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?

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 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.

2015’s HDB resale property market

Following the hash of cooling measures implemented and enforced over the last couple of years, prices of resale HDB flats have been on the decline since 2014. The dip may continue this year, and into 2016 but at a manageable rate. A fall of 5 to 8 per cent is expected this year, similar to the last.

Sembawang Breeze HDB

Photo credit: HDB

A look back at the past decade will see a huge and quick rise of resale flat prices since 2006. Some flats were even looking at a 95 per cent rise in prices. Much of the price rise was effected by the COV (cash-over-valuation) system. Since its removal last year, prices have began to fall, though very slightly.

What are the factors leading to this fall in HDB resale flat prices?

  1. A increased supply of BTO (build-to-order) flats
  2. Lowered MSR (mortgage servicing ratio) with a loan tenure period limit of 25 years (down from the previous 30 years)
  3. Allowing singles to apply for 2-room HDB flats directly from HDB instead of on the resale market
  4. Making it easier for second-timers to purchase directly from HDB
  5. A 3-year waiting period for Singapore Permanent Residents (PRs) before they are allowed to purchase HDB flats

Sellers and buyers may have taken 2014 to get used to the new measures and the price adjustments certainly showed as such. But 2015 could be the year where buyers come back into the market as prices become more palatable, and transaction volumes may be boosted by HDB’s scaled-down BTO supply.

For sellers, the dip may not be such a bad thing, yet. The price decline is fairly gentle and with the current prices, they will hardly make a loss, just not as much of a gain as before. It could be a win-win situation for all if the timing is right.