Old is gold: 9 reasons to buy a shophouse (instead of a condo)
They hold their value, there's lots of space and have loads of history. But also, it's just cool to say you live in one.
Few things get more attention than a shophouse for sale – and for good reason. In 2014, the median shophouse price in Singapore peaked at S$3,824 per square foot (psf) on land area.
Due to the implementation of the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) loan curb, however, demand for shophouses decreased in line with other types of property. In 2017, the median shophouse price stood at S$3,301 psf on land area.
Even post-TDSR, many shophouses managed to rise in value. Notably, a freehold unit in the Tanjong Pagar area was bought in 2013 for S$6.2 million and then resold in 2017 for S$9.1 million – a 47 per cent profit over four years.
Here’s why shophouses are popular with property investors and buyers alike, and why you should give them some serious consideration
1. MANY SHOPHOUSES ARE IN CENTRAL LOCATIONS
In places like Chinatown, Telok Ayer, or Amoy Street, shophouses are often used as an alternative office space. They’re especially favoured by startups or small companies that want a location within or near the Central Business District (CBD), but cannot afford the higher rental rates of conventional offices.
Most shophouses provide a rental yield of between 2.5 to 2.7 per cent according to Colliers International, but there are occasionally boutique firms – such as design agencies – willing to fork out more for units that flow with their unorthodox, hipster-ish vibe.
Investors have long been aware of this. Hence, there has constant demand for shophouses within or near the CBD. Case in point: In 2010, a row of five shophouses (112 to 116 Amoy Street) was sold for S$24.5 million. In 2011 – yes, that’s one year later – the same units were sold for S$34.3 million. And that’s not the end of it: 8M Real Estate bought the same shophouses for S$50 million in 2014 – more than double the 2010 price paid.
2. MANY SHOPHOUSES ARE PROTECTED
Many shophouses have been given conservation status. Historic districts with conserved shophouses include Boat Quay, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Little India, Blair Plain, Cairnhill, and Emerald Hill.
For conserved shophouses, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has put in place certain restrictions and rules on renovations, such as having to seek clearance before any air-conditioning can be installed. Although this can prove a hassle for shophouse owners and tenants, it’s overall a positive thing for investors; when the government takes back land for roads, MRT stations or other use, they have an obligation to try to leave the conserved shophouses untouched.
3. SHOPHOUSES CAN HOLD THEIR VALUE
Much like fine wine or art, shophouses provide a cultural value that’s not always easy to quantify. Moreover, a combination of the prestige that comes with owning a shophouse, along with the scarcity of these properties, helps them to hold value even during downturns.
For example, in 2015, when the property market was still in a slump, Spanish tycoon Ricardo Portabella Peralta paid around S$2,600 psf for two shophouses near the Telok Ayer MRT station. The total price (S$18.2 million) is still one of the highest recorded transactions in the area, proving that shophouses can hold their value even in a weak market.
4. A LOT OF SPACE, DESPITE BEING IN BUILT-UP AREAS
When you think of living or working spaces in built-up areas, such as the CBD, Chinatown or Joo Chiat, you’re probably thinking of small spaces. There aren’t many new developments that can be crammed into these already packed areas.
The good news is, shophouses were in this area long before they got so packed. That gives you a lot of room (often at least 1,200 square feet) despite being close to major amenities.
5. SHOPHOUSES GIVE PRESENCE TO A BUSINESS ENTITY
It’s not usually hard to find a business tenant for a shophouse, because of its unique character.
The location of a business reflects on its philosophy and character (it’s the “flavour” of the business, if you like), and it’s hard to pull that off in some locations – malls and office buildings tend to have a standardised, modern-looking design and interior.
To understand the boost a shophouse can give to businesses, consider the famous Chye Seng Huat Hardware (a deliberately mis-named cafe-eatery located in a shophouse). The establishment’s retro-industrial image would be hard to pull off authentically in a shopping mall. Even if that had been possible, some stone-faced mall manager would probably take issue with the name and disallow it.
In terms of homes, shophouses let you create living spaces that are harder – or sometimes impossible – to achieve with cookie-cutter condo units. If you like the loft aesthetic, for instance, you can create it easily with a shophouse.
6. A CONSERVED SHOPHOUSE HAPPENS TO BE VERY RARE
There are only around 6,500 shophouses under conservation in Singapore. If you’re considering the more ornate shophouses with ornamentation and elaborating tiling, there’s even fewer of them standing. What this means is that the shophouses have scarcity value (there’s a reason gold costs more than steel). And as time goes by, scarcity value can only increase, reflecting the sense of prestige and privilege in owning a sizeable piece of national history.
7. A GOOD COMPROMISE BETWEEN A CONDO AND A FULL-SIZED BUNGALOW
Sometimes you don’t want the massive upkeep of a bungalow, or find it too empty given your family size. But, at the same time, you may find condo living to be a little too constrained.
A shophouse provides a good middle-ground between the two, and is much more charming than the common terrace house. It’s more spacious than a condo. And, while the maintenance cost is still higher, it may not be as steep as that of a bungalow. (Do get a contractor to check on the state of the shophouse before buying. Those in poorer condition might just be as costly to maintain as a bungalow, if not more).
8. ONE-OF-A-KIND ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES
Some shophouses have an open front or rear courtyard. This is an architectural boon that provides a perfect setting for family gatherings.
Some might also have an airwell in the middle of the shophouse. Besides allowing natural light to enter and optimising air circulation (essential before the days of air-conditioning), owners can also implement unusual features such as an indoor Zen garden or a giant water feature. One thing’s for sure, your interior designer will be as excited as a kid in a candy shop.
9. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
So you’re a hard-nosed property investor, who’s not swayed by things like historical value or clever, ironically-named cafes. Well if you go back to the root of property value – location – there’s no denying shophouses have it.
Shophouses along Katong are located in the middle of a gentrifying food paradise, and shophouses in the Holland Village area have quick access to nightlife, retail, and dining.
Meanwhile, shophouses in places like Boat Quay are, as we’ve pointed out above, in the heart of Singapore.
There are so many shophouses located in a well built-up or central area, that it’s hard to go wrong when picking one. If you do find one, act fast – a shophouse (especially ones with conservation status) tends to sell quickly once it becomes available on the market.
This article first appeared on 99.co.