Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taxi scams in South East Asia

Taxi scams praying on foreigners are extremely common in South East Asia and this annoying experience can ruin your holiday or business trip from day 1.  Thailand and Malaysia always have been the worst places to take a taxi but Vietnam and other recently popular destinations are also catching up. The experience is very annoying, I know some people who would never ever again step in Thailand or Malaysia because of these scams. 

Taxi scams are usually designed to make you pay double or triple the actual fare you would pay but sometimes it can go to the extremes.

Take a look at this recent episode of an extreme taxi scam in Malaysia:
"An English tourist was charged RM450 (S$187) for a taxi ride from KL Sentral to the Suria KLCC shopping centre, a distance of less than 10km. The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) said the tourist paid the fare before lodging a report against the driver. 
SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said they were investigating and would take action against the taxi driver and the operator. He said the taxi driver was believed to have threatened the tourist into paying the fee."
Source : Briton charged $187 for 10km taxi trip in Kuala Lumpur
And this is from Vietnam:

"Last week, Rasnita Mohd Rasid and her friend took their longest taxi ride. 
In terms of geographical distance, it was not too long, as Rasid and her friend discovered when they took the return journey on the same route in another taxi. From Tan Son Nhat International Airport to Ben Thanh Market, the taxi driver charged them VND150,000 (US$7.3), which is when the enormity of the swindle they were victims of really sank in. 
The taxi driver who took them from the market to the airport had demanded $400 (more than VND8 million plus another 300 Malaysian Ringgit ($98.6)) and Rasid had ended up paying VND4 million, almost $200. Worse still, they had been dropped far outside the airport in the rain, and made to walk after paying a colossal sum."
Source : Taken for a ride 
The best way to avoid taxi scams are to avoid taking taxis, especially between city center and airport. For example, I am so pissed of with the taxi drivers in Malaysia that although my company pays for the taxi in business trips, I still take the train to KL Central from the airport. Same for Thailand.

But you will need to take taxi from time to time. In this case, be prepared. Read relevant articles about your destination in wikitravel and pay attantion to taxis section. For example By taxi from the airport section of Ho Chi Minh City in wikitravel has invaluable information on taxis which would save you a lot! The section starts as Read Carefully :

"Read carefully: Taxis at HCM airport is the worst scam, and one of the worst experiences about visiting Vietnam. By reading below and taking the best of cautions, hopefully you will not have your visit ruined right from the start! ...."
Source : Ho Chi Minh City - WikiTravel Page

As a frequent visitor to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, I can confirm that the advises here are very good and can save you a lot of time, money, face and peace of mind. For example as they have indicated in the above article I only take taxis belonging to Vinasun and Mai Linh companies even before reading this article (this article thought me to be careful about their copies).

An if you find your self in the middle of a such scam, treat it as a robbery and do not risk your safety by fighting back. Just copy every details about the taxi and the driver (do not try to take a photo if he can see you) and immediately after the incident inform the police. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top 5 best rooftop views in Singapore

So you think the best rooftop view of Singapore is from Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Observation Deck. Think again. Here are the top 5 best rooftop views of Singapore and the best is not Marina Bay Sands.

#Number 5 – Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer, the giant Ferris wheel , has 28 air-conditioned capsules which can 28 passengers. It goes up to 165 meter and a complete rotation of the wheel takes about 30 minutes. Although the view is only the 5th best in Singapore, it is a great place to have both the view and a great private event such as company events, solemnization, birthday parties, etc.

#Number 4 – Pinnacle@Duxton Skybridge

I actually prefer this place to Marina Bay Sands Skypark since it is more centrally located and allows you to walk 360 degrees around the deck, it comes 4th due to one big drawback: East and North view is obstructed by skyscrapers of the downtown. The 50th storey skybridge on Pinnacle@Duxton, tallest public housing buildings in Singapore, is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily. Only 200 people are let to access to the skybridge per day and check the daily quota left from its web site before heading to the skybridge. For a detailed review you can read Pinnacle@Duxton Skybridge.

Pinnacle@Duxton Skybridge
View from Pinnacle@Duxton Skybridge
#Number 3 – Marina Bay Sands Skypark
Marina Bay Sands Skypark observation deck, on the eastern side of the deck lying 200 meters above Marina Bay Sands Hotel towers. Is marketed as the place to have the best view of Singapore but comes third in our list. Although the view is great and many tourists will end up here to have a bird-eye view of Singapore, the usually overcrowded public observation area is a small segment of overall deck on the east side and is 50 meter below the Equinox Restaurant and 80 meters below 1-Altitude.  Although looks central, it is actually located a little out of the city and this makes it difficult to observe landmarks and streets of Singapore from here. If you are with the kids or cannot wait until 18:00, this is the best option, otherwise head to 1-Altitude. Entrance is a little more expensive there but it includes a free drink.

For a detailed review of Marina Bay Sands SkyPark, you can read Marina Bay Sands SkyPark - 360 degree view of Singapore.

#Number 2 - Swissôtel's New Asia Bar 
At the 71th floor of one of the South East Asia’s tallest hotel building, Swissotel The Stamford Hotel, and in the middle of Singapore city center, this skybar offers the best view of Singaore CDB. Web page is here.

Swissôtel's New Asia Bar
Swissôtel's New Asia Bar 
# Number 1 - 1-Altitude
Located at the rooftop of one of Singapore’s tallest buildings, UOB Building, 1-Altitude fresco bar offers the best bird-eye view of Singapore from 282 meters above the ground. Entrance is 25 SGD per person before 21:00 and 30 SGD per person after that which includes a free drink. The best time to go there is the opening hour of 18:00 if you are heading there for the view since you can see the stunning view with daylight and then in the night. For a detailed review, you can read 1-Altitude Rooftop Bar: Best view of Singapore.


Monday, February 27, 2012

How to get to Marina Bay Sands?

Marina Bay Sands is one of the two integrated resorts(*) which is the most easily seen and accessed due to its location. Although it is at a very central location (constructed on downtown reclaimed land to be developed in the next ten to twenty years), it may a little be tricky to arrive there if you are not using a taxi. Marina Bay Sands is located at the Bayfront Area and the easiest public transportation mode to there is the newly opened Bayfront MRT Station (MRT = Mass Rapid Transit, used in Singapore for metro/subway) located in the Marina Bay area. This station is on the Circle Line Extension between Promenade and Marina Bay.

