What constitutes a prime residential district? The key factors that differentiates prime districts from others are location and price. For Singapore, Districts 9, 10 and 11 have always been heralded as the crown jewels of the island with their central location and ability to command some of the highest premiums for residential land.
Over the years, the salient need to rejuvenate ageing estates and sustain urban redevelopment in land scarce Singapore has led the government to actively pursue and introduce new initiatives to transform the Singapore landscape. With ongoing urban renewal in the last two decades, the boundaries of prime areas have begun to expand.
This paper focuses on analysing Singapore’s new prime areas – Marina Bay and Sentosa Cove – as well as the emerging prime areas – Ophir-Rochor Beach Road, Tanjong Pagar and Keppel Bay – against the traditional prime districts. The growing response of homebuyers and investors to the residential properties in new and emerging prime areas has helped to establish price levels that are similar to the traditional prime districts. It is a new dawn on the horizon for the nation, as changes to the urban fabric of the city state will continue to challenge preconceived ideas of prime districts.
Housing in Singapore
Departing from the yesteryears of villages and squatter settlements, the Singapore housing landscape has rapidly evolved into one that is filled with numerous high- rise, high density developments. Singapore is divided into five regions – the Central Region, North Region, North-East Region, East Region and West Region (Figure 1). The Central Region is further subdivided into Core Central Region (CCR) and Rest of Central Region (RCR). Collectively, North Region, North-East Region, East Region and West Region are classified as Outside Central Region (OCR).
At present, approximately 80% of the population live in public housing flats, while the remaining 20% reside in private homes. Out of the total housing stock of 1.38 mil units, 74% are public housing and 26% are private housing estates. As at March 2018, there were 365,591 homes in the private housing sector.
By distribution, approximately 77% of private housing stock is concentrated within the RCR and OCR, while the remaining 23% of housing developments are nestled in the heart of the city, within the CCR. The CCR – generally referred to as the prime residential locality – comprises the prominent Districts 9, 10, 11, the Downtown Core and Sentosa (Figure 2).
Traditional Prime Areas – Districts 9, 10 and 11
Traditional prime districts 9, 10 and 11 are often placed on a pedestal in the residential market scene. Historically, the limelight was drawn to these districts due to the presence of embassies, high commissions and international schools. The prestige and exclusivity of these locations largely came about due to the association of these districts as homes of the local affluent families and wealthy expatriates. According to government statistics, less than 50% of the total private housing stock have freehold tenure, where most of which are found in districts 9, 10 and 11, amplifying the appeal of residential developments within these areas.
Orchard Road, Singapore’s premier shopping belt, is a core component in the appeal factor of District 9. It is a stretch of retail developments that offer a plethora of entertainment and retail options. Designer goods and luxurious lifestyle options which are abundant here, are often prerogatives for the well-heeled community that reside within the area.
These districts are also home to majority of the city’s most coveted form of landed housing, the Good Class Bungalows (GCBs). GCBs are widely considered to be the crème de la crème amongst housing options in the Singapore residential market. There are approximately 2,800 GCB plots in the 39 Good Class Bungalow Areas (GCBAs) gazetted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). According to URA planning guidelines, the minimum land size for each GCB is 15,000 sq. ft. These exclusive pockets of land are endowed with freehold tenures, and developments on the land are subjected to a height restriction of two storeys, special planning parameters for site coverage and building setbacks. These planning guidelines serve to ensure sufficient open space surrounding each bungalow to protect its exclusive environment. GCBs are classified as restricted properties, where only Singapore citizens are allowed to buy and own them.
Of the 39 GCBAs, 34 are situated in districts 10 and 11, with the remaining five found in three other districts outside CCR, namely districts 20, 21 and 23. In an urban landscape filled with sprawling high-rise buildings, the low-rise characteristic of GCBs amid the surrounding lush greenery adds to the undeniable allure of the traditional prime districts. With no known intention on the government’s part to create new GCBAs, the dominant presence of GCBAs within districts 10 and 11 only serve to enhance the prestige of the traditional prime districts.
