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Savills’ Private Office: Catering to the ultra-rich

SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) – Global nomads who have been grounded during the lockdown are looking forward to Singapore’s “green lanes” or “Covid-19 safe air corridor”. “Once travel resumes, activity will return,” says Jacqueline Wong, executive director and head of The Private Office at Savills Singapore.

Wong: Those who have already landed in Singapore are shopping for ‘good deals. And by this, they mean distressed sales, where prices have fallen by at least 30% from a year ago.

A handful of Wong’s ultra-rich foreign clients had been on the hunt for real estate investments in Singapore earlier this year. However, activity stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as travel restrictions and lockdowns that ensued. Face-to-face meetings between realtors and their clients is still disallowed from June 2 (after a two-month long “circuit breaker” from April 7 to June 1), except at the point of signing contracts. Even then, the meeting has to take place at the realtor’s office. “Things have therefore been put on pause,” says Wong.

In her books, ultra-high net worth individuals are those with at least US$20 million ($28.1 million) in assets. “Those who have already landed in Singapore are shopping for ‘good deals’,” says Wong. “And by this, they mean distressed sales, where prices have fallen by at least 30% from a year ago.”

Those that have yet to land in Singapore are shopping for a home. And they tend to have a long-term view, with at least a 10-year time frame. For such buyers, their requirements have not changed: they still want a property that is at least 3,500 sq ft in size, has four or five bedrooms, space to entertain that is separate from their private living area, a home office, and separate quarters for the help staff. “Covid-19 hasn’t changed those requirements,” notes Wong.

Units of these sizes can only be found in older private condominiums in the prime districts, provided they have not become victims of en-bloc sales. Sought-after residential enclaves include Ardmore Park, the Claymore-Draycott area and the Nassim neighbourhood.

However, these properties tend to be older, and built in the 80s to 90s, with some even in the 70s, says Wong. For those who prefer new developments, they will have to compromise in terms of size as the units tend to be smaller. “So there’s a trade-off,” she adds.

Wong’s call of duty however, has extended beyond real estate and into the realm of concierge service: sometimes, it could be to arrange for a private jet, or making a reservation at an exclusive restaurant or club.

Such carte blanche service began five years ago when some of Wong’s ultra-rich clients asked her to handle the investment and divestment of their real estate assets. These included being tasked to sell a US$40-million boutique vineyard in Napa Valley, California; sourcing for an island in Asia; and handling a portfolio of luxury penthouses in Singapore’s Core Central Region (CCR). Her clients are international and they include those from Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, Europe, London and the US.

Two years ago, Wong was appointed the head of what is now known as The Private Office in Savills Singapore. The inception is in line with the global Private Office, set up by David Forbes in 2007 when he joined Savills in London, UK. In keeping with the global Private Office in London, the one in Singapore also courts the ultra-rich with discretion and tact, says Wong. Clients include both ultra high networth individuals and family offices.

“Private Office is not just about real estate,” continues Wong. “We offer a suite of services. In addition to real estate services, we also help our clients with wealth management. We do cross-border deals in different asset classes and whether it is hotel, serviced apartments, office buildings or shophouses, we will use our network as a conduit to find what they want.”

Wong says her range of services include finding a personal butler, chef, nanny or housekeeper. “So it’s quite far-reaching,” she adds. “In time to come, many of the ultra-rich would require full concierge service, like those in luxury hotels. This role requires new skills and people who know how to be very discreet,” she adds.

Besides the Private Office, her purview at Savills Singapore encompasses corporate leasing, local and international sales portfolios. Prior to joining Savills in 2013, Wong spent nine years with JLL where she headed the corporate leasing as well as both local and international sales business units.

During the circuit breaker period, many realtors and property developers resorted to virtual property tours and marketing via social media, such as Zoom or Facebook Live. “Whether it’s a property for lease or for sale, the potential tenant or buyer will want to visit the actual property,” says Wong. “They want to be able to feel the vibe when they walk into the home. You can’t replicate that in a virtual tour.”

In Phase One of the reopening of Singapore’s economy, no viewings of properties are allowed, even if a property is vacant, according to the Council of Estate Agencies.
Most of the buyers are unlikely to rush into a purchase, notes Wong. The decision making process is likely to drag out from three months up to 18 months, she adds. The additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) for foreign buyers at 20% is hefty too, and there is still the seller’s stamp duty (SSD) for the first three years, which acts as another deterrent.
EDGEPROP SINGAPORE – When there is social unrest elsewhere in the region, Singapore is deemed to be a safe haven, notes Wong (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
When there is social unrest elsewhere in the region, Singapore is deemed to be a safe haven, notes Wong (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

When there is social unrest elsewhere in the region, Singapore is deemed to be a safe haven, notes Wong. The protests in Hong Kong, which started last year, were temporarily curtailed by the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the unrest has resumed and intensified in the past weeks with China’s introduction of the Security Law in Hong Kong.

“I think we could see some inflow of funds into Singapore, which may result in property purchases,” says Norman Ho, senior partner, corporate real estate, Rajah & Tann Singapore. “There has always been a good flow of wealth into Singapore over the years and Singapore is a favoured city (besides Hong Kong) as it is close to China and has a Mandarin-speaking population.”

Most companies with regional headquarters in Hong Kong already have a presence in Singapore even before the Handover in 1997. “Certainly, the situation there will make many more consider moving here and purchasing homes”, points out Ho.

In 1Q2020, there was a rush of leasing activity when travel restrictions due to Covid-19 were imposed as some of the expatriates who were supposed to leave Singapore, had to extend their leases instead (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

In 1Q2020, there was a rush of leasing activity when travel restrictions due to Covid-19 were imposed as some of the expatriates who were supposed to leave Singapore, had to extend their leases instead, notes Wong. “On the other hand, inbound expatriates have been suspended — these are the ones with a job waiting in Singapore but they can’t fly in because of travel restrictions,” she says. There are at least 50 such expats caught in this situation. Another 100 are waiting to enter Singapore from July, and they have been hired by a multinational company to work on a project basis, adds Wong.

“With the government introducing green lanes or travel bubbles, the leasing volume will start to creep up again,” she reckons. Due to businesses being affected by Covid-19 lockdown, some expatriates have had their salaries cut or have switched to local terms. Hence, there have been some requests for rental adjustments of 1–3%, or $500 at most, notes Wong.

However, she expects businesses to normalise by 1H2021. “We will see pending relocations flow through and it will be extremely busy then,” she adds. “It is likely to be a tidal wave rather than a slow trickle. This is because many people want to come in as soon as possible once they get the green light to travel.”

Original Article: https://www.edgeprop.sg/property-news/gsm-building-middle-road-sale-98-mil-vk

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