HK's Centaline opens branch in Havelock

INTEREST from wealthy foreign buyers in Singapore's persistently strong residential property market is hitting new highs.

In the latest indicator of the mounting interest, one of Hong Kong's largest property agencies has set up shop here to muscle in on the local market.

This comes as Singapore-based agencies increasingly look offshore to wealthy foreign buyers - especially those in China - who are drawn to the Republic's rising prominence.

Hong Kong's Centaline Property Agency opened its first branch yesterday in Havelock Road. The firm already has operations in Hong Kong, Macau, China and Taiwan and recorded HK$8.6 billion (S$1.35 billion) worth of commissions last year.

Centaline Singapore general manager Clarence Chow said that he sees potential in the Singapore market because, as has been the case in Hong Kong, property prices here have risen continuously.

The appeal for foreign property agencies moving here is that it allows them to cater to - and cash in on - existing clients keen on expanding their portfolio to include Singapore, which has appeared on many more investors' radar screens after the opening of its two integrated resorts.

Mr Chow said Singapore's comprehensive economic plans, advanced medical and educational systems and its open immigration policy are attracting international funds to its property market.

'(As) Singapore opens its gambling industry in order to boost tourism, this further enhances its economic growth... Centaline provides a platform for clients to seek investment opportunities between mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Singapore,' Mr Chow said.

Centaline has 25 employees in its sales team and plans to hire 30 more by the end of this year.

It also plans to open up to 40 branches in districts 1, 4, 9 to 11 and 15 in the next five years.

It is exporting the Hong Kong model of property agencies with numerous small offices scattered across the island to allow buyers or sellers to walk in with their inquiries instead of looking listings up online or in newspapers.

High-end condos in prime areas, going for $3 million to $5 million, will be its first area of focus as these are the units that Chinese buyers are most interested in.

These buyers are also drawn by Singapore's strong economy and safe environment, the strengthening Singdollar and the more muted publicity when they purchase expensive homes here, Mr Chow said. Although the agency is small in size compared to local giants, its advantage will be its ability to draw on a sizeable network of clients in Hong Kong and China, known to be the most aggressive buyers, he added.

Local property agencies have also started to venture to overseas markets and are increasingly looking to tap burgeoning interest from Chinese buyers who make up the largest share of foreign buyers here.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said the firm started working with

China-based agencies about four years ago to help market some local projects there. Next month, it will also launch a Chinese website with information on foreign property ownership to cater to Chinese investors.

'I understand why some foreign agencies might be coming. It is market driven as many Chinese buyers now want their portfolio to be expanded to include Singapore so the agencies might want to offer a full suite of services,' he added.

ERA Realty key executive Eugene Lim added that while its businesses in other countries such as Korea, Japan and Indonesia are franchises, operations in Singapore and China are kept within the firm as it is keen to tap the interest of Chinese foreign buyers as well.


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