Good times over for luxury home market as government measures bite

Property investor Sameer Aswani was buying and selling high- end homes about as fast as he could transact a few years ago, but that gravy train has well and truly hit the skids.

A $5.5 million, 1,636 sq ft unit that he owns in upscale Marina Bay Residences would have been snapped up in a flash in the boom days, but not now.

The lack of a serious buyer has forced the 37-year-old to put tenants in and try to find a silver lining amid yields of just 3 per cent.

"In the good times, I was flipping units left and right. At one point in 2010, I did five to six in about four to five weeks," he said.

Those good times ended when the cooling measures began.

"Government measures have driven out speculators so there are more serious investors in the market who have holding power," he said. "It's tougher to buy now so people just sit on their units."

The moribund market that Mr Aswani and other high-end home owners have been facing counters the conventional wisdom that Singapore's property market has gone from strength to strength.

A Straits Times check of homes priced $5 million and above in the first seven months of this year showed that sale volumes are down to levels last seen in 2008.

The median price of $2,489 per sq ft (psf) for this segment is also the lowest since 2009. In contrast, overall prices for all private homes are at a record high, after rising 1 per cent from the first to second quarter this year.

Only 183 units worth $5 million and above were sold from January to July this year - close to the 187 moved in the first seven months of 2008, according to Urban Redevelopment Authority data.

It marks a nosedive from the corresponding period in 2010, which saw 444 transactions, and in 2011, which saw 310.

Those numbers all pale in comparison with the 814 high-end homes sold in January through July in the boom year of 2007 at a median $2,470.50 psf.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said the luxury market never quite recovered from the hammering it took in 2009 from the global financial crisis.

A mere 106 homes worth $5million and above were sold from January to July 2009, while the median sale price fell to $2,126.50 psf during those seven months, down from $2,705 psf in the corresponding period in 2008.

The introduction of the additional buyers' stamp duty in December 2011 was also a hammer blow on the high-end segment, Mr Ong said, adding that demand for posh pads has also been affected by the weak global economy.

"Expatriates seconded to Singapore are increasingly either mid- level or senior level with limited housing allowances," he noted.

A Savills Singapore report yesterday said the average monthly rents of high-end units it tracks fell for an eighth straight quarter in April through June, dipping 0.2 per cent to $4.86 psf per month.

"Rents for luxury homes may remain stagnant until year's end as most of the new supply is unsold units held by developers who cannot lease them," said Savills.

Another factor is competition from other international cities.

Out of nine luxury markets across Asia that Jones Lang LaSalle tracks, Singapore was the only one that posted a price drop from the preceding quarter, and where prices in the second quarter fell year on year.