The 2023 Guide to Owning Commercial Real Estate: 10 Things You Should Know

3 ABSD measures in the past 2 years.  All combating the rampant rise of Real Estate Prices in Singapore but still the Prices runs amok.  You’ve heard about Commercial Real Estate and that it is a wonderful alternative to Residential Real Estate investing but know very little about it.  Fret not!   

Here’s the take down on your 2023 Guide to Commercial Real Estate Investments.  

We got you covered!  


1.  Defining Commercial Real Estate & Types

Commercial properties are not for residential use. They are for business purposes only. Commercial properties can generate income through either rental payments or capital gains.

Here are the 4 main types of commercial property:

A.  Retail 

Shopping malls, stores (for example, clothing stores, convenience stores, electronic stores, etc.), F&B establishments, hair salons, spas, gyms, shophouses, and so on are examples of commercial properties.

B.  Industrial

Institutional buildings such as offices, warehouses, and factories are examples.  Yes, think JTC and Tuas and you’ll get the idea. 

There are two sub-classes of these properties:

i.  B1 Commercial Property:  Offices and warehouses

ii.  B2 Commercial Property: Factories

C.  Hotel

All kinds of hotels and hostels are included, ranging from 2-star budget hostels to 5-star hotels.

It’s important to understand that hotels require proper licensing. You must first obtain a valid hotel licence from the Hotels Licensing Board (HLB) to operate a hotel. You will also need various permits from the Fire Safety Bureau, National Environment Agency (NEA), and Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

It’s possible that you’ll need several permits if your hotel has a lot of services. You will also require Food and Beverage licences for any dining establishments if you run F&B outlets in the hotel. You will require a Public Entertainment License if you have a bar. If you offer massage services, you will need a Massage Parlour License.

D.  Parking Lots

Yes, you can purchase car park lots in Singapore! Singapore does not have strata-titled parking lots. Therefore, you can’t just purchase a few individual lots for investment. Rather, you must purchase the entire parking lot.

2.   Foreigners & Commercial Real Estate

Foreigners can purchase commercial properties here in Singapore.

The following commercial properties can be purchased by foreigners under the Residential Property Act:

  •  Shophouses
  •  Hotels
  •  Industrial Properties (factories, warehouses etc)
  • Retail (Retail shops)


Can Permanent Residents (PR) buy? 

In short, YES.

Can Foreign Companies Buy? 

You can purchase commercial real estate in Singapore with an offshore business (e.g., a US-based LLC, British Virgin Islands corporation, etc.). There are no limitations.

3.   Is it better to buy a Commercial Property as an individual or through a company?

A corporation owning a property is a good option in the case of Commercial Real Estate.

It can offer the following advantages:

A.   Limiting of Liabilities

Whilst Singapore is a great place for Businesses, and that there is a system where legal recourse is fair and efficient, you can never be too sure.  

Unlike certain places where Frivolous law suits are a common practice, Singapore frowns on things like these.  

Assuming that despite being conscientious about your Commercial property, something unfortunately still happens.  By holding a property in a registered company, you’re legally limiting your exposure to the paid capital of the holding company.  Shielding the owners and their personal assets.   

B.   Mitigating Taxes

In Singapore, corporate taxes can be lower than personal taxes, depending on your income bracket. Buying a commercial property through a local Singapore company can therefore reduce your tax burden.

You may be able to lower your taxable rental income when operating a commercial property through a company by claiming for business-related expenses, such as property maintenance costs.

You can get a refund of the 7% GST you pay for a commercial property if your company is GST-registered (you can opt to register for GST if you wish).  GST will be raised to to 8% come 1 Jan 2023. So if you bought a say, $3 million property, you’ll be able to get a refund of $210,000 before 2023 or $240,000 after that.  

C.   TDSR limitations

When purchasing a commercial property, the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) applies. The TSDR in Singapore is 55%. Therefore, you can only take out a loan that results in annual mortgage payments that are 55% or less of your yearly income.

You may only take on a loan up to $55,000/year if your annual income is $100,000, for example. This restricts the variety and scale of commercial properties you can invest in, unless you have a particularly high income.

However, corporations with robust financials (e.g. positive cash flow, clean balance sheet, sustained operation, etc.) can be exempted from the TDSR. This allows you to acquire more expensive Commercial Properties, which may result in higher returns.

4.  Paying Taxes 

The flat rate of 10% of the annual value (AV) is paid by commercial property owners. The AV is calculated by multiplying the gross annual rent by 10 if your property were to be rented out.

Because commercial properties bought for investment has a tendency to be more vacant use than their residential counterparts, their property taxes are usually lower. 

