Foreign buyers keen on private properties again

But numbers smaller after cooling measures; focus on suburban condos

Foreign buyers are returning to the private property market but their numbers are still well under levels seen before the big stamp duty hit in December 2011.

Their focus has also changed, with mass-market condos in suburban areas now higher on their wish lists, a shift from the high-end homes that they have traditionally sought.

Analysts said the additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD), which imposed a 10 per cent levy - now 15 per cent - on purchases by foreign buyers, has prompted more of them to aim downmarket.

Foreign buyers, not including PRs, bought 10.7 per cent of the 4,884 private homes sold in the first quarter of this year.

This proportion is well under levels seen before the ABSD was implemented but an increase from their 7.4 per cent share of the 7,918 units moved in the three months to Dec 31.

It is also a jump from the first, second and third quarters of last year when foreign buyers accounted for 5.7 per cent, 7.1 per cent and 7.2 per cent respectively, of new private home purchases, according to caveats lodged with the URA.

In the first quarter, the prime District 10 remained the most popular but District 19 - which consists of Serangoon, Hougang, Punggol and Sengkang - was close behind. Among the most popular projects among foreign buyers was D'Leedon in prime District 10. Projects in District 19 favoured by foreign buyers include La Fiesta in Sengkang.

The Chinese and Indonesians were the largest groups of buyers in the first quarter of this year, followed by Malaysians. Chinese home-buyers in particular seem to be regaining their foothold in the market. They accounted for 42.6 per cent of the 108 foreign buyers last month, the first time since July they have surpassed Indonesians, who made up 32.4 per cent of buyers last month.

This contrasts with the first two months of this year, when Chinese buyers made up 25 per cent to 30 per cent of foreign purchases while Indonesians accounted for about 38 per cent in both months.

China national Lin Youzhong, 53, said he had the ABSD in mind when he started property hunting. The businessman from Beijing bought a 1,302 sq ft four-room unit at euHabitat in Eunos in February for $1,173 psf or around $1.53 million. Speaking in Mandarin, he told The Straits Times by telephone that the total quantum was still affordable after factoring in the ABSD. Mr Lin added that he and his wife visit Singapore once or twice a year and may stay in the unit but it is meant largely as an investment.

Consultants said the momentum may continue as Chinese buying interest appears as strong as it was before the cooling measures, which included a higher ABSD.

Real estate agency Remax executive director Thomas Tan said he received more than 150 registrations of interest from Chinese buyers when he conducted an exhibition on Singapore and Malaysian property in Beijing earlier this month.

Jones Lang LaSalle Singapore research director Ong Teck Hui said the January cooling measures slowed overall transaction volume but "while the number of Singaporean buyers continued dipping in March, the numbers for PRs and foreigners stabilised".

"This suggests that Singaporean investors ...seem to have been affected more by the measures than PRs and foreigners".

In absolute terms, the number of foreign purchases - 523 in the first quarter - was 40 per cent higher than the 373 recorded in the same period a year ago.

This is despite the ABSD being raised on Jan 12 this year, from 10 per cent to 15 per cent for foreign buyers, as part of a seventh round of cooling measures.

However, the proportion of foreign buyers has still not returned to pre-ABSD levels.

Before the introduction of the ABSD in December 2011, foreigners accounted for a solid 21.2 per cent of private home purchases in the fourth quarter of 2011. This dropped off sharply to 5.7 per cent for the first quarter of last year, as the initial introduction of ABSD at 10 per cent for foreign buyers forced a retreat.

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