Smaller apartments gaining popularity once again

Just a couple of years ago, there were debates about whether homes were becoming too small for comfort as the 500 sq ft studio apartments or shoebox units took the market by storm. Some shunned small units, preferring instead to go for larger ones with a lower psf price.

But now as loan limits are truly showing their might, buyers are favoring smaller apartments once again due to their lower quantum prices and the ease of rental. Though not all are flocking to shoebox units, after all, young families do need a reasonable amount of space, the average home size has dropped to 947 sq ft from June last year. And for HDB upgraders, their chances to move onto the private property market might have become slimmer, especially if size is a major consideration. The average 4-room HDB flat is around 969 sq ft.

CIty GateOne- and two-bedders have increasingly become more popular with buyers as they are usually within their budget and investors find them easier to rent out. URA figures in fact also showed that new residential properties have also featured smaller units, with the average size being 753 sq ft. But this hardly comes as a surprise as home size has been shrinking since 2009.

The other popular property  type is the dual-key apartment which provides the atmosphere of having two separate living spaces within the same home. Some of these units share the same entrance but separate facilities such as kitchens and toilets, while others share the same facilities but have separate entrances, providing privacy for bigger families and offering more rental options.

As we progress into the second half of the year and the market evolves in reaction to buyers demand and supply of land, will developers be quick to re-strategize and cater to the majority?

Varied market response to declining property prices

Home prices in both the private and resale HDB markets have continued to dip in the second quarter of 2014. In the first three months of the year, the decline was 1.6 per cent. Perhaps buoyed by the increased number of launched in Q2, the rate of decline was somewhat less steep at 1.3 per cent the quarter past.

Rezi 3 TwoBuyers who have been on the lookout for opportunities such as this may be happy to find that more than a few property developments have been offering discounts. Though the overall number of sales have picked up in the second quarter, mostly due to new launches, the private homes market saw a more obvious slowdown in both the city centre and suburbs. The drop was 1.5 per cent in the city centre and 1.1 per cent in the suburbs. Properties in the city fringe fared better with a 0.6 per cent drop, an improvement considering the 3.3 per cent dive in the earlier part of the year.

But there are those who are concerned about the longevity of their investment should they purchase now. The question they may ask is, is this the lowest prices can go? If I were to buy now, will the prices continue to drop? Though property analysts are doubtful that the prices will bottom out anytime soon, they are expecting the maximum of a 5 per cent decline.

As long as the supply continues at a steady pace, prices will not vary far from the current levels. Perhaps true change will only come with a shift in policies. Considering the elections will be here in a couple of years’ time, the time leading up to that might be a period of uncertainty.

Resale HDB flats prices dip

The number of resale HDB flat buyers is diminishing. At its two-year low last month, the number of flats which exchanged hands in May was 1, 320. In April, 1, 484 resale flats were sold. Prices also fell 1.2 per cent in May, the lowest since April 2012 according to the Singapore Real Estate Exchange’s (SRX) price index.

Marsiling Greenview BTO HDB FlatThe most common reason for the drop was the loan curbs. This has prevented many buyers from securing a desired loan amount, thus unless they have a large enough cash reserve, it usually puts a resale flat out of sight. The number of transactions in March and April were more positive but that could be due to the pent out demand following the festive season in January and February. Other possible reasons for May’s drop could be the release of new BTO and SBF (sale of balance) flats by HDB in the same month. The latter SBF flats are usually more popular with location- and price-conscious buyers as they are cheaper than resale flats but yet are situated in mature estates.

But what about HDB upgraders who are have purchased private properties? Unlike private property owners who are not allowed to purchase HDB flats, HDB flat owners are allowed to purchase private properties. But as buyers play the waiting game, resale flat owners are now simply willing to wait, if they can, or rent out their HDB flats. This in turn keeps rental supply high, but that also means they will be likely to compete with private property rentals. As the supply of tenants are kept stable, this could also mean there will be a price-war in the rental market.

How long will the resale market remain weak? Will it be a tough uphill climb?

Resale HDB flats shrink in number

You may think that with the number of new properties being completed within these couple of years, more HDB upgraders will be in a hurry to sell. But as the figures show, fewer resale HDB flats are put out there in the market as many choose instead to hold on to their flats in wait of the market upturn.

The quicker rise in prices of private mass-market homes could also be part of the reason for this inertia to upgrade. Prices of condominiums have risen 4.8 per cent and coupled with the decreasing ability to receive and maintain a realistic home loan, many may have given up their plans to upgrade, at least temporarily.

Bukit Batok HDB FlatBut it is just as well, since demand for HDB resale flats has also fallen, especially since singles are now able to purchase new flats directly from HDB and permanent residents now have a 3-year waiting period after receiving their PR status before being allowed to purchase a HDB flat.

The first sign of the decline in demand was shown in the COV figures. From a 6-figure sum just not long ago, it is now at a zero median in February this year. Some have even been reported to have sold below valuation price.

It is uncertain how long this lacklustre situation will last, but at least for this year, the market seems relatively quiet.

