Outlook on Singapore investment property remains bright in 2019
Sellers of these collective sales projects have relaunched at somewhat lower reserve prices, in tune with new market conditions but it appears that developers are still not biting. The cooling measures will set new levels in land acquisition costs and we expect bids for residential plots to moderate in 2019.
In the short to medium term, the opportunities for residential real estate appear to be narrowing but this should not stop deep-pocketed investors with their eye on brick and mortar to explore other sectors including commercial assets.
For one, we are beginning to see increased appetite for residential plots with approval for change of use; in particular, for hotel development. The hospitality sector is poised to grow further on the back of healthy visitor arrivals. Room rates may rise as the stock of hotel rooms tightens. It is timely that the URA released a Club Street site for hotel use in its H2 2018 Government Land Sales programme, the first time in five years. Similarly, the recent collective sale launch of Waterloo Apartments with approval to redevelop into a hotel has met with resounding response. We expect appetite for these sites to continue in 2019.
2018 has been an active year for investors in commercial property. Quality buildings have had a good run, with several benchmark transactions inked to date: the sale of Twenty Anson at $516 million or $2,503 per square foot (psf) capped a robust first half of the year – the only Grade A office building sale. Other office deals include 55 Market Street ($216.8 million or $3,020 psf) and MYP Plaza ($247 million or $3,000 psf). The strength in office capital values is underpinned by a very strong rebound of Grade A office rents since 2017.
Cushman & Wakefield’s basket of Grade A office rents show an 18 per cent jump from the trough in the first quarter of 2017. This is just four per cent below the recent peak in the first quarter of 2015. In 2019, we expect investors to test benchmarks for premium commercial real estate as Grade A office supply remains very tight and demand for office space keeps at a steady pace. The government’s relentless focus on sharpening Singapore’s attraction as a hub for business operations will undoubtedly keep many corporates operating out of Singapore and lure many more to set up offices in the city-state. Barring any unforeseen events, capital values of Grade A CBD offices should grow by 14% in 2019.
Strata office sales took a beating in the run-up to the recovery in the office rental market in the second half of 2017 into Q1 2018. Prospective owner-occupiers were sitting on the fence, weighing the pros and cons of buying an office space against leasing one. With the proliferation of co-working spaces available in the market now, the appetite for buying a strata office unit has waned in favour of leasing co-working spaces.
Nevertheless, demand from institutional investors for strata units on full floors remains robust. With office rentals on an upward trajectory, the case for investing in strata offices has become clearer. There has been a considerable uptick in transaction volumes in the strata office markets year to date. Cushman & Wakefield’s data point to $681 million in total secondary transaction volumes between January and September this year, a tad lower than the $707 million for the whole of 2017. We expect the full year transaction value to exceed that of 2017. The momentum on strata office sales in 2019 will keep pace with 2018, a function of the very limited office supply on the market.
Family offices, particularly younger generations of family-owned businesses, are trading very actively in shophouses. This is an asset class that commands a premium because of their rich architectural heritage and lack of supply. Shophouses in the CBD are now priced between $7,000 – $9,000 (over Land Area) or $3,500 – $4,500 psf (over Gross Floor Area) depending on the location.
Transaction volumes for District 1 shophouses in the first three quarters of 2018 has already exceeded 2017’s full-year volume. With the cooling measures impacting the residential market, some investors have started to divert their capital to the shophouse market, which will lead to a further increase in prices and volume in 2019.
Latest transactions include the unit at 21 Boon Tat Street which was sold for $16.5 million earlier this month, and 40 & 41 Duxton Hill, which was transacted at $24.8 million (about $2,787 psf) with a balance tenure of 69 years, generating about 3.7% yield.
Market watchers are anticipating growing interest in District 7, especially within the Beach Road, Middle Road and Kampong Glam Region since the locale is an emerging alternative option to the CBD. There are numerous new developments within District 7 such as Duo, South Beach, Citygate, Concourse Skyline and Guoccoland’s new futuristic mixed development along Beach Road now under construction, all of which will likely generate more vibrancy within the area.
Commercial property investments typically carry higher risks than residential as they require active hands-on management of the assets. The capital outlay is usually higher too, and financing cannot be done through the use of Central Provident Funds. But over the medium term, some liquidity will still find its way back to these segments if Singapore’s economy keeps steady.
D1 Shophouse Median Price & Transaction Volume
Retail sales remain below pre-pandemic levels (Chart I), as footfall in malls continues to be hit by an ongoing capacity limits, border controls and work from home arrangements. From dine-in bans to the cap on group sizes, restrictions in the F&B sector have dealt an even greater blow to the retail industry as F&B establishments are integral to draw traffic to any retail sites.