What is decoupling in property – Is it legal and should I do it ?

What is decoupling in property

Table of Contents

Let’s get straight to the point, the fact that you landed on this article, meant that you have been harbouring plans of purchasing a second property and have frequently heard the term decoupling in property being thrown around. 

What is decoupling in property ?

Decoupling in property refers to the process of freeing up one party’s name in a property that is jointly owned under the names of two co-owners. It is executed via an internal buy and sell transaction between these two owners, with one party buying over the share of the other. 

A simple example of decoupling in property would be as follow

Assuming you and your spouse own a private condo valued at $1.8 mil, under a 50-50 share ownership. Undergoing the decoupling in property process, would require you to buy over 50% of your spouse’s share valued at $900k. 

Quick intro – Decoupling Expertise

Quick introduction, before you decide to commit the next 5mins reading this article.

We are decoupling expertise, a team of specialist realtor that specialise in helping Singapore property owners derive the best strategy to purchase their second investment property without ABSD.

While decoupling property is often the go-to strategy that property owners adopt. We pride ourselves for helping our client explore and evaluate other alternatives that best suit individual circumstances and objectives. 

Drop us a text to explore the best strategy to minimise ABSD on your next property purchase.

How can decoupling in property help you avoid ABSD on your second property purchase ?

Under the new 2023 ABSD rates update, a Singaporean citizen would incur a 20% ABSD on their second property purchase and a Singapore PR will incur 30% ABSD on their second purchase. 

ABSD is levied based on the number of properties held under a property owner’s name. 

Decoupling in property addresses the issue by relieving the ownership of the current property from one owner’s name, via the internal part purchase and sale transaction mentioned above. 

At the end of the decoupling process, either you or your spouse’s name will be “free up” to purchase the second property without ABSD, akin to a property owner with no existing property ownership. 

Assuming the purchase of a second property valued at $1.2 mil, you will be looking at a ABSD savings of 

  • $240,000 for Singapore citizen (20% x $1.2mil) 
  • $360,000 for Singapore PR (30% x $1.2mil)

Are you eligible to adopt decoupling in property ?

While decoupling in property is a commonly used method for property owners to purchase their second property. No all property owners are eligible to decouple their property. 

Due to HDB’s tightening of share transfer regulation in 2016. 

HDB and BTO property owners are no longer allowed to decouple their property unless under six special circumstances 

  • Death of owner
  • Divorce
  • Financial complication
  • Renunciation of Ownership 
  • Medical reasons
  • Marriage

If you are a HDB or BTO owner, refer to our dedicated article on Decoupling HDB to understand alternative options that you can consider to purchase a second property. 

If you are an EC owner, you are only allowed to consider decoupling only after the 5 year MOP period. 

EC owners check out our separate article on decoupling EC for more details. 

Is decoupling in property legal ?

At the time of writing, there are no existing regulations prohibiting the part purchase or part sale of share of ownership between co-owners of private property, i.e decoupling in property. 

However, do note that any artificial scheme contrived with the sole objective of tax evasion is deemed illegal. 

If this is an area of concern, it would be advisable to seek qualified legal advice from experienced decoupling lawyers to clarify your doubts. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the 99-1 ABSD loophole that IRAS have been investigating, refer to the article with link inline. 

In the article, we highlight the difference between decoupling and the 99-1 ABSD loophole that is being investigated by IRAS. 

For latest updates regarding IRAS 99 1 investigation, refer to article link inline.

Is there a cost to decoupling in property ?

Yes there are costs to be incurred when decoupling property. 

The cost component comprises of the following 

Stamp Duties

  • Buyer stamp duty – prevailing stamp duty rate levied on the value of co-owner’s share to be purchased
  • Seller stamp duty – not applicable if you held existing property for more than 3 years
  • Additional buyer stamp duty – applicable if you are a PR or foreigner buying over shares from your spouse

Mortgage related cost

  • Early loan redemption penalty – 0.4% on outstanding loan amount if your loan is still within loan package lock in period.
  • Valuation fee – $600

Legal related cost 

To find out how much decoupling in property costs and how much funds you will need to execute it, feel free to use our decoupling calculator

For more details on the cost of decoupling and how to minimise it refer to the following article inline. 

How long will decoupling in property take ?

The “decoupling in property” process will typically take 10 to 12 weeks for completion

For a detailed breakdown of timeline refer to the following dedicated article on decoupling timeline

When decoupling in property – is not for you 

When cost of decoupling exceeds cost saving from ABSD 

There are rare cases when the cost of decoupling can exceed the cost saving from ABSD. 

This normally happen under a scenario when the following circumstances are encountered

#1 – When the value of 2nd property you are looking to purchase is small eg. purchasing a $800k studio apartment. This will result in a smaller saving from ABSD, amounting to $160,000. 

#2 – Coupled with the fact that if the value of your existing property is high, eg. decoupling a landed property valued at $6.0 mil. 

