The Most Expensive Real Estate Markets in the World

Prashant Gopal

In the world's most expensive property markets, $1.5 million still doesn't go very far despite some softening in real estate prices

How much house can you buy for $1.5 million? Depending on where you look, it might not be very much.

Despite global economic concerns, the credit squeeze, and rising commodity prices, properties in the world's most expensive neighborhoods are still commanding ferocious premiums. While $1.5 million in Cleveland or Tampa would probably purchase a substantial house, with four bedrooms, a multicar garage, and maybe even such amenities as a swimming pool and media room, in London's Belgravia or on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, it would buy you little more than a glorified shoebox.

Using data from London-based real estate group Knight Frank, identified the 20 most expensive markets in the world and what you can buy in those cities' prime areas with $1.5 million. In London, where at $6,191 the average price per square foot is the highest in the world, your $1.5 million would buy only a small studio in the smartest parts of town. In Venice, on the other hand, despite limited building space, your money goes a bit further, getting you a two-bedroom apartment or more near the Grand Canal. (Of course, in less illustrious neighborhoods, your money goes further still.)

Slower Growth, but Sustained Strength

And it looks as though, despite the general economic malaise, these top markets are likely to remain relatively strong for the foreseeable future, even if they won't see the extraordinary growth of the past few years. Liam Bailey, head of residential research for Knight Frank, says prime markets had a relatively good year last year but are "on the tail end of a boom."

For example, in the fourth quarter of 2007, prime real estate in once-booming Dublin fell 15% from the same period the year before, according to Knight Frank. Prices in other markets such as London and Tokyo continued to rise through 2007 but softened a bit this year. Luxury property prices in St. Petersburg at the end of last year were 38% higher than the year before, but that's nothing compared with the 95% price growth in 2006.

London remains one of the world's most robust markets, thanks in no small part to its position as the financial capital of Europe. Prices for prime real estate jumped 29% in 2007. But the city's strongest price category has narrowed from £1 million ($1.98 million) and higher to more than £10 million, Bailey says. In other words, only the very top of the market is still seeing growth.

The sustained buoyancy of cities such as London and Paris and resort areas like Monaco or Gstaad is partly the result of their appeal to newly minted millionaires from Russia, China, India, the Gulf states, and elsewhere. Like wealthy Americans and Europeans, they don't feel as affected by the changing economic conditions. In fact, many are actually helped by the downturn, especially in the U.S. where the dollar is trading at a discount to currencies such as the euro.

Confidence Issue

But even the most expensive markets aren't immune. "You see price growth at the very best locations. If properties are perfectly positioned, if they have no faults, if they are perfect, you will see perfect price growth," Bailey says. "Most markets are tailing off."

David Michonski, CEO of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy in Manhattan, says the softening of international real estate markets is a "normal correction in a major long-term bull market that started 10 years ago." He adds: "I don't believe it's a function of the credit crisis. It's a confidence issue at this point.… Everybody in the world has been told that wherever the real estate markets are, they're going to fall."

In Tokyo, prices began to soften soon after the subprime problems in the U.S. came to light, says Ryuichiro "Drew" Iwanami, director of global business development for Japan Sotheby's International Realty. But Tokyo, which experienced a "mini-boom" from 2003 to early 2007, is also dealing with an oversupply of condos that were built in the low-interest-rate environment of the last few years, he says. The mini-boom followed Japan's real estate collapse in the early 1990s, when prices for some rural properties fell to 10% of their peak price. "You're beginning to see a slump in the sales of high-end condominiums…[and] the rate of price increases is stabilizing," Iwanami says. "You may see more of that in the next 12 months."

Still, the softening of real estate markets has at least one silver lining, especially in hard-hit cities such as Miami. Buyers from Canada, Europe, and South America are flocking to neighborhoods such as South Beach and Coral Gables, where home prices are tumbling. For Europeans, Miami's declining condo prices are "like Americans handing them the gift of the century," says Michonski. "The sun has not stopped shining. The beaches aren't any less white, and the whole thing costs them 30% or 40% less."

World's Most Expensive Luxury Real Estate Markets

Take a look around the world at what $1.5 million buys in 20 of the world's most expensive housing markets.

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Getty Images

1. London
Price: $6,191 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: Small studio apartment
Annual price change: 29%*

A housing boom began in Central London in September, 2005, and continued through 2007, as wealthy buyers flowed in from around the world. The annualized growth for prime real estate is slowing this year and is expected to weaken further. But the super-luxury segment remains incredibly strong. Sales for £10 million-plus homes in Belgravia, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, and Mayfair increased by 190% in the six months ending January, 2008, compared with the same period a year earlier.

* The annual price change compares the fourth quarter of 2007 with the fourth quarter of 2006.

2. Monaco
Price: $5,888 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: Studio apartment
Annual price change: 25%

It's not just the casinos, beautiful people, and staggering views of the Mediterranean that have made Monaco a popular home for the world's wealthiest buyers. The real appeal is that its residents don't pay income tax.

3. St. Jean Cap Ferrat (France)
Price: $5,853 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: Small studio apartment
Annual price change: 39%

St. Jean Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera continues to be popular with European aristocracy and the super-rich, such as billionaire Paul Allen, who enjoy the gorgeous beaches and warm weather.

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Getty Images

4. Courchevel (France)
Price: $4,710 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: Studio apartment
Annual price change: 5%

Like to ski and shop? This resort town high in the Savoie region of the French Alps is favored by the Russian elite and is known for expensive hostelries such as the Hotel Le Lana, fashion boutiques, and wild parties.

5. Hong Kong
Price: $4,507 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: Studio apartment
Annual price change: 21%

Hong Kong's real estate market has been driven by China's strong economic growth. Despite limited space, real estate demand on the island has started to slow, and prices are softening as the effects of the U.S. credit squeeze spread.

6. Manhattan
Price: $4,320 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: Studio apartment
Annual price change: 25%

At the high end, Manhattan continues to boom even as the credit crunch deepens. In fact, in the first quarter of 2008 average prices were up 19% and the price per square foot was up 16%, according to the Corcoran Group. There are several reasons: First, the city has been shielded from the subprime crisis, largely because its co-ops and condos are well out of reach of most buyers with poor credit and shaky finances. Second, it remains a popular destination for movers and shakers in the financial, entertainment, and media world. Last, because of the weak dollar it is more affordable than ever for wealthy foreigners looking for a Manhattan pied-à-terre.


7. Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy)
Price: $3,028 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: 1 bedroom
Annual price change: 22%

The Northern Italian resort town is a popular second-home destination for ski buffs and Milan's business elite. Prices for prime European vacation homes have benefited from the growth of the world's population of high-net-worth individuals.

8. Portofino (Italy)
Price: $2,692 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: 1 bedroom
Annual price change: 14%

Although there's no beach, the harbor of this resort village on the Italian Riviera is packed with yachts owned by the world's rich and famous. The village is about 20 miles from the Genoa airport.

9. Singapore
Price: $2,423 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: 1 bedroom
Annual price change: 31%

The city's high-end real estate has benefited from an influx of foreign buyers and has been particularly strong close to the Orchard Road shopping area and on the island resort of Sentosa.

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Getty Images

10. Tokyo
Price: $2,334 per sq. ft.
What you get for $1.5 million: 1 bedroom
Annual price change: N/A

Despite traditionally astronomical prices and cramped living conditions for all but the very wealthiest, Tokyo's market is beginning to slow as a result of the credit crunch and a heavy supply of new condos that have recently come on the market.

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