Sunday 30 July 2017

Properties and the Arrival of Robots and Automation

Recently, I went to view some houses and realised how expensive houses have become. A 2-bedroom condominium in Jurong could go for $1 million and a 4-room HDB flat in Clementi could sell for $700K to $800K. If you read my past blog posts on Properties, you would know that I am not a fan of properties in the long-term, mainly because of the ageing population in Singapore (see Properties, the Population White Paper and the Land Use Plan for more info). 

In the past 1 year, I have also begun to worry about robots and automation taking away jobs (see Early Retirement Maybe A Luxury That I Cannot Afford for more info). I believe that everyone would need to keep on learning and re-learning, and be prepared to change careers at least 1-2 times in their economic lifespans in order to adapt to changes brought on by technology. And in the worst case scenario, a lot of human jobs would be displaced by robots and automation.

For most people, housing is an expensive item and it can take 20 to 30 years to fully repay a housing loan. When you superimpose the trend of robots and automation displacing human jobs with the 20 to 30 years of steady employment required to service housing loans, it raises the question of whether most people can fully pay down their housing loans. And if they could not, what would happen to the housing market in, say, 20 years' time when the full effects of robots and automation happen?

Having said the above, at this point in time, it is not clear whether robots and automation would really displace human jobs on a wide scale as some writers fear, or whether they would allow governments to provide a basic income to every citizen so that everyone need not work and could pursue his/her own dreams. 

Personally, until the effects of robots and automation and governments' responses to them become clear, I would prefer to be more prudent in my housing decisions, i.e. to buy a HDB flat instead of a private condominium if possible, and/or to take a shorter loan tenure such that by the time I am displaced by technology, I would also have paid down the loan fully.

For investors buying properties with the hope of renting them out to foreign talents, robots and automation also raises another issue. If robots and automation really were to displace human jobs, the no. of foreign talents will also decline. Will properties still provide good rental yields in the future? I do not know.

I have raised more questions than answers in this blog post. This is because I also do not have the answers. We can only monitor and act accordingly.

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