Signs of recovery in high-end condo segment

/ The Edge Property
May 19, 2017 5:01 PM SGT
Even on a weekday afternoon, real estate agents are ubiquitous at Gramercy Park: waiting for their clients at the basement carpark; touring the 170,000 sq ft manicured grounds, which include a 50m pool and clubhouse; or viewing the new show suites at the South Tower with prospective buyers. The 174-unit freehold, luxury condominium, developed by listed property giant City Developments (CDL), was completed last year. Located on Grange Road, Gramercy Park is a twin-tower development with 87 units each in the North and South Towers.
CDL released Phase 1 of Gramercy Park a year ago. As at May 15, 73 units of the North Tower, or 84%, were sold. A second phase of 20 units in the South Tower was released at end-March, and 19 units have been snapped up so far. Average sale prices at Gramercy Park have risen from over $2,600 psf in Phase 1 to over $2,800 psf in Phase 2, according to CDL.
Early-bird pricing for the South Tower (Phase 2) starts from $3.4 million for a two-bedroom-plus-study unit to $5.1 million for a three-bedroom unit and $6.8 million for a four-bedroom unit. The deferred payment scheme (DPS) is said to be available for only “a limited number of units”.
The show suite of a 2,562 sq ft, four-bedroom unit at the South Tower of Gramercy Park
The rooftop swimming pool of a 7,287 sq ft, five-bedroom penthouse at Gramercy Park
The twin curved towers of the 174-unit Gramercy Park
The 50m swimming pool and manicured gardens of the 170,000 sq ft freehold grounds of Gramercy Park
A tweak in time
Is the pickup in sales at Gramercy Park symptomatic of a wider recovery in the Core Central Region (CCR)? Samuel Eyo, managing director of Singapore Christie’s International Real Estate, believes so. “There are certainly signs of a recovery in the high-end condo segment, especially since March,” he says.
Eyo: With those tweaks [by the government], buyers are hopeful that more measures will be unwound
Eyo attributes the pickup in transactions partly to the government’s tweaking of the property cooling measures, which cut the seller’s stamp duty period from four years to three, and reduced the rate to 4% to 12% for those who sell within the first to third years of completion. The total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) framework will also no longer apply for mortgage equity loans in cases where the loan-to-value ratio is 50% or less.
“With those tweaks, buyers are hopeful that more measures will be unwound,” notes Eyo. “Those who have been sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the right opportunity have also decided to take the plunge.”
Sales figures in the first four months of 2017 bear him out. Based on URA Realis data, there were 1,084 transactions in CCR from January to April this year, says Ong Teck Hui, JLL Singapore’s national director of research and consultancy. This is 35% higher than the 802 units transacted over the same four-month period in 2016, “which reflects a significant increase”, he adds.
Incentive schemes for buyers
To entice buyers, more developers — especially those who are up against an additional buyer’s stamp duty or a Qualifying Certificate (QC) deadline — are rolling out DPS, some form of ABSD reimbursement or even direct discounts. For instance, Singapore- listed United Industrial Corp’s (UIC) Pollen & Bleu boutique high-end condo on Farrer Drive has seen a significant pickup in sales over the past two months. As at May 15, only 12 units were available for sale in the eight-storey, 99-year leasehold condo in prime District 10. In contrast, a year ago, only 12 units were sold in the 106-unit project, according to URA data (see table).
The recent strong sales at Pollen & Bleu is partly attributed to the developer’s offer of a cash rebate on ABSD of up to 18%. The remaining units at the project include 1,163 sq ft, two-bedroom-plus-study lofts priced from $2.05 million ($1,445 psf); a 2,099 sq ft, three-bedroom- plus-family duplex penthouse with a $4 million price tag; and a 2,831 sq ft, four-bedroom-plus-family penthouse that costs $5.25 million. These are listed prices prior to the 18% cash rebate.
Although DPS is available for Pollen & Bleu, most buyers have opted for the normal progressive scheme, according to a UIC spokesperson. The project affords views of the Holland Road Good Class Bungalow estate and Singapore Botanic Gardens from the fourth floor, which is where facilities such as the swimming pool and residents’ lounge are located. The project obtained Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) at end-2016.
UIC has just over a month (until June 27) to sell the remaining 12 units at Pollen & Bleu. This is because the developer was awarded the 99-year leasehold site on Farrer Drive on June 27, 2012.
Pollen & Bleu has a bridge on the roof terrace and the fourth floor to link all the blocks within the development
The swimming pool at the facilities deck on the fourth level of Pollen & Bleu
Penalty for unsold units
The ABSD for developers buying residential development sites was 10% when it was introduced in January 2011, and hiked to 15% in January 2013. This means developers have to build and sell all units within five years of being awarded a development site in order to qualify for the clawback on the ABSD, which is based on the land cost.
