unremitting growth which has seen prices increasing by an average 50% and doubling in some of the hottest citiesthere are signs the boom times may soon be over: sales have been falling, while repossessions and stocks of unsold houses are growing.

America’s authoritative National Association of Realtors has predicted a soft landing, much as we have seen in Britain in recent years, with annual growth set to slow to a more sustainable 5%.

Pessimists predict a crash, which, given the amount of money tied up in the US property market and the scary levels of household debt, could bring down not just the American economy, but also the global one as a whole.

Setting aside such doomsday scenarios, what is really going on? And what lessons should be drawn from it by the small property investor, looking to put his or her hard-earned cash into an investment property abroad? Liam Bailey, head of residential research at estate agency Knight Frank, which has just launched the first global house-price index, believes the international property boom, which spread from Britain and Ireland across the world in the late 1990s as interest rates fell, is drawing to a close. Average prices, according to its weighed index, rose 6.6% in the first quarter of this year – against 9.3% a year earlier.

“There is undoubtedly a slowing down and overall prices are growing less quickly than they were last year,” says Bailey. “But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t scope for growth in certain areas over time.”

So where has been doing well? Estonia, the Baltic tiger with one of Europe’s fastest growing economies, heads Knight Frank’s list, up 17%, with New Zealand, Bulgaria and South Africa all in double figures although the latter two have slowed down appreciably compared.

More unexpected, perhaps, are the second place for Denmark (up 16.1%) and seventh place for Ireland (up 10.7%), especially since prices in both have been accelerating rather than slowing this year. This is all the more surprising in the case of Ireland, given the amount by which the market has already gone up.

Where those investing should put their money is more difficult, since past performance is, of course, not a guide to future profits. As well as Estonia, and the neighbouring Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania, Bailey fancies Germany – particularly the southern regions of the western part. After stagnating and even falling for several years, prices have shown modest gains this year, with more to come, he predicts, as the German economy continues its export-led recovery.

To Bailey’s list, one could add Romania, Thailand, Turkey, Bali and, for the really adventurous, even Argentina and Brazil. As for China, though, I think it would be best if I kept my predictions to myself.