Undoubtedly, accessibility is a key deciding factor that weighs in heavily for both homeowners and investors alike. With the provision of mass rapid transit via the Circle Line (CCL) and Downtown Line (DTL) complementing the existing North-South and East-West lines, residents in the traditional prime districts now have direct access to some of the city’s best amenities, and to the Central Business District (CBD). The culmination of these location-centric factors enables the traditional prime districts to remain as the top choice for residency among locals and foreigners.
Traditional Prime Area Prices and Rents Analysis
In analysing the performance of the traditional prime areas against that of the new prime and emerging prime areas, the periods that were selected as basis for comparison are 2004Q1, 2009Q2, 2017Q2 and 2018Q1. These periods, excluding 2018Q1, reflect the trough of each market cycle when prices bottomed out. 2004Q1 was the trough of the economic recession in 2001-2004, and 2009Q1 was the time when prices were at the lowest point during the global financial crisis, which ended in 2015. 2017Q2 was the trough following a series of property measures introduced to cool the property market.
Price points in each of these trough periods serve as a comparison to how prices in each district have moved over time. A comparison was made between the prices in 2017Q2 and 2018Q1 to track the magnitude of price changes over three quarters. Similarly, an analysis of the movement in rents between 2017Q2 and 2018Q1, was made.
As shown in Table 1, District 9 experienced a significant price growth between 2017Q2 and 2018Q1. Driven largely by new sales, such as 8 Hullet, Martin Modern, New Futura and Sophia Hills, prices recorded a significant 25% spike from $1,998 psf in 2017Q2 to $2,493 psf in 2018Q1. With an insurgence of new projects within the district, where a majority of the transactions were of smaller units (538 sq ft to 764 sq ft), average prices rose sharply from $2,100 psf to $2,800 psf. The price quantum of these new units ranged from $1.28 mil to $2.80 mil. Among the traditional prime districts, District 9 has consistently led prices throughout the period covered in this study.
Since 2004Q1, prices in District 10 have been on a steady uptrend. Between 2017Q2 and 2018Q1, prices reflected a gain of 11% to $2,064 psf. The jump in prices was largely supported by resale transactions of older buildings, priced between $1,300 psf to $2,000 psf. Luxury transactions of above $3,000 psf represented only 11% of total sales volume in 2018Q1, as compared to 13% in District 9 over the same period. With new launches coming onto the market, prices in District 10 are expected to rise for the rest of 2018.
In contrast to the other traditional prime areas, District 11 experienced a price fall of 2% between 2017Q2 to 2018Q1. The decline in prices could be attributed to the sale of older and larger resale homes, and a lack of new project launches. Only two new projects were known to be launched since 2015, namely 6 Derbyshire and Newton 26. With new developments on recent collective sale sites expected to be launched in 6 to 12 months’ time, prices are likely to experience a boost at a later period.
Similar to the price performance, rents continued to gain momentum in the traditional prime districts, excluding District 11. Ahead of the rest, District 9 recorded a 24% rise since 2017Q2, which could be attributed to the higher rental rate per square foot commanded by the smaller units in new buildings like The Scotts Tower and Cairnhill Nine. Rents in District 10 remained relatively stable while those in District 11 recorded a 3% drop, which could be attributed to bigger unit sizes in older developments (Table 2).
With concurrent growth in both prices and rents, gross yields remained stable across the three districts (Table 3). As the number of new projects injected into these districts increases, prices and rents are expected to receive a boost, connoting expected growth for gross yield as well.
The proportion of foreigners and permanent residents (PRs) who bought homes in Districts 9 and 10 is generally higher than those who bought homes in District 11. This could be attributed to their preference for Orchard Road, Tanglin Road and Holland Road areas, sas well as Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Gleneagles Hospital which are also located close by. On average, 32% to 38% of the buyers in Districts 9 and 10 are foreigners and PRs while the proportion in District 11 is around 20%.
New Prime Areas
Moving in tandem with the changing needs of the nation, the government spearheaded major land use and development initiatives in Marina Bay and Sentosa Cove in 2004, culminating in the subsequent emergence of new prime areas within the CCR.
