LONDON High-end London housebuilder Berkeley (BKGH.L) on Tuesday sounded a more cautious note on the impact of Britain's decision to leave the European Union than rival Redrow (RDW.L), which is less exposed to investment buyers and foreign money.
London has for years been a magnet for international money, driving up prices and development and raising fears of a bubble, but uncertainty following the June 23 referendum meant customers were taking longer to buy, Berkeley said.
Housebuilding was one of the sectors hardest hit by the vote to quit the EU, with shares in the country's biggest companies losing about a quarter of their value in the following weeks.
And the impact has also been felt on the ground, with Berkeley last week halting construction at a luxury housing project in southwest London, where homes were expected to sell for up to 5 million pounds, without saying why.
House prices in London tend to be higher than elsewhere in the country, and with more homes bought as investments, they have also been hit by new taxes on second homes. With more people's jobs connected to the financial services industry, the capital's property market has also felt the uncertainty brought by Brexit most keenly.
But Redrow defied these worries on Tuesday, giving a positive outlook after sales rose 8 percent in the ten weeks since June 30, pushing its shares up 7 percent to 412 pence, their highest level since they closed on June 23 at 427 pence.
Although larger rival Berkeley said it was confident of meeting a two-year profit target, it said the referendum had paused property sales in June and July, before the market stabilised in August, albeit with buyers now taking more time.
Berkeley's more cautious outlook reflected its greater exposure to London and the south east of England, said analysts. While Redrow builds some new homes in these areas, the majority of its sites are spread across the rest of England.
"It's been very much business as normal and that's the case I think across the whole of the UK. I think if you look at the market post-brexit, pre-brexit, there is no real difference," Redrow Chief Executive John Tutte told reporters.
But while it said underlying demand was strong and pricing resilient, Berkeley said its sales had been hit by Brexit uncertainty, which caused a temporary rise in cancellations.
It said that in August sales levels had returned to levels seen in the first five months of the year, meaning they were still down about 20 percent versus 2015, after a higher levy since April on second homes and buy-to-let properties.
London-focused estate agents Foxtons (FOXT.L) blamed a 10 percent drop in both the number of homes it sold and let in the first half of the year firmly on Brexit, while Redrow's resilience matched that of Persimmon (PSN.L), which does not build in central London.
Redrow also said that it had seen a small rise in cancellations in London from investors buying properties who became nervous in the wake of Brexit, but that had now tailed off, with the CEO blaming any London slump on stamp duty.
Data shows that prices in prime central London had already started to fall in the run-up to the referendum due to an additional 3 percent surcharge on second home stamp duty, which were condemned by Berkeley.
"Government policy, which has been helpful outside London, has had a negative effect on the capital," Berkeley said.
"Transaction taxes are now too high and this is restricting both mobility in the second hand market and the pace of supply and delivery of new homes in London and the South East."
Shares in Berkeley, which is due to drop out of Britain's FTSE 100 bluechip index later in September after its shares plunged after Brexit, climbed 3 percent to 2,777 pence after it reiterated confidence in its profit target and a promise to return 10 pounds per share over the next five years.
Reporting annual profits which were up 23 percent in the year to June 30, FTSE 250 firm Redrow lifted its full-year dividend by 67 percent to 10 pence per share. Shares in the group were up by 7 percent to 411.5 pence at 1245 GMT.
(Editing by Alexander Smith)