More favour fixed home loan rates

With the property market still proving a little dicey this year, more buyers are opting for fixed home rates in the wake of possible higher interest rates this year.

Backed by the strengthening US Dollar, and the Sibor (Singapore Interbank Offered Rate) and Swap Offer Rate at their highest in five years; home buyers are understandably iffy about the financial difficulties they might eventually face. The three-month Sibor rate has reached 1 per cent last week, comparable to the boom in 2008.

Tropika East private property in district 14.

Tropika East private property in district 14.

Fixed home loan rates are locked in for a specific period of time (usually two to five years) and banks and brokers alike are reporting up to 80 per cent of their clientele showing interest and taking up fixed rates. Though the rates may be higher, the risk of fluctuating interest rates are reduced. It all takes detailed financial planning and a good understanding of one’s capabilities. How soon do you estimate being able to pay of bulk of your loan? How financially flexible do you need to be?

Location and rental potential seems to have trumped floor area and will properties with a lower total quantum continue to take the front of the race as the market leader?

Competitive pricing will help Property developer move units quicker

Home mortgage interest rates look set to rise sometime this year, and while new properties continue to come into the market, buyers will be spoiled for choice with executive condominiums, resale private apartments and new condominium units all competing for their attention.

Trilive KovanPricing might then be the differentiating factor in the current property market which is still finding its footing. In January, Symphony Suites in Yishun proved to be one of the best sellers in the non-landed private property market. Prices averaged at $1,010 psf, which was not considered to be on the higher end of the price spectrum. Most suburban properties fared better, making up 62 per cent of the total sales numbers last month. City fringe properties followed behind with 28 per cent and city centre homes took up only 10 per cent.

The TDSR (total debt servicing ratio) continues to be the main obstacle for buyers as the loan amounts they are now able to receive have been largely reduced. However, developers are unlikely to make drastic price reductions as land prices have been high for the past two years.

Contrary to concerns that new properties may outshine previous older launches and resale properties, some older developments have fared well in the last month. Trilive in Kovan sold 22 units at a $1,562 psf median price while 20 units in Jurong West’s Lakeville also exchanged hands at the average selling price of $1, 378 psf.

While the influx of new units and restrictive loan limits may be the way things go for the year ahead, the demand for residential properties may not necessarily have disappeared altogether. It may simply be a matter of buyers taking longer to weigh their options.

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.

Property relaunches something to look out for

In lieu of the price decline last year, property developers have held back on many launches, hoping perhaps for a market rebound.  The task of attracting buyers who are becoming increasingly price-sensitive falls hard on the shoulders of property developers especially as they are restricted by a time frame in which they can hold on to their units, thus we may be seeing a good many more relaunches this year.

TrillinqSome properties which were relaunched at lower prices managed to move many more unsold units. Take the 698-unit The Panorama in Ang Mo Kio for example. At it’s initial launch in January last year, only 8 per cent of its units were sold. Four months later, they relaunched and have since sold 305 units.

Buyers will however be looking out for discounts and incentives at these relaunches. And with the competition being higher than ever, with resale units adding to the private property market mix, developers may be pressed to offer attractive price baits. Huge discounts will be unlikely but properties with a higher number of unsold units and developers who are facing heftier QC fees may be those more likely to want to move these units.

Some of the projects which sold the last number of units in 2014 include Seahill, The Trillinq, Hillion Residences, Kingsford Hillview Peak, Amber Skye and Bijou.

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.

Decline of home prices not reflective of cooling measures’ power

It all boils down to holding power. Of both buyers with their mortgages and home loans; and developers with their unsold units. Despite a year of seemingly repressed property market growth, the actual decline in home prices as a direct effect of the property cooling measures may not be as steep as it feels like. In fact, URA figures show only a 3.9 per cent drop in prices since Oct 1 of 2013 to 30 Sept of this year.

TheVermontCairnhillSince the property boom of 2009, home prices have increased 65 per cent till the end of 2013. Whereas the drop this year is a mere 4 per cent. Which means, property prices are still more than double of what they were before 2009.

Though the average total quantum price of homes may have dropped, the psf prices are maintained at a reasonable level as the main change comes from the diminishing property sizes. Though buyers’ affordability now ranges between $1million to $1.3 million, figures which have held steady for the past 5 years; the median sizes of new homes have fallen from 1, 195 sq ft in 2009 to 753 sq ft in 2014. This is a sure sign that developers are still holding on to their asking prices while giving less in terms of liveable space.

Resale homes are holding up better than new homes however, with a 3 per cent drop as compared to a 6 per cent drop of the latter. This is largely due to developers’ offers of discounts on unsold units. Examples of these can be seen at The Vermont At Cairnhill, and also at Sky Habitat, where more units were moved after a 10 to 15 per cent cut in prices.

Moving into the new year, property analysts are expecting sales volume of next year to be similar to 2014’s, though home prices are unlikely to experience a drastic drop. Rather, a gentle decline into a comfortable equilibrium is what most experts are prone to agree on.

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?

When will property cooling measures cool off ?

The past two years have seen the implementation, and perhaps effects, of a series of property cooling measures. From increased stamp duties to revised subsidies and the strictest of which, the TDSR (total debt servicing ratio) framework, restrictions have certainly risen the heat on the property industry.

Singapore still has some way to go before the property market achieves the sophistication it requires to reach new heights. Economist are estimating the second half of 2015 as the earliest the authorities are likely to cool off with the cooling measures. That is when most households would have managed to reduce their debt levels. However, property prices can be expected to fall by more than 10 per cent in the first half of next year, or at least show a substantial decline before curbs are removed. In fact, by 2016, property prices are expected to fall by up to 20 per cent due to the oversupply at that time.

Prices have stablised somewhat since the implementation of the property cooling measures, but the fall has only be about 3 per cent, which means the authorities could be waiting for a significant fall in figures, or a recession, before amending the rules. The fear could be the sudden upward rebound of prices which may far surpass the watershed of 2009. With the elections coming in 2016, 2015 seems like the turning point for the market and buyers and sellers alike may be watching closely to catch any opportunities  they can before things change once more.

Could 2015 be the year for home buyers? How will landlords, developers and sellers fare?