Singapore luxury property 'cheap' for rich multinational buyers, pros say

Singapore luxury property 'cheap' for rich multinational buyers, pros say

All the obstacles facing Singapore's property market might not be cleared, but one dark cloud over the luxury end has disappeared, analysts said.

Singapore's extremely-high-end properties are now cheap compared with similar luxury properties in other major capital cities, according to Brandon Lee, a property analyst at JPMorgan in Singapore.

After a 15-25 per cent drop in prime and luxury residential prices since the market peak in 2011, Singapore's properties now represent a good deal for ultra-high-net-worth investors who were comparison shopping between capitals, Lee said. Luxury housing in London, Hong Kong and New York was changing hands at prices as much as 165 per cent higher than in Singapore, Lee noted.

That "very attractive" gap was drawing interest from private equity and global property funds keen to buy multiple apartments from developers in "block" deals, Lee said. Family offices and rich individuals were also increasingly interested in making purchases, he noted.

Despite often needing to offer additional discounts to do those bulk deals, developers have a big motivation: Singapore's government does not allow developers to sit on unsold units while waiting for buyers to return to the market. Any units unsold two years after a project's completion face an "extension charge" of 8 per cent of the proportional land cost for the first year, rising to 16 per cent in the second year and 24 per cent in the third.

Some experts told CNBC the recovery in Singapore's ultra-high-end property was overdue.

"Values in the market are a joke in comparison to some markets," such as London, Hong Kong and Monaco, said property investor Alexander Karolik Shlaen, an economist and CEO of Panache Management, a luxury brands and investment adviser.

He noted that Singapore's freehold luxury property prices were running at about $2,000 a square foot, which he said in London wouldn't be considered a luxury price.

Shlaen expected that purchasers who weren't subject to Singapore's Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) rule would also be motivated to buy.

In a bid to rein in its housing market's sharp price rises, from 2011 Singapore's government imposed a series of cooling measures, including the ABSD, which adds much as an additional 15 per cent to the purchase price for foreign buyers and Singaporeans with more than one property.

While the additional cost may not seem terribly onerous for buyers at the high end, it appears to have successfully dampened interest in luxury properties in the city-state.

But due to tax treaties, buyers from some countries, including the US, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, are exempt.

JPMorgan's Lee noted that in an unusual development, Americans became the second-most frequent buyers of high-end Singapore homes in the second quarter. Individuals from Malaysia, Indonesia and China usually dominate the list, Lee said.

"It could reflect that prices have fallen enough to look at the space," Lee said.

But he was quick to note that he only saw Singapore's high-end as having bottomed out; the mainstream housing market still had room to drop, he cautioned.

"If you look at unsold inventory, it's at a record low" for the high end, Lee said, but he added that wasn't true of the mass-market segment, which he said would see further supply growth even amid vacancy rates that were already as high as 15 per cent. That segment also hadn't seen too much in the way of price declines yet, he said.

"The only reason why we've not seen a lot of distressed properties out there is interest rates are still very low. Owners of properties have strong holding power and they're not willing to take a haircut," he said.

Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority released a flash estimate on Monday that showed the city-state's private home prices fell at the fastest pace in seven years in the third quarter.

The private residential property index fell 1.5 per cent to 137.9 in the July-September quarter, according to the URA, after falling 0.4 per cent in the previous quarter.

The latest drop was the largest quarterly decline since home prices slid 4.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2009, when fallout from the global financial crisis slammed into Asia and pushed Singapore's economy into contraction.

- Reuters contributed to this report.

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