Commercial properties – Promising future?

As the noose tightens around the residential property market, investors may consider shifting their focus onto commercial properties, in particular office spaces. Q3 figures have shown that selling prices and rental of office spaces have been growing at a record pace.

In land-scarce Singapore, the growing number of businesses means the demand for office space will continue to rise. And as space decreases, prices increase. In Q3 alone, office space rental prices rose by 1.6 per cent. Part of the reason could be that major buildings such as the NOL Building and Havelock II have been undergoing renovation and thus the office space crunch has led to businesses having to look for alternative spaces within a short time period.

Havelock 2 OfficeDespite luxury properties in the downtown and CBD areas faring poorly of late, Grade A office rents in these areas have been travelling the opposite direction – upwards. Office spaces in the central region have been more in demand than rentals in other regions despite the higher rental prices. Central districts office rentals have risen 2.8 per cent while those at the fringe of the city have risen 1.9 per cent.

Retail space however, is another creature altogether. As most retail space income comes also from the tenant’s sales and margins have been narrow due to higher operating and labour costs. And with the introduction of many more mixed-use developments come 2016, supply may overtake demand and reduce the rarity of these spaces. Especially as online shopping takes off in a big way locally, retail spaces, unless in high traffic areas or exclusive trendy enclaves, may find themselves fighting for the same audience.

Private resale homes – Dip in sales volume and prices continue

The number of resale transactions of private properties have dipped across the board and that in turn has affected the pricing index reflected by the SRPI (Singapore Residential Property Index). SRPI figures showed a 0.7 per cent drop in September, despite hopes that the market will rebound after the Hungry Ghost Festival.

STeven SuitesProperty analysts are reporting an imbalance in the expectations of home sellers and buyers. Stronger holding power of home sellers have meant that fewer properties were exchanging hands and they have instead opted to hold on to their properties till the market turns around. With the exception of shoebox apartments it seems. There was a price gain there of 0.4 per cent. This could be a clear indication of the preferences of buyers in the current market situation and perhaps provides an inkling of the months ahead.

One of the most affected property sectors are the luxury homes. Although buyers and investors of these high-end properties may not be detoured by the additional levies and loan limits, they may be deterred by the buying restrictions. And as the number of unsold luxury properties increases, developers are now offering discounts to entice them back into the fold.

As 2014 draws to an end, many may be wondering how the property market will fare in 2015. As the government has recently announced that the property cooling measures are not likely to ease in the near future, property analysts are expecting a 8 to 10 per cent decline. What will that mean for the overall market and will any particular property type stand out? Will the drop in private home prices mean a similar drop in HDB resale flat prices or will the demand for resale flats rise as more turn towards this less expensive option?

What carrots do Property developer dangle?

With competition heating up in the property scene, developers are finding it increasingly difficult to find ready buyers. The stakes are now higher and thus the incentives offered have been interestingly varied. From discounts to free furniture, rental guarantees, holiday and travel memberships; and even sports-car discounts and diamonds! The “carrots” may now be actual “carats”!

Mon JervoisQingjian Realty has recently offered one-carat diamonds in a lucky draw for Bellewoods executive condominium (EC) e-applicants. 20 diamonds for that matter. Buyers of the Highline Residences in Kim Tian road can look forward to a 3-year “lifestyle membership” which includes limousine rides and complimentary golf privileges at the Ria Bintan Golf Club. Most of the developers are offering these incentives as a way to market and spur renewed interest in their previous launches. These offers help protect their selling prices whilst balancing the expectations of buyers who may
have purchased units in the initial phases. Would this holding back on offers affect the response during first-phase launches? Whilst some may rest a little on their laurels and wait for possible offers in future launches, buyers who are keen to select their prime units may still prefer to strike while the iron is hot and go for first releases to ensure they get a unit they truly want.

At the Infinium cluster-homes in Kovan, IG |Development was offering a $200,000 Mercedes to the first 3 buyers but later withdrew the offer in place of price discounts of $100 psf on their first 3 units sold. That would mean savings of up to $500,000. But if it’s a vehicle you’d like, UIC and SingLand are partnering with Aston Martins to provide discounts on their cars for buyers of three-bedders and bigger units at Mon Jervois.

But as the supply of new homes may trickle come 2015, will developers continue to dangle these incentives or will the property market make a U-turn and head up the charts on selling price alone?

Housing supply to slow down in 2015

The authorities have announced that public housing supply and land sales will slow down come 2015 as the market has showed signs of cooling and stablising after the many rounds of property cooling measures rolled out over the past year or two.

West Terra HDB Bukit BatokPhoto Credit: HDB

The Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, has commented in a blog post that the supply of new HDB flats will slow by 25 per cent next year. There will only be 4 launches next year, compared to the usual 6 per year. Each launch usually puts out up to 4,000 new Build-to-order (BTO) flats. The rate of successful BTO flat applications has been on the rise as reflected in the few recent launches. More married couples achieve success in getting their new flats, and the authorities have been allowances for couples either opting to apply for a flat with their parents, or for one near their parents. In addition, parents who opt to apply for a flat in a non-mature estate to be near their married children, will also receive priority.

