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6 August 2013

Smaller property firms look abroad as costs rise

Source: Straits Times
By Cheryl Ong

HIGHER land and construction costs and tougher property cooling measures are prompting smaller developers here to look abroad for new opportunities.

Big property companies such as CapitaLand and Keppel Land have long built a significant presence overseas in markets such as China and Australia. But small and medium-sized firms are increasingly spreading their wings too.

Last week, for instance, a Jurong site for an executive condominium drew a record offer of $418 per sq ft of gross floor area, or $273 million in total.

Last Thursday, home-grown developer Hiap Hoe's chief executive, Mr Teo Ho Beng, announced the firm's maiden foray abroad, buying a 3,795 sq m site in inner Melbourne for $33.6 million. It plans to develop a 425-unit residential-hospitality project there.

In the past three months, another smaller developer, mainboard-listed Oxley Holdings, has also made five acquisitions abroad. The first was a mixed-development site in Kuala Lumpur on May29. It has since ventured into other parts of Malaysia, Cambodia and China, investing an estimated $201million.

Developers with a small presence abroad already are also set to extend their global footprint.

Yesterday, the chief executive of property firm ECG Group, Mr Eric Cheng, told The Straits Times he intends to establish 50 per cent of his business overseas.

Another 25 per cent will be focused on developing local properties, and the other 25 per cent on local property services.

"A lot of Singaporeans are adopting a wait-and-see approach, expecting prices to drop, so developers need to look abroad for opportunities. Construction and land costs are going higher, margins getting leaner. We used to have margins as high as 40 per cent; now it's coming down to 10 to 15 per cent."

ECG first ventured into Thailand three years ago. Today, it is in talks to develop two projects in Bangkok, in a joint venture with a Thai developer.

Mr Cheng said the firm had struck a joint venture with a Japanese developer to buy a 650 sq m plot in Tokyo eight months ago. It will contribute US$5million (S$6.3million) to build a 40-unit condo in the Shinjuku district.

Last month, Sim Lian Group launched its latest mixed-use project in Kuala Lumpur, as part of diversification efforts. It has two other Malaysia projects: Taman Bukit Bayu and Desa Baiduri in Iskandar.

While the bigger players have a stiffer appetite for the risks associated with venturing abroad, smaller developers remain wary. EL Development managing director Lim Yew Soon and Roxy-Pacific Holdings chief executive Teo Hong Lim agree that land sites here are getting costlier for smaller players to buy, but say it is prudent to understand foreign markets before committing.

Mr Lim said his firm had been unsuccessful in land bids since the launch of its development La Fiesta, in Sengkang, in January. "Hence, besides the local development opportunities, we have also been exploring overseas opportunities, such as Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Myanmar. However, as sales transactions on properties overseas are not as transparent, we would need more time to evaluate if the site is suitable."

He said foreign exchange risks also need to be factored in.

Singles' demand for 2-room flats hits 55 to 1
Applicants' data shows focus of BTO launch was appropriate: Khaw

Source: Straits Times 
By Charissa Yong

AN OVERWHELMING response from singles to a Build-To-Order (BTO) launch has silenced sceptics who had predicted a low take-up rate, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

With the exercise due to close at midnight last night, there were around 55 singles vying for each flat on offer by 5pm.

"This is not lukewarm at all," Mr Khaw wrote in his blog.

He added that the flood of applications from singles had not affected first-timer families also applying for two-room flats. Their application rate was below one per flat, which means they are highly likely to get the home they are seeking.

The launch marked the first time singles are able to buy new Housing Board flats, with up to 30 per cent of the 519 two-room units in Sengkang and Yishun reserved for them.

Sengkang's two-room flats were particularly popular, attracting 77 singles per flat - twice as many as the 36.6 singles each Yishun flat attracted.

ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim said it was a "no-brainer that such a high number of singles applied".

He noted that the new flats are priced "very affordably" from $76,000 to $133,000, compared to resale three-room flats in the same area, which go for close to $400,000.

OrangeTee head of research and consultancy Christine Li said the shorter waiting times for some two-room flats could also be a draw. These units are leftovers from previous launches.

For example, the 57 Rivervale Arc units in Sengkang are already completed, while another 108 flats at Orchid Spring @ Yishun are estimated to be finished by the end of next year.

The two-room flats were not the only ones in the limelight. Larger flats also proved to be magnets for families buying their second home, with some in Bukit Merah nearly 19 times over-subscribed by this group.

"Four-room flats have three bedrooms and better serve the needs of families than three-room flats that have only two bedrooms," said ERA Realty's Mr Lim.

But first-timer families will still get top pick of the Bukit Merah flats, with at least 95 per cent of the supply set aside for them.

The average application rate was 4.6 for all 4,079 flats in Bukit Merah, Sengkang and Yishun.

"Over the next few weeks, we will analyse the BTO data in greater detail to see how we can refine our next BTOs," said Mr Khaw.

He revealed that the median age of the nearly 8,500 singles who applied was about 43, and their median monthly income about $1,800.

"Our decision to focus on singles aged 35 years and above and up to $5,000 (a month) income level was therefore appropriate," he said.

Administrative assistant Wong Chui Ling, who is in her early 50s, hopes new three-room flats will soon be made available to singles.

She chose not to apply for a two-room flat this time round, as she feels the 35 sq m or 45 sq m sizes are too small for her mother and herself to live comfortably.

"Age is catching up with me," she said.

"I hope it will be soon. I've been waiting donkey's years."