If you are coming via Promenade MRT station on the circle line you should leave the train at Bayfront MRT Station, not Marina Bay MRT Station. Second thing you need to be careful is that the final destination of the MRT train you will take from Promenade MRT Station. A train going to Dhoby Ghaut is followed by each MRT train heading to Marina Bay station from the same gate. Pay attention to the screens and take the one going to Marina Bay station if you are heading to Marina Bay Sands.

If you are coming from red line (i.e. Orchard Road, Novena, Newton and above) you can head to the Marina Bay Sands Station, the first station of the red line,  North South Line, and then change to Circle Line (Yellow Line) and reach Bayfront MRT Station.

If you are heading there by taxi, you can calculate the cost by taxi fare calculator. Currently, taxi fare calculator shows a 25 minutes taxi trip which costs 19.41 Singapore Dollars from Singapore Changi Airport to Singapore Marina Bay Sands.

Taxi fare from Singapore Changi Airport to Singapore Marina Bay Sands as of late Feb 2012
(*) You may ask what integrated resort is. Integrated resort is a casino and facilities sugarcoating it (usually a shopping mall and a gamblers-inn). The term is invented in Malaysia to hide the main attraction from the consciousness and is also adapted in Singapore probably for the same reason).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Private property prices may fall 12% in the first few months of 2012

Although sales of new private residential properties are very high just a month after the new Singapore property cooling measures targeting non resident foreign investors, some analysts are expecting private residential property prices to fall as much as 12 per cent over the next three months of 2012 and demand for private homes to decline as well over the next few months:

"Analysts say the recent move by the Government to introduce additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD) as a further cooling measure may dampen demand from potential upgraders who make up the bulk of private property buyers here. The decline in sales and prices are also expected to affect mass market private homes more this time round as the luxury segment has already been hit when the latest property cooling measures were introduced late last year. 
ECG Property managing director Shawn Tan told MediaCorp that "the additional stamp duties hinder upgraders which form up the majority number of the mass market purchasers. We should be seeing a bit of correction in prices, say 8 per cent to 12 per cent for the next two to three months". Even last month's spike in private home sales could not bolster analysts' sentiment on the property sector. They reckon that the rise in sales will unlikely be sustainable because it was not broad-based and, instead, most of the sales came mainly from only a few projects. 
SLP International Property Consultants executive director Nicholas Mak said "the strong sales in January were due to the strong take-up in 4 new launches in that month"."
Source : Private property prices to fall up to 12% over next 3 months: Analysts
Demand on private sales has already been falling  in Singapore in 2011. Demand fell sharply by 18.6% compared to 2010. The fall would be sharper if the number of private residential properties bought by foreigners did not rise 20.4 per cent to a record high last year! If new property cooling measures dampens the foreigner demand, the sales will fall sharper than 2011.

Four popular projects sold well last month: The Watertown (770 units), The Hillier (387 units), Parc Rosewood (198 units) and The Rainforest (executive condominium) (172 units). But the rest have only sold 550 units, close to 670 units sold in December 2011. The more worrying trend is that most of the units sold were very small 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom units preferred by investors. Singapore's property stock is changing rapidly in the past 10 years due to ultra expensive prices and units are shrinking in size while increasing in price.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sharp fall in total private home sales in 2011

The media in Singapore is usually focused on the new property sales by developers to follow the property sales numbers in Singapore. But the real deal is the overall number of properties sold in a given time both by developers and owners in the market. According to a DTZ Research report total private home sales in Singapore in 2011 fell sharply by 18.6% compared to a year ago. The fall would be sharper if the number of private residential properties bought by foreigners did not rise 20.4 per cent to a record high last year!

If you are seeing less and less people in the little red dot buying private property but wondering how sales numbers are up, this report will enlighten you: Private residential properties purchased by Singaporeans in fact fell a sharp 24.3 per cent to 20,079 units. Singapore Permanent Residents did not do better and their purchases declined 15.7 per cent to 4,072 units. It is pretty obvious that private properties are becoming increasingly less affordable for Singapore residents both citizens and PRs.

Foreigner numbers increased to new highs, especially the mainland Chinese buyers who seem like on a crazy mission to create a world wide property bubble:

For the whole of last year, foreigners purchased 5,246 units, breaching the previous high of 4,982 units in 2007. They accounted for 17 per cent of the 30,133 private homes purchased, up from 12 per cent in 2010 and the highest proportion in the past 15 years.
Buyers from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India continued to be dominant groups, accounting for 77 per cent of transactions among non-Singaporeans, up from 73 per cent in 2010. Mainland Chinese buyers alone accounted for 28 per cent of non-Singaporean purchases last year, up from 20 per cent in 2010, as their growing wealth and restrictions on purchases back home led to more purchases, DTZ said.

With the introduction of Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty in December 2011, it is now less attractive to buy private residential property in Singapore for investment purposes and it is expected that the percentage of foreign buyers as well as the total private home sales (new development + second hand) are expected to fall. Still, two strong pillars are still supporting the prices, the super low interest rates and super high private property rentals. As long as they are there, there will be positive or very little negative monthly cash-flow from the investment and owners will likely have power to hold on high asking prices.

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Singapore Property News Update Feb 2012

Banks cut lending to shoe-box buyers
Banks may be taking the property price fall scenario in 2012 seriously; according to the PropertyGuru at least one bank in Singapore is now declining all finance applications for properties under 500 sq ft in size, shoe-box units, in Singapore:

"An employee of CIMB who declined to be named told PropertyGuru that financing for shoe-box units is simply no longer being offered. "It's just too risky right now" he said, adding that he understands most banks are not even considering applications from individuals with a substantial deposit and perfect credit history."
Source : Banks cut lending to shoe-box buyers

Property analysts say that the buyers of these units are usually investors and unlike owner-occupiers they are more likely to default. The problem, in my opinion, is that these units are bought by investors with very unrealistic rent prospects. Although I believe there will be good rental demand for these units, current high rental expectations are high for the long term. When all those tens of thousands of new properties are completed by 2015, there will be a lot of option to choose from and current high asking prices for shoe-box units will be history.