UIC’s other boutique high-end condo is the 109-unit Mon Jervois on Jervois Road. The developer said in its 1Q2017 results that it had paid $14.8 million in ABSD in February. The regulations require the developer to sell all the units in Mon Jervois by the Feb 8 deadline.
As at May 15, there were still 27 unsold units in Mon Jervois. UIC is offering buyers a 15% ABSD cash rebate, which was introduced on April 5. From May 12, it is also offering an interior design and furnishing package for selected units.
However, it looks like prices at Mon Jervois have also crept up. Two transactions in May were for a 614 sq ft one-bedder that was sold for $1.38 million ($2,256 psf) and a 1,001 sq ft two-bedder that fetched $2.22 million ($2,220 psf). The prices of $2,220 to $2,256 psf were higher than those of units sold in the first four months of the year, which ranged from $1,752 to $2,041 psf, based on caveats lodged with URA Realis.
The 109-unit Mon Jervois, which was completed last August, has only 27 unsold units
‘Promotional prices’
At Leedon Residence, Singapore-listed GuocoLand sold 55 of the remaining 95 units in the first four months of 2017. This means only 40 units are still available in the 381-unit freehold condo at Leedon Heights.
To meet the QC conditions, GuocoLand has to sell all the units in the development within two years of TOP, that is, by June 15, 2017. Failing to do so will mean incurring extension charges of 8% to 24% for the first to third years, prorated according to the proportion of unsold units.
Units sold at Leedon Residence over the past month ranged from $2.35 million ($2,250 psf) for a 1,044 sq ft, two-bedroom unit to $10.2 million ($2,168 psf) for a 4,704 sq ft, five-bedroom unit. GuocoLand has also offered DPS and special promotional prices for selected units.
For instance, a 5,694 sq ft, five-bedroom penthouse fully furnished by interior design and furniture company Saporiti Italia is on the market for $11.1 million, including all the furnishings, which are in excess of $1 million. This is a “promotional price”, according to a marketing agent, as the initial price tag was $13.7 million.
Meanwhile, another penthouse — a 3,764 sq ft, four-bedroom unit — also carries a promotional price tag of $6.8 million ($1,815 psf). The original price tag was $7.6 million ($2,020 psf).
View of the Holland Road enclave in prime District 10 from Leedon Residence
The facilities on the grounds of the 522,326 sq ft Leedon Residence
The show unit of the Saporiti-furnished, 5,694 sq ft, five-bedroom penthouse at Leedon Residence that is on the market for $11.1 million, down from $13.7 million
Unsold inventory reduced
Judging from the recent sales at Gramercy Park, Leedon Residence and Pollen & Bleu, it is clear that developers’ unsold inventory has dropped, says Christie’s Eyo. This was confirmed by JLL Research’s Ong, who says the number of unsold units in CCR was around 5,500 in 1Q2017, down from 8,600 two years ago.
At Wheelock Properties’ luxury condo, Ardmore Three, the developer offered a 15% discount and an additional 15% ABSD assistance package from April last year. And last month, it also gave buyers the option of DPS of up to 24 months. The 84-unit, freehold luxury condo was completed and obtained TOP in December 2015.
Currently, fewer than 20 units are available for sale. Under the requirements of the QC, Wheelock will have to sell all the remaining units by year-end if it wants to avoid paying extension charges.
Prices at Ardmore Three have been rising steadily. Even after a 15% discount, high-floor units at the development — above the 20th floor in the 36-storey tower — have fetched prices above $3,400 psf, according to caveats lodged with URA Realis. In March, a 1,776 sq ft, three-bedroom unit on the 35th floor was sold for $7.48 million, or $4,212 psf, the highest psf price achieved in the luxury condo so far.
Singapore-listed developer OUE was the first to roll out a DPS for a completed project when it relaunched its 462-unit OUE Twin Peaks last April. The 99-year leasehold twin-tower development, which has 231 units in each tower, was completed in February 2015. Currently, it has only 20 unsold units, says Dominic Lee, PropNex Realty’s associate branch district director.
Prices at OUE Twin Peaks have also increased, with many of the high-floor units sold for more than $3,000 psf, says Lee. For instance, in early May, there were seven transactions for one-bedroom units on the 23rd to the 29th floors. Three of the transactions were those of 549 sq ft units sold between $1.56 million ($2,837 psf) and $1.62 million ($2,945 psf). The other units were sold at $1.66 million ($3,035 psf) to $1.86 million ($3,260 psf), based on caveats lodged with URA Realis.
To meet the conditions of the QC, OUE had to sell all the units by February this year to avoid paying extension charges. In its 1Q2017 financial results, the developer said it had incurred an increase of $13 million in administrative expenses, “partially due to transaction costs incurred on the transfer of 22 OUE Twin Peaks units from development properties to investment properties, which will be held for capital appreciation”.
