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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Singapore housing market defies cooling measures

Singapore's housing sector is still sizzling despite government measures to cool it down, with demand fuelled by a strong economy and foreign investor confidence, analysts say.

Hefty price tags have not dented the market, with buyers flocking to pre-construction sales offering blank cheques to reserve condominium units which they expect to rise sharply in value after the projects are finished.

All 202 units at a private condominium in the central business district -- costing 1.2 million-2.0 million Singapore dollars (870,000-1.4 million US) -- were snapped up in just one day at a preview in March, agents said.

About 25 percent of the 56 multi-million-dollar units offered at an invitation-only event at an exclusive waterfront development, The Residences at W Singapore Sentosa Cove, were bought in just one weekend preview.

Waterfront homes boasting unobstructed sea views, marketed as the ultimate experience in lifestyle living, have been prime among the recent launches.

"The market is driven by confidence fuelled by the recovering economy and employment market, and supported by low interest rates," Tay Huey Ying, director for research and advisory at property consultancy Colliers International, told AFP.

"Market optimism is also riding high on the anticipated potential for Singapore to rise in prominence in the investment radar of foreigners, particularly the high net-worth individuals and high-rollers, as a result of the opening of the two integrated (casino) resorts in 2010."

Singapore in February opened its first casino resort complex, which includes Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme park.

A second casino built by Las Vegas Sands will open next month.The city-state, a regional financial centre, is also promoting itself as a hub where the world's growing ranks of multi-millionaires can park their money safely.

Warning of a possible bubble that could derail the economic rebound, the government in February imposed new regulations to stem property prices, and warned it was prepared to take further measures if necessary.

But the move, designed to discourage investors who buy and sell for a quick profit, appears to have had limited impact. Private home prices rose 5.1 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months, government figures showed.

Although this was slower than the 7.4 percent rise in the previous quarter, property analysts said prices are expected to continue going up for the rest of the year.

"Barring unforeseen circumstances and further cooling measures, the residential sector is expected to continue to lead the property market in price movement in 2010," Tay said.

Singapore's economy is expected to grow up to 6.5 percent this year after contracting 2.0 percent in 2009 due to the global financial crisis. Even prices for government-built residential highrises, which do not have security guards, swimming pools and other luxuries offered by private condominiums, are heating up.

They rose 2.7 percent to a fresh record in the first quarter compared to the previous three months, according to official data.

Tay said foreigners, including permanent residents, accounted for 28 percent of all private home transactions between January and March 16, surpassing the 26 percent seen at the market's peak in the first half of 2008.

Desmond Sim, Jones Lang LaSalle's associate director for research and consultancy, added: "More foreign buyers are looking to the Singapore residential market as the properties offer further potential for gains given the country's long-term positive economic growth prospects and stable political climate."

Analysts said the government may introduce more measures if home prices risked forming a bubble." The fundamental concern is overt asset prices that could destabilise economic recovery and affect home affordability," said Sim.

But Justin Chiu, executive director of Hong Kong's Cheung Kong (Holdings), was unapologetic at the recent launch of his company's latest development in Singapore."I like bubbles. It's my religion... If there is some bubble, people will be more enticed to go into the market," he said.


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