Friday, January 28, 2011

Connecting the dots in S'pore condo prices

WHEN property owners or investors make their decisions to buy or to sell, they usually form expectations of how prices of property are changing in general over time. These changes are driven by common perception of the scarcity of land, the number of developments in the pipeline and estates under construction; by shifts in the rate of interest or inflation; and by political measures.


Such factors put property as an asset class in bright sunshine, or at times, in dim light. But concluding whether a particular real estate object is to be considered cheap or expensive requires a second line of reasoning.


In Singapore, like in all other countries, property is a heterogeneous asset class. Although condos can have up to a thousand units, the units differ in size, view, and other characteristics. Among the many estates in Singapore, their heterogeneity refers to the location, to the age, the reputation of the developer and other features of the condominium. Such particularities are mirrored in relative prices.


Relative prices, for example, consider the multiple of the per square foot (psf) of a condo in the central business district to the psf in suburban areas. Likewise, relative prices reflect the relation between the psf of a freehold condo to one having a 99-year lease or the typical relation of the price of a condo in walking distance to a MRT station, to the psf of a condo that is further away from public transport facilities.


Thus, a prospective owner or investor should also take note of whether the condo under consideration looks cheap or expensive with respect to the typical relative prices. Relative prices appear to remain stable over a longer period of time, although they might be different in Hong Kong or London from Singapore.


Relative prices can be determined with hedonic models, which were developed by American economists 30 years ago. Although hedonic models are regularly used to explore particularities of the real estate markets in America, England, Hong Kong and other markets, we can present a few new insights by adopting the model to Singapore.


Our model considers structural attributes such as the age, project characteristics such as tenure and facilities, the type of sale (at launch or subsale), and characteristics of accessibility and neighbourhood such as the distance to the Central Business District (CBD), to schools and shopping centres.


All 9,029 transactions (2009) of 470 different condominium projects, reported by the Real Estate Information System (Realis), have been used as inputs to the hedonic model.


The study confirmed that distance to the CBD is among all other factors the most important characteristic in influencing the price of a condominium. Based on the results, the price of a condominium (in psf) increases by 3 per cent for every 1km closer to the CBD.


In addition, prestige of the neighbourhood, age and tenure of a condominium are found to be major determinants in explaining condominium prices. An interesting finding is that for every 10 per cent increase in percentage of private properties in the neighbourhood, the price of a condominium increases by about 4 per cent.


In other words, buyers are willing to pay 4 per cent more for a condominium if the percentage of private properties in the neighbourhood increases by 10 per cent.Buyers might perceive a neighbourhood with high concentration of private properties as a form of prestige or they take this as a signal of more lifestyle facilities being nearby.


Launch discount As expected, the price of a condominium decreases by about 1.5 per cent per year on average as it ages. This could be due to depreciation of the condominium such as its design and electrical systems, thus incurring higher maintenance, renovation and repair fees. The difference between freehold or 99-year leases accounts for 8 per cent.


Our study also revealed the magnitude of the price discount associated with buying at launch. In Singapore, it amounts to 7 per cent.


A person who is buying later in a subsale has the advantage of selecting condos with successful launches. Thus, the price discount of 7 per cent compensates the early bird for the uncertainty of how a development will be accepted during the several launches.


Our research also looked at proximity to premier primary schools. The price of a condominium located within 1km radius of at least one primary school is on average 3.9 per cent higher than one without close proximity to a top primary school.


A subject of many discussions in Singapore is low-rise versus high-rise. The model shows that the ground floor condominium is subjected to a price discount, meaning that home buyers on average are less willing to pay for a ground floor condominium compared to other floors. Furthermore, home buyers are willing to pay more for high-floor units (16th floor and above), compared to middle floor units (7th to 15th floor). We also confirmed that superstition for unlucky floor units is capitalised into the price of condominiums.


The number four is commonly known as an unlucky number among the Chinese. The price discount could also be explained by the fact that home buyers avoid staying on an unlucky floor as they are worried that it may harm the future resale price of the unit.


There is only weak empirical confirmation of the hypothesis though, that selling a unit on the eighth floor yields a hefty extra premium in a subsale. If you are not superstitious and plan to sell in a subsale, don't pay a fee for the eighth floor when you visit a launch event.


The writers are, respectively a professor at the University of St Gallen and an analyst at Goldman Sachs

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