The housing rental market struggles to find its place, influenced by the decrease in number of non-resident employees and gaming-related workers, with rents now 30 percent lower over pre-pandemic period
A 2,000+ square feet four-bedroom flat in casino-hotel-housing complex
“L’Arc” would be rented out for as much as MOP55,000 (US$6,875) a month just two years ago.
But a recent rental transaction of a similar flat in the same project has made many people in the real estate industry drop their jaws — the latest cost was only MOP17,500 a month.
And this is not an isolated case. While the average transaction price of residential sales remains stable at the moment, after struggling in the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rental segment continues to be feel the pinch.
“In the beginning of the pandemic last year, many landlords would rather have their flats vacated than lease their properties at a low price”, says Lily Hong, sales director of Midland Realty (Macau) Ltd. “So there was no drastic change in home rentals last year.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic persists, with a new wave of cases in Mainland China in the past few months and in Macau in August, landlords are left with little choice though. “More landlords [this year] are willing to ink contracts for 1-2 years or even three years at a lower price level, as they have to pay mortgages and cannot let their units stay empty forever”, Ms Hong explains. According to local laws, rental contracts should last at least three years unless both landlords and tenants agree on a shorter time period.
Residential rentals in neighbourhood areas such as the district of Avenida de Horta e Costa and Fai Chi Kei on the Macau Peninsula are now about 10-15 per cent below the pre-pandemic level, Ms Hong states. Moreover, a considerable decline (in some cases reaching as low as 30 per cent of the pre-Covid level) in rentals in the districts in the vicinity of casinos and hotels in the NAPE and Cotai districts is being reported.
In contrast, average home prices stood at MOP102,240 a square metre in July 2021, increasing by 2.3 per cent year-on-year and only decreasing by 3.1 per cent from December 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to the Financial Services Bureau.
Outflux of non-residents
“The rental level in neighbourhood areas is supported by the demand of residents and unskilled imported workers, who still represent a significant portion of the labour force”, the Midland Macau executive says, explaining the reason behind the rental slump. “Meanwhile, there has been a drastic decline in the number of people linked to the gaming industry such as junket representatives, as well as non-local executives and management in gaming resorts, who are willing and capable to splurge on renting luxury units. Thus, the rental demand in areas like NAPE and Cotai only just collapsed in the post-pandemic era.”
In a bid to safeguard local employment, at a time when the unemployment rate has been hovering at a high level, the government has been stricter with the applications of new imported labour quota or with renewing the existing quota, as well as with the lay-off of non-locals by businesses amidst the economic downturn. The latest figures from the Labour Affairs Bureau say the number of non-resident workers approved to work in the territory stood at 170,710 at the end of July 2021, down by 13.1 per cent, or 25,820 fewer workers than at the end of 2019.
Figures also showed a 6.8 per cent decline, or 12,500 fewer workers compared to the same period a year ago. The number of unskilled workers, including domestic helpers, also dropped by 13.1 per cent from the end of 2019 and 6.8 per cent year-on-year to 165,228 in July 2021, while the number of skilled employees plunged by 15.2 per cent from the end of 2019 and 7.7 per cent year-on-year to 5,482 in the same time period.
In addition, the number of non-resident employees in the casino sector suffered a slump of 22.6 per cent from the end of 2019 to 12,240 in July 2021, while the tally in the hotel and dining segment also decreased by 21.3 per cent to merely over 43,010 in July, the official data added.
“The rental demand of residential units here has continuously declined due to the steady drop in the tally of non-resident workers”, the senior director of Centaline Macau and Hengqin, Roy Ho Siu Hang, comments. “It’s a tenant market now — there are not many units available for rent in the market.”
According to the figures provided by the property agency, rentals in the downtown of Taipa, for example in the well-known residential complex Prince Flower City, dropped by more than 20 per cent from about MOP13 a square foot in pre-pandemic times to the current MOP10 a square foot. In the high-end residential development in Cotai, One Oasis, the average rent for a 500-800-square feet flat also decreased from MOP15-17 a square foot to MOP11-12 a square foot.
Rentals in La Marina, the large-scale luxury housing project in Areia Preta, now average between MOP11 a square foot and MOP15 a square foot, depending on the size of the flats, while they used to cost MOP16-20 a square foot two years earlier.
Given the four new Covid-19 cases found in the local community in August, which have once again forced the government to temporarily strengthen border restrictions between Macau and the nearby Guangdong, Mr. Ho notes there has been a rise in transactions for short-term leases of up to six months in recent weeks. “We don’t know whether all these new leases are due to the travel rules, but we have seen at least 20 more deals in recent times”, he explains.
In early August, individuals crossing between Macau and the nearby Guangdong province were once required to present a negative result for a nucleic acid test taken within the last 12 hours prior to travelling, but the requirement was relaxed on 25 August owing to the once again stable situation in Macau. People now need a nucleic acid test result issued within the past seven days prior to their departure.
Long stays in hotels
The territory has also seen some local hotels roll out monthly packages to entice customers given the lack of travellers in post-pandemic times. Holiday Inn Express Macau City Centre, boasting nearly 260 rooms, was inaugurated in the NAPE area in September of last year. The hotel has been promoting the so-called Long Stay Package throughout the month of August, thanks to which guests only need to pay MOP6,499 to stay in one of its bedrooms for 30 days.
Ms Hong from Midland Macau thinks the hotel offerings have little impact on the residential rental market. “It’s not like the hotels could provide these offerings all the time”, she says. “Most tenants in the market look for people willing to stay at least a year or more and who wouldn’t be interested in staying in hotels.”
Without these threats coming from the hotels, the residential rental segment will still be subject to pressure in the near future. “Unless there are substantial changes in the local economic fundamentals and job market, the rental level will probably stay at the current level for now”, she adds.