Resale HDB flat prices are set to fall 3 – 5% in 2012
2011 saw the release of 25,000+ new HDB flats and 2012 will see the same number of new HDB flat releases. This is the highest number in a year in the last 15 years and 3 times higher than the average of 8,000 units per year in the previous decade. Although these units will not enter the HDB resale market in the next 7-8 years (2-3 years to build + 5 years of Minimium Occupancy Period) and ease the severe supply crunch, they will remove a significant demand from the market. The income ceiling raise from 8,000 SGD per month to 10,000 SGD per month will also make more people eligible for new flats. There is also one more important plus. HDB has decided to build new flats in mature estates which was also drawing demand to resale market because of the location choices.

So, "Property agency bosses are predicting a 3 to 5 per cent fall in the prices of resale Housing Board flats. This correction could even hit 10 per cent if the euro zone crisis worsens and Singapore’s economy is affected, said the head honchos of major local agencies at a conference yesterday."
Source : Prices of Resale flats to fall 3 – 5%

Actually strong signs of a correction has already began in a large and important part of resale HDB cost, COV:

Cash Over Valuation (COV) falling in 2012 allover Singapore
As if the HDB resale flat prices are not ridiculously high, there is also the issue of Cash Over Valuation (COV), where you need to pay a high sum over already high HDB resale flat price. And they are falling (although still not reasonable):
"Cash premiums demanded by those selling their Housing Board flats are falling across the island, and by some 20 to 30 per cent in most flat types. Property agencies told The Straits Times that this is the result of the record number of new flats released by the HDB, as well as upcoming policy changes, which are putting the brakes on both supply and demand in the resale market. According to fresh figures compiled by The Straits Times, the overall median cash-over-valuation (COV) amount for all flat types based on last month’s deals has dropped in the range of $4,700 to $8,000. It has fallen more sharply for bigger flat types – as much as $10,000 for five-room flats and $17,000 for executive units."
Source : 30% drop in HDB flats COV prices
This may mean that resale HDB flats are no longer in as big a demand as before, especially with new private properties flooding the property market recently:
"Many property agencies noted that the sudden drop in COVs across the market was mainly due to the record number of flats launched by the government and the upcoming policy changes, which are expected to limit the supply and demand of resale flats."
Source : COVs for flats drop a massive 20-30%
Private residential property sales in January 2012 rise by three times compared to December 2011
Singapore is becoming a textbook case of credit fueled, low interest rate/high inflation environment forced  property bubble and party may not stop until the fuel of zero-interest rate dries up. Singapore private property sales were up sharply in January 2012 and news of high sales are pouring in. Nearly  500 new homes were sold over the week of Feb 13th:
"The sales figures show you the number of investors that are in the market...low borrowing costs have left them with few alternatives, liquidity doesn’t know where else to go,” he said."
Unfortunately, these people may well be survivor investors hoping for a greater fool (The greater fool theory is the belief held by one who makes a questionable investment, with the assumption that they will be able to sell it later to "a greater fool"; in other words, buying something not because you believe that it is worth the price, but rather because you believe that you will be able to sell it to someone else at an even higher price - Greater Fool Theory)

Sharp fall in total private home sales in 2011
The media in Singapore is usually focused on the new property sales by developers to follow the property sales numbers in Singapore. But the real deal is the overall number of properties sold in a given time both by developers and owners in the market. According to a DTZ Research report total private home sales in Singapore in 2011 fell sharply by 18.6% compared to a year ago. The fall would be sharper if the number of private residential properties bought by foreigners did not rise 20.4 per cent to a record high last year! Read more here.

Private property prices may fall 12% in the first few months of 2012
Although sales of new private residential properties are very high just a month after the new Singapore property cooling measures targeting non resident foreign investors, some analysts are expecting private residential property prices to fall as much as 12 per cent over the next three months of 2012 and demand for private homes to decline as well over the next few months. Read more here.

Sibu Island : Tropical heaven right next to Singapore

Singapore lacks the beaches and resorts nested in lush tropical forests you would expect from a tropical island, thanks to its heavy urbanization. When in Singapore for a mid or long term, you need to fly to Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia to experience a tropical island holiday. If you do not want a flight, Bintan, Batam and Tioman Islands are accessible from Singapore with ferry and bus.

Malaysia's Sibu Island is not a very well known getaway destination from Singapore. But this small tropical island, about 130 km north of Johor Bahru,  is just 3 hours away from Singapore with a bus + half an hour boat travel. In fact Sibu Island is the closest island to Singapore for skuba diving and it offers excellent skuba diving and snorkeling experience.

Sibu is actually an archipielago made up of Pulau Sibu Besar (base island), Pulau Sibu Tengah, Pulau Sibu Hujung, Pulau Kukus and Pulau Tinggi. There are several resorts on the islands (most of them on base island) to stay such as Sea Gyspsy Village Resort, Rimba Island Resort, Sibu Island Cabanas, Kambau Bay Beach Resort, Twin Beach Resort, Sibu Coconut Village Resort, Junansa Villa Resort and Sibu Island Resort.

Sibu Island Malaysia Map
This map shows the location of Pulau Sibu (Sibu Island).
It is just 130 km north of Johor Bahru and is only
3 hours away from Singapore.

We have had a 3 days-2 nights tour to Sibu Island Resort on one of the islands of Sibu. We have paid 661 SGD for 2 people (quite expensive in my opinion but still in the OK region).

Map of Sibu Island.

Since the island is near Singapore it is not hard to access it if you get a tour package. Our journey started very early in the night from the car park of Newton Hawker Center. As in our Tioman Island tour, we were the only people heading there in the bus. It took us half an hour to arrive to Malaysia and another 2 hours from Johor to the ferry we would take to the island.

Sibu Island Resort is on a small and lovely island full of small goats, peacocks and even gazelles. The sea is very near to the rooms and it takes 2-3 minutes from the rooms to the islands beach. The beach is quite and nice and the sea is clear. There are also some other resorts on Sibu Island to choose among.

