SINGAPORE — Although Anthony and his family of six are now living in a freehold condominium around the Holland Road area, he is planning to buy a second private property.
He is eyeing a new three-bedroom unit at The Reserve Residences 99-year leasehold condominium development in Beauty World, with sizes ranging from 883 to 1,378 sq ft.
“I’m buying it for living-in. But also on the side, if there’s appreciation, why not?” said the 50-year-old, who spoke to TODAY at the project’s sales showroom recently.
Anthony, who works in the IT industry and declined to give his full name, said that he does not intend to let go of his existing property even after buying a second condominium.
He is not deterred by the fact that he will have to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax due to raised additional buyer stamp duty (ABSD), following the latest round of cooling measures rolled out in late April.
A person who buys a second property will have to pay 20 per cent in ABSD. A rough calculation based on the indicative per sq ft (psf) price starting from S$2,300 by the developer of The Reserve Residences puts a three-bedroom unit at more than S$2 million, which means the potential tax for Anthony would be at least S$400,000.
He said that he “sees value” in the new development for the next 10 to 15 years, given that it offers attractive features, such as being part of an integrated development including retail space and a transport hub, as well as being located close to nature.
At the same time, he would consider renting out his first property for additional income, he told TODAY.
Anthony is among the many buyers who are prepared to pay more for newly-launched condominium units despite their ever-rising sale prices, high mortgage rates and a slowing economy.
He explained that since yet-to-be-built properties — such as the one he intends to buy — will be paid for progressively, he would not feel the full weight of the prevailing mortgage rate on the entire loan up front.
While the latest cooling measures are targeted at foreign and investor buyers, who comprise about 10 per cent of the private residential property market, the Government has over the last 12 years or so introduced many rounds of measures targeting general buyers in a bid to ensure that the property market remains sound and does not run ahead of economic fundamentals.
This was done through the tightening of loan rules, raising of ABSD as well as seller duty duties, which was aimed at discouraging speculation.
However, prices for new condominium units have continued to climb, especially in non-central areas, outstripping household income growth.
Even so, the response to recent condominium launches has been described by analysts as healthy and robust, with some projects selling more than half of their units over a weekend.
These include 99-year leasehold developments in non-prime areas that are selling for an average price of over S$2,400 psf, prices at a level unheard of until very recently.
With the jury still out on whether the market for new condominiums is frothy or fundamentally strong, TODAY takes a closer look at what fuels the demand for such properties despite the hefty price tags and uncertainties in the economy and what are the possible implications.
HOW PRICES HAVE SOARED
The overall private residential property market has been showing “strong price momentum”, several housing experts told TODAY.
Real estate economist from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Sing Tien Foo noted how the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) private residential property price index had increased by nearly 40 per cent in five years from the last trough in the last quarter of 2017 to the first three months of this year.
“Most of the growth came in the last two years after easing of the Covid-19 measures,” said Professor Sing, who is provost’s chair professor at NUS’ Department of Real Estate.
“The median non-landed housing price-to-income ratios have not increased significantly and were estimated at 12.4 and 12.7 in 2013 and 2023, respectively,” he said, referring to the overall non-landed private property market which comprises new launches and existing homes.
“Still, the high ratio of nearly 13 times income means that the median households will be priced out of the market.”
The URA divides areas in Singapore into 28 districts grouped in three regions: The core central region (CCR) such as Orchard Road and River Valley where most premium private properties are located; the less premium rest of central region (RCR) which includes Toa Payoh, Katong and Buona Vista; and the suburban or outside central region (OCR) where mass market condominiums are typically found.
For new launch condominiums specifically, data from real estate portal 99-SRX revealed that the price increase per square foot has been uneven across the three regions — though they all have outstripped median wage growth.
According to figures by URA and real estate agency Orange Tee and Tie, the median prices of new condominiums in the first quarter of this year is S$2,586 psf, up 30.5 per cent from the S$1,981 psf in the first quarter of 2022.
On the other hand, the median prices of resale condominiums went up by a slower 14.1 per cent from S$1,357 psf to S$1,547 psf over the same period.
Industry players and experts attribute the rising new launch prices to a slew of factors, including escalating costs of land, construction and labour.
THE APPEAL OF NEW LAUNCHES
Despite the soaring prices, new launch developments have seen strong interest among prospective buyers, experts noted.
The latest condominium to be put up for sale this year is the 732-unit The Reserve Residences at Jalan Anak Bukit launching on Saturday (May 27), the one which buyer Anthony is eyeing.
In a press statement on Saturday night, developer Far East Organization said that it has sold 486 units of 587 released, at an average price of S$2,450 psf.
This represents 83 per cent of the units launched and 66 per cent of all the units in the project slated for completion in 2028.
Far East Organization said that 99 per cent of buyers were Singaporeans and permanent residents.
“All the one-bedroom homes within The Reserve Residences have been sold,” it added.
On the first weekend of May, joint developers Hoi Hup Realty and Sunway Property sold 216 or about 27 per cent of their freehold condominium project, The Continuum, located in Tanjong Katong. The average price of the units sold was S$2,732 psf.
Blossoms by the Park, a 99-year leasehold condominium near Buona Vista, sold 75 per cent of its 275 units at launch on April 28, at an average price of S$2,423 psf.
The project by EL Development was launched just two days after the latest round of cooling measures.
Another 99-year leasehold project, Tembusu Grand, sold 340 of its 638 units over its opening weekend on April 8 and 9, at an average price of S$2,465 psf.
