Will adjusting HDB income ceiling help “Sandwich class” own a home?

As earning power climbs, the combined household income for an increasing number of families now fall just above the income ceiling for public housing. This puts them just out of reach of a new HDB flat yet still quite a distance away from being able to afford a private property, especially as inflation and the financial stress of providing for a family kick in.

Forestville Executive Condominium.

Forestville Executive Condominium.

The combined household income ceiling for a new HDB flat currently stands at $10,000 while the same for an executive condominium (EC) is $12,000. The income ceiling was last raised in 2011, from $8,000 to $10,000 for HDB flats and $10,000 to $12,000 for ECs. Over the last five years, there has been a significant increase in the number of couples and families falling into the “sandwiched class” of middle-income households in Singapore. Especially as Singaporeans now tend to marry late in life, when the husband and wife’s earning capabilities are at a certain level which puts them just beyond qualifying for a new HDB flat might be facing the most headaches.

Is there a way around it as public housing was originally aimed at helping those in need. But since there might always be a section of the population who will find public housing out of reach and private housing too much of a financial burden or risk, will raising the income ceiling really help elevate their circumstances only to be a burden to yet another group of citizens? What other options are available for these middle class families? Will they be looking at resale HDB flats as the only viable and affordable option?

Lowered condominium prices scores sales

Two property launches over the weekend signaled a drop in new developer-launched private non-landed property prices. Kingsford Development’s 1,165-unit Kingsford Waterbay at Upper Serangoon launched at median prices of $1,050 to $1,180 psf. With those prices in mind, buyers snapped up 140 units over 2 days, a considerable success.

Over at GuocoLand’s 1,024-unit Sims Urban Oasis, prices ranged from $1,295 to $1, 595 psf. 29 sales were secured over the weekend, bringing the total to 170 units sold since 14 February. Developers’ spirits are buoyed by consistent daily sales. Most of the buyers were young Singaporean couples and upgrades.

KingsfordWaterbayProperty launches coming up in the next few months include Northpark Residences in Yishun and Botanique at Bartley. The former has its proximity to the Yishun MRT station and the attached shopping malls as a unique selling point; the latter might be a little tougher to market as the area is already saturated with a number of newer and resale apartment developments. But property experts still expect demand to be present, though perhaps it will be strongly dependent on pricing.

The next quarter might be the right time to gauge the markets’ response to changing market trends and it might be a close competition between new properties, resale non-landed properties and executive condominiums.

Resale DBSS flats in demand

With four-room resale DBSS HDB flats at The Premiere @ Tampines going for $570,000 to $590,000, a marked rise from its original $278,000 to $410,000 price tags, interest in newer DBSS launches may continue as resale units just became available last year. Units at The Premiere were the first to come on the market.

The Premiere at Tampines

The Premiere at Tampines

The Design Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) was suspended in 2011 due to the high prices of flats at The Centrale 8 in Tampines. But since its suspension, majority of units at the existing DBSS projects have been successfully sold. At Pasir Ris One, only 53 units are left, with 88 per cent sold, and owners will be receiving their keys in about a months’ time. Trivelis in Clementi only has 28 units left and is ready for occupation. Lake Vista in Jurong West and Parkland Residences in Upper Serangoon have been fully sold.

Property experts are however aware that the earlier of these DBSS developments were launched when property prices were considerably lower, thus allowing for a higher profit margin. Newer projects may have been launched at higher prices. Coupled with the MSR (Mortgage servicing ratio) cap, this may mean a lower yield for future DBSS resale unit sales. With executive condominiums (ECs) and BTO flats covering the needs of most families, the role of the DBSS may not be as relevant today as before.

But demand seems to be quite positive as there will still be buyers who do not mind paying a bit more for units at a good location and with all the interior fittings and finishings done at no extra costs.

Resale HDB flats – The 2015 outlook

Across the board, property prices dipped slightly last year, and it was the same in the resale HDB flat market. The last month of 2014 showed a 10 per cent fall in prices, and the Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, has mentioned an estimated single-digit drop in prices this year.

SeaHorizonECResale flats in mature estates are however holding their own. Prices remained resilient mainly due to the rarity of units in these saturated estates and good locations. In non-mature estates such as Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang, Hougang, Jurong East, Jurong West, Punggol, Sembawang, Sengkang, Woodlands and Yishun; resale flat prices fell 0.9 per cent in December, while a rise of 0.2 per cent was reflected in the mature estates sales figures.

The price decline was mainly attributed to stricter mortgage servicing ratio limits and a tightening of immigration  policies. Singapore permanent residents are now required to wait 3 years before being allowed to purchase resale flats.

But it were the larger four- and five-room flats which experienced the fall more than three-room resale flats whose prices remained level. And on the higher end of the public housing spectrum, executive flats prices rose 1.8 per cent. As a rare commodity, a hybrid which crosses smoothly from public to private housing, executive condominiums are much sought after. Though the recent close launches of a few EC projects are the same time may have reduced the percentage of uptake per development.

