THE SINGAPORE SHOPHOUSE WINDOW TO THE PAST & FUTURE
Simon Monteiro, Associate Director at Savills Singapore specialises in heritage buildings especially shophouses and boutique hotels. He was a witness to the great Singapore Shophouse Investing phenomenon from the beginning and hopes to be part of its future as well. Here, he narrates his experience as a witness as well as a participant of the ongoing story.
When I was 12 years old, I used to follow my grandmother to work. She worked at The Mission to Seamen which was housed in a shophouse at 219 River Valley Road which also contains a small chapel. Shophouses have intrigued me since then. (In 2001, a week after the 911 attack on the World Trade Centre, they decided to sell the shophouse which has a total area of 4,500 sq ft for SGD950K to a couple.)
When I started my career back in 1994, my first sale was a beautiful 5,500-sq-ft residential shophouse at 55 Spottisowoode Park Road, which I sold for SGD1.6 mil to a doctor.
Between 1997- 2001, I was attached with Goldhill Group of Companies. It was a lucky break. They were the pioneers in Conservation Shophouses. The late Mr William Goei, whom I worked for, is the ‘Father of Investing in Shophouses’, in my opinion. Between 1988 and 2007, he purchased, restored and refurbished many shophouses in the Duxton and Tanjong Pagar area. He later sold them for a profit.
ORIGIN OF THE SINGAPORE SHOPHOUSE
In 1819 with the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, what was once a small fishing village, grew to become an entreport. Various culture and ethnic groups came and this brought about a mix of different people working to create Singapore into a trading hub.
Raffles saw the need to segregate the various ethnic groups into separate areas. So today thanks to him, we have Little India, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, and Arab Street. People from parts of China, the Middle East, Java, and India started arriving and brought with them the different styles of architecture that would later be infused into today’s Singapore shophouses.
The government started looking into conservation in the 1970s but it was not until the late 1980s that they decided to take action to create a conservation plan for Singapore. The first Sale of Site by the government was in Duxton, Duxton Hill, Tanjong Pagar and Neil Road area.
This was in 1988 and it started the movement of the Singapore Shophouse. These shophouses were later refurbished. They were cheap, maybe $200psf and were later sold at $400psf in 2005 and now it’s $2,200psf on average for a 99-yr Leasehold.
The floor plate is typically 2/3/4-storey with a land size of 1,000 sq ft to 1,500 sq ft. So the built-up of a typical 2-storey shophouse is 2,000 sq ft to 3,000sqft which may come with an additional attic which is anywhere from 200 sq ft to 500 sq ft depending on the configuration.
So a 2 1/5 Storey will command in today’s market the price of $7m to $8m for a 99-year leasehold to about between $9.5m and $11m for a Freehold/999-Yr shophouse.
A 3-storey shophouse with attic would easily go for $14m – $15m and for a 999year freehold unit around $17.5m to $19m with corner unit having a premium because it brings better natural lighting and better frontage for visual advantage.
There is also the 4-storey shophouse with prices ranging from $17m-$18m for a 99-year leasehold and more than $20m for a 999-year freehold.
URA has gazetted about 8,900 units with Conservation status, located within a mix of Primary Areas and Secondary Areas. Primary areas comprise mainly the core CBD areas like Amoy Street, Telok Ayer Street and Boon Tat Street.
GENTRIFICATION AND RENTALS
The rental returns are now very low – below 3% rental to cost of acquisition compared to the 6% to 7% rental yield in 2005. The rental have not gone up as much as the capital appreciation.
This is due to the high demand for shophouses and also gentrification. The URA was also looking at regulating the use of these conservation shophouses.
I believe the start of real gentrification was at the Duxton / Duxton Hill area which is home to a beautiful part of Tanjong Pagar where you can view some very nice architecture of the past. The cobbled stone walkway up Duxton Hill gives you a sense of walking on sacred ground. In the 1890s, the street on Duxton Hill was the Millionaires Row where the rich peranakans used to live.
Compare this to 2005 when I used to lease shophouses to many pubs, massage parlours and coffeeshop style of operations in Tanjong Pagar, Duxton and Tras Street.
The URA then started regulating pub licenses and outlawed massage parlours in this area. This created a better tenant mix of upmarket businesses such as consultancies, hedge funds, family offices and fund investment houses which started coming in from 2010. Today, in addition to those, you have a great mix of entertainment outlets and co-working spaces.
The F & B units that were on the ground floor were also paying better rentals and this gave investors the motivation to spend on the refurbishments. One of my clients who is a Hong Kong permanent resident, started buying up some shoplots there and refurbishing them with million-dollar uplifts to the interiors, and the layout. These units became so pleasing that they attracted better quality tenants like upmarket restaurants and boutique firms. This brought in a more affluent crowd.
I also sold The Duxton Hotel to a client who refurbished it into a boutique hotel taking the asset to the next level of Ultra High Net Places (UHNP), a word which I coined for heritage assets that have been refurbished to such an extent that they attract the most affluent people in our society.
Along Neil Road, at No: 136/138, Goethe Institute leased from me years ago. This is one of the finest works of Swan & Mclaren Architects who in the late 1920s designed one of the most eye-catching heritage assets which is still flourishing today with its architectural ingenuity.
Today, many of the new owners of the Singapore Shophouses are from real estate funds and UHNWIs looking at owning great assets that have a bespoke heritage of the past. Many investors also like to own hospitality assets with a heritage past.
I sold Naumi Liora recently to 8M Real Estate while Hotel 1929 was sold to Mr Cheong Koon Hooi who is also the owner of The Warehouse Hotel. When I acquired Wanderlust for Mr Loh Lik Peng, his vision of hospitality gentrification from an old school to a hip and well known hotel speaks volume of what one can do to a heritage asset.
I am looking into doing the same in Singapore’s other heritage streets where we can bring together buyers who are into heritage, talented architects and F & B and hospitality entrepreneurs to transform the streets into a gentrified area attracting tourists and locals alike.
Working alongside me is Dr Julian Davison who has written a coffee table book entitled ‘Singapore Shophouse’, a compelling narrative inclusive of wonderful photography of the history of the Singapore shophouse. Dr Davison is an authority on this heritage asset. Together, we are confident that the next 10 – 15 years will see more shophouse areas being gentrified amid growing tourist numbers.
Added to this mix are the millennials who started the co-working and co-living concepts. We will all come together for ‘Co-Minding’ sessions – basically a word I coined to mean like-minded people coming together to change the way the world works.
Closely related to this is Dr Davison’s work which endeavours to give a story to each of the heritage shophouse. We are creating a unique formula to better make use of our built heritage to showcase our past glories and pains as our society progresses further. These 8,900 shophouses are a window to our past and they can be used to tell the Singapore story. ”
9 NEIL ROAD
Between 1987 and 1988, 32 dilapidated shophouses of a hybrid HokkienTeochew style were restored by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. This was the first ever project undertaken by the government to demonstrate to the private sector that it was technically possible and commercially viable to restore Singapore’s heritage buildings to their former glory. The first unit to be restored was 9 Neil Road. It was then converted into a teahouse which hosted Queen Elizabeth II on her State visit in 1989. – Source: URA.