One of our "Anonymous" readers has posted a weblink about the "shoebox apartments" situation in Auckland back in 2005. (* Thank you, Anonymous 20/1/11 10:42pm *)

The wife has found a more recent article from Singapore on the rental prospects for such "shoebox" units. Recall that this article was written when the property market was still red hot, way before the latest property cooling measures took effect and more importantly, when the median price of "shoebox" units was just $1,300+psf!

Oct 3, 2010

Leasing out a shoebox flat
While Mickey Mouse flats may be relatively affordable, buyers should be aware that rents depend on location and proximity to amenities
By Joyce Teo

Buying a shoebox apartment for lease sounds like a very attractive proposition because such units are relatively more affordable. But investors should know what to expect because not everyone will want to rent such small units, experts said.

A record number of these small-format homes - also known as Mickey Mouse flats - have been sold in the first three quarters of the year, and at higher and higher prices.

The sale of 906 apartments of 500 sq ft and below in that period is 84 per cent higher than that in the same period last year, said CBRE Research, citing URA Realis. This has also exceeded the full-year sale of 722 units last year, it said.

Median prices of such homes have risen to $1,314 per sq ft (psf) so far this year, from $1,190 psf last year, and asking rents on a psf basis are comparable to those for prime developments in town.

'At first glance, investing in shoebox apartments might appear to be an attractive proposition due to the relative quantum affordability and rental yields,' said CBRE Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho.

However, the rents will depend on many factors, such as location, proximity to amenities, and demand and supply conditions, he said.

Currently, some owners of one-bedroom and studio units in projects such as Kembangan Suites in Kembangan, Parc Imperial in Pasir Panjang and Soho 188 in Race Course Road are asking for rents of $2,000 to $3,600 a month.

In July, a 431 sq ft one-bedroom unit in Urban Lofts in Rangoon Road was leased out at $2,400 a month, while a similar-sized one-bedroom unit at Mountbatten Lodge in Mountbatten Road went for $2,300 a month.

Based on current valuations, indicative gross rental yields for shoebox units are estimated at 3 per cent to 5 per cent, said CBRE Research.

'These figures, however, do not take into account the utility and condo management fees, insurance, mortgage interest payments, property taxes and maintenance charges - all of which will make the net yield considerably lower,' said Mr Li.

ECG Property chief executive Eric Cheng said most people buy shoebox units to lease out but they should be aware that any rental projection given at the launch may not pan out.

For instance, when a project in the Thomson area was launched a few years ago, the rentals were projected at $3,500 to $4,500 a month, but the transacted rents now are more like $1,800 to $2,600 a month, he said.

Cushman & Wakefield's senior manager of Asia-Pac research, Mr Ong Kah Seng, said a large supply of shoebox apartments is scheduled for completion, and rents may come under pressure as leasing competition intensifies.

Also, while tiny apartments seem suitable for single expatriate tenants, not all will want to pay so much for a small unit unless it is in a prime area, or conveniently located near an MRT station, experts said.

Said Mr Ong: 'Owners of shoebox apartments... can at best rely on junior expatriates, besides local professionals.'

But since junior expatriates are cost-sensitive, they may be open to HDB flats which are conveniently located and offer a larger space for nearly the same rent as that for a shoebox apartment, he said.

Yet, CBRE Research found that more people are paying higher prices for a shoebox unit during new launches.

Buyers picked up 383 new shoebox units which cost $600,000 and above in the first nine months of this year, compared with 133 last year and 121 in 2008.

Experts said the question is whether these units can support even higher rentals when they are completed.

The introduction of cooling measures by the Government in late August has also affected the 'flippers'. Extending the imposition period of the sellers' stamp duty of about 3 per cent from one to three years makes it less lucrative for speculators to flip a unit, experts said.

Previously, investors could make significant capital gains from shoebox units with just a small investment sum and a short holding period.

Of the shoebox units launched last year, 66 units were sold in the first eight months of the year for capital gains of $6,400 to $232,000, said CBRE Research.

But for projects launched this year, only four units were sold and gains were in the $9,400 to $101,000 range, it said.

The 'already high buy-in prices' during a new launch might make it hard for an investor to sell it later at higher prices unless it is in a prime location, said Mr Li.

In the next few months, about 10 projects with mainly small-format units are expected to be launched. Apart from one in River Valley Road, the rest are in suburban areas such as Geylang and Eunos, said CBRE.

The wife and I concede that "not all shoeboxes are built equal", while location and proximity to amenities do make a difference. But as one can see from the Auckland example, sometimes even a good location can do little once the supply floodgate is wide open.

Yes, we do come across as the ultimate doomsayers on the subject of "shoebox apartments". And we are definitely not being sarcastic when we say we really hope to be proven wrong on this one...



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