Property: Are high-rise properties with a view really worth it?

by Cheng Chee Seng

A great view sells, whether it’s from a HDB apartment or a prestige condominium. For a long time, the “golden belt” along the east coast of Singapore was arguably where the most desirable (and marketable) views in town were – a panorama of the shimmering waters of the 15km Eastern seaboard.

In the last five years, however, the seascape has lost its lustre to a different type of view. The lofty new residences that have sprouted in the new downtown at Marina Bay and in older estates around its fringe, such as Tanjong Pagar, are providing that top-of-the-world feeling at increasingly dizzy heights. Maximising land use by building upwards, these new developments are far above the old standard of 160m in height, which means views wider in vista and further in distance.

We put the spotlight on these soaring city landmarks, and tell you why these million-dollar views may or may not be worth their equally dizzying price tags.

From public housing – HDB’s Pinnacle @ Duxton – to landmark buildings such as The Altez at Enggor Street in Tanjong Pagar and The Sail @ Marina Bay, residential developments have moved into the business district in a conscious bid to develop it into a live-work-play area. What all of them have in common are their skyscraper-like heights. The Pinnacle @ Duxton, built in 2009, features the tallest HDB flats built to date, standing at 156m and 50 storeys tall with a commanding view of the Southern seafront and the fringes of the Central Business District (CBD).

But the honour of the tallest and most prestigious residential address currently belongs to the 245m Sail @ Marina Bay. Hot on its heels at 227m tall and 55 storeys high is The Marina Bay Suites, but the throne (as it now stands) will belong to The Altez at 250m and 62 storeys when it is completed in 2015. The Altez will offer residents the “luxury of sky living” complete with a 50m lap pool and lush sky gardens.

What do you get at such vertigo-inducing heights? From a 60th-floor bay view unit at the Sail, you’ll have the whole of Marina Bay at your feet. At night, you can enjoy the shimmering lights of The Esplanade to your left and the awe-inspiring Marina Bay Sands Hotel on your right. In the middle, you’ll see all the way over the Singapore Flyer to the bustling East Coast.

The bedroom windows will offer a commanding view of the old downtown district. The sea-citynature ratio may vary a little in the Tanjong Pagar and Keppel Bay areas, but both will still provide the same top-of-the-world feeling – if you’re on a higher floor, that is.

What drives buyers to pay top dollar for top views is also what drives developers to go ever higher in an effort to create the aura of prestige that comes with a defining residential address.

“You’ll never get tired of a million-dollar view, but there is more to it than just the ‘wow’ factor – such residential units are great investments, too,” says Janet Lim, a senior associate marketing director at Propnex. Lim should know, as her portfolio centres around two of the most prestigious properties in Singapore – The Sail @ Marina Bay and The Marina Bay Residences. She was Propnex’s top producer for 2009 and 2010 and attributes her success to the high market demand for skyscraper residences.

As with everything else in life, there is a price to pay as you move on up. Ong Teck Hui, executive director of research and consultancy at Credo Real Estate, explains that the price premium between floors can vary depending on location, market conditions and other factors. In suburban areas, a price premium of $5,000 per level or an approximate 0.5 per cent increase in price per floor can be expected.

“The height premium tends to increase in developments in the city area,” he says. “A 30th storey unit in a city project was transacted for $934,000, while a similar unit on the seventh floor fetched only $722,000. The price difference per floor was more than $9,000, or 1.2 per cent.”

Ong elaborates that the absolute difference in price per floor depends on the unit size – and the amount can be significant.

Purchase price-point aside, the real lure may lie in the huge investment gains since investors outnumber owner-occupiers in the case of prime districts such as the Marina Bay and the CBD areas. Rental yield and investment gains are prime buying considerations there.

According to figures provided by Propnex’s Janet Lim, a two-bedroom 1,033sqf unit at The Sail bought at $1,000 per sqf back in 2004 was sold for $3,000psf recently – a whopping profit of more than $3 million. Higher floors also mean higher rentals. The lease of a 365sqf studio apartment on a low floor (up to the tenth storey) is around $2,600 to $3,000, while the higher floors usually command $3,500 to $4,000.

It’s not surprising then that developers are building more of these “skyscraper residences”, mainly in the CBD. Even older buildings are being converted into lucrative money-spinners, given the desirable nature of these downtown addresses. Late last year, the Keppel Group announced it was putting up a massive residential development at its flagship Keppel Towers and GE Tower in the heart of Tanjong Pagar, possibly 46- and 26-storey high-rises respectively.

Still, what makes a good view can be very subjective. Some people love the tranquility of nature, while others may opt for the bustling cityscape. There are downsides to living at the top, too, such as the more intense glare of the sun and the strong winds, which mean you might not be able to open your windows to enjoy natural ventilation without your vases toppling over and your papers flying off the desk.

Ask yourself if the view you’re after is worth the trade-offs, because sometimes it isn’t all about the view. Veteran real-estate agent Y.C. Lee has this advice for prospective owner-occupiers: “View aside, turn your back to the windows and look inwards to your living room. Ask yourself if it is a space you can imagine building a home in.”