This post is 80% about aviation and 20% about property prices in Singapore. If you are busy, don’t read.


Edit 9Jul 10am: Here at bigfatpurse we listen to our readers. The title has been changed in response to a reader’s comment that the previous one led people to salivate but eventually left them high and dry. We hope this one works better. For you only, Jack! 

I am often met with expressions of curiosity and even disbelief when people find out that I am renting instead of owning and living in my own apartment. Given the fact that we have one of the highest level of property ownership in the world, renting is definitely not the norm and it makes a great conversation starter. More often than not the line of questioning would end up this way. Why are you renting? Why did you sell your house? How much did you sell your unit for? What are you going to do after your lease is up?

Of course this will sooner or later lead to a discussion on property prices in Singapore. I am of the view that driven by the confluence of cheap credit, relative stability of the domestic economy and an influx of hot money, properties are overbought and will correct in time to come. I am also of the view that the Government is capping the upside through whatever means they could muster. Not too long ago I was at the receiving end of a tirade trying to convince me that my view of the market is myopic and unfounded. The person I am conversing with smugly and indignantly remarked that with the majority of Singaporeans owning their own flat, allowing prices to fall will do more harm than good and our pragmatic Government will never ever allow that to happen.

Let us give that some thought.


I fly airplanes for a living (another great conversation starter!). To many people a pilot’s job is glamourous, and involves waltzing through airport terminals in exotic locales with the entire set of flight attendants in tow. To some piloting requires extreme skill beyond that of the normal man in the street. Yet others think of flying as elementary as sitting in our comfy chairs, pushing buttons, turning knobs and letting the autopilot do our job. None of them could be further than the truth.

The sky is a particularly unforgiving place and aviation is inherently dangerous. What makes it safer though, is the implicit understanding of that fact by everyone involved in aviation. Aircraft manufacturers build in multiple layers of redundancies such that should there be a fault in any system of the aircraft, be it a valve, pump, processing channel or the computer itself, another would always be on standby to take over. Aviation authorities require airlines to comply with strict maintenance regime and safety audits. Pilots have to be licensed and relicensed every six months for as long as they fly. No other industry and profession in the world is subjected to this level of regulation.

If I ever have to condense everything I do day in day out, it would have to be the following – Risk Management. My job is to fly my passengers and cargo safety from point A to point B and in order to be able to do that, I would need to understand all the factors that can prevent me from doing so. Many of them are within my control. For example, if we are made aware of possible air traffic congestion or if bad weather is forecasted at our destination, we could possibly carry more fuel. That would allow us to hold until our turn to land or till the weather has cleared and in turn, prevent a potentially hazardous approach in marginal weather.

Yet for every thing that is within my control, there are many others beyond. Despite the many layers of back up systems in the aircraft, we cannot control when a technical malfunction will occur. We cannot predict weather with certainty; clear air turbulence and windshear are always formidable forces to be reckoned with and can cause great damage. We can never expect rational human behavior, and there will always be terror cells all around the world plotting to bring down an aircraft to achieve their political and religious aims. Our training teaches us to react to emergencies instinctively. Our training also teaches us that despite all the efforts to mitigate risks and trap errors, there are many factors beyond us and to think otherwise would be dangerous and foolhardy.


It is in the Government’s greatest interest to keep the property market buoyant and healthy, just like it is in every pilot’s best interest to keep his aircraft flying safely and within limits. That is indisputable. The Government retains a high level of control, but likewise with the weather they cannot predict every storm on the horizon. There are many layers of redundancies to prevent fraud but as we have seen with the example of Lehman collapsing, one failure could trigger off a major sell off. And as with terrorism, there are many profit seeking elements staging and seeking a chance to profit financially from a catastrophe in the markets.

To claim that property prices in Singapore will never come down because the Government will not permit it to, is akin to saying that planes will never crash because pilots are flying them. And we all know that is furthest from the truth.

Note:  At the time of writing, Asiana Airlines OZ214 crashed while attempting to land in San Francisco International Airport. The tail section became detached and a fire burned through the roof after coming to rest on the runway. The cause is unknown at this moment. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the fragilities of aviation. Our thoughts go out to the family of the passengers and crew.

Asiana Crash

Dive, snowboard and have moved house five times in the last ten years. Miraculously filled up every single page in my passport before it expired. Manage risk for a living.
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10 thoughts on “This post is 80% about aviation and 20% about property prices in Singapore. If you are busy, don’t read.”

  1. Hi Jon,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on property outlook in Singapore and of course your work, which is rather interesting too.

    In fact I knew a handful of local pilots who are renting apartments instead of buying one. They also share tips on the process as well.

    Anyway keep up the good work and look forward to your posts soon!

    Lastly I had also my Private Pilot License and probably we can chat and share the aviation journey together 🙂

  2. Just what we need to hear from on the sg property market: a pilot comparing flying an airplane to the property market without any mention of risks or threats to the current property market

  3. dear jon(pun intended)

    your article title belies the notion that the government can and may indeed allow the property sector to fail as if conditions warrant it. Readers may be forgiven if they were salivating over the prospects of having a saucy insight of the inner workings of the government and the looming “propegeddon” which never fails to delight non-owners slash tenants.

    Instead, you inexplicably launched into a deep prose about flying, machinery and the whole aviation shebang before concluding that “hey, if a marvellously engineered plane piloted by the most competent can crash, why not the sg property market?”. That leap of faith in that conclusion, i can imagine, will result in many a reader scratching their poor brains out.

    Is your mention of the Asiana air disaster a point to drive home that plane crashes are nearer than we thought, and the property sector can collapse overnight?

    it is my earnest hope that you pilot a whole lot better than you reason.

