Real Estate Investment:Today

Hong Kong expats boost Singapore housing market as they flee strict Covid rules

Singapore’s leading property website expects to cash in on an influx of house-hunters from Hong Kong, as expatriates fleeing the Chinese city’s strict Covid measures race to secure prime residences in its rival financial centre.

The chief executive of PropertyGuru, which in March completed a New York listing backed by billionaires Peter Thiel and Richard Li, said the Hong Kong exodus was driving up prices in Singapore’s most in-demand neighbourhoods.

“In pockets, it’s a high-demand, low-supply market, for sure. If you wanted a [house] along [central area] Bukit Timah near the British school, you’re screwed,” chief executive Hari Krishnan said in an interview.

Higher prime Singapore house prices could brighten the outlook for PropertyGuru, which has suffered a nearly one-fifth fall in its share price since listing via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

The company charges estate agents higher fees to list more expensive properties, so stands to benefit as prices rise.

But Krishnan said the new demand was concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, with areas not favoured by expats unlikely to see similar growth. Home price growth across the city slowed to just 0.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, after the government introduced measures including higher property taxes to cool the market.

“There is real estate available. You can get it at an affordable price,” said Krishnan. “If you choose to live in specific enclaves that are all Aussie, all Brit, all Indian, whatever, that’s your choice. Those are oversubscribed.”

Since Singapore began to loosen Covid-19 restrictions in October, it has received a wave of white-collar workers seeking to escape the quarantines and other measures associated with Hong Kong’s continued pursuit of zero Covid.

Hari Krishnan, chief executive of PropertyGuru: ‘In pockets, it’s a high-demand, low-supply market, for sure’ © Danny Santos

Overseas investors are also returning to the Singapore property market, which has long been one of the most popular places for foreigners to park their money. Krishnan said PropertyGuru was making plans to expand beyond the consumer market and to sell its data to institutional investors.

“Singapore is a property-mad country. There’s more money in real estate than in the stock market,” he said, adding that foreign investors were attracted by the stability of the city-state’s politics, economy and legal system.

Krishnan was speaking a week after his company raised about $254mn through its New York debut on March 18, following a merger with the special purpose acquisition company Bridgetown 2, backed by Thiel and Li.

PropertyGuru, which aborted plans to list in Australia in 2019, followed through with the New York listing despite a global decline in technology stocks and mounting regulatory scrutiny of Spac listings.

Despite PropertyGuru’s share price fall since listing, Krishnan said backing from Thiel and Li gave the company “phenomenal access to sophisticated investors in North America and north Asia”.

“The company is much stronger than it was in 2019,” he added. “We successfully listed the business on the largest stock exchange in the world, so we take that as a successful endorsement.”

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