One Bishopsgate Plaza (gold) stand among other landmark towers within the City of London (Photo: UOL Group)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Having sold out most of the units in the residential projects launched in Singapore last year, property giant UOL Group hopes to repeat that feat at its flagship Pan Pacific Hotel-branded residences, The Sky Residences, in London’s One Bishopsgate Plaza.
The Sky Residences has just 160 exclusive private residences traversing the 21st to 41st floors of a 42-storey bronze and glass skyscraper designed by London-based PLP Architecture (the same architecture firm for Shun Tak Holdings’ 54-unit ultra-luxury Park Nova in Singapore).
UOL Group will showcase The Sky Residences in Singapore on the weekend of March 25-26, with 33 one- and two-bedroom units under the “Opulent Collection”. These units span the 21st to 29th levels of the tower.
Prices start from GBP1.11 million ($1.81 million, based on the exchange rate of GBP1 to $1.63 on March 15) or GBP1,800 psf ($2,934 psf) for a one-bedroom unit. Two-bedroom units are priced from GBP1.69 million (GBP1,846 psf).
The lobby of Pan Pacific London (Photo: UOL Group)
“This is the first time we are holding a sales exhibition for The Sky Residences in Singapore,” says Anson Lim, UOL general manager (residential marketing).
Unlike most UK developers that choose international firms to handle the sales and marketing of their London projects overseas, UOL Group has appointed the three biggest local real estate agencies — PropNex Realty, ERA Realty Network and Huttons Asia — to jointly handle the sales and marketing of The Sky Residences in Singapore.
However, Savills (UK) and Knight Frank LLP are the exclusive joint marketing agencies for The Sky Residences in the UK and non-exclusive agencies in Hong Kong and Shanghai, says Lim.
About 50% of the three-bedroom units at The Sky Residences have been sold to to date (Photo: UOL Group)
Hotel-branded private residences
UOL Group and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Pan Pacific Hotels Group, completed the mixed-use scheme, One Bishopsgate Plaza, in May 2021. While The Sky Residences occupies the top half of the tower at One Bishopsgate Plaza, the five-star Pan Pacific London hotel sits on the bottom half, spanning from the basement to the 19th floor. The 237-room hotel opened its doors in September 2021, and since then, occupancy has climbed to 75%, with average room rates in February at GBP368 a night.
The hotel’s interiors and private residences at One Bishopsgate Plaza bear the hallmarks of the world-renowned design firm, New York- and Toronto-based Yabu Pushelberg.
Residents at The Sky Residences enjoy a dedicated wellness floor with a spa, gym, indoor infinity lap pool, a round-the-clock concierge service, lounge and library, meeting rooms, games room and sky terrace. Moreover, they can access Pan Pacific London’s hotel amenities and services, including a heated infinity pool, gymnasium, and wellness and spa area. “A la carte services including in-home dining/room service, apartment cleaning, laundry and butler service are available and provided by Pan Pacific London,” says Lim.
The 144-year-old, five-storey Devonshire Row, situated alongside the new tower at One Bishopsgate Plaza, was conserved by PLP. It boasts designer shops, restaurants and cafes on the first two levels; Silverleaf, a trendy destination cocktail bar by world-renowned designer Tom Dixon, on the third level; and offices on the uppermost floors. Both Devonshire Row and the 42-storey high-rise tower frame a new landscaped public square at Bishopsgate. Directly opposite is the Liverpool Street Station, one of London’s major transport hubs with links to the whole city, says Lim.
The public square framed by the five-storey, conserved Devonshire House and the 42-storey Pan Pacific London and Sky Residences (Photo: UOL Group)
Over 40% sold
According to Lim, over 40% of the 160 units in the 999-year leasehold, The Sky Residences have been sold at prices ranging from GBP1,700 to GBP2,550 psf, or an average of GBP2,190 psf. The developer has sold 50% of the one- and three-bedroom units, and close to 30% of the two-bedroom units.
Lim sees a good spread between owner-occupiers and investors among the buyers at The Sky Residences. Of the buyers, 60% are international — from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Switzerland — while the remaining 40% are UK buyers.
“We have seen strong buying interest among Asian buyers for The Sky Residences,” says Lim. “They identify and recognise the strong brand of UOL Group and Pan Pacific Hotels Group.”
Lim sees “pent-up demand for luxury residential properties in prime central London” following the resumption of international travel and the reopening of mainland China in January. He considers The Sky Residences capitalising on the rental growth across the City of London, with buyers enjoying “almost immediate rental returns”.
Over 50% of one-bedroom units have been sold. In this coming launch in Singapore, one-bedroom units priced from GBP1.11 million will be available (Photo: UOL Group)
Higher gross yields
In Prime Central London (PCL), average rents surged 18.5% in the year to January, while Prime Outside London (POL) average rents were up 16.4% over the same 12-month period, says Knight Frank in a Jan 30 report. Average rental values in PCL are also 24% higher than their pre-pandemic levels. The equivalent rise in POL is 22%, underlining the extent of the increase some tenants have faced.
