Freehold vs Leasehold: Does it really matter?

Firstly, landed property is the only true freehold. No condo is truly freehold, no matter what it says on PropertyGuru.

The confused debate between free vs leasehold is muddled further because the picture on everyone’s mind is a multi-storey building.

Condos and apartments ought to be classified as commonhold properties and the prices between each other has little real difference. 

I want to argue that the concept of ownership in these properties is an illusion, has no real value and we should really move on. 

a.) Property does not stay in your family forever. There are laws against perpetual ownership.

You, personally, cannot will it beyond your children, or at best grand-children. The law acts against the making of wills by persons trying to control property from beyond the grave. Whatever your son or daughter wants to do with it is out of your reach. Moreover in a commonhold situation, you are at the mercy of a vote between the other owners.

Unless you’re a tycoon (and the single owner of a piece of land) whom can afford to create a complex trust mechanism, there is no difference between lease and freehold properties.

b.) Discussions on the internet revolve around the concept of ownership. This concept is extremely unclear and quite frankly, useless to a common person.

For this discussion to be useful, one has to limit ownership at least by time. Can you dispose of your property in the next minute, the next day, or at least the next 10 years? 

Here’s a little test: if you had only $100k cash left, would you invest it all into a freehold property in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia or Myanmar? 

If you find yourself hesitating, this could be the reason why: These countries are so politically unstable, you may not have the freedom of disposing the property after the next elections. Freehold means nothing if you are not, in substance, guaranteed of it.

Now, let me explain why there is little difference in the prices between commonhold and leasehold in Singapore.

Here’s a table of “freehold” condos vs 99-year condos (data from PropertyGuru):

Freehold

  • 1389 sq ft  | $1223 psf | $1.7m | clementi
  • 1539 sq ft | $1234 psf | $1.9 | clementi
  • 904 sq ft | $1700 psf | $1.5m | Pasir Panjang
  • 980 sq ft | $1500 psf | $1.4m | Pasir Panjang
  • 1238 sq ft | $1857 psf | $2.3m | Bkt Timah
Leasehold

  • 1389 sq ft | $1209 psf | $1.6m| Clementi
  • 1421 sq ft | $1200 psf | $1.7m | Clementi
  • 1141 sq ft | $1400 psf | $1.6m | West Coast
  • 1044 sq ft | $1600 psf | $1.6m | Toh Tuck
  • 1776 sq ft | $1100 psf | $1.9m | West Coast

Do you notice that there really isn’t much difference between these two? Furthermore, there is a very wide mix of property types and prices. The difference is only 20% to 30%, which really isn’t huge. Why is this so?

a.) People buying freehold usually have an intention to live in it. They do not usually sell it off in the short-term. This probably explains why asset appreciates slower.

b.) People buying to invest have two general strategies: the first half of the property’s lifespan and the second half. In the first half, people trade the asset and the value goes upward with each change of hands. In the second half, people nurture the asset and rent it out until its demise. 

Either way, you still make money. Neither one strategy is better than the other.

c.) Each has their set of pros and cons. The older the property, the more work it needs, and the tighter the relationship the Management Committee is. Many of these apartments don’t even have lifts and suffer from drainage problems. Newer condos have a variety of modern facilities, technologies and are, well…just spanking new. 

So you see, there is really no value difference. Sometimes freehold properties can be cheaper than leasehold ones. The mix is so diverse, no one factor influences the pricing.

You may say that the only difference remaining is the amount that the bank is willing to loan you. This also boils down to your strategy and purpose (and financial standing). Banks have no absolute rule against lending to short lease properties. It is not substantially affected by the status of lease.

What matters to all of us is this: can you sell the property at a higher price when you want to? Can you rent it out? If so, then we ought to turn our concern to the economic conditions of the country and the political stability. 

The status of a piece of property being free or leasehold in commonhold properties does not substantially affect a price. What matters is your strategy, your purpose and the state of the economy.

As the famous quote goes: I don’t care if it is a black cat, or a white cat… as long as this cat can catch mice, it is a good cat.

 

 

About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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