* Euro zone turmoil pushes property buyers to London
* Buyers from southern Europe to the fore
* "The Greeks are coming"
By Tom Bill
LONDON, May 13 Worsening financial and political
turmoil in southern Europe caused a surge of interest in London
property last month with buyers from Greece and Spain showing
strongly among investors seeking a safe haven for their money.
The number of Greeks searching for homes costing more than
1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million) on the website of property
agent Savills jumped 39 percent in April compared with
the average of the preceding six months, the company said.
"The reason Greeks are coming is very simple," said Dinos
Joannou, a 65-year-old Cypriot who works in the Athenian Grocery
in the Bayswater district of London and has seen growing numbers
arrive this year. "Greece is screwed, there are no jobs and it
has been run by crooks."
The number of Europeans buying property in London has grown
steadily over the last year as the euro zone debt crisis has
worsened but numbers spiked ahead of elections in Greece last
weekend that failed to produce a government.
George Kastaros, 37, dresses as a traditional Greek soldier
handing out leaflets for the Kalamaras restaurant on Queensway
in Bayswater, an area popular among Greeks and home to the St
Sofia's Greek Orthodox cathedral.
The Athenian moved to London before the crisis began in 2007
and said the number of Greeks arriving jumped after Christmas.
"Dressed like this, Greek people who have just got off the
plane come up to me with their suitcases and ask where they can
find a place to live or a job. I was stopped by more than 100
people in January."
The chef at Kalamaras arrived five months ago with his son
and daughter, who are a doctor and teacher, he said. "These are
well-educated people who cannot find jobs in Greece."
"What we're seeing is another stage in the euro zone crisis
gathering pace," said Liam Bailey, head of residential research
at property agent Knight Frank. "It's ironic that the more
instability you get in the euro zone the more the London
property market benefits."
Savills data showed Spanish buyers grew 14 percent in April
compared with the same six-month period and Knight Frank
registered a 21 percent jump. Searches from Portugal last month
were 153 percent up on April 2011 while Italian traffic jumped
46 percent, Knight Frank said.
Growing interest from Greece in the last three weeks has
been buoyed by buyers looking to rent out property as an
investment, said Noel de Keyzer from Savills.
"There seems to be an endless flow of wealthy Greek buyers,
old Greek family money, coming to London both renting and
In addition to countries afflicted by the euro zone crisis,
the best London homes have attracted growing interest from
Russia, the Middle East and Far East as buyers attempt to
protect their assets amid the gyrations of the money markets.
Interest has pushed prices for so-called prime central
London properties up by 44 percent in the last three years, more
than twice the increase across London as a whole, Knight Frank
Kostas Kazolides owns the Halepi Greek restaurant around the
corner from Kalamaras and provides advice to Greeks looking to
buy real estate or invest as part of club deals in residential
and commercial property.
"There have been a lot of new faces walking through the door
of my restaurant lately," he said, pointing to the growing
popularity of deals in which professionals such as doctors and
architects club together to invest.
"There is real and justified fear on the streets of Greece
at the moment. People are going hungry and those with money feel
threatened by kidnap. My banker friends in Greece tell me about
nine billion euros left the country after the election."
Most buyers are reluctant to talk publicly, said one estate
agent who specialises in helping wealthy Greek buyers find
London real estate.
"With the Greek tax system the way it is, these people don't
want others to know how much they are moving out of the country
or where they are putting it," he said.