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Singapore investment property picture darkens

Nicky Loh | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Singapore's property prices may have largely defied doomsday predictions for a crash, but investors appear reluctant to step back into the market anytime soon.

"Singaporeans continue to see property as a key investment," Sean Tan, a general manager for Singapore at iProperty.com, said in a statement with the results of the real estate website's market sentiment survey.

But while 29 percent cited rental income as a reason to buy, analysts are concerned about whether tenants and rents may be drying up.

Read More Is a test of Singapore's property market nigh?

"It has become increasingly difficult to rent out units as the increased completions and slower influx of foreigners is resulting in rising vacancies," analysts at UOB-KayHian said in a note Monday, citing an 8.5 percent vacancy rate for condo and apartment units. Based on government data, the vacancy rate was around 7.8 percent at the end of 2014, the highest since the end of 2005.

Smaller returns

Additionally, the sharp jump in local mortgage rates is shaving landlords' returns, UOB KayHian said. Sibor, or the Singapore interbank offered rate, used as the basis for setting mortgage and other loans, has more than doubled to over 1.0 percent from 0.4 percent over the past four months, it noted.

"Those who are able to rent out their units will continue seeing positive carry," UOB KayHian said, noting rental yields of around 2.5-3.5 percent are still higher than mortgage rates of 1.5-2 percent. But it expects the positive carry will narrow by around 50 basis points as variable mortgage rates rise. Mortgages in Singapore typically adjust their interest rates every two years.

But investment-property returns could turn negative if Sibor rises another 100 basis points or if rents fall by 30 percent, it warned. In 2014, rents for luxury units declined around 3.7 percent, while globally, they rose by 0.6 percent, according to Knight Frank's Prime Global Rental Index.

Read More Has Singapore's property bubble already burst?

To be sure, UOB KayHian does expect the total debt servicing ratio (TDSR), a sector cooling measure introduced in mid-2013 to prevent homebuyers from borrowing too much, will help ensure borrowers are still able to repay their mortgages.

Lack of buyers

Even if Singapore property investments continue to see a positive return, potential buyers may not be stepping up anytime soon.

The iProperty survey found most respondents are pushing back their buying plans amid expectations property prices will fall over the next six months, Tan said.

Around 40 percent of respondents said they plan to buy in a year or two, up from 28 percent in the second half of last year and their prospective budgets are declining, the survey found. Even then, around 45 percent said they aren't confident their properties would retain their value in the first half of the year, up from 38 percent in the second half of last year.

So far, however, predictions of sharp price declines of as much as 20 percent haven't materialized, with the private sector seeing a 4 percent decline and public housing resale prices falling 6.1 percent last year, according to government data. Prices are still up more than 50 percent since 2009.

But transactions are down sharply, with February deals falling 48 percent from a year earlier, with sales in 2014 at their lowest level since 2008, during the Global Financial Crisis.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1