An appetite for luxury

Despite the pandemic-induced recession in 2020, some luxury projects continued to sell well as developers responded by offering star buys and renovation packages.

DESIRABLE condominiums capture not only the amenities and features a buyer wants in the home, but also the atmosphere and personality the buyer wants in an ideal lifestyle. This is especially true for luxury apartments.

Luxury tends to be a fluid term in real estate. In Singapore, industry players generally adopt the view that a luxury apartment must be located in the core central region (CCR), of a size no less than 1,800 square feet (sq ft), priced from S$2,500 per square foot (psf), and from S$5 million onwards.

That said, it is a given that "luxury" will include the exclusivity of the address, unique architecture, designer finishes and fittings, beautiful landscaping and, in most cases, a private pool.

In recent years, where the Singapore property market has been hit by global economic uncertainties, property cooling measures and rising land prices, developers are increasingly building smaller units so as to widen the pool of buyers to ultra-high-net-worth singles and investors.

In view of changing market conditions, List Sotheby's International Realty (List SIR) analysed the luxury market for the period 2016 to February 2021 via a three-tier classification:

  • Compact luxury - priced from S$2,800 psf onwards and within the range of S$2 million to S$4 million
  • Prime luxury - priced from S$2,500 psf onwards and from S$5 million and above, up to 5,000 sq ft in size
  • Premium luxury - priced from S$2,500 psf onwards and with sizes in excess of 5,000 sq ft

Based on this definition, the compact luxury segment will comprise one-, two- and compact three-bedroom types ranging from 600 sq ft to 1,200 sq ft.

Prime luxury units will include three- and four-bedroom types with sizes of 1,400 sq ft to 5,000 sq ft, while premium luxury homes will be four-bedroom and bigger types, including penthouses.


Transaction data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) shows a steady rise in luxury sales volume, from 160 units in 2016 to 416 units in 2018 and 423 units in 2019.

Following the bottoming out of the property market in mid-2017, 2018 and 2019 were good years for the luxury segment as market confidence gained traction on the back of a stable economy, low interest rates, high liquidity, as well as the return of foreign investors to the Singapore market.

It also helped that more new projects were offered during this period. Launched in 2016, Gramercy Park (174 units) was one of the early catalysts of the luxury market.

Caveat data showed that 45 units were sold in 2016, which rose swiftly to 91 units in 2017, at median prices of S$2,680 psf and S$2,780 psf respectively.

In 2018, New Futura (124 units), 8 Hullet (44 units), 8 Saint Thomas (250 units), 3 Orchard-By-The-Park (77 units) and 3 Cuscaden (96 units) were launched.

When Boulevard 88 (154 units) was put on the market in 2019 at around S$3,650 psf, it rode on the momentum that was already built up, and 89 units were sold.

In 2020, the pandemic set in and property viewings halted for nearly three months. Luxury sales volume fell to 254 units.

However, where developers intuitively responded to the situation by offering "star buys" and renovation packages, some projects continued to sell well despite the economic recession.

One of these was 8 Saint Thomas, of which 66 units were sold in 2020 - marginally lower than the 69 units sold in 2019. The median price of S$2,780 psf for the units sold in 2020 reflects a 12 per cent discount from the price of S$3,163 psf in 2019.

For the premium luxury segment, 2019 turned in the highest sales volume of 19 units. Of this number, 10 were penthouses sold for between S$17.9 million and S$52 million.

This number excludes the S$73.8 million super penthouse at Wallich Residence, as no caveat was lodged for the transaction. The S$52 million price tag was clinched by the 11,098 sq ft super penthouse at Boulevard Vue.

The high number of penthouses sold could be attributed to fresh supply from new projects.

All four penthouses in Boulevard 88 were sold for between S$28 million and S$31 million, along with the only two penthouses in 3 Orchard-By-The-Park at S$31.5 million and S$32 million.

Besides penthouses, four apartments at The Marq On Paterson Hill were sold. Priced between S$23 million and S$29.5 million, these were the 6,232 sq ft to 6,308 sq ft luxury units in the Signature Tower.


Statistics provided by the URA showed that Singapore permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners or non-permanent residents (NPRs) were dominant players in the luxury homes market, notwithstanding the increase in the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) from July 6, 2018.

The ABSD for foreign buyers was raised from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, while the ABSD for Singaporeans and PRs buying their second and subsequent properties was raised by five percentage points from their previous levels.

Caveat data from 2016 to February 2021 shows that more than half of the units sold at Gramercy Park, New Futura, 3 Orchard-By-The-Park and Boulevard 88 were bought by foreigners. Including permanent residents, the proportion rose to over 70 per cent, except for 3 Orchard-By-Park which registered 68 per cent.

For 8 Hullet, 8 Saint Thomas and 3 Cuscaden, which feature more compact luxury units, Singaporeans made up 50-60 per cent of the buyers.

Foreign ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) are key players in the Singapore luxury apartment market. As the rule is that only Singapore citizens are allowed to buy Good Class Bungalows (GCBs), UHNWIs who desire a spacious luxury residence with a coveted address would acquire premium luxury homes.

To name a few noteworthy purchases in 2020, Alibaba Partnership member Yu Yongfu paid S$26 million for a duplex penthouse (6,372 sq ft) in Hilltops condominium; Indonesia-born tycoon and US citizen Leo Koguan paid S$62 million for the super penthouse (21,108 sq ft) at Wallich Residence; and Huang Youlong, the businessman husband of Chinese actress Vicki Zhao, bought a duplex penthouse (8,740 sq ft) at Ardmore Park for S$27.65 million.


Besides the three-tier luxury market described, there is a yet higher echelon of luxury homes - namely, the "opulent collection". This collection includes EDEN at Draycott Park, which was completed a year ago, and Les Maisons Nassim which is currently under construction. EDEN was designed by award-winning, London-based Heatherwick Studio and comprises 20 exclusive apartments with garden balconies, each with four ensuite bedrooms and occupies an entire floor. It was recently reported that all 20 units in EDEN have been sold for S$293 million or S$4,827 psf, reflecting a 20 per cent discount from the asking price of S$6,000 psf for this bulk deal.

Nestled within Nassim Road, Les Maisons Nassim is set to be a luxurious sanctuary that offers an unrivalled premier lifestyle with 14 limited-edition units. The project is now open for preview.

Although the economy is not out of the woods, market sentiments have improved as some industries such as pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, tech and telecommunications have done well, and the stock market has recovered some lost ground. Foreign investors have found assurance in the way the Singapore government handled the Covid-19 pandemic. We can expect more of them to come to set up both their businesses and residences here in 2021 and beyond.

  • The writer is research director at List Sotheby's International Realty.


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