    • Hi Jack,

      I totally agree with you on the following two counts.

      1. The title sucks. It could do with a lot more thought. We listen to our readers and I have changed it to better reflect the content. Tell me if it works!

      2. My writing sucks. Let you in on a secret. Alvin makes me write these articles and all he does is to buy me lunch once in a while. He knows, and we all know that if I am half as good with prose as I am with flying I would be writing for the Economist or Financial Times. So again, we listen to our readers; I will keep my day job.

      Otherwise, the article stems from my experience with people who think that the government has final control over the property market and property prices. The fact is, the Government does not retain absolute control over interest rates, hot money outflow, a global economic slowdown etc etc. In thinking that they do, many homeowners and investors forget about how open our economy is. That leads to a misplaced sense of security. I drew parallels with my industry because we are keenly aware of all external factors that could affect safe conduct. We know we are vulnerable, and ironically, this vulnerability keeps us safe.

      To really drive home the point, I am not saying because a plane can crash why not the market. Rather, I am saying: Do not ignore external factors. Do not assume the Government has absolute control. Do not undermine your own vulnerability. Such line of thought will only lead to risky behaviour.

  4. omg. my ardent wishes are heard! my sincerity has finally moved the hardened heart of yours to change the title. And while you are at it, you might also want to add “Also not for lovers of logic and reason”

    To be honest, I’m actually more disturbed by the contents of the article than the title. it seems to me that that the inspiration for this article actually stemmed from the Asiana air disaster than anything else. In fact, both matters should not be discussed in the same breath, unless an epiphany hit you while you were soaring over our friendly skies and noticed that part of island has sunk and now teeming with marine life(that would definitely be out of the control of the government).

    While the government are often called upon to provide a backstop to a meltdown in economically/socially sensitive sectors, my guess is that few people would plunge head first into the property market with a “In Govt We Trust” bandana. Basic concerns on location, price, affordability and interest rates weight in first. And anyone who is old enough to afford a property now probably can remember the ’96 property bubble crash, ’03 property lull etc and therefore understand the limits of the government.

    Not all is lost here. You could share with us your rationale for renting a place rather than putting your name to one given you take home a rather princely sum of money every month. Or perhaps offer your perspective given your vantage point of observing the island from 30,000 miles in the air.

    Who’s Alvin?

  5. Jack,

    I have had my fair share of detractors. Most of the time I state my stand, they state their stand we try to understand where each other is coming from and often we agree to disagree. But suddenly I found myself up against someone with no stand and all emotions. This is so surreal. Have I struck a raw nerve somewhere?

    Anyway, since you want to engage, here is my response. I only have one actually, and here it is. Do not assume.

    1. Do not assume. I wrote this article one week ago. If you have read, you would have realised that it stems from my interaction with someone who has absolute faith that the government would not let property prices collapse. The Asiana incident happened just before I published, and hence the footnote. I have spent enough years in aviation to know better than to be callous. So pls, do not assume.

    2. Do not assume. Just because you don’t see the logic doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Let me dumb it down for you further. The Government is not allowing the market to collapse. Pilots are not allowing planes to crash. Despite all their good intentions, planes do crash and markets do collapse. Not because governments and pilots allow it to happen but because there are simply too many variables and external factors that is beyond their control. See the link? Which part of it then is devoid of logic?

    3. Do not assume. Do not assume that just because location, price, interest rates and affordability is your concern it remains the concern of everyone else. Perhaps all the people with blind faith in the government are all headed my way recently, but believe me, there are indeed quite a few.

    4. Do not assume. 1996 is seventeen years ago. Someone who can afford a property now can remember the bubble then? Really? Maybe they can remember living through the great depression as well. Pls Jack, dont make me do the math for you. It is too painful. And guess what, when clouded by greed and fear, memories become so much shorter. That is exactly the basis on which financial markets operate and you of all people should be keenly aware.

    5. Do not assume. All is never lost. My rationale for renting has been documented long before you showed up with guns blazing. And really, what I do with my princely sum is none of your bloody business.

    For all my insistence that you should not assume, I am going to permit one myself. I am assuming that you will want to have the last word on this. Go ahead, feel free, last words, floor is all yours, I am moving on. Otherwise, I will just be as happy to be proven wrong.

  6. Jon,

    well, usually i would not bother to reply when a stonewall is guaranteed but anyhow:

    1. well, if you say so. my bad.

    2. Now you are making the point dumb and dumber. On one hand we have a plane which is subjected to the laws of physics. The other, a financial asset influenced by economic variables, human psychology and what not. Perhaps you are really passionate about your job and you can see an aerodynamics dimension to everything. Now if i were to tell you that if a happily married couple today saw their marriage fail in 1 year, that must also mean that the government will allow the property market to fail someday. Does that register any sense at all?

    3. I’m not as lucky to have met these guerilla property hunters who are seemingly devoid of logic. Maybe birds of a feather do flock to the same location.

    4. You seemed to have conveniently forgotten that I also mentioned the property lull of 2003. And even if I don’t bring it up, I think it is safe (don’t shoot me) to “assume” that most buyers today have lived through the 20% decline in private property prices through 2008-09, property bubble in US/Europe in 2008 etc. If those governments allow their property sector to spiral out of control, so can our government? Now thats logic! If they happen to be living under a rock through these times, can I “assume” they have parents who can share these little juicy tidbits during their family dinner or CNY visits? Or perhaps they are allowed to have some friends at a supper have turned the conversation to property and could enlighten them?

    5. I did not ask for your expenses breakdown from your oh-so-princely monthly bag of clams, please do not assume.


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