Private home sales – Will the decline continue?

The property market has been softening. The decline seemed inevitable, especially as completed new private homes flood the market in the upcoming year or two.

Not surprisingly, shoebox apartments saw the largest dip in sales as the number of units are somewhat saturated. Buying power is also now lower and buyers who were initially looking at these units for investment may no longer be able to get the loans they need.

 

Marina One residential project with 1,042 new condominium units. Photo by marina-one.org.

Marina One residential project with 1,042 new condominium units. Photo by marina-one.org.

Rental issues such as the age, functionality and location of resale units now have to compete with the newer and sometimes faster property models. In the central districts, the decline in rents and sales of apartments were most evident. This could be due to the number of unsold high-end properties in these areas. Even suburban condominiums are feeling the heat as many expatriates shun them as they often do not provide the convenience and exclusivity they desire.

Whether the effect will transfer to the HDB resale market also awaits to be seen. As HDB upgraders who are moving to their completed units will have to let go of their HDB units within a specified time period, many may be in a hurry to let go of their units and possibly at lower prices than before as the market gets competitive. Pair this up with a diminishing market for smaller units as singles are now able to purchase new flats from HDB directly, as well as a smaller pool of permanent residents, the property market seems to be in for quite the turn this year.

Even as more new property launches are promised, how private home sales fare the next quarter may set the mood for the rest of the year.

Evaluation of the HDB Resale Valuation

Recent changes in the valuation process for resale HDB flats have drawn some feedback from the public. Many are wary of how this mix-up will cause some hiccups in the buy-sell procedure and how it may also affect the selling prices.

Photo by HDB.

Photo by HDB. How does the recent change in the HDB resale process affect the seller and buyer?

Sellers will no longer be the ones to apply for valuation of their flats. They now need to come to an agreement on a selling price with the buyer before the buyer applies for the valuation. This may favour the buyer more than the seller as COV prices have been the main bugbear in the search and purchase of a suitable resale HDB unit, but without prior knowledge of the price of a unit based on the age, location and size of the unit, buyers may also be very much left to glean information from rumours in the wind or self-research.

HDB has however tried to bring some equilibrium to this confusion by publishing resale transaction figures daily instead of fortnightly.

What HDB hopes to achieve with this procedure renewal is:

  • Long-term stability of public housing prices
  • Less dependency of sales on COV (cash-over-valuation) prices
  • Making the HDB resale market more transparent

Will this move help them achieve all that? Or will market forces turn this around on its head and steer it in the other direction?

Change is in the wind for resale HDB market

And buyers too. More for buyers perhaps, as new rules regarding the cash-over-valuation (COV) for HDB resale flats kicked in at 5pm yesterday:

  • Sellers will no longer be the ones getting a valuation of their flats from HDB. Buyers instead are responsible for that part of the procedure.
  • HDB flat valuations can only be secured after the seller and buyer have agreed on a price. Previously, the seller could obtain a flat valuation prior to seller and then offer the valued price to the buyer, and on top of that demand a COV price.
  • The Option-to-purchase (OTP) period will now be 21 days instead of the previous 14.
Photo by ThinkStock.

Photo by ThinkStock.

Most of these new rulings were to help buyers obtain a home loan, especially since the loan limits have decreased. According to the National Development Minister, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, this move will also help “restore the original intention of valuation, which is to help buyers get a housing loan”.

The government is keen to make the HDB resale market less dependent on COV prices. Recent HDB sales have seen the COV prices drop to almost zero in many cases and some even selling below valuation. Just last year, median COV prices have sky-rocketed to $38,000 with some even garnering six-figures.

HDB will also now be publishing HDB transaction figures on a daily basis instead of fortnightly. These recent moves may be the push towards transparency the public housing market needs.

Shadows cast on property market

New properties are revving up their engines once more. As the market prepares themselves for these launches, what could the consumer expect?

Resale private properties situated near the sites of new properties to be launched this year may be slightly affected by the prices set by these new kids on the block. And as resale HDB flat prices dip, HDB upgraders may also not have as much as before to spend.   As developers find it harder to attract buyers since some have since redrawn from the investment pool as their finances are restricted by loan limits and mortgage curbs, prices of these new properties may be lower than expected. Properties nearby may then be forced to do the same with their resale units.

Tanglin ViewIn areas with potential for redevelopment and growth, such as Alexandra and Tanglin, competition may be fiercer. For example at Tanglin View condominium, the going rate used to be $1,600 psf a year ago, but now the average selling price stands at $1,400 psf. Similarly for Ascentia Sky apartments, prices have dropped from $1,900 psf to the current $1,500 psf.

But there are still profits to be made for private property sellers. Even though prices may not be as high as a couple of years ago, properties which were purchased 10 to 20 years ago may still find suitable buyers. Property prices today are definitely still much higher than a decade ago. Those who were hoping to rake in a quick profit with properties bought less than five years ago may find themselves having to hold on to their properties for slightly longer to wait out this year’s lull.

For the serious home buyer, it could be the prime time to buy.