SINGAPORE: The move to refine a property data portal by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has been questioned by some analysts, who are concerned it may be harder to capture a more nuanced picture of the real estate market.
This comes after URA refreshed its Real Estate Information System (REALIS), a subscription-based platform, in October.
Various changes were made for “easier real estate data analysis” and a better user experience, including a new data section on monthly developers’ sales and improved search filters, according to URA.
But property analysts CNA spoke to on Tuesday (Nov 10) said the refresh removed useful search functions and provides less detailed data on the portal.
In a statement, URA said it had consulted key users, such as property analysts and consultants, on their needs and studied the usage rates of different datasets.
It then excluded “a small number of datasets from the enhanced version due to their very low usage rates”.
REMOVING CERTAIN PRICING DATA ON FOREIGN BUYING
One function that was removed allowed users to analyse pricing data for foreign buyers and their buying patterns.
The tool was useful as it showed how different nationalities gravitated towards different property price ranges in a given period, said head of research at Knight Frank Singapore Leonard Tay.
"The ability to call up data that showed the range of price thresholds and affordability of various diverse buyers from all over the world was useful not only for developers in pricing their products, but also for getting a sense of how attractive the various segments of the private residential market are to foreign buyers based on price tolerances," he added.
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It also previously gave marketers valuable insight on the prices foreign buyers were paying, in turn allowing them to target promotional efforts, said Mr Lee Sze Teck, head of research at Huttons Asia.
“What is your price point and who are you targeting? More data is good because it helps them make better decisions, without which it’s like hunting in the dark,” said Mr Lee, who used this tool about once a month before it was removed.
On a broader scale, information on foreigners’ buying preferences, including pricing, was also useful as it provided a “greater understanding of capital flow patterns into Singapore vis-à-vis other countries,” said Ms Tay Huey Ying, head of research and consultancy at JLL Singapore.
The information will also help towards "a more comprehensive understanding of demand, supply and pricing dynamics of the housing market", she said.
"This can all help in improving market forecasting and aid in decision making by interested parties."
There is also no readily available alternative for such comprehensive data on foreign buying, said Mr Tay of Knight Frank Singapore, adding that other ‘evidence’ are mostly anecdotal.
However, REALIS still allows transactions by foreign buyers to be analysed in terms of district and land tenure, which some analysts say is sufficient to understand the property market.
“I think it’s fair, because of privacy. You don’t know how much they bought it for, but you still know where they are buying, so it’s still beneficial for analysis,” said Mr Desmond Sim, Head of Research for Singapore and Southeast Asia at CBRE.
"In light of today's confidentiality clauses, I think it makes a bit more sense to sieve out confidentiality of transactional prices."
OTHER CATEGORIES LESS DETAILED
Certain categories of data have also become less refined, including figures on the stock of commercial properties.
Data for office and retail stock space are now presented using broader parameters, such as planning regions, compared to the past when it could be obtained for more specific planning subzones.
The data previously available was useful for “a sense of the size of working populations in various micro areas, especially in suburban housing estates”, according to Mr Tay.
Similarly, data on residential and commercial property rentals have become less detailed.
Instead of being presented as a range with different markers, only median rent figures are available now.
“In this new economy, we are moving towards more data transparency. With what’s being done right now, it seems like we’re taking a step back,” Mr Lee said.
Ms Tay of JLL Singapore added: “Data is knowledge. The more information we have of any market, the better we can understand its dynamics, and this can facilitate the optimal allocation of scarce resources.”
URA said it will continue to review the data functions and their usage.
The authority also assured it will take into account users’ feedback on the enhanced REALIS, including its scope of data coverage, to ensure the portal remains relevant to them.