Practical Advice for Property Investors: Enhancing Your Rental Yield

Let’s start by grouping the considerations/strategies into those that come into play at point-of-purchase, and those that can be initiated a little later down the line:-

Purchasing Your Rental Unit – Beyond PSF

Obviously when selecting property for investment, location is key. How well-connected a development is to transportation networks, amenities, schools etc and how popular the neighbourhood is with the expat crowd. (Since Singapore has one of the highest rates of home-ownership thanks to HDB, local renters form an almost insignificant component of rental demand.) URA will also provide you with plenty of rental and sale transaction data to help you determine the expected rental yield of a particular property. But as I often urge my clients and readers, let’s delve a little deeper than pure per-square-foot data.

The beauty of property investment is that it’s part science, part art. The art is in picking up the non-tangible elements of a development, the things that won’t be reflected in URA’s statistics. Let’s do a quick little case study – take One Devonshire, a relatively new 152-unit development right behind Somerset MRT.

One Devonshire – Image courtesy of Allgreen Properties Pte Ltd

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Property Showcase: Parvis @ Holland Hill

Parvis Site Plan

Development Name: Parvis (pronounced par-vee, though most refer to it as par-vis, yours truly included)
District 10, Freehold
Developer: Ho Bee Group & MCL Land
Address: 12/16/18 Holland Hill ( 3 blocks of 12 floors)

• 2-Bedroom (51 units): 990 – 1,440 sq ft
• 3-Bedroom (100 units): 1,700 – 2,260 sq ft
• 4-Bedroom (76 units): 1990 – 2,600 sq ft
• Penthouse (21 units): 2,300 -3,230 sq ft

Set atop Holland Hill, my first grouse was that vehicular access was only via Farrer Road, from the Queensway side, however my grumbles were soon forgotten once I reached the sprawling 246,000 square foot grounds.

You’ll notice the difference from the minute you hit the driveway, firstly the concierge front-desk to the left as you enter. A concept first made popular by SC Global with their flagship project The Marq, it’s now practically a standard for all luxury developments around the Orchard area, but something considerably rarer in the Holland area. Secondly, the basement carpark – 273 parking lots for 248 apartments – each generously-sized, and no narrow, awkward corners where you might scratch your beloved vehicle. The basement carpark is also unlike your usual depressingly dark and stuffy basement carpark. It actually feels rather bright and breezy thanks to good ventilation, and the modern sculptures placed at various spots are a welcome touch, breaking up the monotony of a space more known for function than form.
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MAS Restricts Loan Tenure for Residential Properties – What Does the Future Hold?

After several rounds of cooling measures, Singapore’s residential market has continued to climb in Q2 and Q3 of 2012. Thus MAS has stepped in once again, and as of today, borrowers will no longer be able to take loans of longer than 35 years. Given that the average tenure of residential property loans in Singapore is well below 35 years (29 years, according to MAS’ official press release yesterday), and bearing in mind that this average does not take into account the percentage of homes in Singapore that are fully paid-up, I don’t foresee this measure having a huge impact on the market. Continue reading “MAS Restricts Loan Tenure for Residential Properties – What Does the Future Hold?”

Property investment – staying ahead of the curve

In the mutual funds universe, you have index funds on one end of the spectrum, and “special situation” funds at the other. The former simply track the market index, rising and falling in tandem with the market’s peaks and troughs. The latter, on the other hand, attempt to home in on unique upside opportunities and gain alpha.

As a property investor, you should try as far as possible to emulate the latter rather than the former. I draw inspiration from strategies taken by the fund manager behind a special situations fund I once invested in. He looked for themes that were on the uptrend, then dug beyond the obvious to seek out a more targeted vehicle for harnessing that trend. For instance,when he felt that international trade was set to boom, instead of banking on shipping stocks, he bought into ports, as the latter represented a more finite resource – you can have as many ships as can be built, but ports are strictly limited by geographical and administrative factors, amongst other constraints. Similarly, when he sought a means of investing into Asia’s growing need for infrastructure, he avoided construction companies, and went for the one key player providing the cranes to the many construction companies. This all took place years ago, but I reckon there is timeless wisdom in the investment style adopted.

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Property market crash? – what you should be asking

If I had a dollar for each time I’m asked the golden question “is it the right time to buy?”, I’d have accumulated a tidy sum by now.

Similarly, if I were blessed with such prophetic vision, I’d probably be dictating this blog post to a personal assistant whilst sipping cocktails on some idyllic island resort in the Caribbean.

The thing is, a property bubble will mean very different things to different people, so it’s not so much a question of where the property market is headed (which nobody will be able to tell you will absolute certainty), but where are YOU headed?

Do you dream of bubbles? (Image courtesy of

The Home Buyer

So much has been said about speculators who flipped properties they could ill-afford for fast profits in the heady days of 2007, but what of the other form of property market speculators that aren’t normally recognised as speculators – those that hold off their home purchases indefinitely in the hopes of a property market crash? Is it wise to hold off getting a permanent roof over ones head in the vague hopes of buying in “cheap”? Continue reading “Property market crash? – what you should be asking”

Over-exuberance in the industrial sector – Are we due for a commercial break?

I have hesitated to cover this topic for some time, as by my own admission, I am no industrial expert. However, given the high frequency with which clients and prospects have been coming to me waving attractive flyers and recounting killer sales spiels from commercial property agents they’ve encountered, I felt it necessary to at least highlight some key issues to consider before one takes the plunge into commercial property.

