'Suicidal' To Buy Land In Singapore, Billionaire Developer Says, But That Doesn't Stop Foreign Developers

  @SophieXSong on February 21 2014 6:00 AM
Singapore Skyline 2012 2
Singapore skyline Reuters

It is now “suicidal” to buy land in Singapore, given the government’s tough regulation in the interest of controlling property prices, Singaporean billionaire developer Kwek Leng Beng recently said. But that has not stopped international developers from rushing into the Southeast Asian market.

Property prices have been climbing all around Asia, but Singapore, apart from the rest, has found effective measures in curbing prices. In the fourth quarter of 2013, home prices in Singapore slid for the first time in almost two years, the Bangkok Post reported on Thursday.

While property costs have been kept down, land prices have not, and the average value of a plot of land rose by 30 percent per year since early 2011 -- three times the pace of properties, to the irritation of developers.

“The increase in land prices has had a tremendous impact on developers’ profit margins,” said Donald Han, managing director of the Singapore unit of Chesterton Singapore Pte, a property broker. “Developers that used to enjoy margins in excess of 20 percent will now have to contend with narrower returns.”

A plot in Bukit Merah, a residential area close to the central business district, was sold for 1,162 Singapore dollar ($918.36) per square foot of maximum buildable floor area in April 2013, according to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, 20 percent more expensive than the price of the same area just four months earlier, and almost double the price from 2007. As a result, profit margins have narrowed to 10 percent from as much as 20 percent three years ago, according to the CBRE Group Inc., another broker.

Billionaire developer Kwek Leng Beng commented in August that it would be “suicidal” to buy land, given skyrocketing prices and restrictive rules that include a mandate that new homes must be sold within two years of completion, according to the Bangkok Post.

But one subgroup of developers that is not intimidated by the falling margins is foreign developers.

“Non-traditional property developers, especially foreign construction companies, also are entering the real estate development field, bidding aggressively to secure land for development, while sacrificing their profit margins in construction,” City Developments Ltd., run by Kwek, said in the earnings statement in November. “This is a very potent trend that may affect the industry in the medium-to-long run.”

Bidding on land, especially in the auction events foreign developers, drove prices in some areas by as much as 32 to 39 percent annually in the last three years. Over the same period, home prices only rose by 7 percent each year, Han said.

Even in suburban areas farther from city center, prices were as high as 522 Singapore dollars per square foot, compared to just 291.39 per square foot for the same neighborhood in late 2011, according to the Bangkok Post.

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