Lion City roars again

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2007, 12:00am

Red hot and not expected to cool down for a while is the industry forecast for Singapore's top-end property market.

After a few relatively stagnant years virtually all segments of the real estate sector are in the throes of expansion and luxury flats are doing particularly well.

Hong Kong-based HKR International (HKRI) estimates investors are reaping capital gains of about 60 to 80 per cent on ultra high-end apartments, compared with about 30 per cent for the 'general' property market. CB Richard Ellis has catalogued a 64.3 per cent rise in average rents for luxury condominiums since prices sank to new lows in 2004.

The picture is changing so fast that some players are finding it difficult to define what a luxury property is. New price records are made and broken with astonishing regularity. The small but well-appointed Parkview Eclat condominium in the much sought-after Orchard Road district recently became one of just three properties in Singapore to break through the crucial S$4,000 (HK$20,950) per sqft barrier when a 16th-floor unit was sold for about S$16million.

Ku Swee Yong, director of prestige homes and international marketing at Savills, says the real estate firm used to place any properties going for about S$2,000 per sqft in the top tiers of the market, but that the threshold is now nearly double that.

So why are the moneyed classes suddenly infatuated with Singapore condos? Mr Ku believes the city state's efforts to become a regional wealth centre are starting to bear fruit. 'We're seeing more people buying for their own use,' he says. 'The private bankers are bringing in more of their clients. They want exposure to Singapore and value Singapore as a place to stay, though at the back of their minds there's also an investment value to properties to consider.'

Rebecca Shum, CB Richard Ellis executive director and head of investment and project marketing services, says the market upswing is 'mainly due to strong expatriate demand for quality rental housing'.

'More senior executives are relocating to Singapore as multinationals expand to leverage on the business opportunities there. With a higher housing allowance, they usually look for units in prime districts.'

Ms Shum says Singapore's high-end property boom differs from previous upturns in its exceptionally international flavour.

Mr Ku says about 65 per cent of the purchases of new units on the resort island of Sentosa are made by non-Singaporeans, while the foreign ownership rates for some developments in the Orchard Road area, such as the Cliveden@Grange, are as high as 90 per cent. And, while previously most foreign buyers came from regional neighbours Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong, they're increasingly venturing from farther afield.

Purchases by Britons and Americans have risen about five times over the past three years, and Mr Ku also sees South Koreans entering the market 'in a big way'.

These investors appreciate the island's world-class infrastructure and political stability, but also its low property taxes and transparent ownership rules, making condominiums equally affordable for foreigners as for the locals.

They face more restrictions for landed property, but even those are disappearing in special districts such as Sentosa.

There are also great expectations surrounding the government's investment plans. Over the next couple of years, two integrated resort complexes will open, comprising casinos, entertainment outlets, and convention and retail space.

While the Orchard area remains the jewel in the luxury property crown, the districts that will house the new resort complexes - Marina Bay and Sentosa - are a hive of activity. Among the most talked-about developments are the One Shenton project at Marina Bay's edge, which will consist of two gold and silver towers housing 341 opulent apartments and penthouses. The development is nearly sold out, with 10 units worth a total of HK$125million going to Hong Kong buyers.

Another new residential landmark, Cliveden@Grange near Orchard Road, received strong overseas buyer interest when showcased in Hong Kong. Developer City Development says about 90 per cent of the apartments have been bought by foreigners. Buyers paid an average of S$3,600 per sqft for the flats. The highest price achieved was S$4,162 per sqft for a four-bedroom apartment.

Indonesia's Lippo Group is planning a 124-unit Marina Collection on Sentosa. It will be topped with massive penthouses with exclusive swimming pools, situated temptingly at the building's edges.

Closer to the traditional wealth epicentre of Orchard Road, Wheelock Properties will put up the 'super luxury' Scotts Square development, which will consist of two residential towers with glass-panelled balconies for more than 300 apartments.

Residents of the Hilltops, a 240-unit luxury project to be launched later this year by boutique developer SC Global, can unwind in resort-style steam rooms that will be built into every flat.