Shoebox Sales Data: Falling Demand Or Falling Supply?

Last week, both The Sunday Times and Business Times carried stories on the rise in demand for bigger homes. I plan to address the market gap for spacious new homes within the $2.5-3.5M budget in a later post, but for today let’s discuss the perceived drop in demand for shoebox units, and the future of home affordability.

In his article “Bigger Homes Back in Demand” published in The Sunday Times on 4th October 2020, Invest Editor Tan Ooi Boon observed the following:

“The data shows a drop in the demand for so-called shoebox-size apartments – those under 506 sq ft in the second quarter. These units accounted for only 10 per cent of total new transactions, down from 14% in the first quarter, when most office workers were still on site.”

Let’s talk actual figures. There were 290 shoebox units transacted in the first quarter, and 193 transacted in the second quarter. Clearly, a fall in numbers transacted – but I disagree with his presumption that this is due to a drop in demand. If you’re a seasoned market observer, you should know that new sales numbers are closely correlated to numbers of units launched during any given period, particularly for in-demand unit types. As a realtor on the ground, working with home buyers and tenants on a daily basis, I know how strong demand is for compact but well-appointed homes. My assertion is that transaction numbers for shoebox units are more reflective of limited supply rather than reduced demand.

In 2012, URA had already introduced guidelines to moderate excessive development of shoebox units – the maximum number of dwelling units (DU) was derived by dividing the proposed gross floor area (GFA) by 70 square metres (~753 sq ft). Four areas, Telok Kurau, Kovan, Joo Chiat and Jalan Eunos, were subject to a more stringent requirement of 100 square metres (~1076 sq ft), to avoid stressing local infrastructure capacity concerns of these high-density residential areas. (I will discuss further tightening on these restrictions later in this post.)

As such, the number of shoebox units offered on the primary market has been steadily dwindling. For example, at one popular new launch project this year, The Woodleigh Residences, none of the 667 homes being built are “shoebox” units – the smallest unit size being 570 sq ft. There are 55 units of this layout (A1a) being built, of which only 3 remain available for purchase at time of writing.

So what accounts for the seemingly dramatic drop in demand for shoebox units? If you’ve been tracking the hot launches this year, you would probably be able to guess – The M. This Bugis project was launched in late February of this year, 138 of the 522 homes launched were below 506 sq ft. These units were sold out in a matter of days, with snaking queues outside the showflat despite the looming pandemic situation at that point in time – the 6 shoebox deals you see transacting at The M after Q1 2020 were in fact bounced-out units- these were very quickly snapped up upon being re-released onto the market.

The fact that there were 138 shoebox units launched and quickly sold (in 2 days!) is reflective of the limited supply and real consumer demand for such homes. The writers’ observations on the fall in shoebox transactions from 290 to 193 – the difference of 97 units between Q1 and Q2 is more than covered by The M’s performance in Q1!

And if we’re to look at Q2 shoebox demand levels – consider Forett @ Bukit Timah – 76 of the 633 homes here are under 500 sq ft, and 32 of these units (roughly 42%) have been sold within 2 months of launch – a rather strong showing considering the location is more suited to families who drive, rather than the typical shoebox dweller. The difference in reception for Forett versus The M shoebox units is illustrative of the combination of features that sit well with shoebox buyers – nobody heads out into the market looking for a tiny home! Demand for shoebox units is primarily a demonstration of demand for the most affordable homes in any given project and neighbourhood.

When we invest today, we need to project our expected returns against the landscape our property holdings will be competing against in 3-5, 10, 20 years time, not based on today’s flavour of the day but our own investment timeline. We should also be careful not to confuse demand and supply from very different market segments – the increase in demand for units larger than 1,200 sq ft post-circuit breaker had little correlation with the fall in transaction numbers for shoebox units, which was more a result of fewer shoebox units being offered up for sale rather than an indicator of falling demand.

What we see offered up on the primary sales market today is what was planned for prior to additional changes to URA’s earlier mentioned building guidelines. For building plans submitted after January 2019, a tighter set of guidelines (first announced in October 2018) will bring average unit sizes even higher. Number of dwelling units for a given plot of land will be calculated based on a Total GFA divided by 85 square metres, a 21% increase from the earlier 70 square metres. In addition, areas under the stricter 100 sq metre formula will increase from the previous 4 to a total of 9: Marine Parade, Joo Chiat-Mounbatten, Telok Kurau- Jalan Eunos, Balestier, Stevens-Chancery, Pasir Panjang, Kovan-How Sun, Shelford and Loyang.

