March 9, 2008


Demand for single office units still going strong in quiet market

Investors turn more cautious, but small firms still interested in strata-titled offices

By Fiona Chan, Property Reporter

ALL has turned quiet on the housing front, but some other segments of the property market appear to have escaped that fate.

Still going strong in particular are sales of single office units in larger commercial buildings. Known as strata-titled offices, these properties recorded active demand in the fourth quarter last year, even as home sales were taking a breather.

A healthy 13 transactions of strata offices occurred between October and December, up from only five in the previous quarter, according to data from CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).

Most of the properties were in the city area - Suntec City, Tong Building in Orchard Road, Springleaf Tower in Anson Road - and changed hands at well above $2,000 per sq ft (psf), CBRE said.

Altogether, $750.8 million worth of strata offices were sold in the fourth quarter, bringing the total for last year to $1.7 billion - more than four times the figure for 2006.

Prices also rose solidly throughout the year. At Suntec City Tower 1, a favourite strata-office location, unit prices climbed about 50 per cent from just above $1,500 psf in January to almost $2,400 psf in December - the highest level in two years.

The steady take-up of single units is due largely to the wider boom in Singapore's office market. A shortage of offices, even as expanding businesses push up demand for space, has boosted prices and rents across the board, drawing much interest from investors, said CBRE's executive director of investment properties, Mr Jeremy Lake.

But in recent months, even investor demand for offices has slowed as the United States sub-prime mortgage problems spread and sentiment in the market grew more cautious.

This has hit sales of entire office buildings, but strata offices have been less affected, said Mr Shaun Poh, a senior director of investment advisory services and auctions at DTZ Debenham Tie Leung.

He attributes this to the smaller businesses that are the other main source of demand for single office units. These businesses plan to occupy the space themselves rather than lease it out for rental income.

'Smaller units, of the $1 million to $3 million variety, are more digestible for some buyers,' he said. 'They appeal to end-users who are moving from renting to buying now that rents have risen so fast.'

DTZ is marketing a floor of offices at Peninsula Plaza near the City Hall area, consisting of six strata units with a total floor area of about 8,500 sq ft. The units are tenanted at about $4 psf, but rents in the building have moved up to between $7 and $8 psf, said Mr Poh.

The indicative price for the floor is $17.5 million, or about $2,050 psf. At this price, with a projected $7.50 psf rental, the net yield works out to about 4 per cent, he added.

Since the property went on the market earlier this week, DTZ has received 'more than 10 enquiries', Mr Poh said.

'Some are investors looking to buy the whole floor, but we've also seen interest from end-users in electronics or shipping firms who are interested in buying just one or two units.'

In general, however, experts feel that strata-office sales might not be as strong in the first quarter of this year as last year.

Colliers International has not yet sold any strata offices at auction this year, after selling one a month between October and December. In December, a 3,003 sq ft unit was sold at United House, for a healthy $2,497 psf.

But Mr Poh said that, while sales might slow, prices are unlikely to fall any time soon.

'Prices have not gone up, but neither have they come down,' he said.

'If they can be maintained in such an environment, and if things get a bit more optimistic, prices could even go up 10 to 20 per cent over the next year.'

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