Monday, September 28, 2009

Pssst, want to buy 'fraction' of a condo?

Firm marketing shares in apartments; industry watchers still wary

(SINGAPORE) A new way of selling condominium units here has emerged amid the recent resurgence in the property market.

Registered three months ago, Primespace Investments Pte Ltd is marketing 'shares' in apartments to investors with at least $62,000 to spare.

It has two studio units available - one at One-North Residences in Buona Vista and the other at One Shenton near Raffles Place.

While Primespace says it is selling 'fractional ownership', investors will not own the properties directly. The apartments will be bought and held by other private limited companies, and what investors pay for are shares in those vehicles. BT understands investors will not lodge caveats on the properties.

Each of these companies' share capital will be split into 15 lots. An investor has to pay $62,000 for one lot in the company which owns the One-North unit, or $110,000 for one lot in the company that owns the One Shenton unit.

After the share capital is allotted to investors, Primespace will continue to manage and rent out the properties. It says it will distribute rental income to investors every year, and it is offering a guaranteed yield of 5 per cent for the first year of investment. If an apartment's value increases by 'a certain level (usually 40 per cent)', Primespace will sell it and share the profit among investors.

Investors who wish to cash out before the homes are sold can sell their shares to other people. Or they can turn to Primespace, which says on its website that it guarantees repurchase of the shares 'after a minimum commitment period (two years for most projects)... at fair market value less a re-marketing fee.'

The idea of pooling funds to invest in property is not new here - many friends and relatives already do it. But Primespace's business is uncommon in that it lets strangers invest jointly in condominium units. It works like an unlisted property trust, which is more familiar to investors in countries such as Australia.

Primespace says its model allows those who 'could not otherwise afford or choose to purchase' property to still invest in it. Property consultants BT spoke to agree this is an advantage, especially in light of the downturn. But they also point out the drawbacks of investing in such private vehicles. For instance, investors may not have much say over the management, leasing and maintenance of the apartments, and they may find it hard to trade their shares.

Market watchers also urge investors to do thorough research. 'Reputation, years of related experience and the track record of the offering company is critical,' said Cushman & Wakefield Singapore managing director Donald Han. 'Investors are depending on its capability and experience to generate maximum returns,' said Mr Han.

Primespace's website offers no details about its management. The firm is registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority and records show its director is Trisha Suresh, who could be 24.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) executive director Seah Seng Choon said the investment model is not regulated and investors need to be cautious. For example, they should ensure that companies offering 'fractional ownership' cannot sell more than the agreed number of shares.

Chesterton Suntec International research and consultancy director Colin Tan says there are more safeguards for investors in listed real estate investment trusts. Those invested in private vehicles 'may have to resort to costly litigation if things don't pan out the way they expected,' he says.

BT contacted Primespace to find out more about its business, but the firm declined to comment.

Source: Business Times, 28 Sep 2009

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