Despite recession, 2020 sees S’poreans snapping up private property

Despite a pandemic and an economic recession, it has been a surprising year for the property market.

Property buyers began snapping up new homes as soon as the circuit breaker eased and they could visit showrooms again, contributing to a seesawing of private home sale numbers in the final months of the year as government regulations kicked in to cool the market.

In June, the same month that Singapore entered Phase One of its circuit breaker exit, private home sales hit a peak not seen since more than two years ago.

Amid the exuberance, the Government began warning house hunters not to overextend themselves financially, especially with the economic outlook still so uncertain.

The market only calmed down in October, after the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced that developers would not be able to reissue Options to Purchase once they had run out.

That month, new private home sales plunged almost 52 per cent, with 645 units sold. But the following month they picked up again, rising 18.9 per cent in November compared to the month before.


Given the exuberance of the property market in the second half of the year, some real estate agents said 2020 was one of their best years.

One, Mr Timothy Chen, said his sales revenue doubled this year from last year. Many of his clients are young buyers in their late 20s to early 30s who purchased private property.

“Younger buyers this year have realised that they are more financially able, and also because the market has given them the opportunity to enter now with the interest rates being low,” he said.

ERA Realty Network division director Shen Jiaming has also seen more clients buying property as investments this year, convinced that this period represents a low point in the economic cycle and that property prices will keep rising over the next 10 years.

“Some buyers were sitting on the fence and a lot of them were hoping for prices to drop but once I showed them the figures, it’s very clear that the prices are not going to drop,” he said.

He said he has seen a twofold increase in new clients this year, with half of them purchasing property as an investment.

“As long as Singapore keeps its position as a global city that attracts a lot of foreigners, I don’t see any issues,” said Mr Shen. “In fact, Covid-19 could be the catalyst that helps Singapore become a more attractive place than anywhere else.”

And with the pandemic resulting in more people working from home, some buyers saw this period as a good time to upgrade their properties as they are spending more time in them.

“I thought people might be fearful of their jobs and downgrade, but many upgraded,” said ERA division director Wendeline Goh. “A key driving factor is that most of them are working from home, so they need more space.”

She added that another group that is driving sales are those who are single and under-35, who are looking to move out of their parents’ home.

“Unforeseen circumstances like this have forced them to think about what they should do with their money,” said Ms Goh. “They take a home as something that is a safe haven, not only for investment but also as a place to stay.”


Bryan, who did not want to reveal his full name, bought two condominiums in the core central region for investments — one in February before the circuit breaker period and one in June.

One cost about S$1.5 million and the other S$1.7 million, and he bought them as he felt it was the “right timing”, as the units were 5 per cent and 10 per cent cheaper respectively, compared with when they were first launched.

“I heard that the developers were giving good discounts so I met my property agent who showed me the data and the charts showing the price was going down,” he said.

“Knowing Singapore’s property market, even when it goes down, it will go up eventually, so I took this opportunity to invest.”

Bryan, who is in his 40s, lives in a five-room Housing and Development Board unit in the heartlands with his family and has no plans to upgrade to a private home for himself.

“I don’t believe in spending unnecessarily in big houses,” he said. “I think I’m happy with where I’m staying now… instead of spending on stocks, I buy property, that’s it.

“I decided to buy property because the stock markets are too volatile.”

Asked if he was afraid his investments would not bear fruit given the uncertain economic conditions, Bryan said he had “full confidence” that the property market would see an upswing.

“I do know the situation in the global financial markets in the world, and a lot of foreigners think that Singapore is a safe haven,” he said.

He added that he is confident that his new properties will attract overseas buyers when travel restrictions are lifted, and he will eventually be able to sell them and make a profit.


For Ms Gwen Lee, buying a condo unit in August was a move she had planned since last year before Covid-19 hit, but the circuit breaker period gave her several “nudges” to put pen to paper.

Being single, the 33-year-old said that staying with her parents and being unable to travel during this period meant that she craved more personal space.

“Circuit breaker happened, and I felt like I was old enough to move out of the house,” she said. She added that not being able to travel also meant that she could save up and have more disposable income.

“These were not major factors, but it was a combination of factors leading up to (the purchase),” she said.

Furthermore, Ms Lee said she saw no slowdown in property price increases, and so did not want to further delay her purchase.

“I feel like property prices in Singapore will always be going up, especially if you’re not planning on getting married and you don’t qualify for Build-to-Order flats… I just decided to stop putting it off and started to take house-hunting a little more seriously.”

Asked if she is worried that the economy will get worse in the coming year and she will not be able to pay her loans for her S$1 million purchase, she said that she will consider renting out the unit and moving back into her parents’ home if her cash flow is affected.

“I’m hoping that if the situation gets worse, some government relief would come in to help people with their loans and debts,” she added.


Another buyer, who chose to remain anonymous, said that she bought a larger landed property in the Mountbatten area in November as she had planned this move for “quite some time”.

The 48-year old, who is in the consulting industry, bought the property even though its price had not dropped amid the pandemic.

“I don’t think there’s a drop in price, especially for the area I was keen on and it is quite difficult to find a property I like,” she said. “When the right house came by at a price I could afford, I went ahead.”

Her family had lived in another landed property prior to this purchase, but she wanted to move to a bigger place so her mother and in-laws could stay together.

Despite the economic uncertainty ahead, she is confident that she would be able to keep up with her mortgage payments.

“I had been wanting to buy the property for the longest time and had been planning my finances around it,” she said. “Even if the economy gets worse, I have done sufficient financial planning.”

Source: Today – 20 Dec 2020

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