The 130,983 sq ft grounds of OUE Twin Peaks, with landscaping by renowned architect and landscape designer Bill Bensley
The show unit of OUE Twin Peaks, where apartments come fully furnished
The full-marble bathroom of a unit at OUE Twin Peaks
The 462-unit twin towers of OUE Twin Peaks, where only about 20 units are still available for sale
‘Renewed confidence in high-end segment’
Even projects that are not affected by ABSD or QC penalties are chalking up relatively healthy sales, says Joseph Tan, CBRE executive director of residential services. For instance, the 366-unit Corals at Keppel Bay is not subject to QC or ABSD charges. The 99-year leasehold waterfront condo, designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, was completed last year. As at end-April, 245 out of 300 units released were sold, with the latest median price at $1,848 psf, according to URA data.
“There is renewed confidence in the high-end segment, and people are starting to come back,” says CBRE’s Tan. “Buyers are recognising that there isn’t that much new supply of high-end condos in the prime districts and that stock is diminishing.”
According to Christie’s Eyo, there has been an increase in interest in the high-end condo segment from Singapore citizens and permanent residents, as well as foreign buyers.
However, the percentage of foreign buyers in CCR in 1Q2017 was 15%, while in 1Q2016, it was 17%, according to JLL’s Ong. “As the bulk of buying in CCR is investment-motivated, the ABSD would still be a major factor affecting foreigners,” he says.
Limited pipeline of new launches
The pipeline of high-end projects to be launched in CCR is limited, says Christie’s Eyo. GuocoLand has announced that it will be launching its 450-unit Martin Modern at the corner of Martin Place and River Valley Close in 2H017.
CDL intends to launch New Futura, its exclusive 124-unit freehold luxury condo, in 2H2017. The New Futura project is located on the site of the old Futura tower on Leonie Hill Road in District 9.
Singapore-listed Bukit Sembawang Estates has yet to launch Paterson Collection, which obtained TOP in October 2015. Construction is underway at its still-unnamed 250-unit condo project at St Thomas Walk (site of the former Airview Towers).
YTL Land, the property arm of Malaysia-listed conglomerate YTL Corp, has also not rolled out its luxury project, the 77-unit 3 Orchard-by- the-Park on Orchard Boulevard.
Meanwhile, Far East Organization has three projects in prime District 9: the newly completed 231-unit Scotts Tower on Scotts Road, the 40- unit Skyline @ Orchard Boulevard on Angullia Park and the former Ferra project on Leonie Hill.
Likewise, Tong Eng Group is holding on to its two completed boutique developments on Balmoral Road — the 40-unit Three on Balmoral and the 76-unit Goodwood Grand. Both are freehold projects.
“Private developers who are not subject to QC, such as Far East Organization, SC Global Developments and Tong Eng Group, are holding on to their freehold projects in the prime districts,” notes Christies’ Eyo. “They recognise that such freehold sites are not easy to come by these days.”
At The Marq on Paterson Hill, the most recent transaction was that of a 6,232 sq ft, four-bedroom unit on the 13th floor of The Signature Tower, where all the units are of this size and come with a 15m lap pool. The unit was sold for $21.8 million ($3,498 psf), according to a caveat lodged with URA Realis on April 12. The price was $4.6 million lower than the purchase price of $26.44 million ($4,242 psf) paid by the original buyer a decade ago.
SC Global has remained firm on its selling prices at the 66-unit The Marq on Paterson Hill. A record price of $6,840 psf was achieved in November 2011, when a 3,003 sq ft, four-bedroom unit on the 20th floor of The Premier Tower was sold for $20.54 million. SC Global has yet to launch its 34-unit ultra-luxurious Sculptura at Ardmore project, even though the development is already completed.
Are prices bottoming?
Early this month, Lum Chang Group paid $65 million for One Tree Hill Gardens. The collective sale site, with a three-storey residential development containing just six maisonettes and seven apartments, has a freehold land area of 39,063 sq ft. The $65 million price tag translates into a land rate of $1,664 psf, according to Ian Loh, Knight Frank executive director and head of investment and capital markets, who brokered the sale.
Under the Master Plan 2014, the site is zoned for redevelopment into a landed residential project comprising two-storey semi-detached houses. “One Tree Hill Gardens is the first successful collective sale of 2017,” says Loh. “This is the only sizeable landed redevelopment site [close to] Orchard Road.”
The URA non-landed price index for CCR has been hovering between +0.3% and -1.9% over the past five quarters (from 1Q2016 to 1Q2017). JLL’s Ong reckons it is an indication that the index is bottoming. “The median price of non-landed homes in CCR has been trending up in the last two quarters, and stood at $1,899 psf in 1Q2017,” he says.
JLL’s capital value data on the prime district segments has also recorded a mild turnaround. “We foresee that sentiment will remain positive, sustaining buying interest and leading to a price recovery,” adds Ong.
This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 780 (May 20, 2017) of The Edge Singapore.