Are foreign buyers shying away from Singapore properties?

Foreign buyers seem to be holding back from buying homes here in Singapore. The largest fall were from Indonesian buyers, from 112 down to 39 units in the last quarter. Chinese, Malaysian and Indian buyers make up the rest of the buying clout, though there has also been a decline in all segments.

Private home prices have fallen 1.3 per cent in all regions – 1.3 per cent in the central regions, 1.5 per cent in the city fringes and 1.6 per cent in the suburbs. An accumulation of various factors could have impacted the market:

White Sand HKPhoto credit:

Singapore is often compared with Hong Kong, for its size, population and infrastructure. Why then are property prices in Hong Kong skyrocketing while Singapore properties fight to garner foreign buying interest? One of the main factors could be the proximity of the country to China. Mainland Chinese buyers make up the bulk of the foreign buying pool here and Hong Kong is inevitably closer. Should they wish to travel far out, they often look at countries such as Australia, New Zealand or even the United Kingdom and United States. The yuan has also weakened and with the Chinese economy slowing down, Chinese buyers may also be more selective about their choices.

The Indonesian property market is flourishing and in fact, more buyers, even Singaporeans have been buying into the market. Jakarta and Bali are a few of the cities where buyers’ interest have peaked.

How then can Singapore continue to attract foreign buyers and will mere policy changes affect a change?

Has private property market reached stability point?

Has the private property market possibly reached a point of stabilisation? Figures of late seem to show that while there are slight fluctuations either ways of the scale, the market seems to have somewhat levelled.

Prices of completed private properties seem to have stopped declining and August showed a only a 0.6 per cent fall according to the Singapore Residential Price Index (SRPI). Property analysts have put the slight decline mostly to the increase in completed units in the central regions, the possibility of buyers waiting for post-election policy changes, and the lull in property transactions in the Hungry Ghost month.

Stevesn SuitesSmaller apartment units seem to have fared well though, with prices rising 0.5 per cent in July. Vacancy rates of rental units have risen while rental rates dipped island wide. As long as foreigner labour and immigration policies remain tight, the leasing market may remain weak, especially as the number of completed units are rising in the next couple of years. Resale properties in districts 1 to 4 and 9 to 11 have suffered a hit with a 23 per cent fall in transactions in August.

The next 2 years might be a time to watch for small apartments under 506 sq ft which were purchases for investment purposes. While sellers may not yet be pressured to sell as interest rates now remain low, as the number of these units rise upon completion of many developments launched last and this year, and interest rates fluctuate, the situation may be different come 2017.



Quality of life in quality homes

The number of private residential properties out there have blossomed, and with the options so far and wide, how do you narrow down your choices?

Location is often one of the first considerations for time-conscious buyers, but there should also be some leeway, depending on a balance of affordability and other factors such as age of the property, to consider quality of life and the lifestyle you’re in search of.

There are now a good many more properties offering waterfront living, or high-rise units with scenic views of the city of greenery than before. Take the 147-unit Riverbay apartments for example. Though not a massive development, its smaller size provides an exclusivity and quiet, especially with its view overlooking the Kallang River. Located at the fringe of the city, it also offers lush greenery and is close by the Kallang Park Connector. Other pros include the provision of a number of schools nearby including St. Andrew’s Junior and Secondary schools and Junior College, and the Stamford American Internationl School.

Suites@OrchardAnd if it’s stylish interiors and city-centre-living you’re looking for, then set your sight on properties in district 9 – Orchard and River Valley. Properties in this areas are pricier, but they do come with many pluses such as quality interiors, fittings and finishes; and are just a quick walk away from the Orchard shopping belt and MRT stations. Near the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, in fact just next to the Plaza Singapura shopping mall, is Suites at Orchard – a 10-storey project with a range of units ranging from one-bedders to penthouses.

But if it’s resort-style living you are after, then looking East would not be such a bad idea. Take Palm Isles in Flora Drive for instance. It is situated close to Changi beach, though they already have resort living down pat right on their doorstep with dip pools, spa pools, lounge pools and lap pools all in its midst. The development also offers one of the few landed houses within a private property compound – 28 three-storey homes featuring 3,757 sq ft Garden Homes and 3,014 sq ft Garden Terraces.

Though choices are aplenty, and it is wise to shop around till you find a unit you like, narrowing down on the kind of lifestyle you want will help you be a step closer to your dream home.

When will the property cooling measures ease?

Some of the first property cooling measures were implemented more than 4 years ago, and they have stayed till today. More were added along the way and the market seems to be finally responding to the restrictions, with prices and sales volume falling slightly since the 2009 peak.

Considering it took almost 5 years for a slight decline in property prices, the authorities seem determined to stick to their guns and have the property cooling measures in place at least for a little while more. But analysts are expecting a much steeper drop in residential prices of up to 15 per cent before the Singapore government is likely to ease up on the measures. They are likely to also be waiting for mortgage interest rates to rise above the 3.5 per cent average from before.

Especially as the elections have just ended, a sudden change in policies is unlikely as increasing housing prices could affect public sentiment. Although there has been pushback from citizens about immigration policies, and the increasing supply of new properties in then next couple of years may further keep rental and housing prices suppressed unless there is a drastic shift there. In the HDB market, they are expecting a further 5 to 10 per cent drop in prices before any change might be effected.

