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Singapore investors with yen for Japan property

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 15, 2013

The cheaper yen and relatively higher yields compared to other Asian cities have made Japanese commercial and residential properties popular targets for foreign investors in recent months.

The past year or so has seen Japanese real estate firms conducting investment seminars or sales campaigns in Singapore for potential buyers.

Since January, the yen has fallen from about 80 yen to the US dollar to about 100 yen (S$1.28) in recent weeks. In the eyes of investors, this translates into a roughly 20 per cent discount in the value of Japanese properties.

But the weaker yen is not the only reason why foreigners now want a piece of the action.

"Foreign investors are now optimistic that the Japanese economy will change for the better under the Abe administration," said Mr Yoshio Nakayama, director of Xymax, Japan's largest commercial property management company.

It held a seminar in Singapore in February aimed mainly at institutional investors.

"The recent interest in Japanese property is also due to the recognition that Tokyo is a core market, along with New York and London," said Mr Nakayama.

"Right now, we think Tokyo is a good bargain compared to the other two cities."

A typical property handled by Xymax is a 10-storey commercial building selling at between five billion and 10 billion yen with a yield of about 5 per cent.

"That is better than (in) Singapore or Hong Kong," he said.

With Tokyo scheduled to host the Olympics in 2020, the property market can be expected to heat up in the next few years as resources are likely to be diverted to the building of Olympic-related infrastructure, said Mr Nakayama.

Demand by foreigners for residential properties in Japan is also strong.

Wealthy Singaporeans are interested in buying new residential properties, mostly condominium units, in prime Tokyo districts such as Roppongi or Azabu.

Global real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) has tied up with major Japanese developers such as Mitsubishi Real Estate and Mitsui Fudosan to market such properties in Singapore.

The most popular are freehold apartments that cost about $1 million and are 700 to 800 sq ft in area.

According to JLL data, the price per sq ft of such prime properties ranges from 120,000 yen to 150,000 yen. Buyers would have to pay twice as much for similar properties in Singapore and 2.5 times as much in Hong Kong.

As for yields, an April survey by the Global Property Guide shows that rental yields in Tokyo range from 4.46 per cent for apartments around 1,300 sq ft to 6.35 per cent for those of about 400 sq ft.

In contrast, a Business Times report in July said rental yields of condominium units in Singapore had fallen below the "psychological" 4 per cent level.

Horus Advisors, a small real estate firm specialising in tenanted properties in smaller Japanese cities, held a seminar in Singapore pitched at individual investors in July.

"Singaporeans are attracted to properties in Sapporo as they seem to be taken with the image of snow even though they are not buying properties for themselves to live in," said Horus' sales director Kenta Takeuchi.

Sapporo is the largest city in northern Japan and is blanketed with snow in winter.

In small cities, a decent-sized block of apartments can be purchased for about 100 million yen and yields are higher than in Tokyo, said Mr Takeuchi.

The company has arranged for interested Singapore investors to visit Japan to view specific properties.

However, real estate firms stress that they hold seminars abroad to tap growing foreign demand and not because the domestic market is stagnant.

With Japan expected to raise its sales tax from 5 to 8 per cent from April 1 next year, would-be homeowners are rushing to make a purchase to beat the deadline.

Incidentally, individual foreign investors buying properties in Japan must be prepared to pay in cash as they do not qualify for housing loans.

wengkin@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 15, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/