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

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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.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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