Jan 2, 2010

Weak economy hits commercial unit sales

Number steady, but total value last year was nearly half that of 2008

By Joyce Teo

THE number of commercial units sold in Singapore has remained largely steady last year.

But that statistic tells only part of the story. The total value of these sales nearly halved from 2008, according to a recent Knight Frank study.

Last year, 695 commercial units were sold, down 6.4 per cent from 2008 and nearly 65 per cent from the all-time high of 1,849 units in 2007, the study found.

The weak economy and property market took their toll. Knight Frank said the value of commercial units sold plummeted 47 per cent to $1.39 billion last year.

The consolation is that this is still 169 per cent higher than the all-time low value figure that was recorded in 1998 - and the outlook is now brighter.

These commercial units are shophouses as well as strata units for offices and shops - which are accessible to individual investors.

According to Knight Frank, the 'modest value' of commercial units transacted last year came about as investors were careful with their money and chose to buy lower-priced commercial units.

They were a lot less keen on strata office units owing to a fall in office rents, which hurt investor confidence. This was essentially the sole reason for the nosedive in the sales value of commercial units sold last year.

There was a 10 per cent fall in transactions of strata office units to 188 units, said Knight Frank's executive director and head of commercial resale, Ms Mary Sai. However, the units sold were worth only $582.7 million, down a hefty 69 per cent from 2008 and way below the long-term annual average of $1.143 billion. Price-sensitive buyers bought some strata offices at Chinatown Point, Fortune Centre and Peninsula Plaza.

Apart from these strata office units in the lowest price range of $500,000 to less than $1 million, sales activity in this segment stagnated or fell last year.

In contrast, the number of deals involving shops and shophouses shot up by 24 per cent to 271 units and 5 per cent to 236 units respectively. The value of these deals rose by about 10 per cent from 2008, with about $233.5 million worth of shop units sold and $571.2 million worth of shophouses changing hands.

Still, sales activity was largely restricted to strata shops costing less than $500,000, said Ms Sai.

Colliers International said in an earlier report that shop units in this price category were a clear favourite with small investors. Last year, the shop units it auctioned off included three at Grandlink Square in Guillemard Road costing $300,000 to $438,000, and a unit at Golden Landmark in Bugis for $365,000.

In the shophouse category, the rise in activity was seen in shophouses belonging to the mid-price band of $1 million to less than $2 million, Knight Frank said.

These shophouses were in Geylang Road, Joo Chiat area, North Bridge Road and Haji Lane. While there are no restrictions on foreigners buying commercial properties, Singaporeans continued to make up the bulk of buyers of commercial units last year, Knight Frank said.

They accounted for 74 per cent of strata shop transactions, 50 per cent of shophouse deals and 48 per cent of strata office unit deals, it said.

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