Wealthy French Flee to London Amid Fear of Hollande
During the election campaign, French President François Hollande threatened to slap an income tax rate of 75 percent on high earners. Since then, wealthy French have been looking for ways to get themselves and their money out of the country. And nowhere looks more attractive than millionaire-friendly London.
It began in 2010, when wealthy Greeks started coming to London and buying up expensive townhouses in upmarket neighborhoods. Amid fears that Greece might leave the euro zone, they believed their money would be safe in Britain in its splendid isolation from the euro and the Continent’s sovereign debt crisis.
Then rich Spaniards started arriving. They were following by well off Italians, who at the start of the year overtook Russians as the biggest group of foreign buyers snapping up property in London, according to a survey.
Whenever the euro crisis heats up somewhere in Europe, the demand for expensive homes increases in Western Europe’s largest city particularly among well-heeled foreigners beset by asset angst.
London real estate agents are like the canary in the coalmine for the debt crisis. They can sense early on the next country to get sucked into the vortex. So who’s up next? Apparently it’s the French.
Wave of Interest
Real estate agents have been aware of a new wave of interest for months, but it’s been especially noticeable since Feb. 28. The night before, the then Socialist candidate for French president, François Hollande, who famously said “I don’t like the rich,” announced that, if elected, he would raise the top rate of tax on incomes over €1 million to 75 percent. At home, he got much applause for the announcement. But in London, the news produced a reaction that was noticeable on the computers of the London-based property company Knight Frank.
“Since February, when Hollande announced his wealth tax, there has been a large rise in web searches from French customers,” Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Knight Frank, recently told the Daily Telegraph.
A lot of people were searching for solidly luxurious properties in a price range of up to 5 million pounds (€6.2 million). But what was particularly strong was the interest in so-called “super prime” properties, dream homes that go for between 5 million and 15 million pounds.
To meet the demand, the property company Douglas & Gordon has just opened an office in South Kensington, where four native French speakers will be available to help out their house-hunting compatriots. Hollande’s tax speech immediately led to a 40 percent increase in inquires from worried French citizens, says David Blanc from the London asset management firm Vestra Wealth.