It’s always a bad idea to go into any investment sector when it seems like half the world including the taxi driver on your last ride into town is buying into it. A telling sign would be when the true industrialists are staying on the sidelines and renewing their leases, while the bulk of buyers appear to be virgin industrial investors. The industrial newbies are drawn by the promise of high rental yield, and seemingly cheaper pricing as compared to alternative real estate sectors, and of course the avoidance of additional buyer and seller stamp duties affecting the residential sector.

They appear to have completely ignored the fact that in the event of a sharp economic downturn, industrial property will be affected even more than the residential sector. According to URA reports, the median rental for multiple-use factory space (ie. B1 & B2) was about $2 psf/mth in Q2 2012. Given that there is currently over 23,000,000 square feet of factory space lying vacant, and another 49,000,000 square feet coming online over the next two years, one can only imagine what rentals will be like come 2014. (As my learned friend and mentor Mr Ku Swee Yong thoughtfully points out, the total lettable floor space at Vivocity Mall is about one million square foot.** So that’s basically more than 23 times Vivo’s total shop space going rent-less, with another 49 Vivos in the pipeline!)

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Beyond psf- what’s your property’s bright-&-airy quotient?

In a recent Bloomberg article on Asian Millionaires taking charge of their own wealth, Akbar Shah, Head of Southeast Asia and Australia for Citigroup’s private-banking unit, describes real estate markets as hands-on markets that require a feel. I respectfully agree with her opinion. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, both verbally and in writing, property analysis is more than just dollar-per-square-foot.

I’m struck by the number of times I’ve heard comments from clients like, “It’s pretty old, kinda rundown even… but somehow I just have a good feel about this place!” or “It’s a pleasant-enough place, but somehow it just doesn’t feel quite right?”

Obviously, when it comes to choosing a place to stay, there’s a wide spectrum of lifestyle needs, tastes and preferences. But one trait that almost all home-seekers unanimously favour in a home is the “bright and airy” factor. I believe this is something that contributes greatly to whether a home conjures up a feeling of spaciousness or not, perhaps even more so than whether a home is 1,200 square foot or 1,400 square foot. In a sense, this also echoes some of the principles of Fengshui – “qi” flows easily in a place that enjoys a good breeze and ample natural light, and in theory makes for a more auspicious home.

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Stamp Duties – Who pays what, when, and how much?

From my daily dealings with buyers and sellers of Singapore property, along with enquiries from blog readers, there are a number of queries that constantly pop up on my radar (besides the perennial favorite, “How’s the market?”)

One area that has a lot of people confused is the different stamp duties introduced via the various cooling measures. Apologies to readers who are familiar with the stamp duty matrix and consider this stale, but I reckon the fact that I’ve encountered even senior conveyancing lawyers who aren’t too clear on their stamp duty facts suggests that this is an area that requires clarification.

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Psf, psf – are we too obsessed with numbers?

This might seem to be a drastically different stance from my last post on the dangers of being overly emotional when it comes to property investment, however, I come into contact with a broad spectrum of investors, buyers, sellers, and tenants in my line of work. My purpose is to provide a balanced commentary, and to help moderate potentially self-harming behaviours I come across.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, real estate, particularly residential property, is a very unique asset class. Even for brand new units direct from developers, units with exactly the same floor plan will have a slightly different view by virtue of the fact that 2 units cannot possibly occupy the exact same airspace, thus the views, elevation and orientation will be at least marginally if not drastically different.

I believe this is also why real estate contracts are one of the areas where specific performance can be ordered by the courts. I suppose it is recognised that sometimes monetary compensation simply cannot replace the enjoyment one obtains from owning a particular property.

If even homes with exactly the same layout can have nuances of difference, then is not rather artificial to compare homes on a per square foot basis? I can safely vouch by the sheer number of times I have people asking me, “what’s the floor size for this place, ah?”, that the average human being is unable to accurately gauge the floor area of a home. So why do we dwell so much upon this magic ratio of price to floor area?

I suppose it is difficult to quantify how pleasant or livable a space is in a strictly scientific manner. The pleasure one can potentially derive from a well-designed, ideally-located home is in fact priceless! But a good way to gauge the “homeliness” value of a property is how much a potential tenant is willing to pay to live in it. The irony is that transient tenants looking to stay in a home for a 2-3 year time line are, I think, a lot more focused on the value of a good home, whereas home buyers tend to get overly distracted by comparisons of numbers and ratios that may have little effect on the ultimate enjoyment of their homes.

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Are you an emotional property investor?

Ok, it’s confession time! While I regularly profess my love for real estate investment, I have, to-date, never truly fallen head-over-heels in love with any property.

That is to say, I’ve never seen a property that makes me think, “Darn, I must have this! Whatever the price!” Neither have I owned a property that I’ve not been willing to give up for the right price.

When I first started hunting for property, I made the mistake of thinking that I had to fall in love before making the biggest ticket purchase of my life. Thus each viewing went by unfulfilled, and I wasted a precious 2 years without making any investments.

Fortunately for me, my work as a bank relationship manager and subsequently as a real estate lawyer, gave me a lot of exposure to the inner workings of some very wise and brilliant property investors.

I soon discovered that the properties that give the best returns aren’t necessarily the most appealing of homes. The first property I ever owned was a small two-bedroom apartment in district 10. I recall very little about the apartment itself, except that the master bedroom was dark and smelt of unwashed laundry (busy, bachelor tenant!) What I do remember rather more fondly was that it gave us instant 6.7% p.a. rental yield on our initial purchase price, and double-digit annual capital gains for the 3 years that we held it for. Continue reading “Are you an emotional property investor?”