#3 – And the property have only been held for not longer than 1 year, resulting in an extra 12% seller stamp duty be incurred

Assuming a 50-50 ownership. The cost of decoupling would be as follow

  • Buyer stamp duty (on 50% of $6.0 mil) – $119,600
  • Seller stamp duty (12% on 50% of $6.0mil) – $360,000
  • Legal fee – $6,000
  • Valuation fee – $600
  • Total – $486,200 

Only under such a situation, the cost of decoupling would exceed the cost savings from ABSD. 

Otherwise the cost savings from ABSD would significantly outweigh the cost of decoupling most of the time. 

When you have not cleared the 3 years seller stamp duty period

In line with the discussion above the rate of seller stamp duty is as follows. 

  • Property held less than 1 year – 12% on valuation of share to be transferred
  • Property held between 1 to 2 year – 8% on valuation of share to be transferred
  • Property held between 2 to 3 years – 4% 
  • Property held more than 3 years – No seller stamp duty 

So it is wise to only decouple your property after your 3 years seller stamp duty period have been fulfilled

When it is not worth retaining your current property 

The crux of decoupling in property is to retain your current property, while purchasing a second investment property. 

It will only make sense to decouple if it is worth retaining your current property. 

Here are some common reasons that property owners choose to retain their existing property

  • To minimise mortgage – current property have been paid up or have little outstanding loan
  • Due to lifestyle, family needs – the current property offer the optimal space and location for daily living
  • Growth potential – there is still room for capital appreciation with positive price catalyst coming up 

Here are some common reasons why property owner should not retain their existing property

  • Lease decay – if currently property is closing in on 25 years of lease, lease decay may affect it future selling price
  • Negative price catalyst – if you foresee future construction coming up leading to noise, block view or lowering of value in the property
  • Accumulated significant capital gain – selling the existing property could unlock the capital gain for purchase of two higher growth potential property

When decoupling in property – is the best option for you

When your goal is to purchase a second property with minimal changes to current lifestyle

For owners that prefer to keep everything status quo and simply acquire the second property. Decoupling allows you to keep your current property, and continue tapping on your current housing location that is close to your child’s school or parents place. 

As compared to selling your current property to purchase two new private condo, there will be more changes to manage. Aside from the new financial challenges that you and your spouse will need to adapt to, your family would have to adapt to living in the new property and adjusting to its new location. 

When you are looking to minimise the use of loan while purchasing two property

From our experience, quite a handful of our readers are property owners that are mindful of managing the total loan quantum to be undertaken by the family. 

They normally try to pay up the existing loan for their current property or keep the loan at a very small quantum and then take up additional bank loans for the second property. 

As compared to the option of selling the existing property to purchase two new properties, you may not be able to secure the new homestay property at the price quantum that you lock in many years ago for your existing property. 

This results in the family taking up a bigger loan quantum for both properties to be purchased.

When the full capital appreciation potential for your current property have yet to be realised

Assuming your current property is an EC that has recently MOP or a new launch that has recently TOP. 

There could be price catalysts that could trigger further price appreciation that have yet to be realised. 

Consider the following example. We have a client that owns a unit in a new launch development, Avenue South Residences. He has chosen to retain the existing property to realise the price appreciation that the Great Southern Waterfront transformation would bring instead of selling it. 

Under such circumstances, decoupling would be the optimal method to adopt to retain the current property while purchasing the second one. 

Like to confirm if decoupling in property is really right for you ?

Drop us a whatsapp text and we will work you through a detailed consideration process to assess if you are ready to decouple, and confirm if decoupling in property is indeed the best option for you. 

More reads, more gains ?

Kudos on making it this far. The fact that you have invested the last 5 mins reading this article. We believe you are a like minded real estate investor looking to beat the rat race by getting more out of your real estate investment. 

If so, do check out the following articles. 

Author

  • Jue Wen

    Jue Wen is the content marketing lead. This means he spend his waking hours researching and writing all things real estate. He believes life is a hustle and there is no joy in grinding away daily in our little rat races. He believes making wise moves in real estate investment can be a game changer. Aside from writing all things real estate, you can find him in your nearest bouldering gym.

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Jue Wen

Author

Jue Wen is the property analyst and content marketing lead at decoupling expertise.
He specialises in helping clients overcome the complexities involved in owning their second private property in Singapore.
He had over 10 years of experience in real estate investing and have written over 40 detail guides on decoupling and minimising ABSD. He is a licensed real estate consultant and holds a Bachelor degree in Business Management from the Nanyang Technological University.

Kenji

Co-Author

Kenji is the Group Division Director of ERA Realty Network.
He have got over 20 years of experience in real estate and have successfully helped over 50 couples purchased their second property. He specialises in helping client achieve the best approach towards acquiring their ideal investment properties while minimising ABSD.