SINGAPORE (Aug 6): Multi-purpose, co-living spaces are revolutionising urban life in densely populated and expensive New York, San Francisco, London and Shanghai. The concept, rather like an upmarket update of rooming together at university, is apparently all the rage for millennials. Their lifestyles are often a blur of work, play and home and with many disinclined to start a family, they are open to pricey arrangements that give them private bedrooms but a shared kitchen, office and recreational space, as well as cleaning and laundry services.

There are co-living options in Singapore, in private property in popular districts such as Joo Chiat and Newton. But the trend is unlikely to become mainstream here. For one, Singaporeans still aspire to home ownership. “It is very much ingrained in the Singaporean mindset that if they have to fork out money to pay [rent], they would rather use that money for a mortgage to own a home, [and] enjoy the security of ownership and the prospects of capital appreciation,” Ong Teck Hui, national director of research and consultancy at JLL, tells The Edge Singapore via email.

Christine Li, senior director of research at Cushman & Wakefield, agrees. “A significant proportion of Singaporeans’ pay is channelled into CPF. As monies in the CPF Ordinary Account can only be used for buying and not renting, this results in a strong preference for home ownership,” she says.

And, the bulk of these homes will continue to be in public housing estates. “It would be too tall an order to expect the majority of the population to stay in private housing, because [it’s far more expensive],” says Alan Cheong, senior director of research and consultancy at Savills Singapore.

What then is the future of homes in Singapore? Most property experts expect home sizes to keep shrinking, driven by the same demographic and lifestyle trends that are popularising co-living elsewhere. Still, flat sizes are not expected to be as small as the “coffin homes” that have come to characterise high-density Hong Kong.

Li of Cushman & Wakefield points out that the average size of HDB flats has not changed since 1997. Also, URA has prescribed a minimum average size of 70 sq m per unit for private homes outside the Central Area. “We do not think the owner-occupied apartments will be significantly smaller than what they are today,” she says.

But as Singapore’s ageing population increases, more elder-friendly amenities are expected to be made available, says JLL’s Ong. They include more railings, ramps and emergency buttons. And for those who can afford it, there will also be in-house services such as clinics, private chefs and butlers, says Desmond Sim, head of Asia-Pacific research at CBRE. The push to be environmentally friendly could also see the installation of charging stations for electric cars.

Meanwhile, the idea of “smart” homes should take off, through the Internet of Things and blockchain technology. For example, an online grocer could partner with electronics and household appliances manufacturers to develop a grocery restocking system utilising blockchain, automatically ordering groceries that have run out.

Such conveniences would come at a price, of course. But property analysts expect home prices, both public and private, to remain stable for now. New HDB flats should always remain affordable to first-time homebuyers. For private property, the government’s most recent round of cooling measure showed its resolve to contain prices. 

Still, in the longer term, the prices of private homes will continue to “edge higher”, as property developers will pass on land inflation costs to homebuyers, says Savills’ Cheong. And, now that the government has debunked the notion of continually appreciating HDB flat values, private property will still be seen as a “superior investment”.

Hopefully, a “smart” home that takes care of the necessities of life will make up for the fact that it will be a whole lot smaller and a lot more expensive.

This article appears in this week's issue of The Edge Singapore (Issue 842, week of Aug 6), which is available on newsstands now. Subscribe here