“As a result of fast-rising rents and slow-rising prices, average gross yields have increased,” says Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank. “The figure was 3.8% across both PCL and POL in January. It was the highest yield in PCL for 14 years and a nine-year high in POL.”
According to UOL's Lim, investors can expect gross yields of between 4% and 5% at The Sky Residences. One-bedroom units recently fetched rental rates of between GBP1,000 and GBP1,200 a week.
Located in PCL, Sky Residences is equivalent to a luxury condo in prime District 9 or 10 in Singapore, according to Ismail Gafoor, CEO of Prop-Nex. He believes Sky Residences will appeal to a similar audience — astute investors and affluent individuals seeking portfolio diversification.
The residents' lounge on the 20th floor of the tower at The Sky Residences (Photo: UOL Group)
Amid numerous rounds of property cooling measures, Singapore citizens face significant additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) on their second and third residential property purchases, says Gafoor. For instance, a $1.5 million property will incur ABSD of 17% ($255,000) if it is the second property and 25% ($375,000) if it is the third property. If the buyer is a foreigner, the ABSD is 30% or $450,000 for a $1.5 million property.
An exit strategy is crucial for investors making overseas acquisitions, says Gafoor. “You can buy an inexpensive property in many parts of the world, but is there demand when you want to exit?” he says. “London stands out as a real estate market for its transparency, allowing foreigners to enter and exit without too many hurdles.”
With the lifting of border controls since 2022, interest in overseas properties has increased among Singaporeans, says Mark Yip, CEO of Huttons Asia. He adds that buyers are taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate between the Singapore dollar (SGD) and the pound sterling (GBP) to purchase property in London.
Two-bedroom units have prices from GBP1.69 million (GBP1,846 psf) and 30% of the units have been sold (Photo: UOL Group)
However, buyers need to know that the UK has also increased levies on foreigners buying residential property in recent years. For instance, resident buyers have to pay a stamp duty land tax (SDLT) of 12% for residential properties priced from GBP1.5 million to GBP10 million.
Foreigners who are non-residents buying a residential property in that price range must pay 14% or up to 17% if they own residential property elsewhere. There is also income tax on net rents, capital gains tax on disposal (28%) and inheritance tax (40%). Those using companies to purchase residential property must pay a 15% SDLT and an annual tax on enveloped dwellings (residential property above GBP500,000). Companies are also subject to corporation tax (capital gains tax) of 19% to 25% upon disposal of assets.
Although currency risks exist, Doris Ong, deputy CEO of ERA Singapore, believes it is somewhat mitigated due to the historically low exchange rate between the GBP and SGD today. Three years ago, the exchange rate between the GBP and SGD was hovering at 1.87, according to XE.com. On March 15, the exchange rate between GBP and SGD was at 1.63, down 12.8%.
View of The Gherkin and the City of London from a two-bedroom unit at Sky Residences (Photo: UOL Group)
Counting on cash buyers
“Some of these investors are buying property in the UK for their children who are studying there, while others are looking from an investment angle,” Ong reckons. “Most of these investors will be paying in cash, and hence the higher interest rates will not be a major factor in their buying decision.”
Reduced reliance on borrowing has cushioned the more expensive London markets from affordability issues arising from elevated mortgage rates, says Frances McDonald, associate director of residential research for Savills, in a Jan 25 report. She points to Prime Central and North West London, which saw the most negligible price falls of 0.6% and 0.2%, respectively, in 4Q2022.
A record number of sales above GBP5 million across London in 2022 is further evidence of that, says Savills. With 606 transactions above this threshold last year, total sales amounted to GBP6.57 billion, 13% more than in 2021, the previous high point.
The swimming pool of the Pan Pacific London is open to both residents and the hotel guests (Photo: UOL Group)
According to Knight Frank, average prices in PCL are still 15% below their last peak in August 2015. Price declines coupled with a weaker pound translate to higher effective discounts. “No wonder central London apartments are back in demand,” writes Knight Frank in its Feb 13 report.
From the perspective of Singaporean investors, the branding and the developer's track record matter too, says ERA’s Ong. “UOL Group is a blue-chip developer, and The Sky Residences boasts top architects and interior designers,” she adds. “The fact that it’s in a prime location in the City of London is an added appeal.”
The Sky Residences’ location directly opposite Liverpool Street Station is another attraction, says Huttons’ Yip. “Top universities such as Imperial College, London School of Economics and King’s College are within a 30-minute train ride,” he notes. “Being in the City of London, investors can take heart that there is a ready tenant pool from the financial centre and the many multinational corporations located there.”