Foreigner buying of Singapore homes hits 7-year low as Chinese sales plunge

SINGAPORE, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Foreigners including the Chinese have cut their purchases of Singapore private homes to the lowest since the global financial crisis, leaving the market to depend on local buyers at a time when domestic interest rates are on the rise.

Foreigners, including permanent residents, bought 499 homes in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to data compiled by consultancy DTZ. That accounted for about 16 percent of total transactions versus more than 30 percent in the third quarter of 2011 just before an additional stamp duty was imposed to cool the market.

While property in Singapore, along with markets like London and Sydney, is considered a safe haven, foreigners are discouraged by the high taxes imposed on their purchases. The Chinese, among the biggest foreign purchasers of Singapore private homes, bought 151 units in October-December, plunging nearly 40 percent from a year earlier. That was also down 80 percent from a peak in the third quarter of 2011, according to the DTZ data. The figures were based on caveats lodged as of Jan. 15 with an online database maintained by the land planning authority.

“Chinese money is being attracted by Australia and the U.K.,” said Alan Cheong, senior director of research and consultancy at Savills Singapore, adding that stamp duties need to be tweaked to a level at which Singapore could capitalise on Chinese funds without attracting too much hot money. “If we continue to sit by with all these measures, we are just going to miss the boat.”

Local buyers may also turn cautious, with the benchmark three-month Singapore interbank offered rate (Sibor) - used to set interest rates on mortgages - on a persistent uptrend. It rose up to 1.254 percent so far this week, the highest since October 2008.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Ryan Woo