Image credit : URA

What does this bode for the future? For each new shoebox unit built outside of the central region, a corresponding unit of at least 123 sq metres (1323 sq ft), or 153 sq metres (1647 sq ft) if falling within the nine areas identified as high-density, would need to be built. So whilst land bids in future will need to fall to accommodate increased building costs, more challenging sales climate and stricter anti-shoebox planning restrictions, affordability is not going to come down – instead, private home ownership rates will.

To illustrate, I’ve done up a table of all District 3 pipeline projects, as well as the shoebox units or smallest available units in the case of projects that will not be building any homes within 506 sq ft. This gives you an indication of entry prices for new homes in District 3 in the next few years. Note though, that the “Starting Price” indicated is for the lowest done deal from developer whilst “Last Done Price” would be the last recorded price for any shoebox sized unit within the project, or smallest unit size in the case of ARTRA & Riviera as of today. It’s telling to note that whilst shoebox units form just 9.4% of total pipeline, they form 12% of total sold units – and the 63 units left unsold are currently all listing above $1M.

How does one act upon such knowledge? It really depends on what your specific home and investment needs are, but I would advise those who are looking for a centrally-located new home with budgets capped at $850K-1.2M to intensify their search now, and consider the future impact that the URA building guidelines will have when currently available projects planned prior to its coming into effect are already showing a shift upwards in size and affordability.

I’d also advise you to do plenty of homework, not just on paper, but get a real feel of the situation on the ground by visting showflats, and talking to those involved in the market (not just those observing from behind a desk!)- as I hope you’ve come to see, not everything reported in the papers is completely accurate.

You’ll need to be fast and decisive, whilst refraining from being impulsive or allowing yourself to become pressured into a decision. Knowing the market well will help tremendously. Oftentimes data doesn’t convey the full strength of demand – to illustrate, the 36 shoebox units at Avenue South Residences were snapped up within the space of 2 days, on 6-7 September 2019 (These were in addition, much-lauded heritage units that will give future occupants the rare opportunity of living in homes reminiscent of Tiong Bahru walk-ups, yet with modern full-facilities and private lifts!) The 4 deals recorded after these two days were in fact withdrawal units, that were snapped up almost instantaneously upon being bounced out.

I would want to delve further into the demand for compact homes on the rental market, but I’ve already went on for longer than I’d planned! Let’s revisit that in another post! Till then, keep your story ideas and questions coming!

Selling in today’s market: 2014 Record Breaker Case Reviews

Happy New Year to all readers! Am typing this on my phone while holidaying in Japan, so please forgive me for any typos and editing errors.

As promised in my last post, I will be sharing 3 case studies of record breaker sales I personally conducted in 2014.

Twin Regency
First up, a 980 square foot 2-bedroom apartment I marketed in late April, which subsequently sold in June.

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The Challenge: Third floor unit facing a noisy children’s water play area. All units sold in recent times had been high floor units. Banks had given me valuations of between $1.7-1.78M. Also, many buyers were awaiting release of info on Keppel Land’s Highline Residences at the time. Thus despite plenty of enquiries and frequent viewings, I received only two offers which were below my client’s target price.

The feedback was that they found my asking price too high for a low floor apartment. We also faced a lot of competition from cheaper leasehold projects in the vicinity, including a huge upcoming supply of new units in district 3. We needed to sell within a fixed timeline and at a good price if my clients were to upgrade to a larger home for their new family.

What helped seal the deal:

A relationship of trust between client and myself
Firstly, they entrusted me with an exclusive sale, of which I’ve explained in my previous post, is one of the first things a seller should do if keen to secure the best possible price for their property.

Secondly, they were willing to accept my advice and feedback and we completed some minor repairs in the apartment prior to viewings being conducted.

I recall viewing a bargain apartment with a buyer client previously, where we observed leakage stains on the ceiling. While the owner and his agent assured us that the underlying problem had been resolved, unfortunately the first impression had already been cast. Spending a little money to fix minor things like cracks , a loose tile, or stains on the walls can go a long way towards securing the most favorable price for your apartment.

Thirdly, besides tucking away personal items like family photos and keeping the property neat and tidy for viewings, the owners were able to pass me a set of keys to conduct viewings with just 2-3 hours notice. This turned out to be a critical factor, as the eventual buyers were in fact in town for a very brief window of time, and the second viewing was requested at the last minute before the cheque was secured.

Running a Successful Auction Sale
The reason why we often say sales is an art – different methods are applicable to different situations. In this case, I had built up sufficient genuine interest in the property, however due to the wait-and-see buyers’ market we were in, offers were either too low, or just not coming in.

I realized this after the first few weeks of marketing, and after discussion with my clients, we set a date for a possible auction sale. I began to follow up with both cobroke agents and direct buyers, informing them that if the seller’s baseline was not met, we would be conducting an auction at the end of June.

