For decades, Singapore and Hong Kong have battled for the crown of being the best place to live and work in Asia. Today, the cities are leading destinations for foreign investment, business expansion, and immigration. But while they both provide a rich business landscape for foreign investors and expats, Hong Kong is often considered the more dynamic and profitable region, attracting large international and multinational businesses and, with it, the potential for higher wages.
Meanwhile, Singapore is far more agile than its rival, offering space for smaller business start-ups to grow. It also has the edge when it comes to pleasant surroundings and work-life balance. So, with that in mind, which region comes out on top for those working in our industry?
Singapore has the edge when it comes to pleasant surroundings and work-life balance.
Impact of COVID-19
In Asia, the size of Hong Kong’s real estate market is equivalent to that of its gross domestic product (GDP). And in Singapore, real estate is half the GDP. However, most other regions, the ratio of professionally managed real estate is much smaller. But in the last year, the real estate markets in both Hong Kong and Singapore have felt the impact of COVID-19. Those in real estate across both cities have taken a hit as people pause their sales and purchasing deals while they wait to see how the pandemic plays out.
The virus has also impacted landlord and tenant relations in Singapore. Following the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government in Singapore made it a mandatory requirement for landlords of commercial real estate to offer businesses a six-month rental freeze if they requested it. Hong Kong generally prefers to let tenants and landlords come up with their own agreements or pursue disputes in court, further pushing apart the positions of these two real estate markets.
In an area where commission from real estate sales and rentals can often surpass average monthly salaries, the impact of the pandemic has been a blow to many realtors’ earnings. Employers have also had to take a much more conservative approach to salaries and benefits, as shown in our 2021 Real Estate Salaries in Asia survey results. The research reveals that more than half of respondents have had no pay increases since the pandemic, equivalent to a 45% drop, and a further one in 10 have seen their salary cut.
However, employees seem to understand the situation. They are not generally pushing for any significant awards this year, and most people don’t expect any pay rises to be around the level of inflation. But while employers are remaining cautious, there are still opportunities for promotions and rewarding those parts of the business that have performed exceptionally well.
How does real estate in Hong Kong and Singapore measure up?
So, how do real estate salaries and benefits measure up in Hong Kong and Singapore? On average, our real estate survey respondents in Hong Kong earned US $7,093 a month with Singapore typically earning US $7,544. However, these figures can vary significantly across both cities depending on asset class, seniority level, age, gender, and changing employers.
In Hong Kong, people working in hospitality and retail were among the highest-paid pre-pandemic, earning on average HK $85,000 (US $10,939). Meanwhile, after the office market which has since taken a hit, employees in Singapore specialising in industrial and logistics continue to be the top earners taking home on average S $11,900 (US $8,910) a month, closely followed by commercial real estate at S $11,000 (US $8,236).
While both Hong Kong and Singapore have experienced a steady rise in salary by grade, there are no clear leaders in average salaries across the different sectors. However, Hong Kong has made significant progress in closing the gender pay disparity that Singapore needs to catch up with. Switching employers is the main reason beyond most salary increases, as the number of employees receiving a promotion or pay increase has reduced significantly since the start of the pandemic.
Each location also comes out on top in different areas. For instance, Hong Kong takes the clear lead in investment, development and occupier sectors, while Singapore has the edge with comsultancy practice and architecture.
Interestingly, our report shows in Singapore, people in the 56 to 65 age group are the highest earners, whereas in Hong Kong, the highest earners are between 46 and 55 years old.
Monthly salary comparisons in Asia by sector, $USD.
Hong Kong Versus Singapore
Even with a slight difference in salary, both Singapore and Hong Kong are highly lucrative work locations. While Hong Kong’s workforce has some of the most competitive salaries in Asia, Singapore is hot on the heels of its rival. Many people are drawn to Singapore for the better work-life balance it offers. In fact, even many real estate service providers are increasingly choosing Singapore for their headquarters, boosting real estate career opportunities in the region.
Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the world’s leading destinations for business expansion, foreign investment, and personal immigration. Furthermore, with reasonably accommodating tax schemes in place, Hong Kong and Singapore make great locations for real estate careers to flourish.
It has been an incredibly challenging year for real estate across Asia, with travel restrictions leading to a decline in cross-border business and personal investments. However, a fluid market and good quality assets mean the real estate sector can be cautiously optimistic about the future.
While pay increases, promotions and bonuses are off the table for many, employers will be looking at alternative strategies to retain and energise their workforce ready for the new post-pandemic world.