Many people in Singapore are not aware of this small paradise just next to Singapore. Tioman Island is known to be near but it takes nearly 7 hours to arrive a northern resort on Tioman from Singapore by bus and ferry. In that sense, Sibu Island is much better since it takes only 3 hours to arrive to your destination on this island. So unlike Tioman Island, the day you are going to the island and returning from the island can be included into your relaxation time and you feel less tired.

But unlike Tioman there is no public transportation option to Sibu Island. There is no public transportation to Tanjung Leman, the access point to Sibu Island 130 km north of Johor. There is also no regular ferry and the boat must be arranged by the resort you are dealing with (but tour agents of course handle this).

For other nearby destinations to getaway from Singapore, see our Weekend getaways from Singapore post.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Will Singapore property prices fall in 2012?

Will Singapore property prices fall in 2012? This was the most asked question in 2011 which has started with a property cooling measure and is still the hot topic especially after a surprise cooling measure in December 2011. To add more confusion: the sales figures showed a sharp decline in December 2011 to 670 units and then jumped up to 2,000+ units in January 2012. It may actually be still too early to assess the impact of the last round of cooling measures, whether cooling measures really cool the market or not will be apparent in the next few months.

The last property cooling measures on December 2011 were in festive season and the jump in January 2012 was mostly attributed to a few projects which were awaited long and are in the class of most sought after properties : mixed-use. The units sold in these few popular developments, Watertown, The Hillier and Parc Rosewood were 72 per cent of all private property sales in January and most of them were small one bedroom or two bedroom units, favourite among local buyers.

The last measures are aimed at foreign buyers whose ratio among all buyers were rising fast. And it is obvious that they were designed to prevent excessive flow of printed money in the form of property investment from China and West to Singapore. But this easy money is still available to Singaporean buyers in the form of super low interest rates. So for buyers this situation creates an artificial affordability and for sellers the cheap loan rates creates an artificial holding power. And artificial or not the super low interest rates rule the market.

Still, things are quite different compared to Jan 2011 now. Growth slowed down to 4.9% in 2011 from 14% in 2010. This is expected to slow down to 1-3% in 2012. In Singapore, as in other parts of Asia, growth mostly comes from increase in working age population, not productivity. So, less growth in Singapore means less growth in influx of foreign talent, major demand source for rental units.

Immigration rules are tighter now compared to 2011. Although the tight criteria in Employment Pass work visa is far from making foreign workers less desirable, tight criteria and falling approval numbers in Singapore PR approvals combined with additional ABSD for foreigners will probably have some effect. It is now 10% more expensive to buy a private flat in Singapore for a EP holder and it is difficult for him/her to get PR.

But does these all mean the Singapore property prices are poised to fall in 2012? I do not think this is the inevitable end for home prices. One supporter of the house prices, low interest rates, are still there and in my opinion they are the most powerful force determining the price now. Contrary to what Ben Bernanke says, artificially low interest rates have fueled the housing bubble in USA. The Federal Reserve dramatically lowered interest rates in the wake of the Dot-com bubble which spurred easy credit for banks to make loans and by 2006 the rates had moved up to 5.25% which lowered the demand and increased the monthly payments for adjustable rate mortgages. The resulting foreclosures increased supply, dropping housing prices further. And fast forward to 2011, low interest rates are again fueling bubbles in the world, this time not restricted to only property and the USA. As long as interest rates holds, prices can hold. And as long as FED promises later dates to increase rates, people will more and more believe that the rates will not go up and party will run forever.

So party can last longer and prices can even go higher when low interest rates are still there. So prices may not fall in 2012 but this may well mean that when they eventually fell, it would create more damage.

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Singapore private property sales up sharply in January 2012

Just after a sharp decline in December 2011, Singapore property sales are up sharply in the first month of 2012 with 2,077 units are sold including the executive condominiums. There were just 670 units were sold in December. The increase is despite the new property cooling measures introduced by Singapore Government in December 2011 and the numbers may result in one more round of property cooling measures if they stay elevated like this.

Singapore property market has been bubbled up to its historical high levels over endless money printing in major economies like USA, Europe and China. Artificially low interest rates mean artificial affordability in Singapore property market where monthly rents minus monthly mortgage payments generate strong positive cash flow. Although the large rebound next month was attributed to several large mass market developments since these so-called mass market units have ultra high price tags, it seems like the zero interest rate party is still going on.

We are in an era in which private residential flats priced around 1 million Dollar, 11 times the average yearly household income of Singapore, are referred as mass market and the never ending demand for them are referred as "healthy" by the experts. The best selling projects of January 2011 were mixed-use developments named The Hillier and Watertown which are popular among investors hoping to rent the finished units out.

One highlight of the month was that that the high end segment, in which an apartment flat in Singapore is priced more than Beverly Hills palaces, only 17 homes were sold.  City fringe did a little bit better with 97 units. These 2 segments were dominated by foreigners who are probably put of by the additional buyer's stamp duty of 10 percent introduced in December 2011. 

Sharp increase in number of Singapore Work Visa Holders

Number of foreign workers has significantly increased in Singapore from 2010 to 2011. Each of three work pass categories (Employment Pass, S Pass and work permits) recorded increases but the fastest growth was in the number of employment pass holders. There were 115,000 Singapore EP holders in 2009. This number has increased to 142,000 in 2010 and as of December 2011 there are 176,000 Singapore Employment Pass holders. A 53 % jump in just 2 years!

Employment Pass is a work visa issued to higher wage earners in Singapore (3,000 SGD per month or more)   with recognized educational diploma/degree and professional qualifications. There are 3 types of Employment Pass;  P1 Pass for foreigners earning a fixed monthly salary of at least S$8,000, P2 Pass for foreigners earning a fixed monthly salary of at least S$4,500 (with  recognized qualifications) and Q1 Pass for foreigners earning a fixed monthly salary of at least S$3,000 (recognized qualifications).

Number of S-Pass holders has also increased during this period. In December 2009 there were 82,000 S-Pass holders in Singapore. This number has jumped to 98,000 in 2010 and as of December 2011 there were 113,000 S-Pass holders in Singapore. S-Pass is for foreigners who make a fixed salary of at least 1,800 SGD per month and applies to mid-level skilled workers such as technicians.