This gave prospective buyers sufficient time to mull over the best possible price they were willing to pay for the apartment. Under the strict bank loan rule these days, having sufficient financing is a very real concern, and buyers are unlikely to offer before they can ascertain whether their bank will finance their purchase.

I know, I know… This contravenes common salesperson knowledge that you should avoid giving buyers the chance to view alternatives or get cold feet. Hard-selling tactics are most commonly utilized by agents who care more about their bottom line than their clients’ interests, since a closed case ensures money in their pocket, versus holding out for a better offer. And it’s definitely a given when marketing an open (non-exclusive) listing – time is of essence lest the competing agents close the deal before one is able to secure an offer.

As a result of consistently following up with viewers and building up interest to launch an auction-style sale , I was able to secure a price that exceeded my clients’ expectations without a need for ruthless hard-selling.

La Maison
Next, a 1,292 square foot three-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor that I originally listed for rent, and over 3 weeks of sales viewings sold for 8.5% above the last high.

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The Challenge:
This 24-unit apartment block has a great location close to Novena MRT station, but was poorly maintained by the management. Despite the tiny grounds and considerable maintenance fees, the pool decking was rotten and the exterior walls had not been repainted in close to fifteen years.

Of the two layouts available for standard units, the unit I was marketing had the less-preferred one. I faced several objections to the triangular-shaped master bedroom and the development’s proximity to the communicable disease centre and tuberculosis control unit.

Properties like La Maison often lag in performance, as the low frequency of transactions means the price never gets to run up much. This can be observed from the past performance – of the 16 resale transactions that have taken place since TOP, 5 were loss-making. My clients made a respectable 5.6% per annum gain, whereas almost seventy percent of La Maison sellers in the past made losses, or gains below 2% per annum.

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Here’s how we did it

Feeding off feedback
The common misconception is that all successful salespersons have a gift of the gab, or so-called “sales talk”, but the truth is, we gain more sales ammunition from listening, both to prospective buyers and our sellers.

It can sometimes be disheartening to keep hearing negative feedback and objections to properties in our portfolio, however it’s critical to take all feedback in a positive light.

I make it a point to try and gather feedback from all viewers. Constructive criticism can help in conversations with your seller clients – not just what agents commonly term as “staging”, or trying to get sellers to soften on their pricing, but in gaining an in-depth understanding of the of the property as a home too.

For example, in this instance when I updated my clients on viewers’ feedback and objections, they shared with me many of their personal experiences living in the apartment -how they had in fact started out with renting an apartment in the project, enjoying it so much that they subsequently sourced for a unit to purchase, taking a year before finally securing a unit at this rarely available development. This exchange gave me many valuable nuggets of info to present both the tangible and intangible aspects that made the property a great home.

Open House Effect
This is again easier for an exclusive marketing agent to carry out. Open listers would fear requestors enquiring with other listers if they insist on viewers coming down on a specific open house date rather than catering to the prospect’s preferred timeslot.

I held open house viewings over two weekends, with between 4-6 viewers on both dates. This definitely went some way towards creating the right momentum needed for a record breaking price.

Oftentimes I’ve found with ad hoc viewings, the offers tend to be too spaced out in time, which often results in offers stagnating. “Last offer $2M? When was that? Oh, 3 weeks ago? Can I try $2M again?”

Buyers who view during an open house are already given mental preparation that if they view and like the property, they may need to make an offer shortly after.

And true enough, we clocked in a sale $70K above the last record for a similar unit.

Holt Residences

And finally my third 2014 case study that I’d like to share is for a 2,067 square foot 4-bedroom apartment that I secured in September and sold a month later.

The Challenge:This exclusive sale listing had in fact originally begun as a rental listing, but the apartment had gone vacant for close to 3 months, with potential rental having dropped some 25% from what my clients were previously earning.

Having experienced the poor level of interest from prospective tenants, with viewing enquiries being infrequent despite being smack in the midst of the hot leasing period from June to August, and having had negative feedback from tenants on the dated, circa 2000 original interiors and the small grounds with limited facilities and tiny pool, I suggested that we simultaneously market the property for sale.

The project had been experiencing very flat performance since suffering a severe drop in prices back in 2008-09. It made sense to cash out if the the right price was achieved given the lackluster rental yields and limited upside in the short-medium term.

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Recipe for Success

Creating Demand-side Competition
How do you create competition for your property in a market where buyers and tenants are spoilt for choice? Pit tenants against buyers.

We indeed landed up with that situation for this sale, when a letter of offer for rental came in just days before the prospective buyer was due to view. My clients were anxious not to let the prospective tenant go in case the sale failed to materialize, but thankfully the buyer was also serious about snapping up the unit vacant.

