Slowing down of property market slowdown

The first quarter of 2015 has proved to be a slow one for the property industry. But the slowdown has lost some speed. Compared to the previous quarters, the decline for both private and public housing was at around 1 per cent for the past three months.

Property prices and sales have been slowing down since mid-2013. In the resale HDB flat market, prices have fallen for 7 consecutive quarters and private property prices have fallen 6 quarters in a row. What will the rest of the year hold for these market segments?

Northpark Residences1For the private property sector, property analysts are predicting:

  1.  A further dip in prices as the number of unsold units are on the rise.
  2. Continued fall in rental prices as more completed new homes enter the fold. The decline in the first quarter of the year was 1.7 per cent; rental prices fell 1 per cent in the last quarter of 2014.
  3. As interest rates rise, home owners and developers may be pushed to lower prices further to secure deals. The competition between resale and new properties may also heat up.
  4.  A 5 to 8 per cent fall in private home prices for the year as buyers delay their market entry, possibly waiting for prices to fall further before making a buy.

In the HDB resale flat market, the prospects seem slightly more positive:

  1. HDB resale prices are expected to fall at a slower pace of 4 to 7 per cent and perhaps even stabilise.
  2. But as more new BTO (build-to-order) flats and ECs (executive condominiums) are completed this year,  flat owners may feel the imminent pressure to sell their existing flats at lower prices in order to move into their new units.

A fall in home prices seem inevitable this year, but the good news may come in the form of increasing sales and reaching a balance between sellers and buyers in terms of home prices.

Offers galore in blossoming EC market

Executive condominium launches in the recent months haev proved attractive to the buying crowd, especially after years of quiet on the ground.

But with 7 more launches planned for the later part of the year, will the market be poised for a saturation point? Or will buyers welcome the competition and options? Most of the new launches will be near existing EC sites in the North and North-east regions, which could mean stiffer competition for the developers.

Westwood ResidencesOne project which may however prove promising is the Westwood Residences in Boon Lay. Together with Lake Life EC, they could the only 2 executive condominiums in Jurong since 2010. The rarity, coupled with the pent-up demand could means buyers may be willing to pay slightly higher than average prices for units here as compared to ECs elsewhere. Property experts are expecting the median prices for ECs launched later this year to hover between $750 to $770 psf.

Currently, the average selling prices for ECs are at around $800 psf. But buyers have not been particularly responsive to this pricing level and with the introduction of thousands of new units over this and next year could bring the competition higher and prices lower. The dip in resale HDB and private condominium prices since the high in 2013, would also mean that ECs have to priced realistically in order to entice HDB upgraders and buyers.

As the market segments react to one another, the EC being hybrid between private and public properties, may also find themselves having to price themselves appropriately between these two market segments.

 

Yishun no backwater town

A somewhat laid back atmosphere that speaks of a slow and nature-filled life with occasional bursts of activity and energy describes the fringe township of Yishun. This HDB estate once was called “Ulu” (a Singaporean slang for being out-of-the-way and backward), but it has progressed nicely into the genteel gem it is today.

It seems to live life just the edge, growing and filling in a gap that straddles bustling and slow. Latest news of the redevelopment of the Yishun Central, with Frasers Centrepoint Homes taking the lead in building a mixed-use condominium and mall development, Northpoint City, in the vicinity, the Yishun area may be seeing a revival of sorts.

The EstuaryStretching out in a large area between Chong Pang, Sembawang and Yio Chu Kang, it has quite the space for development and expansion. Some of the current private properties already in its midst include Orchid Park, Lilydale and The Estuary. Newer residential developments include Nine Residences, Symphony Suites and the recently launched Northpark Residences.

There are a considerable number of HDB flats in the area as well, and property prices are considered reasonable and affordable. For now. New BTO (Build-to-Order) flats were also introduced into the mix starting from 2013, putting a good 9,500 units in the estate, including Yishun Greenwalk, DBSS ADora Green and Vista Spring.

From kampung to new town. The kampung spirit remains strong.

Dual key apartments rising in popularity

The latest property type on the block has been gathering an increasing crowd of fans. Not surprisingly, since they offer the space and the privacy for larger, multi-generational families, giving them the option of having their family members close, but not too close for comfort.

The concept began with the Housing Development Board and their “Granny flats” in 1986 and the first private properties to pick up on that were the Caspian and 8@Woodleigh. And now, new properties actively set aside a number of units as dual key apartments.

Boathouse ResidencesSome of the latest market offerings to include these units include Seventy Saint Patrick’s, Northpark Residences, Riverbank@Fernvale and Botanique @ Bartley. Older properties with these options include Coco Palms, and The Santorini at Tampines. At the latter, there are 144 dual key units. Most of the dual key units include a two- or three-room unit attached to a studio apartment, with two separate entrances.

In addition to providing privacy, these units also provide a cheaper alternative to buyers who are running an office out of their home. It gives them a separate entrance to their business and a physical separation from their living quarters while saving on transport costs and time.

Plus, it is easier to rent out these smaller units. For longterm investment considerations, these units could also be sold as it is or as a normal unit with the separating structures reconfigured.

Coming up later this year, the Boathouse Residences, developed by Frasers Centrepoint Limited, will also feature dual key apartments.

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.

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?

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?

EC prices look set to maintain current level

Recent low winning bids on land parcels may not be enough to lower executive condominium (EC) prices, at least not in the near future.

Most of the ECs which are being built or are nearing their TOP (temporary occupation permit) status are situated on land which were purchase by developers at high prices. Combined with rising construction costs and declining private home prices, prices of ECs may also face pressure. Property experts are expecting a similar 5 to 8 per cent fall in EC prices this year, similar to the prediction for HDB resale market and also the private property market.

TheTerraceECAs the price gap between ECs and private properties narrow, buyers may be swayed to the latter which allows them to immediately sell or rent. ECs, being a hybrid of public and private property, are still subjected to public housing rules which includes a minimum occupation period of 5 years before being allowed to sell. After 10 years, executive condominiums do become private properties.

In addition, developers who have secured land at lower prices may still wish to peg their units to current market levels instead of lowering it at first instance. This gives them the allowance of offering discounts later on.

Buyers who have been holding out for much lower prices may have a long wait.