The slight shift in policies may ensure that families remain close-knit and are able to receive help when needed. It may also help with a shift in aging mature estates and introduce a more age-balanced population per HDB estate. Mr Khaw Boon Wan also hopes that the move will help newlyweds plan for a family more efficiently and in turn increase Singapore’s population with a higher birth rate.

In the private property sector, the number of land plots being sold for executive condominiums and private apartments has already been reduced this year, though the industry might see a further reduction come 2015. But will this mean a decline in the building, construction and property industries? Or has the previous land sales and launches been sufficient to keep the industry going for the next few years? Which part of the cycle is the property sector in at the moment and are we set for a boom or lull in the next year?

Private home sales down in Q3

Despite recent new launches, private home sales remained lacklustre as the third quarter registered  lowest sales figures since 2008. Only 1,596 new homes were sold in the last 3 months, though 648 units were sold in August alone, signifying a plausible comeback.
 Tre ResidencesSome of the more popular residential properties were the newer ones such as Highline Residences, Seventy St Patrick’s, Lakeville, Eight Riversuites, and some new launches from projects such as The Panorama. As per previous years, post Hungry Ghost Festival meant home buyers were once again eager for new deals and were actively seeking property purchase opportunities.

Across the board, 6,030 private properties were sold in the first 3 quarters of the year, almost half that of the same period last year. Much of the decline was due to weakening demand in the primary market, which could be a result of the tightening home loan limits implemented in June 2013.

Upcoming launches of Sophia Hills, Tre Residences and Symphony Suites might bring renewed activity into the market and possibly close the year on a high. But most of the attention will be in the executive condominium (EC) market as the drought of new launches in this sector welcome new launches of Lake Life, Bellewoods and Bellewaters.

Downturn for Downtown homes

The luxury property market has taken a downturn as homes in the downtown areas take a hit. Transactions were still taking place, and there were homes being resold, but an increasingly number of them at a loss. Recent transactions show a $60,000 loss in the resale of a Marina Bay Residences unit just last month. One of the largest differences came from a $342,000 loss from a subsale of a Robinson Suites unit.

eMuch of the competition comes from unsold stock from developers, a dipping rental market and a diminishing expatriate population. The first factor could be the most hurtful to investors as some developers have begun adjusting prices downwards, and even renting out unsold units instead of selling them. This puts up fierce competition for buyers who have originally planned for their properties to earn them the monthly sustenance through rental. Even small apartments and and one-bedders are meeting similar fate.

Downtown home prices have fallen 8 per cent, and properties in the prime districts 9 and 11 have fallen 5 per cent. Ultimately, it may come down to holding power. And learning some tricks of the trade through property seminars and talks could be the best way to safeguard yourself from bad investments.

Private property out of reach for HDB Upgraders?

If home prices are falling, most would think that the upgrade from public housing or HDB flats to the private home market should be getting easier. But it seems the opposite is true.

Prices of HDB flats and a private condominium apartment are perhaps softening at around the same rate, or that of HDB flats possibly even quicker. This creates a widening price gap between resale HDB flats and private condominiums, and HDB sellers can no longer depend on the sales proceeds of their HDB flats to balance out the price of their new private condominium.

BellewoodsECPhoto Credit: Bellewoodsec.com

Does this also mean that more HDB flat owners will now be forced to stay put and thus decrease the number of HDB flats available in the resale market? What about those who may have already purchase a private property and have a limited time period within which to sell their HDB flats? WIll they be pushed to sell at lower prices hence suffering the growing amount they need to top up?

Property experts are expecting ECs or executive condominiums to be the bridging properties between these two markets. As a hybrid between public and private housing, buyers qualify for public housing subsidies but after a 10-year period, can sell their units as private properties.  There is also the question of home sizes, will HDB upgraders be willing to settle for lesser space and a higher psf price to make the leap from HDB to private home?

Blooming Balestier

Although it has had the reputation of being a red-light district, albeit a less infamous one compared to the likes of Desker road and Geylang, its proximity to the Novena medical hub and being on the city fringe has brought the value of its properties up. With a new round of property launches and mixed-use properties such as hotel-parks like the Zhongshan Mall, Zhongshan Park, the Days and Ramada hotels, the Balestier area looks set to be the next property hot spot.

Viio BalestierWith its fair share of pre-war preservation shophouses and a quaint, historical feel, just the right amount of new condominiums, hotels and malls has breathed some new life into the area without taking away too much of its original facade. This, coupled with expatriates’ diminishing housing packages, means an increasing interest in rental and sales of properties here.

One of the latest residential projects, Viio @ Balestier, has launched its two-bedders at $1, 600 psf. At Ascent @ 456, prices hovered around $1,477 psf. Cosmo Loft, yet another freehold property in the district sold 5 units at $1, 775 psf. Prices of new launches in the area have risen over the past 2 years alone, up by almost 10 per cent.

Though property owners who had bought into the area early may not be reaping the profits yet as resale property sales and rental demand has dipped across the board, property experts are expecting things to turn around in another 7 years or so.