Buck the Trend
If you want above-average results, you need to steer away from what the crowd of average joes are doing.

Buyers who buy when others are staying clear of the market have far stronger bargaining power than when everyone is rushing back into the market. Likewise when it comes to selling.

Whilst Holt Residences is a small development, all units aside from the 4 penthouse units have similar layouts. This made it challenging when it came to sourcing for tenants as there were at least 3-4 of the same layout available for rent at any one time.

Units for sale, on the other hand, were in limited supply. Our negotiation power was thus bolstered, as the only other available unit for sale was on a low-floor. The proof is in the pudding- we were able to sell at $3.4M, despite most banks pegging valuation at $3.1-3.2M.

Parting shots
As you can see from the various marketing strategies I employed, it does not require rocket science nor a devious plot to sell well, even in a challenging market. If you or your clients are looking to upgrade homes or rebalance portfolio within the next 5 years, I recommend selling now before the bulk of new supply comes online.

Selling your home in a buyers’ market – The first 3 things you should do

Hello dear readers! It’s been a busy and fruitful year, and as a result, the blog has sadly taken a back seat! But now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s a great time to reflect upon the wealth of experiences notched in 2014!

One phenomena I’d like to discuss today is what I’d term ” The Upgrader’s Dilemma”- you already own a home, but want to shift to a bigger place and/or closer to good schools for the kids’ sake etc. Upgrading makes sense in a soft market, since you can buy your next bigger, better home at more attractive discounts these days (and in the coming months), but the dilemma is – how do you fetch a good price for your current home in a such a “slow” market?

Not sure if I’ll regret sharing these little “secrets”, but to me they’re fairly common sense, and often times it’s not just a matter of knowing but putting your awareness into practice.

Some tips are targeted at home owners, while others are more for fellow agents, so bear in mind some notes may be less relevant to your personal situation. Now, let’s get on with it! Continue reading “Selling your home in a buyers’ market – The first 3 things you should do”

Interim Review of Crystal Ball Prediction

By Centauri78

If you have been following the blog, you may recall a prediction that I made a while back in August 2012 with regard to the residential property market, as measured by the URA housing price index. The prediction was for prices to rise for a couple of years from the beginning of 2012, and for prices to stagnate thereafter. Now that the first period of the prediction is over, let’s take a look as to where the market is now. Continue reading “Interim Review of Crystal Ball Prediction”

Budget 2013: Impact on the Property Market

Last week, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam gave his Budget Speech for 2013. Amongst the main themes of the speech, the most glaring to me was the re-distribution of costs from the lower-income/lower-wealth group to the higher-income/higher-wealth group. This is a natural progression in a maturing economy and should be expected. Of the items listed as part of this theme, those that pertain to the property market are:

Continue reading “Budget 2013: Impact on the Property Market”

The 7th Round of Cooling Measures: Will raising ABSD lead to falling prices?

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We’ve been expecting the government to trot out another round of cooling measures, as I mused on Facebook just hours before the official announcements came out. Prices have continued to defy gravity despite the 6 earlier rounds of cooling, and the recent ruckus over $2M Executive Condos had also alerted Minister Khaw to the need to bring developers back in line with the original mission statement behind Executive Condos.

Still, the 7th round of cooling measures does stand out amongst its predecessors as the broadest spectrum of cooling measures we have seen, affecting both private and public housing, as well as the industrial property market. The measures have drawn a mixed response, ranging from fiery profanities from property agents concerned about their rice bowl, to mild jubilation from Singaporean first-home buyers (and more cursing and swearing from PR buyers yet to secure a home.)

On the whole, I agree with the government’s decisive move this round. The market, jaded by countless rounds of “cooling” measures, has reached a stage where anything less than draconian simply won’t cut it. However, I question whether the ABSD measures introduced will truly serve the interests of those they are seeking to protect -the Singaporean first-time home buyer. Today’s post shall be focused mostly on the ABSD hike and its repercussions.

Continue reading “The 7th Round of Cooling Measures: Will raising ABSD lead to falling prices?”

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?”

Poll Results

We asked you, our readers, to vote on where you think the property market will be at the end of 2015 relative to beginning 2012. Thanks to all those who voted! Here are the results!

An overwhelming majority (80%) voted either down or up by less than 10%, with slightly more voting on the downside. To be honest, I had expected a higher number of people voting the extreme cases, but I guess our readers are a little more conservative with their opinions. In any case, let’s have a thought about what to do in each scenario.
Continue reading “Poll Results”

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.

Continue reading “Property investment – staying ahead of the curve”