Monday, April 1, 2013

Curbs at home get Singaporeans looking far and wide to invest

The Straits Times  |  March 31, 2013

Singaporeans with money to spare but deterred by property curbs at home are going as far as South America to invest.

Apartments and houses in places like London, Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur have always appealed to investors here, but these days developers are also pushing property in places as far-flung as Bangkok, Tokyo, Boracay in the Philippines, Marrakech in Morocco, Brazil and the Bahamas.

And agents say hundreds of these properties have found buyers here largely through exhibitions held at Singapore hotels.

One sign is a recent rise in advertisements for overseas properties in The Straits Times and The Sunday Times.

Most are for projects in Malaysia and London, but ads for developments in many other places now appear regularly too.

To sweeten the deal, some projects dangle carrots such as rental guarantees and free maintenance for a period.

The ECG Group, a Singapore firm co-developing housing projects in Thailand, has been active, and this month it launched its Circle Condominium and Circle Living Prototype, both freehold projects in Bangkok.

Prices for fully-furnished units ranging from studio apartments to two-bedroom units in both projects go for between $210,000 and $380,000 - or an average of $530 per sq ft (psf).

Since it began targeting Singapore buyers three years ago, the company has marketed a total of six Thai developments.

ECG chief executive Eric Cheng said it has sold more than 160 homes in the past two years and the pace picked up significantly in the past year. He said it sold 21 units in one weekend at an exhibition this month.

He thinks Singapore's property cooling measures have helped drive investors to look at Bangkok as a place to buy homes.

"We had 112 people attend a seminar in a recent weekend, more than double what we got last year, with about 20 per cent of them making a purchase," he said.

The Assoufid Villas, in the south-west of Marrakech, is being marketed here with prices ranging from 1.9 million euros (S$3 million) for a three-bedroom unit to three million euros for a four-bedroom unit with a two-bedroom guest pavilion.

Homes at Baha Mar, a US$3.5 billion (S$4.3 billion) integrated resort being built in the Bahamas, have also been offered here at prices starting from US$1.5 million.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) director of international property services Doris Tan said her firm has sold 60 homes from the three Tokyo projects it has marketed here since last November.

It started promoting The Parkhouse Nishiazabu Residence this month with prices from $1.5 million to $2 million, or $1,200 to $1,500 psf.

"Prices in Tokyo have been stagnant for the past 20 years and buyers see an upward trend and believe the Japanese economy is recovering," Ms Tan said.

"In addition, the Japanese yen has recently depreciated against the Singapore dollar, which is another reason why people are beginning to look at Japanese properties, whereas prices of properties in Asia have appreciated a fair bit."

She said that while lower-priced homes in emerging markets might attract mass-market buyers, global cities like London continue to enjoy keen interest from Singaporeans and investors around the world.

Ms Agnes Tan, 49, who owns three homes in Bangkok, said the biggest draw was the affordability. Homes in Singapore are expensive and the string of cooling measures have also caused a lot of uncertainty, she added.

Her most recent buy was a $250,000 one-bedroom unit earlier this month.

"People have asked me to invest in Iskandar but Singaporeans have driven up prices there and there's the issue of security as well," she said.


Overseas property investments do not come without their fair share of risk.

The allure of owning a home at a fraction of the price here, in some depressed markets, might seem like an attractive proposition.

But experts stress that investors must be aware of any hidden costs and other risks that might be associated with buying a property in an unfamiliar foreign land.

These can include currency risks, political risks, capital gains, property or inheritance taxes, legal fees and restrictions on selling the unit in the future.

In Australia, for instance, foreigners can buy only first-hand property, which means either under construction or just completed. The property can be resold only to Australian citizens.

Foreign investors in Britain also need to be aware of the various taxes that they may have to pay.

For example, there is stamp duty, a tax on the property based on the purchase price. Another tax is the council tax levied by the local authorities. This depends on the area in which the house is built. Together, these two taxes - which local buyers also have to bear - can be costly.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said that more exotic and emerging markets typically may have higher returns due to the higher risks attached to them.

"The laws there are not the laws that we're familiar with here. The further the property is, the higher the holding costs might be as well, if an owner needs to fly up to physically check on the property," he added.

Apart from doing research, Mr Ku added that investors should also consider appointing a buyer's agent for unfamiliar locations to help them with the due diligence and to get peace of mind.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C

Senior Sales Director
DTZ Property Network Pte Ltd (L3007960A)

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