Wealthy Chinese have been big spenders on private properties in Singapore this year, while the real estate market on mainland China is enduring a severe protracted meltdown.
Buyers from mainland China bought about a fifth of 425 luxury units costing more than S$5 million ($3.52 million) between January and August this year.
Americans bought 34 units during the same period and wealthy Indonesians 28 units.
Analysts say Singapore has long been a magnet for the mega-rich, wooed by the Southeast-Asian city-state’s stable politics, strong currency, and reputation as a safe haven to park assets, even for rich ‘cronies’ from Myanmar.
Property prices in Singapore have also tended to accelerate gradually, with few booms and wild busts seen in other popular markets.
And now the city-state is reaping the benefits of reopening after the Covid pandemic, despite tax increases, while China is still largely locked down under its severe zero-Covid policy.
China’s property crisis has caused a slump in sales and many developers to default of their debts, while consumer confidence has been soured by repeated Covid lockdowns.
All in, the number of luxury units sold to foreigners in Singapore in the first eight months of this year – including those with permanent residency – has outpaced the 282 in the same period in pre-pandemic 2019 and the 322 in 2018.
The data, from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and property consultancy OrangeTee & Tie, show that Singapore property remains popular among foreigners despite the government raising taxes for purchases last December.
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Stamp Duty Lifted
In a bid to cool the private property market, stamp duties for foreigners without permanent residency were raised from 20% to 30%.
Still, 143 luxury apartments were sold to these foreigners from January to August this year – higher than the 136 during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.
In a bulk purchase in June, one Chinese tycoon splurged over S$85 million on 20 new units in central Singapore, while another Chinese buyer snapped up four units for around S$60 million.
Singapore has also been actively wooing the ultra rich, giving tax incentives to family offices – entities created by wealthy families to manage their money – and issuing visas to those earning more than S$30,000 a month.
The number of family offices increased from 400 at the end of 2020 to 700 last year. High-profile ones include billionaire Liang Xinjun, formerly the co-founder of China investment firm Fosun International.
Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at ERA Realty Network, said mainland Chinese and Malaysians were the two biggest buyers of Singapore property before the pandemic.
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Professor Sing Tien Foo, who analyses real estate at the National University of Singapore, said the 30% tax was “a lot of money” to the average buyer but merely “part of the transaction costs” for the ultra rich.
The Singapore dollar with its history of being a stable currency also encourages foreigners to park assets in Singapore, said Mak.
“When you invest in foreign assets, you want to make sure that the currency doesn’t depreciate 30% when you want to exit,” he said.
Since Singapore progressively opened its borders from last year, there has been a flood of relocations to the country including from Hong Kong, where Covid restrictions were still tight.
The imposition of China’s controversial national security law in mid-2021 led to a crackdown on media outlets and pro-democracy advocates, and spurred a mass exodus, with tens of thousands of citizens deciding to leave, either to Britain or closer alternatives, such as Singapore.
The arrival of some of these people has driven up home rental and purchase prices in the city-state. Even government subsidised flats on the resale market are passing the million dollar mark.
And just last week, the government tightened loan limits for public flats in an attempt to dampen demand.
Home rents have risen to a seven-year high in Singapore, already one of the world’s most expensive cities, even though its population has dipped in the past two years.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
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