Evidence has shown that the longer the investment horizon, the greater the likelihood of making a profit, and higher profits at that. -BT
REAL estate is among the world's safest investments in that it cannot be lost, stolen or carried away. If managed with reasonable care, its value can be maintained or even enhanced. In Singapore, a property cycle typically lasts four to seven years.
As such, a property investor should have a similar investment horizon to ride out any market vagaries so as to best enjoy rental and capital appreciation over time. Empirical evidence has shown that the longer the investment horizon, the greater the likelihood of making a profit, and higher profits at that.
For example, a unit at Ardmore Park which was bought for $4.4 million in 2005 was sold in May this year for $6.2 million, representing a healthy profit of about 40 per cent. This has yet to take into account rental income that may have been earned over the period.
Rental yields are an attractive enticement for property investors, giving them a steady stream of cashflow in good times and bad. Typically, gross residential rental yields stand at 3-5 per cent, depending on the location, project and tenure of the property.
Investors seeking rental yields should note that while residential yields have improved markedly since property prices declined from their peak in mid-2008, rents are now correcting, and are likely to continue their slide till year's end at least.
There was a recent spike in rental yields, which is due to rents falling at a slower rate than prices. According to Q1 2009 data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), property prices islandwide have declined by some 21 per cent from the peak while rents have come off some 14 per cent.
High-end residential yields have risen from a low of 2.8 per cent in Q4 2007 to 3.5 per cent in Q1 2009. However, they are expected to stabilise around the long-term average of 3- 3.4 per cent in the near- to mid-term. This is on the expectation that prices will moderate their decline from here while rents remain weak in the face of strong new housing supply this year.
However, residential prices have shown recent signs of consolidation, supported by opportunistic home purchases at discounted prices, introduction of the interest absorption scheme as well as pent-up demand in certain areas.
Positive carry, which is the difference between the cost of financing the property and rental income, looks set to shrink further on falling rents. This is an important factor for investors who look to pay off their mortgages with rental income. But a positive carry still exists and it can be particularly rewarding for those who can finance their properties with a larger portion of equity or a lower loan-to-value ratio.
This is made possible by the current low interest rates - Singapore's three-month interbank rate has steadied near an all-time low of 0.69 per cent since the beginning of the year. This represents an excellent opportunity for property investors to take advantage of relatively low borrowing costs to maximise their return on equity (ROE).
Take for example a studio apartment that costs $400,000, a borrowing cost of 2 per cent per annum and an 80 per cent loan-to-value ratio. In this case, a yield of 4 per cent would lead to an ROE of 1.76 per cent. By bringing down the loan-to-value ratio to 60 per cent, ROE would improve to 3.1 per cent. This rate of return is higher than the savings and time deposit rates today.
Taking potential capital appreciation into consideration, ROE could be even higher. Extending the above example, an investor's ROE would rise to 25 per cent on the assumption of a loan-to-value ratio of 60 per cent and capital appreciation of 10 per cent. So, with proper use of leveraging, one can maximise returns.
Location, location, location
Location, location, location is the mantra of those looking to invest in property. It seems easy enough to say 'Let's buy in Orchard Road' or 'Let's buy East Coast' just because these are well-established residential locations. But what are the factors that make a good location? Why do people want to own or rent a property in a given location? These are the demand drivers that we need to understand.
What makes living in Orchard Road attractive? Beyond the glitz of the shopping belt, it is the proximity to international schools, the Central Business District, the up-and-coming Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (IR) as well as the excellent road and rail connectivity to other parts of Singapore.
The future development of the area is also important. The impact of the up-and-coming IR on residential property is probably best demonstrated by the prices fetched by The Sail @ Marina Bay. In 2004, six months before the IRs were confirmed, the price for the first residential tower was launched at $900 per sq ft (psf).
About a year later, about six months after the IR was given the green light, the second tower was launched at $1,080 psf. After that, resale prices escalated to more than $2,000 psf at the peak of the market.
More recently, the government has focused on building up Singapore as a leading R&D hub in Asia and earmarked areas like one-north in Buona Vista for development.
One-north is a 200-hectare project designed to house Singapore's growing biomedical, infocomm and digital media industries. As such, condominiums in the vicinity like one-north Residences have been well received, with many investors buying for potentially good rentals.
In times of economic uncertainty, it pays to be prudent. One should be careful not to borrow too much. Maintaining a debt service ratio of 25-30 per cent of income is ideal as it allows some buffer for any rise in mortgage rates.
Savills' affordability index showed that the average household's ability to service its monthly mortgage repayment has improved. From a peak of 40 per cent in Q3 2007, the debt service ratio has dropped to 26 per cent as at Q4 2008, following the steep price declines.
It is important to be familiar with property prices in the vicinity to ensure that one does not overpay. Generally, when buying a new property from a developer, you have greater certainty that banks would be able to match the valuation. In the secondary market, buyers would do well to get a bank valuation on the property before committing, to avoid overpaying.
Going by past transactions, prime properties - though more volatile - offer better potential for capital appreciation as investors in this segment are perceived to be less price sensitive.
The recent bull cycle saw the average price of residential properties in our basket for Districts 1, 4, 9, 10, and 11 rise from $1,250 psf in Q1 2005 to $2,400 psf in Q4 2007. Since then, the average price has slipped about 30 per cent to $1,640 psf as at Q1 2009. Given a reasonable investment horizon, there is potential for peak prices to be regained again.
When is it a good time to buy? That's a question many buyers ask. Everyone wants to land a good deal given that property is a big-ticket investment. In some instances, just waiting a few months can mean saving tens of thousands of dollars.
However, the reverse is also true - one may end up paying more if the market suddenly turns up. It's never easy trying to call the bottom of a market as one often only knows it in hindsight.
The writer is director of investment sales & prestige homes, Savills Singapore
This article was first published in The Business Times.
Sat, Jul 11, 2009
The Business Times
By STEVEN MING