Condominium prices wavering

It may be a year of fluctuations for the private non-landed property market. Condominium sales have been slow, though it picked up slightly in February.

Both new and resale private condominiums were affected by the market slowdown, much of it attributed to the TDSR (Total debt servicing ratio) framework set by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). But some property analysts are also connecting the dots between the lowered Cash-Over-Valuation (COV) prices of resale HDB flats. When COVs were high, potential HDB upgraders were able to leverage on these to leap into the private property market by using the COVs as part of the cash down payment for their new private homes. With the lack of this financial impetus, more are finding themselves in between an rock and a hard place when it comes to scaling up.

Sims Urban OasisWeaker buyers may find themselves having to hold back for now while those with the financial abilities will still be able to well afford what the market currently offers, and perhaps even more so as prices have been coming down for sometime now.

There has however, been a shift of interest from newer units to resale ones, in favour of larger floor area. HDB buyers have been purchasing units with an average of 926 sq ft in size, while private buyers leaned towards units averaging 1,119 sq ft in size. The sweet spot of affordability is now between $1.28 million to $1.46 million for private buyers and $950,000 to $1,09 million for HDB upgraders.

More foreign private home buyers

The number of Singaporean buyers of private properties have fallen last year. Possibly overshadowed by the increase in number of foreign buyers since rules have changed for Permanent Residents (PRs) buying HDB flats. New PRs must now wait 3 years before they are able to purchase from the public housing market. The rules have been in place since August 2013.

Marina ONe iprop watermarkThe percentage of PRs purchasing private properties in Singapore have risen from 15 to 18 per cent in 2014. But the number of Singaporean buyers have dipped almost by half. In 2013, 16, 789 homes were sold to Singaporeans while in 2014, Singaporeans only purchased 8,707 private homes.

Most of the foreign buyers were made up of Chinese nationals, Malaysians, Indonesians and Indians. 229 units were sold to Chinese nationals in the last quarter of 2014, up from 214 units in the third quarter. With the launch of the Marina One Residences, which is a joint venture between Malaysia and Singapore governments, Malaysian buyers were also active in the private property scene here. Over the course of last year, some 119 units were purchased by US citizens and 58 by Britons.

The number of PR and foreign buyers have remained steady for the past couple of years. Should this be a promising sign for the road ahead? And how can local private property buyers leverage on this?

Could lower resale HDB flat prices be a good thing?

Although HDB resale prices have dipped 0.6% last month, sellers could  turn the seemingly negative into a positive as this may mean that more buyers will see the market as flattening and be willing to purchase from the resale market instead of applying for a new one directly from HDB.

As HDB has been active in rolling out a massive number of new BTO and EC flats in the past few years to comply to demand from citizens, especially young families and multi-generational families. Even singles now have an option of buying new 2-room flats directly from HDB. Previously they could only purchase from the resale market. The increased supply of HDB flats has meant that more families and young couples have been successful in securing their new HDB flat, leaving less buyers for the resale market.

DoverHDB flatBut may sellers find themselves unable to raise their asking prices by too much as most buyers will be restricted by the TDSR (total debt servicing ratio) line which banks now have to toe. Loans will now be capped at 30 per cent of the gross monthly income. Part of last month’s drop in sales volume and prices could be due also to the Chinese New Year festive season.

Industry experts are expecting prices to drop further or maintain its status quo at least for awhile more. Any rise will be short-lived and a temporary anomaly. It may only be a question of how soon the buyers will return to the market. Are they waiting for prices to lower even further? What will make them change their mind and give them the push to purchase now?

HDB property market – Has balance been struck?

The last four years saw aggressive moves by the Housing Development Board to release and build new HDB flats. In 2014 alone, 51, 598 new HDB flats were added.

Has this supply of new flats been effective in stabilising the property market? Is the supply and demand scale now balanced? Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, has mentioned that the increased supply has helped move the selling price of HDB flats down, yet at a gradual pace and margin which buyers are still able to stomach.

WEst Rock HDB FlatFrom this year on, the number of new HDB flats will begin to decrease, from 50,796 this year to 38,316 in 2018. Which could mean that this year might be the watershed year for the HDB market. Will buyers be taking the opportunity to purchase before supply becomes tighter once more? Or will the number of HDB flats which have been released thus far be able to provide for a stable resale market, keeping a level playing field between buyers and sellers?

As Singapore grows in population size, and global and domestic economies fluctuate, all this would also be tightly linked to population and immigration policies. With the election possibly coming our way next year, buyers may take the chance to look out for opportunities to upgrade property-wise this year, or perhaps wait and see what the post-election changes may bring.

Higher success rates with HDB priority schemes

More BTO (build-to-order) HDB flat applicants have been successful in securing their units of choice at recent HDB sales launches. Under the Parenthood priority scheme, the number of married parents applying for a unit have dropped from 10,000 to 8,000 last year.

BuangkokParkVista_HDBWhat could this mean for the resale HDB flat market? As property prices drop, more HDB flat buyers may widen their options here, instead of heading straight for the new HDB flats. Some may have location considerations, especially if they have elderly parents or young children preparing to enter specific primary or secondary schools.

In 2013, 26, 494 new HDB flats were released.  But as the supply of BTO flats decrease, dropping to 16, 900 this year, and as most first-time HDB flat applicants successfully receive their flats in time for family-planning; the number of applications under these priority schemes look set to fall as well. Many of these new flats could be in non-mature estates. But as mature estates reach a saturation and before these non-mature estates reach maturation, will resale HDB flats  and private properties be the way to fill in the gaps for buyers looking to live nearer their workplaces, elderly parents or children’s schools? Will temporary rental of condominium apartments or even HDB flats be a stop-gap for this group of home seekers; and will that be an opportunity for investors and landlords of properties near schools and MRT stations?

Applying for a HDB loan – Do it early

If you’ve been waiting for ages to qualify and apply for a HDB flat, the housing development board has advised against last minute loan applications.

Not only does the process help you get a firm grip on your finances, it also helps give you a better idea of how to plan for the future. A HDB loan eligibility letter will tell you how much you are able to loan from the Housing Development Board (HDB) should that option be your mortgage financier of choice. Some buyers may opt for a bank loan instead.

MacPhersonSpring_HDB

Photo credit: HDB

But if you’re buying a BTO flat directly from HDB, they will require a HDB loan eligibility letter when booking a flat. This is to prevent buyers finding themselves in a bind, unable to acquire sufficient loans after they have already booked a flat. Previously, they were only required to have the HDB loan eligibility letter when signing the Agreement for Lease which could be a number of months after booking a flat.

Though this may not affect those looking to purchase a resale HDB flat, some buyers who may original be considering a BTO flat may change tracks and also consider resale options should they qualify for a higher loan quantum. Will this then be a boost for the resale HDB flat market?

The latest BTO launch in February consists of flats, including larger 3Gen (3-generation) flats, in non-mature estates such as Bukit Batok, Housing and also the mature estates of Geylang. The new McPherson Spring flats in Geylang are situated near the MacPherson MRT station and may be the first to be booked up. For singles who are now able to purchase 2-room BTO flats directly from HDB, those in Housing may be hot property. Applications will close on Tuesday and it may be some time before the next launch in May.

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.