International Asia Hong Kong professionals may view Singapore as politically stable and safe but...

Hong Kong professionals may view Singapore as politically stable and safe but they’re not all flocking there to take cover

Contrary to most people's predictions, Singapore's housing market is not turning out to be the beneficiary of Hong Kong’s protests. Instead, investors are looking to cheaper property markets like Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan

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Not everyone in Hong Kong is a rich billionaire, thus, not everyone can afford to migrate to Singapore to avoid the raging political unrest that has been going on for months now.

As Hong Kong’s anti-government protests are nearing its fourth month, many well-heeled people in Hong Kong have been weighing their options and looking for alternative lifestyles and busy making and implementing their “exit” plans. These plans range from getting funds out of Hong Kong or physically moving from the city.

However, contrary to most people’s predictions, Singapore’s housing market is not turning out to be the beneficiary of Hong Kong’s protests. Instead, investors are looking to cheaper property markets like Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan.

It is not that Hong Kong buyers are deliberately avoiding Singapore, many simply do not have the money to move to a city where property is also expensive. For those who can afford it, they like Singapore’s active resale market.

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“Professionals are interested in Singapore because it’s politically stable and safe,” said David Hui, a general manager at Centaline. They’re mostly in “finance or law, or owners of businesses over 35.”

Yet even Hui said that with all the talk of people relocating to Singapore, the Malaysian flats are actually the ones that are selling, with transaction volumes in some areas up as much as 50%.

“The Hong Kong protests are like hitting a beehive with a stick,” Savills’ Alan Cheong said. “The bees buzz out of the hive, but they’re not all flying to Singapore. They’re going everywhere else instead.”

“People here tend to think there are only two cities in the world – Hong Kong and Singapore,” ……. “They think if people flee Hong Kong, they’ll all automatically come to Singapore. But everyone isn’t Li Ka-shing. Most are just ordinary salaried workers,” he said, referring to Hong Kong’s richest billionaire.

Singapore is particularly expensive when extra costs, like additional buyer’s stamp duty, are factored in. Foreigners buying residential property in the city state since July 2018 pay stamp duty of 20 per cent, up from 15 per cent before the government cooling measures were introduced.

Statistics culled from ERA Research & Consultancy show that Hong Kong citizens bought just 12 flats in Singapore in the first half of 2019, down from 32 in the first six months of 2018. From July through mid-August, when street protests aggravated, it went down to just four.  Abroad, Canada and Australia are popular, although not for those wanting to remain close to Hong Kong with a view to perhaps one day move back.

Hong Kong buyers are attracted to Malaysia due to the country’s tropical weather, cleaner air, good education system, attractive properties and mix of Asian values and Western infrastructure.

Singapore considered a good option for migration

According to property agents and educators, in the midst of the worsening political crisis, an escalating number of Hong Kong residents were looking to purchase homes in Singapore, and enroll their children in schools there.

Clarence Foo, associate deputy group director at real estate agency OrangeTee & Tie, said inquiries from Hong Kong residents had risen by about 30% to 40% in the past two months.

“Singapore has all along been popular among Hongkongers because of [how close it is], but the recent protests definitely had an impact, either by moving forward their plans of relocating or giving them the reason to do so,” said Foo, who currently has five clients from the city. They comprise families and singles, with the latter looking for “an alternative home or backup option for now”.

At the ISS International School, which offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum, admission inquiries have risen 50% to 60% in the past two months, said Paul Adamberry, the school’s director for marketing communications and admissions.

“I believe some people have started opening accounts in private banks in Singapore but I have not seen a huge amount of real estate transactions yet as the foreign-buyer stamp duty in Singapore is relatively high,” explained She, who added that immigration policies in Singapore were “very strict”.

Chandran V.R., managing director of property firm Cosmopolitan Real Estate, said prospective buyers from Hong Kong felt Singapore was more spacious and its homes offered more value for money.

His clients – mostly families with one or two children – often came with a budget of between S$5 million and S$20 million (US$3.7 million to US$14.7 million), and opted for listings in prime residential areas such as Singapore’s shopping district, Orchard Road.

The latest government figures show Singapore’s private home prices are on the rise, but even for those with smaller budgets and despite the additional buyers’ stamp duty, homes there are still more affordable than in Hong Kong.

“There is also a strong sense of safety and security due to the tight rule of law, and there is more stability here,” Chandran added.

Other factors such as the low crime rate and absence of natural disasters were a draw for George Chan, a Hongkonger who relocated to Singapore last year with his wife and their two-year-old son.

“Growing up in a more cosmopolitan environment would help [my son] be better equipped for the future that will be more and more globalised,” added 38-year-old Chan, who works in the finance industry. “The recent chaos also reaffirmed my decision.” -/TISG

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