SINGAPORE developers struggling to sell apartments in their home market are buying property overseas, turning the island-state into the largest foreign investor from the region this year.
Companies including City Developments and Keppel Land pumped US$2.32 billion into overseas markets in the nine months through September, a three-fold increase from the same period last year and the most in at least eight years, according to data from Real Capital Analytics, a research firm that specialises in investments in commercial property.
The Singapore developers are looking abroad as government measures to rein in property values have caused residential prices to fall for four straight quarters, the longest period of declines since 2009.
“Many Asian countries such as Singapore are facing property cooling measures at home, so they are venturing to Western markets where they can find returns and are seeing a strong recovery,” said Terence Tang, managing director of capital markets and investment services for Asia at Colliers International, a real estate broker.
City Developments, Singapore’s second-largest developer by market value, said in September that it invested in a plot of land in Tokyo valued at S$356 million. Keppel Land, Singapore’s third-biggest developer, in July said it made its maiden investment in the US with a prime residential development in New York City. The project, which it said at the time was valued at about $70 million, is on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and will be developed by Macklowe Properties.
At the same time, the developers have become increasingly vocal about the difficulties they face in Singapore, where their margins have been squeezed by falling property prices. Government measures to stem growth in the market and prevent a speculative bubble have brought residential prices down about 4 per cent from the peak in September 2013.
“In Singapore, the residential market is virtually dead,” said Desmond Woon, executive director at luxury-home developer Ho Bee Land. “With the government measures in place, it has become very hard to do development of residential properties.” The government’s curbs have included a cap on debt at 60 per cent of a borrower’s income and higher stamp duties on home purchases. Additional taxes for foreigners buying residential property were raised to 15 per cent in 2013 from 10 per cent, on top of the basic buyer’s stamp duty rate of about 3 per cent. All home sellers need to pay 16 per cent in levies if they sell within the first year.