Singapore property — are foreigners about to bail out?

RESALE prices at luxury projects in neighbourhoods popular among foreign buyers took a hit in 2014, raising concerns that foreigners could exit Singapore’s real estate market en masse.

Last year saw several high-end apartments in the city state’s exclusive enclave of Sentosa Cove and the highly sought-after address of Orchard Road sell at hefty losses.

The highest loss-making transaction was a four-bedroom apartment at the [email protected], which was sold for S$3.9 million (RM10.4 million) in July 2014, almost half the S$7.1 million it was originally bought for in November 2007, according to data compiled by Malayan Banking Bhd.

Of the top 10 loss-making sales in 2014, four were located in Sentosa and four in the Orchard Road area, which historically have attracted much higher foreign interest than other parts of the island.

“The concern around foreigners exiting en masse came about because resale values in foreign enclaves such as Orchard and Sentosa have dropped more than other areas,” Ng Wee Siang, head of research at Maybank told CNBC.

“While there have been more fire sales, some of them have their own peculiar reasons — we can’t jump to the conclusion that it is because foreigners are walking away,” he added.

An analysis of the top 30 projects with the highest level of foreigner ownership indicates that valuations have largely been resilient, said Ng. These include apartment buildings such as Rivergate, City Square Residences and Costa Del Sol.

“This supports our view that luxury homes sold at large losses are sporadic and isolated to selected projects,” he said.

Overall, prices of private residential property in the city dipped 4% in 2014, according to a flash estimate by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Donald Han, managing director at Chestertons Singapore, shares a similar view. “There will always be buyers that need to cash out, but we have seen rampant cases of such sellers,” he said.

Some fire sales last year occurred because buyers were asked by banks to top up their loans due to a decline in the valuation of their properties and instead of putting in additional cash, they decided to exit their investment, Han said.

Ng sees minimum risk of a massive withdrawal of foreign cash from the housing market without a global economic collapse.

“Foreigners may be concerned about the fall in resale values, but I don’t think there will be panic. If you look at Singapore, over the past 10 years, it’s becoming a wealth and private banking hub, so a lot more rich people reside here compared to before.”

Over the last decade, foreigners from around the region have flocked to buy property in Singapore — a city that boasts a stable economy and superior quality of life.

At the peak, in the fourth quarter of 2011, overseas buyers accounted for over 20% of non-landed property transactions on the island, according to Maybank.

While the proportion of foreign buyers has since declined, they still play a key role in the market. In the third quarter of 2014, foreigners accounted for roughly 10% of transactions.

Han agreed, adding that the strength of the Singapore dollar vis-à-vis regional currencies and relative stability of the market will keep foreign investors from heading for the exit. — CNBC

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 9, 2015.

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