Formerly a body of water bereft of land, the Marina Bay has evolved into the masterpiece of Singapore’s skyline over a span of 15 years. The completion of the iconic Marina Bay Sands integrated resort in April 2010 and the Gardens by the Bay in June 2012, were key contributors to the tourism boom. The Marina Bay Financial Centre, completed in 2010, with some 3 million square feet of Grade A office space, has attracted some of the biggest names in the financial services industry and technology-media-telecom sector to Singapore since it began operations.
Marina One, a commercial-cum-residential project jointly developed by the governments of Singapore and Malaysia, was completed in 2017. Touted as the largest integrated development within the Marina Bay financial district, the project offers 1,042 residential units, 1.88 million square feet of premium office space and 140,000 square feet of retail options. Another new development that is underway is IOI Properties’ commercial project at Central Boulevard, which is expected to offer over 1 million sq.ft. of office space.
The next phase of development for the Bay is slated to be in Marina South precinct, where the focus will be on creating a lively, high-density mixed-use residential district. More options for city-living have been announced, with 9,000 new homes to be added. The Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL), which is currently under construction and expected to be completed by 2025, will enhance the connectivity of the people living in the area to the rest of the island.
Marina Bay Prices and Rents Analysis
Prices in Marina Bay recorded a steady rise of 11% from $2,087 from 2017Q2 to $2,322 psf in 2018Q1 (Table 4). Marina One Residences (1,042 units), the latest project in the precinct, has been the main driving force behind the rising prices for the area since 2014. Other residential developments in the area include The Sail @ Marina Bay, Marina Bay Residences and Marina Bay Suites.
Given the concentration of financial services businesses within the CBD, the area is likely to remain attractive to expatriate professionals who value living in close proximity to their work places. At $2,322 psf, prices in the Marina Bay precinct lagged behind District 9 by 7%, while remaining higher than those in District 10 by 13% and those in District 11 by 57% (Table 4). With the government’s plans to further develop the Marina South precinct, there is potential for further price appreciation in Marina Bay.
In 2018Q1, rents in Marina Bay fell by 3%, from the level in 2017Q2. The dip in rents may be due to stiff competition from the new in-city residential projects at Tanjong Pagar. Nevertheless, the precinct still outperformed the traditional prime districts of districts 9, 10 and 11 by 57%, 44% and 40% respectively (Table 5). The resilience in rents could be attributed to the appeal of city-living and the connectivity to the rest of the island via mass rapid transit (MRT).
With prices and rents trailing behind the economic upturn, gross yields fell by 3% in 2017Q2 to 2.6% in 2018Q1 (Table 6). The recent completion of Marina One Residences may act as a stimulus for rental growth, which could translate to better yields in future.
Based on caveats lodged, 33% of the buyers in 2018Q1 were foreigners and PRs, a slight improvement from the 31% seen in 2017.
Akin to Marina Bay, Sentosa Cove is primarily built on reclaimed land, comprising five man-made islands. The government planned for Sentosa Cove to offer high-end residences that promotes the resort and waterfront lifestyle, designed to appeal to savvy and well-travelled investors and home owners.
Sentosa Cove is especially appealing to foreign investors, as it is one of the few opportunities where they are able to own a landed home, unlike on the main island where land is classified as restricted property, such that only Singaporeans are permitted to do so. This unique proposition, coupled with the growth of Singapore as a safe haven for foreigners to invest in residential properties, attracts foreign investors and homebuyers alike. Since the first land parcel sale in 2003, Sentosa Cove has developed into an exclusive, gated residential enclave with some 1,800 condominiums, 300 bungalows and 40 terrace houses.
Sentosa Cove Prices and Rents Analysis
At $1,517 psf in 2018Q1, Sentosa Cove recorded a 3% rise in price levels from $1,468 psf in 2017Q2 on the back of a slight increase in volume of transactions (Table 7).
In contrast to the steady increase in price levels, rents have been weakening (Table 7). In 2018Q1, it stood at $3.72 psf, marking a 1% decline from $3.77 psf in 2017Q2 (Table 8). The impact on gross yields, however, is very marginal (Table 9). Against the backdrop of waning rents, the precinct recorded a healthy premium of 15% over rentals achieved in District 9, 5% over District 10, and 2% higher than the $ PSF achieved in District 11.
