SINGAPORE - BUYING interest has crept back into the exclusive Sentosa Cove estate, which boasts some of the most expensive waterfront homes in Singapore, after a lull in sales last year.
But market activity in the millionaires' playground is still far from its heyday a few years ago.
Developers have sold 65 apartments so far this year, more than the 55 units for the whole of last year.
This is, however, still well down on the 141 units sold in 2010, according to caveats lodged with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
On the landed property front, 23 homes have changed hands so far this year, largely in line with last year's total of 24 transactions.
But despite the uptick, the market was again down from the 62 landed homes sold in 2010.
Experts note that the landed and non-landed segment of Sentosa Cove are two distinct markets that do not necessarily move in tandem.
The landed segment of the market has enjoyed new price records this year even though sales volumes have only held firm.
Average prices for landed homes have risen 6 per cent from $2,097 per sq ft (psf) of land area to $2,216 psf this year, according to the URA caveats.
A 10,111 sq ft bungalow on Ocean Drive, for instance, was recently sold for $32.5 million, which works out to $3,214 psf of land area.
In March this year, embattled surgeon Susan Lim sold her sea- facing bungalow for $39 million, a record absolute price for the upmarket enclave.
While buying interest in the non-landed segment has grown, apartment prices at some projects are still below their peaks.
Take, for instance, 264-unit The Oceanfront.
While average prices peaked at $2,481 psf in August 2007, they were in the $2,000 psf range in the May to November period this year, according to data collated by Square Foot Research.
There are also hundreds of units sitting unsold at projects such as Residences at W Singapore.
Average prices for non-landed transactions this year have dipped 3 per cent to $2,254 psf from $2,324 psf a year earlier.
Experts say that landed homes at Sentosa Cove remain in demand as it is the only area that non-permanent resident foreigners can pick up such units.
The 99-year leasehold apartment units, however, face stiffer competition as there are many freehold alternatives in the prime districts of 9, 10 and 11 on the mainland that overseas buyers can take their pick from.
Newsman Realty director Steve Tay said the third round of quantitative easing and sustained low interest rates have helped fire up the landed market in the second half of the year.
His firm closed four landed deals in the past three months - compared to zero in the first six months of the year - with the latest one at Ocean Drive for $20 million - or more than $2,200 psf.
Buyers have come from Australia, China, India, Myanmar and Singapore, Mr Tay noted.
"Many of the foreigners are buying for (their) own use as they have relocated their businesses here, while the locals might be buying for investment," he said.
GPS Alliance associate agency head Jack Teo said he has seen a 20 to 30 per cent increase in viewings in recent months, largely by Chinese buyers.
"When the additional buyer's stamp duty was implemented last year, some foreigners stayed away hoping that prices would drop. But prices have kept firm and so foreign buyers are coming back into the market again," he added.
But International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong expects the Sentosa Cove market will likely stay "relatively quiet" next year.
"Occupancy rates are still low because many investors buy homes there for the long term and they might hold the property without leasing it out... And so investor interest remains muted because they don't see the buzz on the island," he added.