Housing supply to slow down in 2015

The authorities have announced that public housing supply and land sales will slow down come 2015 as the market has showed signs of cooling and stablising after the many rounds of property cooling measures rolled out over the past year or two.

West Terra HDB Bukit BatokPhoto Credit: HDB

The Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, has commented in a blog post that the supply of new HDB flats will slow by 25 per cent next year. There will only be 4 launches next year, compared to the usual 6 per year. Each launch usually puts out up to 4,000 new Build-to-order (BTO) flats. The rate of successful BTO flat applications has been on the rise as reflected in the few recent launches. More married couples achieve success in getting their new flats, and the authorities have been allowances for couples either opting to apply for a flat with their parents, or for one near their parents. In addition, parents who opt to apply for a flat in a non-mature estate to be near their married children, will also receive priority.

The slight shift in policies may ensure that families remain close-knit and are able to receive help when needed. It may also help with a shift in aging mature estates and introduce a more age-balanced population per HDB estate. Mr Khaw Boon Wan also hopes that the move will help newlyweds plan for a family more efficiently and in turn increase Singapore’s population with a higher birth rate.

In the private property sector, the number of land plots being sold for executive condominiums and private apartments has already been reduced this year, though the industry might see a further reduction come 2015. But will this mean a decline in the building, construction and property industries? Or has the previous land sales and launches been sufficient to keep the industry going for the next few years? Which part of the cycle is the property sector in at the moment and are we set for a boom or lull in the next year?

Private home sales down in Q3

Despite recent new launches, private home sales remained lacklustre as the third quarter registered  lowest sales figures since 2008. Only 1,596 new homes were sold in the last 3 months, though 648 units were sold in August alone, signifying a plausible comeback.
 Tre ResidencesSome of the more popular residential properties were the newer ones such as Highline Residences, Seventy St Patrick’s, Lakeville, Eight Riversuites, and some new launches from projects such as The Panorama. As per previous years, post Hungry Ghost Festival meant home buyers were once again eager for new deals and were actively seeking property purchase opportunities.

Across the board, 6,030 private properties were sold in the first 3 quarters of the year, almost half that of the same period last year. Much of the decline was due to weakening demand in the primary market, which could be a result of the tightening home loan limits implemented in June 2013.

Upcoming launches of Sophia Hills, Tre Residences and Symphony Suites might bring renewed activity into the market and possibly close the year on a high. But most of the attention will be in the executive condominium (EC) market as the drought of new launches in this sector welcome new launches of Lake Life, Bellewoods and Bellewaters.

New life at Jurong Lake district

We’ve all heard about the various prestigious “Lake districts” of popular cities across the globe. Now, Singapore could finally boast a few of their own as waterfront living takes on a whole new spin. Sentosa Cove, Marina Bay, Punggol waterway and now Jurong Lake.

Lake Life ECAt the Lake Life EC (executive condominium) in the Jurong Lake district, almost 1,200 applications were registered when it was launched 2 weekends ago. And with one in three applicants being a first-time home buyer, it shows the demand for and power of these hybrid properties. An EC is sold under the HDB scheme but after 10 years, it becomes private property, making it value for money in the long run.

Though EC buyers may qualify for the HDB grants and subsidies, it largely depends on their income ceiling, which has been raised to $12,000 per household. Prices of these flats are also considerably higher than other HDB flats, new and resale.

As the price gap between private homes in the city centre and city fringe continue to narrow, and as suburban private properties rise in price, ECs may become the property of choice for growing households and young couples. How the scale tips may eventually affect the effectiveness and purpose of this hybrid property. Are ECs here to stay? Or could they possibly become obsolete?

Rise in HDB Resale flat sales

As HDB resale flat prices continue to decline for the eighth month in September, buyers are taking the opportunity to suss out the best deals. The number of sales transactions for HDB resale flats rose to the highest since April this year. A total of 1, 469 flats were sold in September, up 10.7 per cent from August and almost 20 per cent from the same month last year.

St George Towers

Photo credit: HDB

It comes as no surprise that the larger flats saw the largest fall in prices. Five-room HDB flat prices fell 1.6 per cent, followed by three- and four-room flats dipping 0.2 per cent and ECs (executive condominiums) 0.1 per cent. The recent numbers also revealed the fact that buyers are willing to accept a smaller price difference between the selling price and the average market value when previously, they had expected larger margins before committing to a deal.

Some of the factors contributing to the drop in HDB flat prices could be:

The first and last two factors in the list may have more lasting effects that expected. And it may change the value and purpose of HDB flats. But would the change be all that bad? Or will it help refocus investments into the private property market?

EC options widen with new launches

Property market activity may be back on track as new EC launches inject some much-needed cheer. Bellewoods executive condominium in Woodlands just opened for applications last weekend. And this is after a year-long hiatus with the last major EC launch of Skypark Residences in Sembawang last September.