While transaction volume has been thin, Sentosa Cove has remained fairly consistent with 30% to 40% of buyers who are foreigners and PRs. As at 2018Q1, this group of buyers made up 60% of the total transactions. With expectations set for market sentiments to improve, the return of foreign investors to the Sentosa Cove market will reinvigorate both prices and rents once more.
Emerging Prime Areas
Over time, Singapore’s CBD’s landscape has morphed into a modern-day metropolis with an ever-increasing number of skyscrapers and iconic landmarks. These changes have had positive ripple effects on the prices and rents of real estate within the CBD and its surrounding. New prime areas are beginning to emerge at the fringe of the CBD, namely Ophir-Rochor Beach Road and Tanjong Pagar, as well as at Keppel Bay, which is on the rise as a prime housing precinct.
OPHIR-ROCHOR BEACH ROAD
Home to some of Singapore’s well-known heritage sites, such as Kampong Glam, the Ophir-Rochor Beach Road area was historically known as the “European Town” in the colonial days. Under the Raffles Town Plan1, much of the area was designated for use as living quarters by the European community. Today, this location is known for the exciting new developments that have sprouted out in the area.
Located in close proximity to Singapore’s CBD, the government leveraged on Ophir-Rochor Beach Road’s geographical advantage to expand the CBD beyond its existing boundary. Prior to the extension plans, Beach Road was lined with shophouses and several office developments. With the twin objectives of expanding the CBD and gentrifying the older developments within the area, new projects such as South Beach by South Beach Consortium Pte Ltd and DUO2 by M+S Pte Ltd, were approved in 2007 and 2011, respectively. Completed in recent years, these projects harnessed the aspects of ‘Live, Work, Play’ through the incorporation of residential, commercial and hotel components that serve to enhance the vibrancy of the area. As recent as October 2017, the government awarded a third commercial site – which includes the former Beach Road Police Station – to a joint venture between Guocoland and Guoco Group. The site is stipulated to be transformed into a mixed-use project with underground access to Bugis MRT station.
As these new integrated developments gradually transform the Ophir-Rochor Beach Road precinct into a dynamic landscape, the government’s agenda of creating an environment that enhances liveability and connectivity throughout the island, are simultaneously achieved.
Ophir-Rochor Beach Road Prices and Rents Analysis
The government’s initiative to rejuvenate the area as well as the new developments that were introduced played a crucial role in propelling prices. Ophir-Rochor Beach Road pricing landscape recorded a stellar 37% growth from $1,421 in 2017Q2 to $1,947 psf in 2018Q1 (Table 10). The stark jump in price could be attributed to the sales of units in Concourse Skyline and the new project, Duo Residences. Concourse Skyline was first launched in 2008, when sales were hampered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Since 2017, there has been renewed interest in the development, resulting in a pick-up in sales volume. Compared to the traditional prime districts, prices in Ophir-Rochor Beach Road trailed behind District 9 and 10 by 22% and 6%, respectively. On the other hand, the area’s prices were 31% above those of District 11.
As the rejuvenation of Ophir-Rochor Beach Road progresses, the area continues to grow as an attractive option to expatriate professionals who are working in the CBD. Rents have been on the uptrend and recorded a 16% rise from 2017Q2 to 2018Q1 (Table 11). Contrasting the performance of Ophir-Rochor Beach Road with the traditional prime districts, the area commanded a larger premium than those of its reputed counterparts in 2018Q1.
In spite of the appreciation in both prices and rents, gross yields remained below 2017Q2 levels, standing at 2.9% at 2018Q1 (Table 12). While the fall in rents was marginal, at 0.14%, a likely cause of this downside could be due to prices for the area rising at a faster pace than rents. With new projects, such as Duo Residences, driving the Ophir- Rochor Beach Road market, rents of older buildings in the vicinity fall short of the new price levels being set. In the pipeline, South Beach Residences and GuocoLand’s upcoming integrated project at Beach Road are expected to serve as catalysts that will help to sustain price and rental growth for the area. Some 35% of the buyers in 2018Q1 were foreigners and PRs, maintaining at the same level as in 2017.