Number of work permit holders excluding the foreign maids has increased from 670,000 in 2010 to 702,000 in 2011.

Number of Singapore Work Visa Holders 2009 - 2011
2009 2010 2011 2009 vs 2011
Employment Pass 115,000 142,000 176,000 53.04%
S-Pass 82,000 98,000 113,000 37.80%
TOTAL 197,000 240,000 289,000 46.70%

The sharp increases in the number of foreigners also shows that whatever growth Singapore is experiencing is still too much dependent on increasing the working age population rather than the real wealth generator source : increasing the productivity.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Singapore PR (Permanent Residency) 2012 outlook

As we have entered 2012, it is time to review Singapore Permanent Residency (PR) outlook for 2012. Since the 79,200 PR approval peak of 2008, the PR approval numbers declined sharply and rejection numbers increased every year. We do not know the numbers for the last year yet but I expect that the trend continued into 2011 based on anectodial evidence and I expect strict criteria for PR approval condition will extend into the near future and it will be more difficult to secure permanent residence in Singapore.

Last year this time when we were writing the Best time to apply for PR in Singapore article, things were already trending down for hopeful prospects. But at that time the common thinking was that the downward trend in Singapore PR approvals were due to the upcoming general elections of May 2011 and the government will ease the criteria once the elections were over and we will find ourselves back in the relaxed immigration years of 2005 - 2008 period. Thus many have waited patiently for the elections to pass.

Well as we now know things did not end as expected. Many Singaporeans, both from opposition and government supporters as I have witnessed, have openly expressed their unease with fast influx of foreigners and relaxed immigration policies which have resulted an overcrowded and expensive city where everything per person is decreasing fast. Although GDP has grown in these years, the real measures of wealth like transportation space per person, housing space per person, hospital space per person (or simply space per person) has gone down or got more expensive in the recent years thanks to fast increase in number of persons. Transportation space, housing space or hospital space or etc. are definitely increasing. But the number of people sharing them is increasing faster.

It is now pretty obvious that 2005 - 2008 period of high PR intake rates were an opportunity window and were the best times to apply for PR. But these years are over and will probably not come back soon. Expect that 2011 approval rates will come even less than 2010 and 2012 will also not be the best time to apply for Singapore PR.
Singapore PR (Permanent Residency) 2012 outlook
Sharp decline in the number of Singapore PR approvals 
This does not mean you cannot apply for PR. If you have a very high income, you and your spouse has been in Singapore for a while, you have kids (especially you have also applied for them) you can still get a chance. But it looks to me now currently, Singapore's PR policy is something like "do not give PR to someone if he is not a real necessity for the country". On the other side, I hear that the renewal of Singapore PR is also getting difficult and the renewal rejections are also on the rise.

So if you are an average employee looking forward to apply for PR, make sure that your application is very strong. Each PR and Singapore Citizenship application is evaluated holistically on a set of criteria which includes factors such as the individual's economic contributions, qualifications, age and family profile to assess applicants' ability to contribute, integrate well into society and commitment to sinking roots.[1]
For example although you can apply with just 6 months of pay slips, it is also required to submit 2 tax return documents so an applicant with 2-3 years of work history in Singapore is in a better position compared to someone with only 6 months of experience and no history of tax payment in Singapore. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Resorts World Sentosa opens Equarius Hotel and Beach Villas

On 16 February 2012, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) will open the doors to not one but two  eco-luxurious hotels - the Equarius Hotel and Beach Villas - at its 49-hectare mega-resort. The two hotels are set to redefine resort-style vacations in Singapore with 360-degree views that take in the waterfront, the harbourfront skyline and a lush tropical rainforest.

“These two hotels cap the accommodation offerings at Resorts World Sentosa, which will be fully open once
the Marine Life Park, water theme park and destination spa are ready”, said Mr Roger Lienhard, Senior Vice President, Hospitality Development and Projects, RWS.

“The hotels are the perfect tranquil getaway, offering guests the chance to be close to nature, lush greenery
and serene waters. Yet, what sets the hotels apart is that guests are still just minutes away from the fun and
thrills of RWS, and within easy reach to the city for business travelers,” he added.

The iconic resort-style architecture of the  172-room  Equarius Hotel and 22 exclusive Beach Villas is
complemented by verdant foliage provided by the 2.9-hectare natural forest located at its fringe, as well as
4,000 trees planted by RWS in and around the hotels. With panoramic views of the waterfront, Keppel Bay and Labrador Park, the result is an unparalleled close-to-nature experience.

“We set out to create a tropical garden of peace and tranquility that rejuvenates the senses.  Upon arrival,
guests will feel like they are entering a different world, as they are greeted by a splendid avenue of trees on
both sides.  As the hotel comes into view, they will be awed by two majestic 80 – 100 year old Shorea trees, specially  chosen  for the arrival area, creating a natural yet ethereal landscape,”  said  Mr. Tsuyoshi Narita, Senior Associate of Peridian Asia, the landscape architecture firm behind the landscape design for the two hotels.

Equarius Hotel

Singapore’s two newest hotels will offer warm hospitality and the signature RWS VIP service provided by a
team of butlers. Guests at the  two hotels can enjoy facilities such as  seven meeting rooms, an event pavilion, gym and swimming pool, while a new restaurant helmed by award-winning celebrity chef Sam Leong will be housed in a magnificent glass house located adjacent to the Equarius Hotel  Lobby.   Opening on 16 February 2012, the aptly named  Forest will serve  chef Leong’s innovative contemporary Chinese cuisine with  a strong  Thai-influence.  Guests are also located steps away from the upcoming Marine Life Park, a water theme park and a world class luxury spa, offering a one-of-the-kind experience.

The two hotels are designed and conceptualised by award-winning American architectural firm, Michael
Graves & Associates, in collaboration with DP Architects Pte Ltd, as well as interior design firms Dpd + Pte Ltd and Diana Simpson Design.

