Weak demand in leasing market

From 2009 to 2013, she bought four apartments and two retail shop spaces.

The 45-year-old property investor who wanted to be known as Michelle aimed to capitalise on the property boom.

Today, one shop space sits empty. The other five properties, while rented out, do not command enough to account for the property loans she is servicing for all six properties.

Michelle's predicament is what the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is sounding a note of caution on.

In its Financial Stability Review released last week, it warned of emerging risks in property.

Prolonged weak growth, low interest rates and rising political risks have raised concerns about global financial stability.

MAS noted: "In particular, before investing in property, investors should be aware that rising vacancy rates, declining rentals and impending interest rate increases mean that they may not always be able to rely on rental income to service their investment property loans."

Michelle, who works in the sales industry and earns $20,000 a month, would know.

With her rental income not enough to cover her loans, she has been paying the shortfall out of her own pocket.

She told The New Paper last Thursday: "I really have to work very hard to close more deals, so that I can pay off the loans.

If I can get past these two years, it should be okay. I can manage as long as I don't splurge on anything."

Due to the market situation, Michelle, who is single and lives in a condominium, had to slash the rent for her tenants with expiring lease contracts to retain them.

For instance, her fully furnished shoebox apartment at RV Edge, off River Valley Road, used to fetch $3,200 a month in 2013. This year, she reduced the rent by close to 20 per cent in line with the market rate.

Michelle's situation is common today due to the weak demand in the leasing market, resulting in what R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng called a tenant's market.

It means cost-conscious tenants have more choices and are less likely to proceed with something that runs in excess of their budget.


"It used to be that investors would be able to earn a certain percentage a month from their rental income, what we call rental yield. In today's context, it's very much about offsetting mortgage repayments on a monthly basis.

"These days, there is a risk of properties running vacant as there are more choices for tenants," said Mr Ong.

Property investment blogger Vina Ip added that demand has slowed because there are fewer expatriates working here now - a result of the government's tightening of employment pass approvals since 2013.

Coupled with the softer demand is a surge in new private residential completions in the past two years, Mr Ong said.

He predicts a slight improvement in the leasing market demand next year as new completions will be moderated.

Figures from the Urban Redevelopment Authority show that 16,167 new units are expected to be completed next year, down from 27,498 expected to be completed at the end of the year.

"I won't expect demand to pick up or rentals to actually improve, but I have high hopes that the market will stabilise, or not worsen as much as compared to this and last year," he said.

This article was first published on December 5, 2016.
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