Lights off on Singapore's billionaire row as luxury house prices plunge

Aug 29 2014, 14:29 IST
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"The way prices have fallen in Sentosa, it's as if there is a global financial crisis," said Alan Cheong, head of Singapore research at property firm Savills. (Reuters)
SummaryDue to the plunge in luxury house prices, Singapore's billionaire row stands meek without any light...

There's an eerie silence at night in Sentosa Cove, the man-made island resort billed as Singapore's answer to Monte Carlo and the only place in the country where foreigners can buy landed property.

Dozens of houses - complete with their own private yacht berths and multiple swimming pools - sit empty while few lights are on in the apartment blocks overlooking the marina, a few kilometres away from Sentosa's giant casino.

Prices in the gated community, where Australian mining tycoons Gina Rinehart and Nathan Tinkler bought properties, fell around 20 percent in the past year as lending restrictions and taxes on foreign buyers burst a bubble in the Southeast Asian financial hub's luxury real estate market.

Investors could see the value of their assets fall even further with developers and investors still struggling to sell even after the recent price falls. Real estate websites list hundreds of flats and bungalows for sale, yet just 12 apartments and one house have changed hands all year on Sentosa, according to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

"The way prices have fallen in Sentosa, it's as if there is a global financial crisis," said Alan Cheong, head of Singapore research at property firm Savills.

That could mean a tough 2015 for the city state's banks unless policy restrictions are eased soon. But that looks unlikely because government-imposed curbs are having the desired affect of keeping the broader market in check after private house prices rose more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2013.

New mortgage business at the country's lenders is up to 40 percent below 2013 levels, although the downturn is unlikely to show up in their balance sheets until next year as loans are typically agreed a year ahead of them starting to be drawn down.

Compounding the problem for property investors are cutbacks in housing allowances for expatriate workers - meaning rents have fallen - and a drop in the number of high-net-worth foreigners being granted permanent residency.

Estate agent Knight Frank's analysis of property prices in 32 cities around the world found Singapore's prime residential market, defined as the priciest 5 percent of properties, performed the worst in the first half of 2014, with prices falling 7.3 percent.

For the luxury sector, the government measures have led to a sharp drop in foreign buyers, who accounted for over half of Sentosa sales between 2010 and 2014.

That means the number of distressed investors is expected to rise.

"Some of

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