HNWI Setting Up Homes in Singapore

Singapore’s luxury market has been in the news lately. First, British Billionaire James Dyson made waves on 9 July 2019 by purchasing the Wallich Residence super penthouse at a price of S$73.8 million. The 21,108 sq ft, triplex super penthouse spread across the 62nd to 64th storey of the 290m tall Guoco Tower by developer Guocoland is the largest penthouse and the highest residence in Singapore. This news made its rounds not just in the local dailies, but also in international press such as The Financial Times and the BBC.

Two weeks later, news broke that Sir Dyson had forked out another S$41 million for a hilltop Good Class Bungalow (GCB) located along Cluny Road with views of the Botanic Gardens, Singapore’s first and only UNESCO Heritage Site.

What makes this GCB deal an even greater surprise is that landed properties in Singapore, including the 2,800 plots located in the 39 GCB areas gazetted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), are classified as restricted properties and are limited for purchase and ownership by Singapore Citizens only. Besides their rarity, GCBs also come with strict planning conditions stipulated by the URA to preserve their exclusivity and low-rise character.

Singapore Permanent Residents, such as the Dysons, need to get special approval from the government to purchase and own GCBs. Criteria include making exceptional economic contributions in Singapore and the buyer can only use the GCB for owner occupation.

According to the Singapore Residential Property Act, foreigners are not allowed to own landed properties, which include bungalows. However, foreigners are allowed to own the bungalows at Sentosa Cove, a planned resort island to attract high-net-worth (HNW) foreign investors. Foreigners are allowed to own apartments in Singapore.

More recently, another blockbuster news came when a GCB plot in the prestigious Nassim Road area was sold for a record S$230 million. The sprawling land of 84,543 sq ft land was owned by the Chairman of Wing Tai Holdings, Cheng Wai Keung and his wife Helen. The Chengs are said to have owned the property since the 1980s and the rectangular site has been on the market as far back as 2013. The price works out to be S$2,721 psf.

The plot of lands comes with a two-storey bungalow, a tennis court and swimming pool. The site has a road frontage that is nearly 100m, and can be redeveloped into four or five bungalows.

The buyer is reported to be SG Casa Pte Ltd. However, the media has speculated that the party behind the trustee company could be Eduardo Saverin, the co-founder of Facebook who was also in the news in 2017 when he bought the super penthouse at SC Global Developments’ Sculptura Ardmore for $58 million or S$5,648 psf based on the strata area of 10,269 sq ft. Mr Saverin became a Singapore citizen in 2012.

In absolute price, the price is higher than the S$105.3 million that was paid by Tony Tung, the Singaporean chairman of Hong Kong-based Winson Group, for a freehold, 42,515 sq ft bungalow along Nassim Road in 2018.

In terms of psf of land area, this sale also dwarfs the record of S$2,730 psf set last year for a newly built bungalow at Jervois Hill on a 15,094 sq ft plot of land.

Besides Dyson and Saverin, another famous name that has been making rounds in Singapore’s media landscape was Jack Ma, who is said to have purchased a 30,000 sq ft site at Victoria Park Close. The Alibaba co-founder is supposedly building a two-storey bungalow with a basement and swimming pool.

In light of the geopolitical tensions in Hong Kong and United Kingdom, there could be increased interest from more foreign UHNW investors, the likes of Sir Dyson. Singapore's solid economic fundamentals, sound financial framework, ease of doing business, quality education and racial harmony continue to make it one of the choice locations for potential foreign investors.