Looking back: Property in flux

Singapore's property market: Dark clouds, but silver lining too

As of last Thursday, there have been 2,601 private home transactions in the "core central region", 42.6 per cent higher than that of the whole of last year, says Mr Cheong. This area includes Orchard (above) and Novena. Mr Cheong credits this "strong
As of last Thursday, there have been 2,601 private home transactions in the "core central region", 42.6 per cent higher than that of the whole of last year, says Mr Cheong. This area includes Orchard (above) and Novena. Mr Cheong credits this "strong revival of interest in the luxury segment of the private residential market" to developers' creative payment schemes.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Falling prices, rents, rising vacancies, but robust sales in some parts of the property market

At first glance, Singapore's broader property market appears decidedly gloomy, with vacancy rates in offices and malls climbing and residential prices falling relentlessly.

But according to analysts, various sectors of the market are showing signs of life, with increased office investments, robust luxury residential sales and a rejuvenated collective sales market.

Still, one of the starkest signs of gloom - unless you are a patient buyer - has been the fall in private home prices.

Including the third quarter this year, private home prices have sunk 10.8 per cent in 12 straight quarters since the peak of the third quarter in 2013. Rents have dropped to almost the same extent, by 10.7 per cent, according to Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) data.

However, the sales volume has been rising, even though November saw a slightly cooler take-up. A total of 11,993 private residential units (excluding executive condominium units) were sold in the first nine months of this year, an increase of 9.8 per cent year on year.

Falling prices have, in fact, been a boon for the luxury residential property market.

As of last Thursday, there were 2,601 private home transactions in the area defined as the "core central region", 42.6 per cent higher than that of the whole of last year, said Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong. This area includes Orchard, River Valley, Bukit Timah and Novena.

"Clearly, this shows that there has been a strong revival of interest in the luxury segment of the private residential market," he said. He attributed this to developers' creative payment schemes, such as OUE Twin Peaks' and d'Leedon's deferred payment schemes.

Analysts also singled out the return of collective sales as a cause for optimism. After a long dormant period, three deals were sealed this year, racking up more than $1 billion in value. Last year, there was just one $380 million deal and none in 2014.

The biggest collective sale of the year was of Bishan estate Shunfu Ville, bought by Chinese developer Qingjian Realty for $638 million. The sale is awaiting High Court approval.

The Straits Times understands that at least 10 collective sales committees have been set up in response to these successes.

Dr Lee Nai Jia, head of research at Edmund Tie and Co, is confident more collective sales will be sealed next year.

"This is because sellers have dropped their asking prices, while developers are keen on well-located smaller sites," he said. "It is good for the property market, as it helps to renew the stock of sites available."

However, the star performer of the property market this year was office investment sales. According to data from research firm Real Capital Analytics, the value of office investments in Singapore so far this year was US$4.9 billion (S$7.1 billion) as of Dec 14, rising 54 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

Foreign investment in local real estate hit its highest level in nine years.

Two mega deals made up the bulk of the $8.85 billion of foreign money. One was the sale of Asia Square Tower 1 for $3.38 billion by sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority. The second was Malaysian developer IOI Properties Group's unit Wealthy Link's record-setting bid of $2.57 billion for a "white" multi-use site in Central Boulevard. Both properties are in Marina Bay.

The bullish buying of commercial assets contrasted with the pressure being put on rental prices. Office vacancy rates continued to rise. They were up last quarter to 10.4 per cent, one of the highest in recent quarters, while office rentals and prices continued to decline last quarter.

In the retail and industrial segments, business remains woeful as rents have softened across the market, said Mr Cheong.

The median rental rate for retail spaces in the third quarter was the lowest on record, falling to $9.82 per sq ft per month for the Orchard area - the first time it fell below $10, according to URA data.

Meanwhile, average prime monthly rent for the factory and warehouse sector slipped 6.3 per cent quarter on quarter, having declined since the fourth quarter of last year.

Most analysts think that the residential market has bottomed out, and that there is cause for optimism next year, as they believe that the Government will release more Government Land Sales (GLS) sites.

Mr Cheong said next year will be a "watershed" year.

"Not only are we likely to see more GLS sites being listed on the confirmed list for residential development, it is also a year like in 2016 where those who, despite the restrictions imposed by the TDSR (total debt servicing ratio), still have the wherewithal to purchase, (and) will start sauntering back to the market," he said.

Ms Christine Li, director of research at Cushman and Wakefield, said that the optimism ahead was primarily in Singapore's commercial and high-end residential markets.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2016, with the headline 'Dark clouds, but silver lining too'. Print Edition | Subscribe