Bellewoods ECUnits at the Bellwoods were going at an average of $750 to $820 psf and industry experts are expecting prices to go up as construction and land costs increase. A change in policy earlier this year, with the authorities placing a 15-month time frame between the time a developer secures a land plot and the time they can begin selling. At the Lake Life executive condominium in Yuan Ching road, prices are expected to hover between $880 to $980psf. There is also worry that buyers who had originally intended to purchase an EC unit may by the end of 15 months, have received a pay raise and thus moving above the income ceiling which disqualifies him from being eligible to apply for one.

But despite these obstacles, developers remain ositive about the market response as pent-up demand may bring the crowd back despite the seemingly quiet market of recent months. There will also be another round of EC launches planned for the second quarter of 2015. Although there may be more options available, an oversupply seems unlikely as the government has reduced the supply of EC land this year. For the HDB upgrader, ECs now seems like it is truly fulfilling what it set out to do, to fill the gap between public and private housing.

Private property out of reach for HDB Upgraders?

If home prices are falling, most would think that the upgrade from public housing or HDB flats to the private home market should be getting easier. But it seems the opposite is true.

Prices of HDB flats and a private condominium apartment are perhaps softening at around the same rate, or that of HDB flats possibly even quicker. This creates a widening price gap between resale HDB flats and private condominiums, and HDB sellers can no longer depend on the sales proceeds of their HDB flats to balance out the price of their new private condominium.

BellewoodsECPhoto Credit: Bellewoodsec.com

Does this also mean that more HDB flat owners will now be forced to stay put and thus decrease the number of HDB flats available in the resale market? What about those who may have already purchase a private property and have a limited time period within which to sell their HDB flats? WIll they be pushed to sell at lower prices hence suffering the growing amount they need to top up?

Property experts are expecting ECs or executive condominiums to be the bridging properties between these two markets. As a hybrid between public and private housing, buyers qualify for public housing subsidies but after a 10-year period, can sell their units as private properties.  There is also the question of home sizes, will HDB upgraders be willing to settle for lesser space and a higher psf price to make the leap from HDB to private home?

More vacant EC units left in the market

Executive Condominiums (ECs) used to be the cream of the public housing crop. But now, one in eight EC units are left unoccupied in the market. What are the reasons behind this change?

Belysa Executive Condominium in Pasir Ris is not yet available on the resale market for foriegn purchase. But it will be in 10 years' time.

Belysa Executive Condominium in Pasir Ris.

One of the main factors could be the increasing number of completed units whose owners have yet to renovate or move into. Some of these EC developments include Esparina Residences in Sengkang, Belysa in Pasir Ris and Riverparc Residence in Punggol. ECs are particularly attractive to young families as they are poised to help them move in the private property market eventually. A hybrid between public and private housing, buyers of executive condominiums are able to utilize the public housing grants for the initial purchase, and after 10 years, the property becomes privatized and owners can then reap the profits from selling the units in the private property market.

There are also a number of home owners who have purchase units to make use of the public housing grants they are eligible for, but do not yet need to live in them. They may opt instead to rent out their units after the 5-year minimum occupation period (MOP).

As the overall property market weakens and the HDB resale market remains flat, HDB upgraders who may have planned for a move are finding themselves unable to find a buyer for their existing flat, thus have yet to move into their new ECs.

Is the EC market softening? And will it continue to do so? Currently vacancy rates are at 6 per cent according the URA figures and thus far 739 units have been left vacant. What does this signify for 2014 as the year makes its way into the last quarter?

ECs not so easy for buyers

Executive Condominiums (ECs) were first launched at the turn of the century, and these hybrid property types had legs in both the public housing and private property sectors. This scheme was launched by the Housing Development Board (HDB) thus buyers can apply for various government grants and loans. After an ownership period of 10 years, they will become private properties and their investment value more often than not, increases, some rather significantly too.

Their main purpose was to help HDB owners move into the private property market, especially the “sandwiched” class who are unable to afford private properties but yet do not qualify for HDB flats, and ECs quickly gained momentum in the first decade of the 21st Century as buyers found the space they received, the governmental benefits and the potential long-term gains a boon. In 2010, the revival of this sector created a huge rise in quantity and prices of ECs.

Sea Horizon Executive Condominium.

Sea Horizon Executive Condominium.

Even though executive condos are still popular to date, the tighter loan curbs mean those who are unable to receive HDB grants and have to take private loans are now only able to receive up to 80 per cent of the price of the property and have their loans capped at 30 per cent of their gross monthly income. With prices of ECs coming up to the $1 million mark and beyond, this has largely reduced the number of eligible buyers, not forgetting that there is a $12, 000 monthly household income ceiling for EC buyers.

Upcoming EC launches in Woodlands and Sengkang will be a good gauge of market response and affordability of units. Should the price points be right, there may not be a lack of buyers. Currently, there are still remaining unsold units at ECs such as Skypark residences, Waterwoods, Forestville, Twin Fountains, Sea Horizon, Ecopolitan and The Tampines Trilliant.