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Sizzling real estate sector

Bullish investors may drive 2007 sales to a record high, while home prices and rents continue to surge.

AFTER years of being in the doldrums, the Singapore property market has been staging a spectacular recovery in the past couple of years. The rally is being fuelled by a surge in confidence from foreign investors as well as local buyers. The real estate sector is firing on all cylinders, including investment sales, residential and office.

A whopping $24.81 billion worth of investment sale deals were sealed in the first six months of this year, according to CB Richard Ellis (CBRE). Investment sale deals – a gauge of major property players’ confidence level in the mid-to-long-term prospects for the real estate sector – include collective sales, other land deals, transactions of entire office and other buildings, as well as strata-titled units above $5 million. The first half of 2007’s sparkling investment sale numbers include some 75 collective sales worth $9.3 billion, higher than $8.2 billion for the whole of last year.

CBRE expects the full-year investment sale figure to surpass the record $30.51 billion set in 2006, hitting as high as $35 billion.

Major deals in H1 this year include the $1.04 billion sale of Temasek Tower, the collective sale of Leedon Heights ($835 million) and Novotel Clarke Quay Hotel ($201 million).

In the residential sector, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Q2 price index for private homes was up 8.3 per cent from the preceding quarter and 21 per cent higher year on year. And latest Q2 official figures show that the residential price recovery that began some two years ago in the high-end segment fuelled by foreign buyers has started filtering down to other segments of the market, based on URA’s sub-indices.

Prices of non-landed private homes in the Core Central Region (CCR) – which includes prime districts 9, 10, 11, Downtown Core (including Marina Bay) and Sentosa – were up 7.9 per cent in Q2 over Q1, while prices of nonlanded homes in Rest of Central Region (RCR) – which includes areas like Bukit Merah, Queenstown, Geylang, Toa Payoh and Katong – rose 8.1 per cent over the same period. The Outside Central Region (OCR), covering suburban mass-market locations like Woodlands, Clementi, Jurong, Hougang, Tampines and Bedok, posted a 7.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter rise in Q2.

The rental market has also been sizzling, with residential rental indices of non-landed private homes rising 12 per cent in Q2 over Q1 for the CCR, and by 10 per cent and 9.4 per cent respectively for RCR and OCR in the same period. The Q2 rental indices were up around 35 per cent from a year ago for each of the CCR and RCR, and by 28.3 per cent for OCR.

In the public housing segment, the Housing & Development Board’s (HDB) resale flat price index rose 3 per cent quarter-on-quarter in Q2, compared with a 1.3 per cent gain in Q1.

The outlook for the residential sector is bright. Most property consultants predict that URA’s overall private home price index may surge a further 8 to 15 per cent in the second half, chalking a full-year increase of 23 to 30 per cent. Analysts generally expect HDB resale flat prices to post an 8 to 10 per cent full-year increase.

Interestingly, collective sales have caused a ripple effect. For instance, those who sell their homes through en bloc sales are looking for replacement homes, in many cases outside the prime districts where they sold their en bloc properties because of rapidly rising prices in the prime locations.

This has helped to spur a recovery in the other market segments, even HDB resale flats, where a few units have been purchased at record prices by those who sold their private homes through en bloc sales.

At the same time, as developers pull down en bloc sale sites to redevelop them, the resulting shortage of prime district apartments has helped fuel rental hikes for such homes. In the industrial property market, average rents for all categories of space increased in Q2 this year. High-tech space posted the biggest quarter-on-quarter gain of 11.9 per cent to $2.35 psf per month, as the office space shortage and rising office rentals led many qualifying occupiers to move to high-tech properties, according to CBRE. The average monthly prime retail rent along Orchard Road posted a 1.8 per cent quarter-on quarter gain in Q2 to $34.40 psf – close to the $35.10 psf achieved in 1996.

As for the office sector, a shortage of space in the near term, coupled with strong demand from occupiers including big-wig international financial institutions have been the key factors driving a whopping 80 per cent year-on-year rise in CBRE’s average prime rental in Q2 to $10.80 psf a month. This surpassed the 1996 peak of $9.90 psf a month, and is fast closing in on the 1990 historic peak of $11.50 psf a month. The Q2 office rental figure is also more than double the $4 psf during the current cycle trough in Q1 2004.

Market watchers expect office rents to head further north in the next few years because of the supply crunch.

However, the government has been releasing more office sites, including the maiden ‘transitional office’ plot which can be built into a low-rise office building in about a year.

In addition, it has made available more 99-year condo sites, mostly in suburban locations. Besides tackling the supply side, the authorities have also begun releasing more property market data so that participants can make more informed decisions. So far, the indication from government is that it is not inclined to intervene to cool demand.

Fundamentals for the Singapore real estate sector remain strong for the next couple of years, at least – barring unforeseen circumstances.

Of course, a sustained rout in the local stock market because of the selldown on Wall Street is likely dent sentiment in the Singapore property market. But there could also be a more direct hit if the US sub-prime mortgage default fiasco dries up some of the liquidity that has been powering the local real estate sector’s sparkling recovery.

 

Source: Business Times 9 Aug 07

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