Will there however be a gradual easing of cooling measures by removing restrictions one at a time?



Should the ABSD be removed?

ABSD – Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty. Though mentioned less this year as other property cooling measures take over in significance, this nevertheless is a rather big hump investors have to get over should they wish to purchase properties for investment purposes.

Implemented in 2011 by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), it applies to foreign investors, Singapore PRs (permanent residents) purchasing their second and subsequent properties and Singaporeans purchasing their third and subsequent properties. This and other property cooling measures have successfully curbed the blossoming of a potential housing bubble which threatened to grow in 2009 and 2010. Combined with the Seller’s Stamp Duty (SSD), of up to 16 per cent, property speculation is significantly lower than before. The highly affluent are rarely affected but it has helped keep individuals relatively debt-free.

SantoriniAnother positive that came out of the previous couple of years of policy adjustments is more transparent industry practices. Developers are now required to submit weekly transaction data to the Controller of Housing, including incentives provided to buyers such as furniture vouchers, cash rebates, stamp fee or legal fees absorption and sales volume. That will help project a truer image of how the industry is fairing and what are the actual market prices and keep pricing more realistic.

The restrictive loan-to-value limit has perhaps affected the industry a tad more as it has brought prices down and maintained a level playing field. Whether the government has brought property prices to a level affordable for majority of Singaporeans is yet to be seen clearly, but with the recent election just over, all eyes could be on the new government to see what else they can or will do.

Sell now or later?

In real estate, it is often a timing game. How do you exactly know when to sell and when to buy? If you’re currently looking to sell your property, what should you be looking at for when making your decision of whether to sell now or later?

Just like buying a home, you first have to figure out why exactly you are selling. Is it to finance a new home upgrade, to invest in another property, or because you need the money urgently? The push factors are often stronger than you think when it comes to how much and how quickly you are willing to sell for.

KingsfordWaterbayAnother important question to ask yourself is “How much is my property worth?” Aside from getting a trustworthy real estate agent and valuator, spending a bit of time doing your own market research will help you determine where your property stands. A quick look at property websites, some of which provide tools to help you keep track of property trends and transacted property prices, or checking out resale HDB flat prices from the HDB website as well as attending property talks and seminars are just a few of the many ways to hone your pricing skills.

Market competition is also an important factor which affects pricing. Have a look at how other properties similar to yours are currently prices for a guide to pricing your property. But that said, if you know what qualities your property has above others in the market, list them. These may help you price above the market median. You do however have to be prepared to justify these premium prices and once you are confident the edge your property has, you will have a relatively easy time asking for higher prices. Location and proximity to transport nodes or schools are often a big plus; and sometimes the configuration of rooms, quality of renovation and age of the property could also be added to your property’s calling cards.


Property Auctions – Going, going, gone

With interest rates growing and demand on the decline, some home owners may be forced to allow their property to go to auction.

Mortgage auctions have been on the rise with a total of 99 homes put up for auction in the January to July period of this year alone. Property analysts are expecting an increase even as interest rates rise, with numbers hitting closer to 200 by the end of 2015.

GCB Leedon RoadRecently, landed homes, in particular larger ones such as corner terraces, semi-detached or detached houses, were the more frequent subjects of property auctions. Buyers may have been attracted to the higher profit margin of these properties, but failed to gauge their holding power. Finding buyers for these big ticket items is more difficult as they often come with a very much higher total quantum price and the pool of buyers is restricted to Singaporeans and Singaporean Permanent Residents (PRs).

Some of the properties which have sold at recent auctions include a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) at Binjai Rise, a detached house in One Tree Hill and some larger apartments in Seascape @ Sentosa Cove and Orchard Scotts.

Investors seem to favour smaller apartment units at property auctions as falling rental yields all around have made them more wary. Although not as dire as the 2008 Lehman Brothers and 1998 Asian financial crisis, investors and government authorities are keeping a close eye on the market direction. Property cooling measures have seemingly curbed rampant property flipping, but could there be more room for swifter, sharper manoeuvres? How much wriggle room should you leave yourself if you’re hoping to score a good deal at the auctions?


Resale HDB flat prices remain level

As the year moves quickly towards the middle of the second half, property sellers may be getting a little on edge about whether the property prices will fall further.

For the resale HDB market at least, property analysts are expecting prices to stabilise, with any fluctuations occurring only slightly on a month-on-month basis. Prices of HDB flats dipped slightly in July by 0.5 per cent, which is 4.3 per cent lower than July 2014. The fall in prices is still within the single digit range, and at the lower end of it, thus sellers could rest assured the boat will not rock too drastically. Most of the price drops were in the four- and five-room flats segment while prices of three-room flats remained flat.

The resale market for HDB flats seem to have taken a dive due to the bumper crop of BTO flats. Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board.

Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board.

Buyers looking to purchase a property within the year will still do so, and resale HDB flat prices and transaction volume looks likely to maintain at the current level for the rest of the year. The property cooling measures have taken a couple of years to take effect, and a sharp turnaround in prospects seem unlikely.

With a few more months to go before figures can be more effectively measured, property experts are nevertheless positive about the market stabilising soon.Though with a possible raising of the income ceiling which may draw buyers’ attention away from resale flats, and with the upcoming General Election in play, it could be anyone’s guess how property prices will fare by year end.