The opening of the Equarius Hotel and Beach Villas marks another milestone for RWS, bringing  Singapore’s first integrated resort closer to its position as Asia’s number one family-holiday destination.  In addition to the two new hotels, two treetop lofts  above the canopy of the forest and 11 two-storey ocean suites situated within the Marine Life Park will be launched at a later date.  Still to come also are a destination spa by world renowned UK spa brand ESPA, a water theme park and the world’s largest oceanarium - the Marine Life Park.

All  six hotels at the resort, including the newly-opened Equarius Hotel and Beach Villas, are owned and
operated by RWS.  From 16 February to 31 June only, special packages for the two hotels are available through the RWS website and authorised travel agents.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Aerial panaroma of Saigon Center and Saigon River from 1955

I have taken the photo below in a museum in Saigon district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The photo is an aerial panaroma of Saigon Center and Saigon River taken in 1955 a year after Geneva Conference. To make life easier for you to locate where is where in Saigon, I have tagged several 4 places on the photo: Notre Dame Cathedral, old Independence Palace destroyed during an assassination attempt to president by war planes, Ben Thanh Market and Ho Chi Minh City Hall (I guess).

Panaroma of Saigon Center and Saigon River  - 1955

(A) - Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
(B) - Independence Palace (Destroyed in 1962 and replaced by the current Reunification Palace)
(C) - Ben Thanh Market
(D) - Ho Chi Minh City Hall

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jetstar Airways Japan flying domestic in Japan by July 2012

There are good news for Japanese travellers who have long suffered from high domestic flight prices thanks to dominance by two major carriers, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA): Budget airline Jetstar Japan, part-owned by Australia's Qantas, has just announced that it expects take to the skies ahead of schedule on 3 July 2012, flying initially to five major Japanese cities. These confirmed Japanese destinations are Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka and Okinawa. Domestic services by Jetstar Japan will start ahead of schedule in July 2012 and Tokyo (Narita) is announced as first base.
"The launch network of Tokyo (Narita), Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka and Okinawa will be serviced by an initial fleet of three new A320 aircraft. Tokyo (Narita) has been confirmed as Jetstar Japan’s first base, with the airline now on track to be the first LCC to fly domestically from the nation’s capital. Fares and schedules will be announced soon. 
Jetstar Group CEO Bruce Buchanan said Jetstar’s history as the first low cost carrier to fly to Japan was accelerating launch preparations. “Serving the Japanese customer for the past five years with international services gives us a clear advantage in rolling out a domestic network,” Mr Buchanan said."
Source :
 The fares and schedules are not announced yet but they will be announced soon. Meanwhile ANA has also agreed with Malaysia's AirAsia to launch AirAsia Japan in August 2012 while it is also planning to start budget flights with its venture Peach Aviation in March 2012. Peach will operate out of Osaka and Air Asia Japan will be based in Tokyo. [1]

"Jetstar Japan said it plans to offer short-haul international services to key Asian cities starting in 2013."[1]

[1] - Jetstar Japan to start domestic flights in July

Singapore resale flat market outlook for 2012

Prices of HDB resale flats could fall 3% to 5% this year say the market players in a recent property forum according to Channel News Asia.  But the drop may be more severe if the economic conditions go worse further. The resale HDB prices rose nonstop for the past 5 years thanks to a severe supply crunch of new HDB flats in the first decade of new century. HDB has just built 8,260 new units per year between 2001 and 2008, forcing many newlywed couples to either wait for years before getting a flat or compete for resale flats. A record number of Singapore Permanent Resident intakes between 2005 and 2008 forced demand up further since this group of residents of Singapore can only buy resale HDB flats. The financial bubble over bubble times of last decade made things worse since they have enabled a very high growth in Singapore and resultant artificially low interest rates created artificial affordability.  Result: Over 80 percent increase in the HDB resale prices in the last 5 years! Things are really desperate now. I see people paying 450,000 SGD+ for 3 room flats in the ultra-bad shaped old apartment blocks near my house.

Things have changed since then. In 2011 alone, HDB has released 25,000+ units and promises to release 25,000+ more in 2012 to ease the pain on the first time buyers. Although these flats will not be built for next 2-3 years, they will take away the demand from resale market. Since 2009, the number of Singapore PR intake has significantly declined. The household income ceiling to buy flat directly from HDB is also increased from 8,000 to 10,000.

“ECG Property's managing director Shawn Tan said: "We should be seeing a more sit-back-and-wait attitude from citizens. They will be expecting more flats to be built and they have more options to go for the BTOs and walk-in selections directly from HDB." 
At Wednesday's industry forum, CEOs of several property agencies said demand is also likely to soften with tighter immigration rules, which will reduce the pool of potential home buyers. They expect resale flat prices to fall by three to five per cent this year, and up to 10 per cent if the eurozone debt crisis triggers a global recession. 
HSR Property Group CEO Patrick Liew said: "Unless the economic situation changes, unless we see a lot more foreign direct investment coming in...I think the HDB market will remain flat for the next one to three years." PropNex CEO Mohamed Ismail said: "Public housing resale prices have gone up by over 80 per cent in the last five years...people going in to pick up (units) at high prices and expecting such appreciation in the near future or next five years -- it is definitely not likely (to happen)." 
Market players noted HDB resale prices have reached a peak. This could put some pressure on cash premiums or what's more commonly known as cash over valuation (COV). ERA key executive officer Eugene Lim said: "The COV is already stabilised at between S$30,000 and S$40,000.

Developers may have sold 1,700-1,800 private homes in January 2012

In January 2012, just a month after new property cooling measures were introduced, Singapore property developers may have sold 1700 – 1800 units excluding the highly popular Executive Condominiums.  “I think many of us in the market are surprised by the strong sales in January,” said DTZ’s Southeast Asia chief operating officer, Ong Choon Fah. But she added that last month’s strong numbers came mainly from Watertown and The Hillier. Their attractive locations next to MRT stations and strategic marketing by their developer were key factors for their popularity. Both projects are part of retail-residential mixed developments.[1]

The editor of iproperty blog asks: “Sales is back up with the number of new property launches last month, but how long more will this be sustained? Will demand eventually wind down and how soon could that be expected?”