All four developments are located in the non-prime RCR.
Knock-on effect from the public housing market
Mr Karamjit Singh, chief executive officer of real estate investment consultancy firm Delasa, said that the robust take-up of new units, particularly those in suburban locations, “is a reflection of strong demand mainly from Housing and Development Board (HDB) upgraders”.
“Heightened HDB resale prices help in realising the upgrade, which is also driven by a desire to step up their lifestyles,” he said.
One such potential buyer is 37-year-old Jack, whom TODAY met at the Reserve Residences showroom recently.
Currently reaching the minimum occupancy (MOP) period of his five-room Build-to-Order (BTO) flat in Jurong, Jack, who wants to be identified only by his first name, said the next step to upgrade is either by buying a flat in a better location or a private property.
“But a BTO at a Prime Location Public Housing site is so expensive, and comes with a longer MOP,” he said, adding that spending more for a condominium might offer better asset appreciation.
Confidence in Singapore property market
One factor underpinning demand for private property in general is buyers’ confidence in Singapore’s real estate market, given the country’s overall stability.
Mr Mark Yip, chief executive officer of real estate agency Huttons Group, said: “The various cooling measures since 2009 have helped to maintain a stable and sustainable property market and that has given buyers the confidence to invest in properties.”
Industry players and analysts concur that despite going through some ups and downs, property prices in Singapore have been going up in the long term.
The fact that Singapore is land scarce suggests that land prices would likely continue to climb, said industry experts, reaffirming the general belief in the real estate market here.
“While the property market does experience its cycles, it is perceived as a safer long-term investment,” said Ms Shaw Lay See, chief operating officer for sales and leasing group at Far East Organization.
“Coupled with Singapore’s economic stability and strong fundamentals, planned population growth and land scarcity, it does explain homebuyers’ confidence in residential properties, auguring well for the property market.”
SHOULD THE MARKET BE COOLED FURTHER?
Earlier this week, Mr Devadas took to professional online network LinkedIn to post some views about the property market and suggested that further steps be taken to cool it down.
One way is by further tightening buyer’s liquidity through the tightening of loan criteria and limiting the usage of the Central Provident Fund (CPF).
“As price side levies (such as the ABSD) have had demonstrably limited traction, liquidity restrictions are the more effective recourse,” he told TODAY.
Experts pointed out that the use of retirement saving accounts to fund property purchases is not unique to Singapore.
However, each country implements its retirement scheme differently and imposes different restrictions when it comes to using the funds to pay for property, so this would make it difficult to do a comparison.
However, specifically to Singapore, Mr Cheong of Savills noted that the use of CPF for property purchases has “greatly contributed to asset enhancement”.
Restricting the use of CPF for private property purchases “would definitely be a negative” for the market, he said, adding that such “a major policy change could inadvertently trigger something unpredictable, for example asset deflation”.
On the other hand, Prof Sing from NUS said that the use of CPF funds to buy second and more property investments could have negative implications.
These include aggravating the problems of (being) cash poor and asset rich and affecting one’s retirement safety net, if property prices drop.
Other experts on the other hand, point out how effects from any cooling measures would take time to percolate through the market.
“Typically whenever government measures are announced, the private residential market goes through a period of pause while buyers and sellers adopt a wait-and-see approach to ascertain the impact of the measures,” said Mr Evan Chung, head of KF Property Network, Knight Frank Singapore.
“This period of pause can range from one to two quarters, or to an extended period depending on the nature of the measures announced and other factors such as the prevailing supply of saleable inventory.”
Still, some expressed more optimism in the market.
“As it stands, the housing market in Singapore is not at risk of being bubbly. Cooling measures over the decade have ensured the housing market has remained grounded by fundamentals,” said Mr Singh.
“The way forward should not entail punishing buyers with more costs or governmental restrictions (through more cooling measures), but supplying more land especially in the suburban locations.”
Mr Luqman from 99.co added: “(Policy tools) work in tandem to generally cool the markets which would otherwise have seen predatory lendings, high household debts and markedly steep increase of property prices at a short period of time that does not commensurate with income growth. All those are signs of a bubble.”
In order to cool prices for new condominiums, Mr Mak from Mogul.Sg suggested for the URA to tighten rules on unit sizes in new developments.
Currently, developers have been bumping up the psf prices to widen their profit margin. But to make the overall price of each unit still relatively affordable to buyers, developers have instead been shrinking the floor space of homes, he said.
WORD OF CAUTION TO POTENTIAL BUYERS
Regardless of their views of the current market, all industry experts cautioned prospective buyers that all investments come with risks. And the property market is no exception.
Mr Luqman said: “While the market is expected to increase in price and hence (provide) investment returns in the long term, not all properties are profitable.
“Beware of schemes that are overly optimistic on returns in real estate investments,” he said.
“Talk to multiple real estate agents and agency leaders to get different views and recommendations on property investments and finally do your own diligence and deliberate planning.”
Mr Mak and a few others also urged prospective buyers to exercise prudence and not overstretch their finances when making a purchase.
Mr Cheong of Savills posed three questions to those aspiring to buy a private property with the intention to invest.
He said: “Given the rapid pace of structural unemployment, do you think you will still have a job in five years’ time? Can you take the hassle of managing a tenant, especially nasty ones? Is this asset class the only way to invest in?”
CORRECTION:An earlier version of this article said that Singapore’s median household income in 2012 was S$7,556. This is incorrect. It should be S$7,566. We are sorry for the error.