Cover Biophilic design remain a key interest point for property buyers and investors (Image: Knight Frank)

Looking to buy a new home soon or expand your property portfolio? These are the key trends to know

How do we improve our health and overall well being in this new normal? It starts with where we choose to reside in, and the design of our abodes. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly heightened the importance of our homes, going far beyond providing the proverbial roofs over our heads to accommodate the evolving needs of our work and personal lives.

While Singapore proved to be the best performer in the region last year, Hong Kong fared equally well despite the 2019 political unrest, adds Christine Li, head of research at Knight Frank Asia-Pacific. She is confident of a positive long-term performance in the housing market. Li also feels that “the unorthodox access to international talent is likely to skew home buying preferences across Asia-Pacific’s gateway markets for the long-term”.

“As time goes, things start to normalise. We can see the potential growth in markets that did not do too well in the last two years, such as Taipei and first-tier cities in China (Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen), to do better, with forecast going beyond 5 per cent annual growth in 2022,” she says.

Here, we highlight some of the key property trends to watch in the year ahead.

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1. Wellness-driven homes

“The world has reassessed what is most important and looking after our physical and mental wellbeing is now a top priority as well as the health and wellness of our planet,” says Victoria Garrett, head of residential, Knight Frank Asia-Pacific. “The pandemic has upended how we live, what we want from a home, how we work, and prompted a reassessment of life goals, with many homeowners prioritising a better work-life balance.”

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In urban cities such as Singapore, luxury homes saw a noticeable spike in sales within the city. Concurrently, many investors—locals and foreigners mainly from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the US and Australia—lured many to the resort island of Sentosa; overseas buyers of properties in the Sentosa Cove district are able to apply for a long-term social visit pass or permanent residency.

“Statistics provided by the government show a spike in the demand for the homes at Sentosa in 2021,” says Cha. “The stronger interest could be attributed to a desire to enjoy waterfront lifestyle, but also partly to the recent relatively more affordable pricing, and flexibility of luxury properties in Sentosa Cove.”

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2. Eco-conscious elements

Lewis Cha, executive director of List Sotheby’s International Realty, says that this is especially true among affluent millennials. “Staggering wealth growth driven by emerging industries like biomedical, fintech and Big Tech, along with rebounding stock markets and cryptocurrency gains have resulted in more money being poured into luxury real estate,” he notes. “More ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) investors­—individuals with investable assets of at least US$30 million—especially those in the 20 to 40 years-old age group, are now willing to set aside a budget for green features in their homes so as to reduce carbon emissions.”

Garrett agrees, adding that more buyers are “building homes using materials like non-toxic paints, energy-efficient lighting”. According to Knight Frank’s Asia-Pacific Outlook Report 2022, these are the dominating criteria among the region’s homebuyers in the post-pandemic world: “good air quality (70 per cent), green space (69 per cent), and access to good healthcare (64 per cent)”.

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Steve Leung, founder of Hong Kong-headquartered Steve Leung Design Group, says that developers and designers alike have been responding in equal fervour to these eco-conscious requirements.

“There has been a subtle shift away from materialistic and glamorous luxury towards a more holistic approach focused on wellness, quality experience, and specific needs of the final users.” This will shape the built environment across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan markets with “the interior design industry embracing the rising trend of being eco-friendly”. 

Clint Nagata, founder and creative partner at Blink Design Group, concurs on the importance of such nature-inspired influences, adding that biophilic design has been a fundamental part of the processes of his multinational design company. “There is already an innate human desire and need for nature, and because the pandemic has closed off so much of the world, we have embraced even more of our natural roots and gravitated even more towards nature,” he says.

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3. Investment visa programmes

The ability to work remotely has also introduced what Joel Villalon, principal and executive advisor of San Francisco-based BraytonHughes Design Studios, calls the “extended-stay phenomenon”. “In this new era, people are spending more time in a locale when they travel, blending business and leisure,” he adds. “This means that they need spaces where they can gather, conduct work, socialise, and relax.”

In the past two years, many UHNW individuals relocating and seeking homes in safe haven countries—those that were resourceful in handling the pandemic, and offered excellent medical facilities, as well as a holistic lifestyle that feeds the body, mind and soul.

Kittiwat Namsawatwong, director of marketing at List Sotheby’s International Realty, Thailand says that this migratory movement was especially prominent in Thailand in 2021, whose economy and property market took a hit from the pandemic.

Countries such as the UK, US and Australia, which have attractive investment visa programmes, topped the list for Thai high-net-worth (HNW) investors; these refer to individuals with at least $1 million in liquid financial assets.

As that trend continues strong, the Thai government is working on setting up its own investment visa programme to attract the HNW into its borders for the long-term. Developers have been responding to that call with many luxury and branded residences launching in the Thai capital in recent months.

In cities such as Bangkok, condominiums are still the preferred types of property for foreign HNW investors, especially in the downtown area such as in Sathorn, Sukhumvit or along the Chao Praya river bend,” says Namsawatwong. This will likely change with a new policy the Thai government is looking to launch soon “that will allow foreigners to own a landed property”. This, he predicts, would make Thailand very competitive in the second home markets, especially in major travel destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui.

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4. Yachts as alternative accommodation

Leung, on the other hand, observes an interesting pivot attached to this trend where the ability to work remotely has made relocating an attractive consideration for well-heeled digital nomads; it has driven up the demand for luxury yachts, which are conceived as alternative accommodation that also provide a holiday-like mood at sea.

“The travel and social gathering restrictions have created an unexpected demand for bespoke luxury yachts, especially among the younger generations of Asian owners who are inclined to utilise them for family gatherings and social entertainment,” he says. Leung recently reinterpreted the design of the San Lorenzo yacht SX88 into a floating villa for this purpose.

5. Going virtual

The pandemic has accelerated the digitisation process of property purchases. Virtual property viewings are commonplace, with buyers making decisions without even visiting the site in person.

“It is incredible to see how quickly the property world and buyers have adapted to virtual viewings,” says Garrett. “We have seen sales being closed at all levels of the market via this method even at the £10million (approximately S$18.25 million) level. At the higher end of the market, this was driven by scarcity, where the buyers tended to already know and understand the areas they were looking to buy.” 

A nascent trend that’s gaining a lot of attention is the world of virtual real estate. “Covid-19 has played a bit part in its popularity”, says Garrett. “The world has been going in and out of lockdowns, many have been looking for ways of escaping from the confines of our own homes; the virtual world has provided them a very welcoming escape. With the popularity of gaming coming to the fore, virtual worlds and virtual real estate agents are also on the rise. It would be interesting to see where this phenomenon will grow to in the near future.”


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