Published December 27, 2012

URA factors in shrinking condo unit sizes as it looks ahead

By Kalpana Rashiwala

[SINGAPORE] The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) seems to think that the average unit size of condos will shrink in its estimates of housing supply for the Government Land Sales (GLS) programme.

Based on BT's analysis of the first-half 2013 GLS programme, the average gross floor area (GFA) per home for typical private condo sites in Outside Central Region (OCR) and Rest of Central Region (RCR) has each been reduced by five square metres to 90 sq m and 80 sq m respectively compared with the H1 and H2 2012 slates.

For sites designated for executive condominiums (ECs), the average home size assumption has been kept the same at 100 sq m in OCR, which is where suburban mass-market homes are located.

Analysts note that the URA's move to clip its average home size assumption annually in the past few years reflects developers' strategy of minting smaller units to keep lump-sum prices affordable while jacking up per square foot prices.

BT selected sites by location and then divided each of their maximum GFA by the number of potential homes estimated by the URA to arrive at the average size assumed per home.

When contacted, the URA's spokesman said that it regularly reviews space standards - that is, average GFA per housing unit - used to estimate the number of homes that can be generated from GLS sites. It takes into account the sizes of units in housing projects (including ECs) which have obtained planning approvals in recent years.

"The most recent review, which covers residential projects in all locations, was done this year and the updated space standards were adopted for the H1 2013 GLS Programme. The space standards adopted for private residential sites in RCR and OCR in the H1 2013 GLS Programme are smaller than in the previous GLS Programmes," he added.

BT has observed that in the past few years, the URA has been updating space standards once a year, in the first-half GLS slate.

DTZ's Southeast Asia chief operating officer Ong Choon Fah says: "People are getting used to higher space efficiency; a lot of appliances are also much smaller - flat-screen TVs, two-in-one washer/dryer. Lifestyles have also been changing; young people and couples are spending more time outside their homes. So that's why it is acceptable to have a smaller housing size when the absolute housing price is affordable."

"Developers have been making up for smaller home sizes in some way by providing more common amenities. . . Ninety to a hundred square metres is in line with the size we've been recommending to developers for three-bedroom units in suburban condos. This size is also in line with a four-room HDB flat. So when people upgrade from HDB to private condo, it must not seem that they're reducing the size of their home."

The URA highlighted that its estimates of the number of residential units for GLS sites is intended to serve as a guide only. "The actual number would depend on the decisions and development plans of the developers."

There's room for developers to squeeze in more units. Under a guideline announced in September, the maximum number of units allowed for sites Outside the Central Area is based on an average home size of 70 sq m.

Market watchers noted that for ECs, the URA has not shrunk its average unit size assumptions since H1 2011.

As Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng notes: "Developers have been reviewing the mix of unit types in EC projects to include a higher proportion of large-format units - such as penthouses and dual-key units.

"But fundamentally, the average size of EC units, which cater to families, has not changed."

While the 90-sq-m and 80-sq-m average unit sizes in the latest revision for the H1 2013 list applies to typical private condo plots in OCR and RCR respectively, there are a few exceptions. "For the residential sites at Kim Tian Road, Faber Walk and Jalan Bunga Rampai, URA in consultation with Land Transport Authority will impose a more stringent space standard to ensure that the residential units from these sites do not generate excessive traffic flow that cannot be supported by the surrounding roads. This is reflected in the estimated housing units for these sites," said the URA's spokesman.

The URA has estimated that the Kim Tian plot can yield some 500 units (reflecting an average unit size of 88 sq metres). Had the typical RCR average unit size of 80 sq m been used, the estimated supply would have been more: 550 units. The more stringent space standard takes into account narrow roads in the area. It's a similar case for the Jalan Bunga Rampai plot, off Bartley Road and next to a landed housing estate with narrow roads.

Similarly, the Faber Walk site in OCR, with an estimate that reflects a larger than average home size of 100 sq m, will likely churn out fewer units as it is next to several landed housing estates which typically have small roads.

Analysts reckon the URA could end up stipulating its estimated number of units for these three sites as the maximum units, taking into account the tight road capacity in the locations.