5.   Capital Gains Tax = Z E R O

There is no capital gains tax in Singapore, so you don’t have to pay any capital gains taxes if you sell your commercial property. So this makes a great argument to own one!  

Real estate investors can maximise their gains when buying and selling commercial real estate in Singapore by using this service.

6. Can you use CPF to buy?

Even if you are purchasing your commercial property in your individual name, you cannot use your CPF savings. It’s one of the main distinctions between residential and commercial property purchases.

For this reason, you must pay the down payment, monthly mortgage payments, stamp duty fees, and legal fees using only cash.

The maximum loan-to-value proportion (LTV) that a bank may provide you with is 80%, which is five points higher than the maximum LTV for residential property – 75%. The amount of money that you can borrow is based on the bank’s estimation of your creditworthiness.  

In short, be nice to your banker!

7.   ABSD

There is NO ABSD (Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty) for all foreigners and Singaporeans for the purchase of a commercial property. 

But, you’ll still have to pay regular Buyer’s stamp duty.  

Buyer's stamp duty Kai Hub

8.   Where can I find data?

If you are a savvy investor who likes the science behind investing, there is a plethora of information you can use to conduct your analysis and come up with your own Investment models

URA’s website has a list of useful data on commercial properties.

You can view:

  • Commercial Properties supply
  • Major commercial projects set to be launched
  • Rental prices and trends
  • Office and retail space for rent that is available for Rent


9.  Residential vs Commercial Rental Yields

Generally speaking, the trends for Commercial Real Estate do give you a better Rental Yield or Cap Rate when compared a Residential Property.  Although there are other considerations like locations, tenure, type of use etc, these will all affect the Returns on any property.  

10.   Key Factors to look at before Commercial Real Estate

A.  Different Types

There are many different types of commercial properties, and each asset class has its own set of strengths and risk factors. Investors must first determine whether they want to invest in a CBD-area shopping mall, a HDB shophouse in a heartland district, or an industrial warehouse. Because of their various price points and anticipated returns, each commercial property class has its own set of strengths and risk factors.

Heritage Shop House

There is a limited supply of heritage shophouses and there will be a premium compared with others in this space.

Many of these shophouses are located in the Central Business District (CBD) or Districts 1 & 2, making them popular choices to rent for small companies and trendy startups.

A lot of these can be found in and around Chinatown and Telok Ayer.  Whilst they do cost quite a penny, their historic capital gains are also fairly impressive.  

Shop Houses may be subject to zoning restrictions and will have to abide by URA regulations. 

B. Location

The returns you make from your commercial property will be determined by its location. In addition to determining leaseholds, location will also play an important role. Here are some important factors to consider when evaluating the location of the commercial property: Is it close to the MRT? Is it within walking distance? If not, are there nearby bus stops, and how far away is the closest stop? Is there on-site parking or how far is the nearest car park and how easy is it to get parking? Is it close to a busy road or street? If so, you can charge higher rents.

C.  Changing of Use

Commercial properties are zoned according to their intended use. Zoning rules are implemented by the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority). If you purchase a commercial property and wish to change its intended use to something different from its original use, you may need to apply for planning permission from the URA first.

For example, let’s say you purchased a nice commercial retail shop unit. Instead of running it as a shop, you decide you want to convert the place into a commercial music school. You’ll need to first check with the URA whether the guidelines allow for this change in use. If not, you’ll need to apply for permission from the URA before you embark on your conversion project.

D.  Leasehold vs Freehold

Leaseholds for commercial properties typically range from 30 to 60 years. This is much shorter than that of residential properties, which range from 99 year leases to freehold properties.

New commercial property launches are usually 30 year leaseholds. This is in line with the government’s announcement of more commercial property sites with shorter tenures (and smaller lot sizes) being released for purchase. This helps make industrial sites more affordable for business owners in Singapore. It also gives flexibility for the government in terms of redevelopment of land.  

But yes, there are still Freehold properties out there.  You’ll just have to be diligent in seeking them out if that is what you’re after.  

E.  Money

Just making sure that your math on the money portion will make sense and that you have all that sorted out before you embark on an investment.   

Final Note

Just like any other investment you’re likely to embark on, you’ll need to do your homework.  Making sure you’ve crossed off the check lists on what a good investor in any Real Estate should do.   

There really isn’t anything more that can said for diligence and a bit of smarts to back that.  

Commercial Real Estate can offer some of the most handsome returns and get you to those Investment goals you have.  

If you like some help, do reach out of us as we’re professionals in this area and can possibly help you out.  

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