The demand will eventually wind down when the only supporter of the property prices winds down: a large positive monthly cash flow of monthly rental yield minus monthly mortgage payments.  Since this will not reverse until central banks of the large countries such as European Union, USA and China stop printing money (pay attention to the fact that European Central Bank has decided to pump more money into European debt fire and stock and started to climb after a sharp fall since USA Quantitative Easing 2 ended). Since that does not seem to happen soon, I do not think the party will be over soon, if a European debt crisis do not suck liquidity out of Asia. We can take clue from China and Hong Kong. No government cooling measures or market conditions could work there against runaway property prices but just increasing the interest rates and decreasing the liquidity by bank cash holding increase have immediately impacted the property market.

As long as this positive cash flow stays, I do not think the party will end. Giving investors prolonged ultra-low interest rates and expecting them to make sound decisions is like giving drivers alcohol and then expecting them to drive well.

Singapore Airshow 2012: 14 - 19 February 2012

Singapore Airshow 2012, the 3rd installment of the airshow event, has many major industry leaders like Airbus, Boeing, EADS, Finmeccanica, Raytheon, Rolls Royce, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, ST Engineering and MTU. Commercial participants will also be able to go through  business forums,  procurement networking forum and high-level strategic conferences.

The real deal in Singapore Airshow 2012 for the man on the Singapore streets is of course the Public Day over the weekend of 18 to 19 February 2012.  And no need to worry about how to get there. Reaching there will be easy, there will be a 100 bus strong fleet of the Airshow Shuttle operating between Changi Airport and the event venue, Changi Exhibition Centre (CEC):
"Airshow visitors are strongly encouraged to use this shuttle service from Changi Airport, which is well served by MRT trains and public buses. To minimise congestion at CEC and in the airport vicinity,  visitors  to Singapore Airshow  should make their way to Changi Airport via the MRT or public buses, and board the Airshow Shuttle there. Visitors are strongly encouraged not to drive to the airport due to the expected heavy
traffic and limited carpark capacity."
Source : Special public days shuttle service between Changi Airport and Changi Exhibition Centre return
Singapore Airshow public Day - Source : Singapore Airshow 2012
There will of course be aerobatic flying displays:
  • Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will perform team aerobatic with 2 warplanes, F-16C and F15S.
  • Tony Blair, one of Australia's top aerobatic pilots from Blair Aerosports,  will perform solo aerobatic with a Rebel 300.
  • Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) will perform team aerobatics with 5 MIG 29.
  • A giant United States Airforce (USAF) Boeing C-17 Globemaster will perform solo aerobatic while another giant Boeing B-52 will perform a fly-by!
  • And 6 Roulettes from Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will perform team aerobatics.[1]
There will also be static display of civilian and military aircraft. Singapore Airlines also will display one of its megatops (nickname for SIA Boeing 747-400) which is retiring soon. [2]

[1] - Singapore Airshow 2012 Flying Display Timings
[2] - Singapore Airshow 2012 Static Aircraft Display Participants

Goodbye Megatop

I have first seen an image of Boeing 747 in a cartoon in early 80s in when I was in pre-school ages. Since I also knew a circus elephant named jumbo from another cartoon, it was strange for me to see a plane named jumbo. I have dreamed about taking one as a passenger since than but those were the times the plane tickets were not within reach of middle class. It took some 20+ years I had a chance to fly with one. That was my only time and that was thanks to Singapore Airlines. SIA normally flew Boeing 777 on the Istanbul - Dubai - Singapore route but that day for my luck, they have put a jumbo jet, Boeing 747 to serve this route.

Boeing 747-400 series airliners were introduced to SIA fleet in 1983 and named named Megatops.  They have been flagships of the airline from 1989 until the introduction of the Airbus A380 in October 2007. In 2003 SIA had 39 of them. Today it has only three. Unfortunately Singapore Airlines is saying goodbye to these beautiful planes soon with the last B-747 commercial flight from Singapore to Melbourne and back on March 24th 2012. The airliner was using the plane since 1973:
"SIA's big-aircraft needs are now mainly served by the Airbus 380 superjumbo, which is a more cost-effective and fuel-efficient plane to fly. 
The airline now has 15 A-380s with four more to be delivered in the next few months. The SIA spokesman said the local carrier has no immediate plans to order more A-380s or Boeing's new 747-8, an aircraft which will be launched into commercial service some time this year.  
The phasing out of the B-747 aircraft has also made it difficult for frequent fliers on the SIA Saver Scheme to redeem miles because the older aircraft services only limited flights. But from March 8, SIA will allow frequent fliers on the Saver programme to book business and first-class flights on the A-380 and other new aircraft."
Source : SIA says goodbye to Boeing 747 jumbo
Singapore Airlines Megatop
Boeing 747 -400 series airliners were introduced to SIA fleet in 1983 and were called Megatops. 
The real reason to phase out Boeing 747 can be the fact that the airliner, which faces increased competition as well as potential disastrous results of a possible European debt crisis, is not willing to buy more jumbos whether they are Airbus A-380 or Boeing 747. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Queensland's tourism capital, the Gold Coast is Scoot's second Australian destination

Scoot, the medium and long haul no-frills arm of Singapore Airlines has just announced that Queensland's tourism capital, the Gold Coast, will be its second Australian destination after Sydney. Scoot will fly from Singapore to Sydney and The Gold Coast by mid 2012 and as a budget carrier it will charge 40 percent less ticket price than regular carriers. Tickets for Scoot's flights will go on sales in the first quarter of 2012, and it seems like their next long haul target country will be China. .

"Queensland's tourism capital, the Gold Coast, and its iconic beaches provided the backdrop for Scoot's announcement of its second Australian destination. Tourism Queensland, Gold Coast Tourism, Gold Coast Airport and Scoot today jointly announced a partnership agreement that will see Scoot as the first airline to fly direct between Singapore and the Gold Coast, and back of course.From mid-2012, Scoot will operate five non-stop flights a week, making the "famous for fun" Gold Coast experience literally a "scoot" away!"
Source : Ooo…Scoot to OOL- Non-stop!

