Tri-factor sustaining Property market – Government, industry and home owners

As 2016 brings a slew of completed new homes into the property market, developers are concerned about what market restrictions and rising construction and project development costs will do to the industry.

Kallang Riverside

Photo: Kallang Riverside

Even as everyone understands that Singapore is a land-scarce country, and the costs of properties will never be unrealistically low, the current market sentiment seems to be one of wait-and-see. But property prices may never fall too far without affecting the quality of homes. Developers are already feeling the financial squeeze as land costs rise, along with regulatory fees for plans submissions and costs of construction, fittings and furnishings. On top of that, developers are also under the time pressure of selling all their units within a five-year period in order to avoid paying the Additional Buyers’ Stamp Duty. At the moment 3,000 units from the development of properties from land plots sold under the Government Land Sales Programme in 2012 remain unsold, they will reach their five-year deadline next year.

Thus as much as a home buyers may be waiting for even lower prices, new properties launched in the months or year ahead may not be able to lower their prices any further. Moving ahead, how the Government manages its land sales programme, and how developers manoeuvre around rising project development costs and market their products may be key to keeping the industry and ultimately the overall economy healthy and growing.

Property market and Economy = Cause and Effect ?

It has always been thought that the economy, both local and global, has a big part to play in the performance of the local property market. But it seems a recent study by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), has shown that the link is not all that obvious.

The study has shown that Singapore’s economy may be affected more so by external factors such as exports, rather than our property market’s ups and downs. The latter, in turn, is more attuned to its own internal factors, mainly by how developers choose to hold back or release units during the property market’s flow and ebb.

Although news about Singapore’s economy may not be all that positive at the moment, the effect of that on the property market may be weaker than expected. Thus Singapore’s property market, despite slightly lowered prices and sales volume, may not be in such a bad place after all. The housing cycle’s rise and fall takes a longer route as compared to the overall economy and business sectors’, and is more often than not, caused by factors such a developers managing their inventories to preserve profit margin and mismatched expectations between buyers and sellers. These in turn cause a kink in the demand and supply chain, which in turn affects housing prices.

In short, it takes quite a huge change in sales volume of new and resale properties here before a significant adjustment in the property market can be seen.

Lower sales in new private homes market

The lack of new private condominium launches last month could be the main reason for the fall in number of new private homes transactions. That and fresh mentions of the General Elections plus competition from the executive condominium (EC) sector could have siphoned some attention away from the new properties already out there. Sales numbers for new properties were down 42 per cent from May.

Sol AcresDevelopers and buyers may be holding out in wait of political and policy adjustments which may in turn drive prices up or pull them down. Announcements of a slower-than-expected economic growth in the last quarter may have also affected buying sentiments. There could also be a sense of the scale tilting towards supply over demand.

Recent private home launches include The Botanique at Bartley, Lakeville in Jurong. Suburban home sales dropped 48 per cent while city fringe sales numbers fell 23 per cent. July however may prove a happier month with the launch of a number of new properties including The Brownstone, The Vales in Sengkang and Sol Acres in Choa Chu Kang. This long weekend, High Park Residences in Fernvale is also expecting an extension of the 18,000 strong turnout at their show flats in the past two weeks.

New properties on a fresh new ride

And hopefully it will be an upwards ride.

May 2014 was a good month for the new private home market. Mostly due to the large number of properties launched, 1,487 units were sold. But after that huge spike, sales have held steady at around 300 to 400 units sold per month, with December’s showing a little lower due to the festive season.

KingsfordWaterbayThe numbers have however increased significantly in March this year, from 390 units sold in February to 613 last month. The results are promising, but there has been a few recent launches of new units at previously launched developments and also a release of pent-up demand after the Chinese New Year festivities, which could account for some of the positive vibes.  Most of the sales came from Kingsford Waterbay with 155 units sold and Sims Urban Oasis with 107 units sold. New launches are pulling out all the stops to get buyers’ attention. Competition will be high as more launches are planned for the year, thus getting first dibs with the buyers’ pool is crucial for developers.

Suburban properties are often priced below city fringe and central district properties; at 22 per cent lower than city fringe and 43 per cent lower than central region homes. Lower quantum prices seems to be the factor helping to close deals, as the property cooling measures do not work in favour of most middle-income buyers. The Skywoods and Symphony Suites projects seemed to stacked up better, but sales at Northpark Residences and Botanique @ Bartley may very well give them a run for their money soon, looking at the response from the public.

The outlook for the market this year seems spotted, with possible glimmers of hope but also tough restrictions which may put a damper on sales volume and prices.


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.

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.

Developers offer more direct discounts

If you’re looking for a good property deal, you could be hitting the market at the right time as developers are now preferring to offer direct discounts instead of indirect ones such as renovation and furniture vouchers and the likes. And the buyers seem to prefer that too.

In a bid to attract buyers back into the property market, developers have realised that with the prevailing property cooling measures, especially the tighter loan limits, it’s the final number that counts. Defraying the total costs through offers of furniture and renovation may no longer seem as attractive to buyers who are now keeping a keen eye on the total quantum prices.

HomeReno1Home buyers are more discerning and aware of how these indirect discounts affect the final sale price and more importantly, the total loan quantum they are able to receive from the banks. Though the rule which states that all discounts, even indirect ones such as renovation discounts and furniture vouchers, have to be declared when applying for a loan were in place since 2002, the banks have only recently been stricter about their checks. What this means for the buyer could be a lesser loan quantum as the amount give in indirect discounts are taken off from the final sale price of the unit, before consideration is given on how much the bank is able to loan.

Now, what developers are doing instead of offering renovation and furniture discounts, are to refurbish unsold units and selling them at a lower price than if the buyer were to purchase the furnishings themselves. Thus, the buyer gets a fully renovated unit at a slightly higher price than an unfurnished one, but at a lower price than if they were to renovate and furnish it themselves. This may be more cost-effective for buyers who are looking to rent out the unit as it saves them money and time.

Home prices expected to decline further in 2015

This year, the rate of decline for private home prices is expected to exceed that of 2014. Last year’s drop was estimated at 4 per cent whereas this year, industry analysts project an 8 per cent drop. This new estimate for the private property sector will put it on par with resale HDB flats. In 2014, the public housing market reflected a 6 per cent drop in prices.

Some market factors from last year are here to stay:
1) Tightened credit market
2) Stricter immigration policies
3) Weakening demand
4) Increasing supply of new homes
5) Higher stamp duties

The Luxurie - near Sengkang MRT/LRT Stations.

The Luxurie – near Sengkang MRT/LRT Stations.

And while interest rates were at a low at a point in time last year, they are expected to rise this year, which makes for an even less favourable environment for a thriving buy-and-sell of residential properties in particular.

This may put a fair bit of pressure on home sellers, who may find themselves having to lower prices in order to make a sale. With developers competing for the same buyers with offers of discounts, rebates and other enticing options, resale private properties might struggle to stand out.

Landlords may also find that it’s a tenants market as an onslaught of homes become ready for occupation this year. The most recent residential projects to come into the market this year include the 622-unit The Luxurie and 590-unit The Riversound Residences in Sengkang.

Coupled with a number of new launches planned for this year, and fewer foreign buyers taking the bite, the only properties which may remain popular are mass-market homes in locations close to MRT stations, schools and shopping malls.