What will the outlook for Singaporean properties be post-COVID 19? It is no surprise that Singapore’s property prices are notoriously sky-high, seemingly unattainable for most individuals. Home to one of the most expensive housing markets worldwide and only coming in second behind our Asian neighbor, Hong Kong, both curious and prospective buyers remain speculative of the property prices amidst COVID 19. Though the market will certainly suffer due to the ravaging global pandemic, it brings us back to the question: what will the property outlook be?
An Uphill Property Price Trend Prior COVID 19
Prior to the outbreak, properties in Singapore have been enjoying a steady increase since the implementation of 2018’s cooling measures by the Government. The 2018 cooling measures that are initiated by the government have prompted a moderate recovery as private home prices hiked by 2.7% last year with a 0.5% surge during the fourth quarter to end off a beautiful year for the property industry. Although the measures were put in place as a bid to ensure affordable housing, the housing market in Singapore seemed resilient even in the face of recessions such as the dot-com bubble burst and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Each time, the property prices rebounded back stronger than ever. Even in the event of SARS and H1N1 (although we must note that these did not cause a global downturn), property prices in Singapore were relatively unperturbed. The aforementioned might be backed by the strong demand from both local and foreign investors as many driving factors kept the market afloat.
Firstly, amongst the diverse culture of local Singaporeans, owning a property can be considered one of the key milestones as one progresses through adulthood. From the view of an outsider, many may think that it just increases your net worth. However, as a Singaporean, the pragmatic significance of owning a property with your beloved partner is equivalent to saying that “I am ready to spend the rest of my life with you.”. This is seen in some male individuals where the gesture of asking their girlfriends to apply for a build to order (BTO) flat is the equivalence of an indirect proposal. This milestone has undoubtedly contributed to the strong demand for local properties, resulting in the steady growth of both public and private housing.
Coming in fourth as one of the top-ranking financial centers worldwide, many expatriates and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are highly attracted to our flourishing island. With an influx of talents, the demand for private housing will also naturally follow. Even as the government put in place cooling measures in the form of taxes and a whopping 25% Additional Buyer Stamp Duty (ABSD) to prevent Non-Singaporeans from purchasing public housing, the increased demand for private housing had ultimately promoted growth to the overall property market.
A Grim Outlook
Nonetheless, COVID 19 is undoubtedly the biggest threat the property market has to weather. With a global health crisis coupled with a crippling economy, there appears to be little reason for the market to recover as rapidly as it once did. Experts have warned that Singapore may be heading towards her worst recession ever, reporting a further reduction in Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2020 from -1% to -4%, to -4% to -7%. Predictions by analysts also expect an 8% drop in private housing prices, revealing an overall grim property outlook.
As Singapore slowly recovers from COVID 19, buyers might not necessarily gain the confidence to purchase such big-ticket items in uncertain times. Weak market sentiments would continue swirling for months to come as various industries start to reboot. Especially for foreign investors who snap up Singapore’s property like hotcakes, they might steer away from purchasing any property to avoid taking a gamble in an unstable period. The basic law of economics shows that poor demand will inevitably lead to a fall in price – assuming supply remains constant. Combining this with plenty of new property launches, it seems that the property prices are heading towards a decline.
Unemployment and Instability of Jobs
In the height of the crisis, many employees were laid off as firms struggled to keep their business afloat in these daunting times. Economists have predicted that heavy job losses will occur in the months to come as the pandemic and related policies take its toll on businesses. An estimated number of 45,600 to 65,000 would be retrenched in 2020 alone and if the prediction is accurate, the number of layoffs will be the highest ever in Singapore’s history of economic crisis. While the government has announced various measures and dipped into the nations’ reserves to inject aid and reduce the impact of unemployment, those who have managed to keep their jobs will still face reservations, unsure if they might be retrenched too. Without a stable income and outlook, ensuring financial stability takes precedence over purchasing a new property, which will contribute to a lack of demand for property acquisition.
The ability to keep up with mortgage payments will come hand in hand with the predicted high unemployment numbers. If such a phenomenon appears, the instability and inability caused by unemployment will result in individuals selling their properties to downgrade and cut expenses. This will increase the likelihood for property fire sales to occur. Albeit so, there is a high probability that the government will intervene by introducing new policies for unemployment prevention schemes and mortgage deferment options. Current cooling measures would also further deter keen investors from over-leveraging of the current situation.
Sellers Recouping Losses
The real estate industry has since taken a huge hit with the obligation to follow the Work From Home (WFH) orders initiated by the government following the outbreak of COVID 19. Even though real estate firms adopt and integrate new technologies to accommodate the digital shift such as hosting virtual viewings for units on sale, inquiries for properties have dropped significantly, hence much fewer sales. In an article by SCMP, a marketing director from PropNex (who wanted to be known only as Sia) indicated a notable decrease in sales inquiries. Before the pandemic, he will usually receive one to two inquiries daily, whereas afterward, he has been receiving at most one to three inquiries per week. Mentioning that the situation has hurt his bottom line, it is clear that the property industry has suffered.
Over on the developers’ end, prices of current projects have been lowered to offer a competitive edge. Michael Ng, the executive director of CEL Development has revealed that prices of Kopar at Newton, the 378-unit condominium have been lowered to $2,100 per square foot, even though the initial average of $2,500 was a fair price. With the sudden loss of income and sales in this period, it is evident that developers will consider increasing the prices of their properties to recoup the losses incurred in the past few months.
Post-COVID 19 Outlook
Once the pandemic is contained, the pent-up demand of investors will most likely provoke an increase in demand for property houses. Post-COVID 19 might prove to be a great opportunity for investors to leverage on the pandemic-induced low prices as well as loose monetary policies. The high possibility of an increased unemployment rate is another key factor that will determine the post-pandemic property trend. According to DBS Bank economist Irvin Seah, the overall unemployment rate will range between 3.5% and 4% by the end of 2020, a stark contrast to a 2.3% during the year-end 2019. A high unemployment rate might trigger fire sales of properties, which is an excellent opportunity for investors, big or small alike, to hop in for the loot.
That being said, it is highly likely that the government will resume its efforts in preventing unemployment and alleviating financial constrains. Cooling measures that were previously set in place will continue to prevent investors from creating a discrepancy in the property market. These would inadvertently cause the housing market to make a comeback swiftly, hence the window period to purchasing a fire sale unit would be relatively short.
Despite that, genuine buyers or investors can take advantage of the plunging SIBOR rates to purchase “value for money” property projects. For insights on the relationship between the decreasing SIBOR rates and property investment, you can find out in a recent article by New Launches Review.
With this in mind, we can conclude that while fire sales across the board would be unlikely, engaging in property investment post-COVID 19 with proper research will be a strategic move for investors. That is, if you move fast enough. Failure to do so might result in you losing out the opportunity. We implore individuals who are considering post-pandemic property investment to avoid acting rashly, stay updated with property outlooks and seize the right opportunity.
If you have any additional queries or need professional advice in helping you make your decision, feel free to contact us to discuss your needs.