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London Real Estate, A Magnet For Mega-Rich From Around The Globe

Foreign buyers are pushing the prices of prime London real estate through the roof. Neighborhoods such as West London, Kensington and Chelsea are particularly popular. (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Looking for a London pied-a-terre? How about a four-bedroom duplex overlooking Hyde Park? It could be yours, if you're prepared to spend $25 million.

In most of the United Kingdom, property prices are slumping. But in some of London's most upscale neighborhoods, they're going crazy.

Robin Perona sweeps the sidewalk at Egerton Crescent, a gracious semicircle of white townhouses in fashionable Chelsea.

In the 1990s, they cost about $700,000 each. Today the average price is some $13 million — or 8 million British pounds.

Perona shakes his head when told he's sweeping Britain's most expensive street.

Too Expensive For Britons

Across central London, mega-rich foreign buyers are pricing merely wealthy Britons out of the market.

In Bayswater, Joshua Ayres, of the property firm Hamptons International, is showing The Lancasters, 75 fully decorated luxury apartments. During a tour, Ayres shows the master bedroom, kitchen and living room of one apartment, saying all the units "have these grand double-height rooms."

The developers bought up five adjoining white stucco mansions, preserved their historic facades, then married the grandeur of 19th-century interiors with the latest technology and luxury.

"We have all underfloor heating, ceiling heating in these double-height rooms, as well," Ayres adds.

There's a spa (of course), 24-hour valet parking, and a staff of five is always on duty.

A year after completion, The Lancasters is almost completely sold out — and 80 percent of the buyers have been non-Brits.

"It's exactly what our internationals are looking for. They want to feel like they're a part of London, and yet they also want the facilities that they're accustomed to," says James Wardle of Hamptons International.

Even if the actual living they do in these homes is limited. Marie Harrison, of the property firm Harpers and Harrison, in upscale Kensington, says many of her foreign clients have no intention of living in the places they buy.

"There's a wall of money coming from, not just China, which everybody predicted, but it's coming from Italy, France, Greece," Harrison says.

It seems word among the world's super-rich is that the three safest havens in these uncertain times are gold, the Swiss Franc and London property, where, historically, prices have doubled every decade.

So Harrison finds herself selling houses originally built for London's middle class, but which her own middle-class professional children will likely never be able to afford.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Looking for a London pied-a-terre? How about a four-bedroom duplex overlooking Hyde Park? Yours, for about $25 million. In most of the U.K., property prices are slumping, but in some of London's most upscale neighborhoods they're soaring. Vicki Barker reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWEEPING)

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Robin Perona sweeps the sidewalk at Egerton Crescent. It's a gracious semi-circle of white townhouses in fashionable Chelsea. In the 1990s, they cost about $700,000 each. Today, the average price is some $13 million - or eight million British pounds. Perona shakes his head when told he's sweeping Britain's most expensive street.

ROBIN PERONA: Eight million pounds? I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

BARKER: Across central London, mega-rich foreign buyers are pricing the merely-wealthy locals out of the market and creating a niche.

JOSHUA AYRES: So, you have three bedrooms upstairs.

BARKER: In Bayswater, Joshua Ayres of the property firm Hamptons International is showing The Lancasters, 75 fully-decorated luxury apartments.

AYRES: Your master bedroom, your kitchen, your living room all have these grand double-height rooms.

BARKER: The developers bought up five adjoining white stucco mansions, preserved their historic facades then married the grandeur of 19th century interiors with the latest technology and luxury.

AYRES: So, we have all under-floor heating, ceiling heating in these double-height rooms, as well.

BARKER: There's a spa - of course - 24-hour valet parking and a staff of five on constant duty. A year after completion, The Lancasters is almost completely sold out. And 80 percent of the buyers have been non-Brits. James Wardle of Hamptons International.

JAMES WARDLE, HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL: It's the perfect blend. It's exactly what your internationals are looking for. They want to feel like they're a part of London, and yet they also want the facilities that they're accustomed to.

MARIE HARRISON: There's a wall of money coming from not just China, which everybody predicted, but is coming from Italy, France, Greece.

BARKER: Marie Harrison of the property firm Harpers and Harrison in upscale Kensington. She says many of her foreign clients have no intention of living in the places they buy. It seems word among the world's super-rich is that the three safest havens in these uncertain times are gold, the Swiss franc and London property, where, historically, prices have doubled every decade. So, Harrison finds herself selling houses originally built for London's middle class but which her own middle-class professional children will likely never be able to afford. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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