Putting your money in a property or stock investment depends on your financial situation and goals, as well as your personal preference – there isn’t a clear-cut one size fits all answer. However, there are some key differences to note, before you make your choice:
Key differences between property and stock investments
1. Liquidity of investment
The main advantage of stocks is liquidity. They can be sold quickly, as and when you need the money.
While property can be sold quickly, doing so often means a fire sale (selling far below the actual value of the property asset). Otherwise, it can take several months to sell a property, as the agent needs to put up listings, conduct viewings, negotiate with various buyers, etc.
As such, investors with uncertain cashflows should think twice before choosing property. One alternative is to invest in property via Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) instead, which gives you exposure to the property market while maintaining liquidity (see our previous article on this).
2. Volatility of investment
As a general rule of thumb, investing in a physical property is not as volatile as investing in stocks. With some exceptions, the value of a property seldom changes as often as a stock, and in as large a percentage.
Your property is not likely to double in value within five years, whereas that’s quite possible with certain equities. On the upside, property values seldom decline by huge amounts as well (barring certain high-end, high-risk luxury investments).
One way to think of property is that you trade frequency for depth. In other words, property investors don’t need to make decisions as often as stock investors, who need to rebalance their portfolio semi-annually at least. You may only make decisions to buy or sell every five to 10 years, when it comes to property.
However, the depth of your decision (the overall financial impact) is much deeper. While a stock investor may make tweaks that only involve a few thousand dollars, changes to your property portfolio will probably amount to much more; selling and buying a new property, for instance, might be a S$500,000 decision.
3. Amount of capital needed
Property is not the ideal investment for cash-strapped investors, due to the large amount of capital needed. You should rethink property investments that would leave you without savings, or which would take up the entirety of your retirement fund.
With stocks, you can start investing even in small amounts. Banks like POSB and OCBC have Blue Chip Investment Programmes, where you can get started on as little as S$100 a month.
4. Ease of diversification
Unless you’re a big time property investor, you probably can’t diversify much. You probably have to pin all your hopes on one or two properties, that you’re renting out.
REITs help a little in this regard, as a REIT can own multiple property types. However, other types of stocks can offer even better diversification. For example, Index funds can literally “buy the whole market”, by building a microcosm of a given index (like the Straits Times Index Fund).
5. In Singapore, property investment is generally easier to understand
Investing in stocks generally requires a deeper education. Barring a pure reliance on technical analysis, most stock investors will need to know some business basics. This means being able to read financial statements, understanding P/E and D/E ratios, and having a good grasp of the state of various industries.
Investing in residential properties* is, generally speaking, simpler. You can walk around the neighbourhood to get a good feel for the location, and Singapore is small enough that most of us are clear on what is and isn’t a “hot spot”.
It’s also a simple matter to check transaction histories and rental yields, as most such information is public and well regulated (e.g. from the Urban Redevelopment Authority website). There’s even a Master Plan, that details future projects in the neighbourhood.
(Note that this is different for overseas properties, where things can get much more complicated).
*Commercial properties are a whole different matter
6. Taxes involved
At present, the biggest drawback to property investments are taxes. Besides the usual property tax, there’s the Additional Buyers Stamp Duty (ABSD) to consider. This is seven per cent of the property value for the second house, for Singapore citizens (it’s 10 per cent for Permanent Residents, and 15 per cent for foreigners).
And even Singapore citizens will pay the full 15 per cent ABSD, on the third and subsequent property purchase.
On top of this, there’s a Sellers Stamp Duty (SSD) of up to 12 per cent of the property value, if you sell within the first three years.
Stocks, however, are light on taxes. There’s no capital gains tax in Singapore.
7. Maintenance costs
Property does come with maintenance costs, typically around S$300 a month for most non-landed private homes. There are, of course, no such costs for stocks.
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