July 23, 2007

Property fever: Be contented and live with what you have

I REFER to the article, 'Sub-sales of private homes hit 10-year high' (ST, July 14).

The common topics among Singaporeans now are the sizzling property prices and the rocketing stock market. It also shows that we are buyers of sentiment and also perhaps followers of the market.

Many who purchase properties or stocks last year must be sitting on hefty profits as prices are on the upward trend. Those who buy in middle of this year have a narrower profit margin and perhaps a much riskier portfolio as compared to those who bought last year.

Personally, I sold off my leasehold property late last year and somehow regretted it as I could have held on for a better price if I sell this year. Nevertheless, I bought another property at a reasonable price and felt better knowing that when you sell high you also buy high and this could negate your profits anytime.

Those who sold off their property on an en-bloc basis need to scout around for a property that is affordable and within their budget. I have a feeling that they are the ones chasing up the property prices, as flushed with cash from their en-bloc sales, they are the ones now anxiously looking for a new place. They somehow have a bigger headache of looking for a place now due to the skyrocketing property price and the heavy demand due to the number of property en-bloc sales. Singaporeans who put off their property purchase all along may also now begin to hunt for property, contributing to the tight supply.

A friend of mine commented that he is envious of the many millionaires that resulted from the dozens of en-bloc sales that is ongoing since late last year. Some may even retire earlier or go for their dream holiday with so much cash on hand.

I told him that money earned from such transactions are often difficult to hold on to as, firstly, they will buy another property that may also be around the same price range or even higher unless they are willing to downgrade and, secondly, money that is acquired easily seem to be let off easier too. My advice to en-bloc benefactors is to approach financial advisers for sound financial investment planning and to save up for their retirement, which many Singaporeans fail to do.

Another concern of en-bloc sales is that it actually benefits only a small section of the population and out of which a high percentage could also be foreigners.

As a large majority of property owners live in public housing, they could never be benefactors of such dream transactions. This also perpetuates the discontentment among the poor and sandwiched middle class who struggle in our ever rising living standard.

Many will feel that the booming economy only benefits the rich and upper middle class. Their salaries remain stagnant or rise moderately, never keeping pace with the living cost or their liabilities.

The much debated wage rift is also another major concern as the higher wage earners seem to pull away from the rest who continue to struggle, leaving nothing much behind for retirement planning. The top 20 per cent income earners earn at least 10 times more than the bottom 20 per cent wage earners, creating a substantial wage gap which can only fuel discontentment.

My advice to Singaporeans is to live simply and be contented with what you have. Never cast an envious eye on those who have much more financially as I always believe that wealth can never buy happiness.

I personally have a few wealthy friends who say that to them their wealth is never a major contributor to their happiness quotient but that strong family bonding, good health and job satisfaction are the main reasons for living a satisfied life.

For me, it is better to have some savings and live happily surrounded by supportive family members and friends than having a big fat account and not able to enjoy life due to poor health or a disintegrated family.

Gilbert Goh Keow Wah