Industry experts are expecting sales to remain low in the first 2 months of 2015, and pick up after the Lunar New Year, perhaps even a slight rebound in the later half of the year.

Executive Condominiums – Now’s the time

If you are a second-time HDB property buyer, and are looking at upgrading from a HDB flat to an executive condominium (EC) – the time may be now. Before the resale levy really kicks in.

The TerraceImplemented in Dec 2013, the levy applies to ECs launched after Dec 9 the same year and as most of the EC launches from now on will be for units launched after Dec 2013, a levy of $15,000 to $50,000 will apply. And that’s no small sum to scoff at.

Executive condominiums have long been the way to move from public to private housing for most middle-class Singaporean families. As young couples now see this as one of the best ways to start their families, competition for the same properties have never been fiercer. As a hybrid between public and private housing, ECs will become private properties following a ten-year period. There is a income ceiling for applicants however, of a combined household income of $12,000.

As bids for EC land plots dip, mostly due to a saturation of launches in the last few months, prices and sales volume may not hold as well moving forward. Currently, ECs which just escape this resale levy include Bellewoods, Bellewaters, The Terrace, Lake Life and The Amore. They each boast their own unique selling point, with unblocked views at The Terrace, basement carparks at The Amore, nature-inspired landscapes at Bellewoods and resort-living lifestyle atmosphere at Bellewaters. Combined with options of units such as penthouses and condominium facilities, it’s the only logical step up for HDB upgraders.

Interest in Executive Condominiums wane

Just awhile ago, the interest in executive condominiums (ECs) was red hot as pent up demand for these sought-after properties was released after a long hiatus. In areas such as Jurong, which had not seen a new EC launch for 17 years, the response was promising.

This interest has however diminished very quickly. In the latest EC launch, only 18 per cent of the units launched have been sold. Out of the 378 units in The Amore EC in Edgdale Plains, only 70 were sold at its launch last weekend. Prices averaged at $800 psf. A similar property nearby, The Terrace executive condominium, which was launched earlier last month, has only had approximately 20 per cent of its 747 units sold at a median of $812 psf.
TheAmoreEC_1Photo Credit: www.amore-ec.com

Bellewaters EC in Sengkang and Bellewoods EC in Woodlands fared similarly, with the only development bucking the trend being The Lake Life EC in Jurong West. Most of the units at The Lake Life sold within the weekend of its launch in November 2014. The sudden demise of interest in ECs came unexpectedly as even within last year alone, there was a good 9-month wait before any new EC development was launched and a rise in sales figures after a long wait is the norm.

Property analysts are putting this slowdown on the increase supply of BTO (Build-to-order) HDB flats, declining resale prices which have made resale HDB flats more affordable and the 30 per cent Mortgage Servicing Ratio (MSR) which was implemented in December 2013.

Moving ahead in 2015, 10 more new EC launches are expected and sales may be slow as future ECs will require a resale levy tax and competition heats up within the same location. As seen by recent numbers, areas with a higher concentration of ECs tend to fare more poorly in terms of sales volume.

New condominiums not spared from 2014’s lull

The stream of new homes entering the market has been continuous and more will be coming our way in 2015, with up to 2,500 units within the next two months. Larger new residential projects ready for occupation soon include the Sims Urban Oasis and Northpark residences.

Sims Urban OasisThis sudden increase in supply may not necessary affect sales prices, but the number of transactions may drop as buyers hold out in wait of what the rest of the year brings. In the last month of 2014, sales were lacklustre, with the best seller being Lakeville condominium with 16 units sold. This is followed by 13 units sold at Rivertree Residences and 12 at The Panorama. All are suburban mass-market private homes. Even the executive condominium market slacked a little with only 128 units sold at the 747-unit The Terrace in Punggol.

But the later half of 2015 may hold some promise as property prices may have corrected by more than 10 per cent and property cooling measures may then be lifted. Sellers may find themselves having to lower prices as competition heats up and buyers wait out as long as they can. It is just a matter of waiting for that sweet spot to hit the markets.

Executive Condominium take the market

Closing the year on a high note for developers, were the latest EC launches in the market, in particular the Lake Life EC in Jurong.

Only 412 private condominium units were sold in November, while more than double the number of EC units were sold at 855 at last count. This could be partly due to developers’ decision to hold back on new condo launches and the pent-up demand for EC units.

Bellewoods EC533 units at the Lake Life executive condominium project were sold at an average of $869 psf. Comparatively, the private condominium Lakeville sold 30 units at $1, 374 psf. Over at Bellewaters EC in Sengkang, 170 units were sold, followed by 79 units in Bellewoods at Woodlands. The only new private property launches last month were TRE Residences and Sophia Hills Residences which sold 52 and 9 units respectively.

Could this response be a sign that buyers’ affordability range is narrowing and many prefer the opportunities and subsidies public housing options provide? Or is it merely a knee-jerk reaction to the pent-up sentiment of holding back new EC releases for almost 7 years in the Jurong district? What does this mean for the private property market and are ECs proving more competition for the private market than expected?