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Have you missed the Great Singapore Sale? KK Tan explains how investors can look beyond the hype

Investor's Notebook

Boutique selling children's toys and clothing

As I read the billion dollar bids for land in Singapore and new launches of private apartments selling out in three days, I began to wonder whether the government has expanded the retail-driven Great Singapore Sale to the residential property market and I have missed the sale! A deeper look suggests that the residential market activity is somewhat like the Great Singapore Sale. The merchandise isn’t discounted a great deal but somehow the consumers bought into the hype.

We have been flagging out the change in developers’ and consumers’ appetite for private properties since June last year. The turning point in sentiments was perhaps the successful launch of the GEMS Residences, a 578-unit private condominium in the suburb of Toa Payoh. The developer did an excellent job of marketing the project with some clever gimmicks like car rental, 24-hour concierge and private chef services. Since then, the market has gone from strength to strength.

Just like what you need to do in the Great Singapore Sale, investors need to look beyond the hype and get a clear perspective of value vs price and whether the “discount” justifies the purchase.

Billion dollar bids for land were expected

While it makes great headline sensation, the billion dollar bids for government land are expected. The sites being offered for tender have been increasingly larger and in relatively good locations. The larger sites are part of the government’s deliberate, stated intention. As seen in Figure 1, the average gross floor area of the sites sold in 2017 is 29% higher than that of the sites sold in 2016.

Figure 1: The average GFA of sites in 2017 is higher than that in 2016

Figure 1

Source: URA, HDB, FundPlaces Research. Note: data obtained on 14 Aug 2017

Are local developers in danger of being unemployed?

Traditional local developers have become more aggressive in land acquisitions as many of them are running low on their land bank. Foreign developers, particularly those from China and Malaysia, have other strategic objectives for their aggressive land acquisitions. Some have formed joint ventures with the traditional big boys to undertake developments. Others have decided to take the plunge themselves.

Foreign developers have been entering the Singapore property market as the government land tender system provides a very efficient and transparent way to enter the market. Generally, foreign developers have been working on increasingly thin profit margins when they acquire sites. However, their intent for acquisitions has not always been purely profit driven. Some used this as a means to build up their portfolio as a trophy piece to showcase their development expertise. Others use this as a means to get their funds out of their home country where there are outflow controls. Foreign developers have out-bidded traditional local big boys in three out of eight government land sites in 2017.

New home sales surged

The new home sales market has also been buoyed the positive stance from developers. It is becoming more common to see new launches being sold out within 1-2 months of launch. However, while month-on-month sales momentum has picked up, we found that the number of units sold is far from peak sales level in 2013, where the monthly sales volume reached more than 2,500 units in a month. The median selling price of new homes is still lower than the peak in 2014.

Figure 2: Number of monthly new sales is increasing but still lower than the peak in 2013

Figure 2

Source: URA, FundPlaces Research. Note: data obtained on 14 August 2017

Empty completed condominiums remain a challenge

The increase in primary home sales had contributed to four consecutive quarters of decline in vacancy rates. The overall vacancy rate in 2Q 2017 was 9.1%, which was lower than the peak of 10.4% in 2Q 2016. Despite the decline, vacancy rates remained high compared with historical levels in 2010, where it reached as low as 5%. This is an evidence that the market starts to clear its stock.

Figure 3: Vacancy rate of non-landed residential properties registered four consecutive quarters of decline

Figure 3

Source: URA, FundPlaces Research. Note: data obtained on 14 August 2017

Investor's Notebook

About Kok Keong Tan

Kok Keong Tan

Kok Keong Tan has more than 20 years of experience in the real estate industry in the areas of real estate valuation, research and consultancy, equity research and venture creation in the fintech world. He has worked in the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Merrill Lynch, Pacific Star Holdings and OrangeTee. In 2012, he spearheaded the setting up of an asset management advisory firm, Asian Acre Advisors in Yangon, Myanmar. In 2014, he returned to Singapore to set up a boutique real estate consultancy, REMS Advisors. He also co-founded Fundplaces, an alternative real estate investment platform.

Articles by Kok Keong Tan

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