From the initial years as a humble fishing village, Tanjong Pagar has gone through a major overhaul of its previous image to transcend into the lively business and lifestyle hub of today. Situated at the periphery of the financial district, a fair share of the bustling business activities has spilled over into the area.
Tanjong Pagar has undergone a major rejuvenation in recent years, with the iconic Tanjong Pagar Centre by Guocoland as the pièce de résistance for the area. Its 890,000 sq ft office component, Guoco Tower, was completed in 2016 alongside the retail component in the basement which is connected to the Tanjong Pagar MRT station. The 181 luxury apartments in Wallich Residence featuring the 21,108 sq ft Super Penthouse on levels 62 to 64, the 222-room Sofitel Singapore City Centre hotel and an urban park were completed in 2017. Other projects that are part of Tanjong Pagar’s transformation process include two residential skyscrapers, Altez and Skysuites @ Anson, the PS100 – a hotel and office development that houses Oasia Hotel Downtown – as well as Carlton City Hotel. With these additions, the dynamism and use of this area becomes relevant and well-positioned to blend in with the existing financial district.
As the government gears towards injecting a new lease of life for the Tanjong Pagar area, more plans lie ahead. A prominent initiative announced by the URA for the precinct include the Greater Southern Waterfront project, where the relocation of the Keppel, Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang Terminals to Tuas will free up approximately 1,000 hectares of waterfront land for development. The proposed plans include more housing options in the future, with a recurring theme of sustainability and connectivity being incorporated into the design of the built environment.
Tanjong Pagar Prices and Rents Analysis
Private residential prices in Tanjong Pagar recorded a 12% increase from 2017Q2 to 2018Q1 (Table 13). The growth was primarily driven by new developments, such as Wallich Residence and V on Shenton, which is the residential component in the redevelopment of the former UIC Building, as well as resale units of Altez and Skysuites @ Anson. Most of the units sold in Wallich Residence and V On Shenton were on higher levels, which came with larger premiums for the enjoyment of view. The units at Wallich Residence fetched around $3,450 psf in 2018Q1, while those of V On Shenton transacted at $2,350 psf.
Compared to the other emerging prime districts, Tanjong Pagar emerged as the best performer in terms of rents, with minimal changes recorded from 2017Q2 to 2018Q1 (Table 14). The progressive rejuvenation of the area has seen new developments being rolled out one after the other, revitalising the landscape altogether. This has enabled Tanjong Pagar to have comparative advantage over the traditional prime districts, which is evident from the 75% premium in rents over District 9, 60% over District 10 and 56% over District 11.
Gross yields for Tanjong Pagar stood at 3.7% in 2017Q2 but fell to 3.3% in 2018Q1 due to the significant rise in prices (Table 15). Rents are likely to remain on the uptrend for the coming months as units in the upmarket Wallich Residence are progressively being leased out. With future changes in the horizon to transform the area into an integrated precinct, prices and rents in Tanjong Pagar are expected to have upward potential.
Tanjong Pagar has been able to attract a healthy level of buying interest among foreigners and PRs. In 2018Q1, this group of buyers formed 38% of the total transactions.
The launch of Caribbean At Keppel Bay in 2000 was the first step towards the transformation of the former Keppel Harbour into the vibrant marina-waterfront living precinct that it is today. To date, the Keppel Bay waterfront is lined by three iconic residential developments – Caribbean At Keppel Bay, Reflections At Keppel Bay and Corals At Keppel Bay – with a total of 2,464 apartments. The two residential developments being planned, one on Keppel Island and the other on Harbourfront Avenue, will contribute another 320 new homes to this precinct once developed.
As both Keppel Bay and Sentosa Cove precincts mature over the years, the marina-waterfront housing lifestyle has taken roots and offers an attractive living concept to prospective buyers. The jury remains divided over which marina-waterfront precinct is “better” than the other. The truth is both precincts offer different qualities, concepts, aspects and housing types to suit the different needs of local and international buyers.
