Singapore’s river, which flows past such landmarks as the Fullerton Hotel – once an imposing post office in British colonial times – is getting a makeover under a new public-private partnership, known as Singapore River One. It is headed by Tyrone Tabing, a former town planner at the city of Chicago, who says one aim is to tackle touting by restaurateurs and bar owners along the waterfront.
The project also plans to link three waterside spots popular with tourists – Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay – by incorporating walkways that should also bring benefits to the 10,000 residents of Robertson Quay, where many workers in the central business district reside, Tabing says. “We’re going to ‘clean house’ a little bit.”
A decade of growth in the sophistication of Singapore’s softer side – the arts, music and restaurants – is also giving the city-state’s property market some staying power.
This month Singapore made a pitch to become a hub for contemporary art in Asia with the opening of Gillman Barracks, a restored former British military compound dating from 1935, and scene of some of the fiercest fighting against Japanese invaders in the second world war.
The site houses 13 art galleries from 10 countries, and more are expected to open by the time it is fully operational in the second half of next year. One anchor tenant is the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, which chose to make Singapore its fourth outlet after Beverly Hills, New York and Hong Kong.
Another factor supporting prices in Singapore is the limited land left for development. While it is true that a lot of supply was built in the past two years, developers reluctant to drop their prices are sitting on unsold inventory, or renting it out.
Indeed, as many as 4,000 upmarket condominiums were built over the past year, representing about 7 percent of so-called “non-landed” stock in the luxury market, Savills says. Of this, 16 percent remains unsold.
Marriott points out that developers are far less leveraged than their counterparts in the west, which gives them “a high degree of holding power”. That may explain Cheong’s patient approach to filling The Marq.
Among completed upmarket projects with the most unsold units are Reflections, a vast development at Keppel Bay on the south coast, Hilltops at Cairnhill Circle and The Ritz-Carlton Residences.
Knight Frank says there is evidence that developers have been offering 10-15 per cent discounts to offset the effect of the additional stamp duty in an attempt to shift units. Png Poh Soon, head of research, says: “It is likely that buyers are taking the additional stamp duty as the norm and they are getting to accept it as part of the transaction cost.”
Bargain hunters have snapped up some deals. Nineteen units at Paterson Suites – opposite The Marq – went for S$2,619 ($2,125) per square foot this year, 15 percent below the price peak of 2007. Twelve units at Orchard View nearby changed hands at an average price of S$2,604 per square foot.
Png acknowledges that the high end of the market is “still soft.” Knight Frank says developers sold 403 units in the second quarter in the core central region of Singapore, still a long way off the first quarter of 2009 when 1,386 were sold, and still off an average of 500 units from 2009 until the first half of last year.
But Singapore’s gradually appreciating currency will give prices some support, agents believe. “There is still demand from people who are looking to invest for the long term, and one of the major drivers is still Singapore as a financial centre,” says Png.
Still, it is hard to imagine that prices will reach last year’s record, when a European buyer paid an eye-popping $6,842 per sq ft to secure one of the 21 top-end units at The Marq. Even if it did come with a 15m pool cantilevered outside the building.
Indeed it may have to be that capricious feature designed to catch the eye – and wallet – of a cash-rich buyer that shifts the really high-end properties. This month developer KOP Properties started unashamedly targeting a growing number of millionaires in Singapore who own “supercars.”
The company is marketing a luxury development near Orchard Road that allows owners to keep their cars next to their living rooms in “en suite sky garages”. Touch a biometric pad in the basement after you’ve driven your Maserati or Lamborghini in, and it’s automatically whisked aloft to the desired floor level.
“It’s done in such a way that it’s a museum showcase,” says Leny Suparman, KOP chief executive.
They’ll try anything in Singapore.