Currently, the airline is also running a refer a friend campaign where you can win a pair of air tickets. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An unconventional way to find cheap flats in Singapore and Hong Kong for investment

If you want to buy a cheap flat in Singapore and Hong Kong for investment reasons, there is a very unconventional way to find one: checking on the haunted houses. Although these two cities are modern marvels, the thousands of years old superstitions still rule. For example, it is believed that the hungry ghost of a person who dies in unnatural circumstances – a suicide, murder or bad accident – inhabits his/her home (remember the countless Japanese movies on Onryo like Ringu) passing misfortune onto the new occupant. These houses will deter ethnically Chinese buyers, who compose the majority of the property buying demand in Singapore and Hong Kong. But these ghost stories will fail to have any impact on expatries who compose the majority of the property rental demand in Singapore and Hong Kong:

“But not everyone is afraid of ghosts, and in the cut and thrust of the Hong Kong’s runaway property market, some investors are actively following the tragedies, aware that dark incidents push the price down. Discounts of between 20 per cent to 40 per cent are the standard for the haunted houses, with a knock-on for the rental yield, said Mr. Eric Wong of the  property web site, which has a channel dedicated to the phenomenon. “[1] Haunted Houses page
The web site’s web page for haunted houses in Hong Kong lists a list of Hong Kong properties with what happened and when it happened. Some investors specifically looks for these houses to buy and then they rent them to expatriates who do not have the same beliefs as Hong Kong people so they do not care about the history of the house. Haunted houses can be sold with 40% depending on what happened and how recently it has happened.

I have seen several lists circulated in internet about haunted properties in Singapore to warn buyers about their history. And there are several ghost stories in this small island for example the pontianak (a vampiric ghost in Malay and Indonesian mythology) around the house and the nearby Bukit Brown and Mount Pleasant cemeteries. Recently residents of two Woodlands HDB blocks petitioned against building an elder-care centre at their void decks with worries of more deaths in the area and thus reduced property prices.

These things really matter here. A few years ago a friend of mine rented a unit a little cheaper than the units around. The unit number was 413. 4 is considered an unlucky number in Chinese because it is nearly homophonous to the word "death" and 13 is the unlucky number for western cultures! On the opposite side, you will see that units on the 8th floor or with a lot of 8ths in its unit number tend to be more expensive (sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth").

[1] - Haunted House Discounts in Hong Kong, The Straits Times

Thursday, February 2, 2012

More HDB flats for rent in Singapore

If you are looking for a place to rent in Singapore, public housing flats called HDB, are the most cost effective and the best value-to-price alternatives compared to over-expensive private housing units. Luckily, the supply of these units has more than tripled in the past five years – from 12,500 in 2006 to 40,026 units:

“The number of Housing & Development Board (HDB) flats being sublet(*) has more than tripled in the past five years. The reasons include the relaxation of subletting rules, and an increase in foreigners. With more HDB home-owners using their flats to earn rental income, some analysts are concerned this will lead to a shortage of supply in the resale market. The number of HDB flats on the rental market has shot up from about 12,500 in 2006 to 40,026 in 2011.

Previously, flat owners could only lease out their flats if they could show proof they had been living overseas for a certain period of time.  Since 2003, the HDB has gradually brought down the minimum occupation period (MOP) after which owners can sublet their flats. Currently, the MOP is five years for both new and resale flats, regardless of whether they are bought with a government grant.”

The actual number of HDB flats in the market is probably higher than these figures because there is also an under-the-radar subletting practice called “one room locked”.  HDB owners who do not have approval from HDB to rent the whole unit may rent the unit anyway by locking a room with his belongings. In this case when asked, he/she can say that he did not rent the unit and he still stays in the unit and he has just rented out several rooms. (For this reason you should always request for the approval letter for the unit from HDB owner before leasing it. If you are caught staying in a unit like this, you will be given a very short notice to leave!)

But the demand is increasing as well with increasing condominium rental prices, increase number of foreign workers and shrinking expatriate housing allowances:

“One relocation company, Orientations, said the number of expatriates opting to rent an HDB flat has gone up by 30 per cent, between 2010 and 2011. Many of them are mid-level professionals from Asia who are receiving smaller housing allowances compared to previous years. (**)  Orientations chairman Beverly Mayhew noted that the amenities in some public housing estates - such as swimming pools, transport hubs and recreational centres - make them very appealing to foreigners.”

Renting an HDB has many advantages over condominiums.  A large 3+1 (or 4 rooms flat) within 100 meters of a major MRT station can be rented for 2300 – 2400 SGD per month. Although this is expensive, it is much cheaper than 4,000++ SGD per month you would pay to a condominium which has the same location advantage. As many foreigners with valid working visas can rent an HDB flat, it is natural that the number of expatriates renting HDB increases (See also It makes more sense to rent HDB instead of Condominium).

One of the reasons that make newcomers shy of renting an HDB is privacy. Pre-BTO flats tend to have their common corridors on the outer side of the building and the living room and several rooms look to these common corridor. So anyone passing through corridor can see inside these rooms if curtains are not down. But this is not the case with new generation BTOs built in the last decade. These new flats have their common corridors inside the building and all their rooms looking outside the building.

Artist's impression of one of the new projects, Anchorvale Harvest. After this BTO flat is completed, it will require 5 years of MOP (Minimum Occupation Period) before its flats enter HDB rental market except the units approved as special cases - Source : Anchorvale Harvest Facebook Page
Some property experts believe that the high rental yields have made owners to rent instead of sell which adds to the severe supply shortage of HDB flats. And they suggest some intervention. I do not agree with them. If everything is legal, it makes perfectly sense to let owners to draw maximum return from their property as they wish, either by renting it out or sell it.  PropNex CEO Mohd Ismail says:

"I think we should not interfere and tweak with the rental amount, and I think it's perfectly all right if the market is prepared to pay such an amount, and people who have owned such properties and have legally occupied them, that's a form of return on their investments."

[1] - More subletting HDB flats

(*) – You may wonder why renting out an HDB is referred as sublet/sublease rather than leasing. This is because all HDB flats are 99 years leasehold properties ultimately owned by Housing Development Board.

(**) - As far as I know many of the mid-level professionals from Asia do not receive housing allowances at all.