Being situated on the mainland, Keppel Bay is perceived to have the advantage of being closer to amenities and to have better accessibility and connectivity. Following the announced extension of the CCL to include three more stations (Keppel, Cantonment and Prince Edward) to close the circle, Keppel Bay will be directly connected to Marina Bay in the Downtown Core. When these stations are in operation by 2025, travel time between Keppel Bay and the CBD will be reduced by one-third of the current travel time.
Keppel Bay Prices and Rents Analysis
While there are currently no new projects at Keppel Bay, prices of Caribbean At Keppel Bay, Reflections At Keppel Bay and Corals At Keppel Bay have been rising since 2009Q4. Caveat data between 2017Q2 and 2018Q1 reflected a 1% fall in prices from $1,763 psf to $1,745 psf (Table 16). From the analysis of the transacted data, it was revealed that majority of the units sold were over 1,000 sq ft. The larger price quantum, ranging from $2 mil to $3.5mil, translates to a lower price per square foot rate, reflecting an apparent decline in prices.
Keppel Bay met with a 2% dip in rents from $4.55 in 2017Q2 to $4.48 psf in 2018Q1 (Table 17). However, the gross yields for the area remained unchanged at 3.1% (Table 18). Rents for the precinct remained comparable to those in Ophir-Rochor Beach Road. When the new MRT stations on the CCL become fully operational, enhanced accessibility and better connectivity will attract more people to live in the area.
Of the 36 units sold in 2018Q1, 33% were bought by foreigners and PRs. While in 2017, it was 30% out of 161 transactions. This shows that the waterfront living at Keppel Bay is attractive to foreigners and PRs, despite its further location from the CBD.
Outlook and Future Prospects
The new and emerging prime districts – Marina Bay, Ophir-Rochor Beach Road, Tanjong Pagar and Keppel Bay – are slowly developing their own distinct identity which sets it apart from the traditional prime districts. The modernisation of the built environment aligns with the government’s grand scheme of steering the nation towards integrated living, where people are seamlessly connected by additional transport nodes and walking paths to work places, residences and a host of amenities. For budget conscious tenants, the abundance of housing options available within the Downtown Core allows them to find accommodation which fits their budget.
From the outset, the government has envisioned Sentosa Cove to be a luxury waterfront living enclave where foreigners are welcome to purchase and own landed properties, which is otherwise disallowed on the main island. Sentosa Cove will compete on an international scale with locations in other global cities that offer a similar lifestyle concept. A foreigner who wishes to buy a landed property in Sentosa Cove can obtain approval from Singapore Land Dealing Unit within two days. The property is for owner-occupation and should not be let out. As there are no plans for new supply to be made available in Sentosa Cove, its scarcity will enable capital preservation and appreciation over time. For foreigners who value Singapore’s stable political and economic climate as a safe haven to park their funds, they will return when the timing is right for investment.
Contrary to the common ideal that the traditional prime districts are the crown jewels of the island, one can now consider the emerging prime districts as an alternative investment option. As illustrated in Table 19, the highest price per square foot achieved in 2018Q1 is relatively lower than the previous market cycle, with the exception of Tanjong Pagar. This is likely due to the 15 consecutive quarters of price corrections from 2013Q2 to 2017Q2. Following the slump in prices, the recovery over the last 3 quarters reveals the potential for prices to reach, or even surpass, previous levels as the market strengthens.
A case in point would be Tanjong Pagar. Prior to the launch of Wallich Residence, there were only two transacted units in The Clift that exceeded the $3,000 psf mark in 3Q 2012. Since then, the majority of units sold in Wallich Residence were priced at $3,000 psf and above, with one transaction breaching the $4,000 psf threshold in 4Q 2017. This shows that when an emerging prime area is anchored by a large scale, high quality integrated project with good transport linkages, it will command a premium. The next location to watch out for is Ophir-Rochor Beach Road. The coming launch of South Beach Residences – part of South Beach integrated project encompassing South Beach Tower and JW Marriot Singapore – looks certain to set a new price for this area.
The propensity for growth presents a lucrative value proposition for the astute investor to tap into, as there remains a scope for price appreciation fuelled by future developments in the pipeline. The steady rental income generated by the emerging prime areas will also be attractive for investors who are looking at yield play.