Stamp Duty changes bring cheer to real estate market

With the recent Sellers’ Stamp Duty (SSD) changes, the real estate market is beginning to feel more upbeat all around.

PLQThe most significant changes were the SSD rates and the fact that sellers who let go of their properties after 3 years will no longer have to pay the sellers’ stamp duty. The Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) threshold has also been relaxed for properties with  loan-to-value (LTV) limits of 50% and less. The latter move is aimed at helping retirees monetise their properties as many could be sitting on their assets while having trouble with cash-flow or liquidity. Some property owners may wish to cash out on their properties in order to start businesses or send their children for overseas education but find themselves unable to loan enough as the TDSR framework limits the borrower only to amounts totalling up to 60 per cent of their gross income.

All these changes will give buyers a higher sense of security, knowing that they will have more flexibility in managing their finances without having to hold on to their properties should they urgently require liquidity. The crowds at the Paya Lebar Quarter’s (PLQ) residential project – Park Place Residences a couple of weekends ago were a positive affirmation of the improving sentiments in the property market. Property agents reckon that the SSD changes will motivate more people to buy as they now have less restrictions to take into consideration.

 

Singapore no. 2 destination for Asian property investors

A recent study has found Singapore to be No. 2 in a list of top destinations for wealthy Asian investors. The Wealth Report compiled by Knight Frank has placed Singapore second, after only Britain, as a country high net worth Asians are favouring as a property-investment destination.

BishopsgateResidencesExcluding their primary residence, these individuals are defined by their portfolios of at least US$30 million (S$42.3 million). They are also more likely to apportion most of their assets to real estate investments. This could come as good news to developers and property marketing agencies, helping them narrow down their target audiences and structure more focused marketing strategies which are more essential now than ever as the economy languishes.

While Chinese investors are the mainstay of the real estate scene, Indian and Malaysian buyers are making an increasingly obvious presence. Property analysts are expecting the proportion of foreign home buyers in Singapore to rise to between 25 and 28 per cent this year. Their numbers currently stand at 24.7 per cent. Singapore’s slower rate of property growth allows investors to take stock of their investment and stake calculated risks without having to grapple with the rapidly increasing price growth in cities in China, Australia and Canada.

Some of the other countries which are also gaining traction in the real estate investment arena are China and Vietnam. Singapore’s stable political and business environment has however continued to make it a choice pick amongst Asian investors.

Rise in new private home sales volume

The number of new private homes sold last year have risen on the back of declining prices in the primary private home sales market. Fighting against predictions of a languishing private residential sector, new private home sales have held up in 2016 with 8,136 new units sold, 9.4 per cent higher than 2015’s 7,440.

SantoriniBuyers have been picking up units directly from developers, aided by a couple of pushes from low interest rates an and lower selling prices. Though 2016 was a slow year for Singapore’s real estate industry in terms of home prices, the number of transactions clocked have surprisingly went against all odds. While private home prices have fallen over the past 3 years, market sentiments have begun to pick up last year and increased interest and availability of one- and two-bedroom units whose total quantum prices were more palatable for the general buying public and investors alike.

In Q4 of 2016, 2,480 new units were sold, the highest number in a quarter for the year. Despite the year end’s usual market lull and only 90 new units launched in the last quarter, December’s sales were positive with suburban projects leading the way with 231 sales, followed by 112 in the city fringes and 24 in the core central region. Last month’s best seller was The Santorini in Tampines which sold 26 units at an average price of $1,046 psf.

MAS relaxes income cap on loans

Interest rates have been flying low for sometime now. At less than 2%, home loan rates are even lower than the 2.6% offered by the Housing Development Board (HDB). Though the latter offers stability despite inflation, the small difference is considerable for the large purchases real estate surmounts to.

And though there has been talks of rate hikes, a sharp increase has not yet happen and while interest rates have plunged to near-zero in 2011 and not surged since then, many have been favouring the floating-rate loans which are pegged to the Singapore Interbank Offer Rate (Sibor). But at the same time, the property cooling measures rolled out in waves by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) have restricted the ability of many to refinance their previously high-interest home loans.

MAS has since adjusted the total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) framework as of 1st September, and more home owners and new buyers will find that they now qualify to refinance their loans or service a less taxing one. Now all home owners are exempt from the 60 per cent income cap. Previously, the monthly repayment amount for total household debt can only be of and less than 60 per cent of the household income.

As the goal of this regulation is to prevent a property bubble and to stop buyers from overextending themselves and running into debt, property investors may still find themselves restricted by the rule, but now with the change, less so. The loan threshold may be surpassed if they pass the bank’s credit checks and they also have to commit to repaying at least 3 per cent of the outstanding bank loan within a 3-year period. This may still keep errant property investing in check while allowing those we have done their risk calculations carefully an opportunity to plan their financial growth.

The property market has been gradually cooling for a few years now and while no change downwards or upwards has been sudden nor drastic, and although the authorities say this is in no way a relaxation of the property cooling measures, this is nevertheless a good start on the pathway to building a more structured and robust real estate industry.

Consumer awareness crucial for property industry

The local property industry landscape has been changing quite a bit over the past few years, in particular for the consumer. The authorities have been working on transparency and consumers now have more information at their finger tips, and perhaps even more as net prices of de-licensed projects’ will soon be available as well.

singapore-property-authoritiesCurrently, the Housing Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) both provide property statistics and data on their websites. The Singapore Residential Price Index (SRPI) by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Institute of Real Estate also provides month-on-month transaction-based information for private non-landed residential properties.

ardmorethreeThere are however some caveats to take into consideration. URA’s quarterly price index for example, does not include the discounts and incentives which developers sometimes provide. Only the net-price will be recorded, thus consumers will do well to take this into consideration when viewing statistics and median monthly transaction prices. The change will take effect this month, which means the price index may have some downward pressure put on it as current figures may be inflated. De-licensed projects which have obtained their Certificate of Statutory Completion and thus do not come under the Housing Developers Rules, such as OUE Twin Peaks and Ardmore Three, are known to provide incentive schemes to their buyers such as 15% discounts and Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) rebate.

A recent case of a property agent who handled and misappropriated cash handed to him by his client also brings to light that consumers may not be entirely aware of what they are entitled to or what their agents are allowed and disallowed to do. In brief, it is against the law for property agents to handle any cash on behalf of their clients.

Small apartments: New fare better than resale

Prices of private non-landed properties in the central region have risen 0.7 per cent last month, a possible indication of the market bottoming out soon. New payment and incentive schemes could also have helped boost sales numbers, in particular for properties in the prime districts of 9 and 10. Across the board, prices of completed apartments have risen 0.2 per cent.

E MaisonNew small apartment units fared better than resale units as demand for the latter tends to be overshadowed by the former. Buyers are more open to buying small apartment units directly from developers rather than in the resale market as new projects tend to offer more longer-term benefits and immediate rental profits from resale units have been falling as the foreign workforce shrinks as a result of  tighter immigration policies. Most of the buyers are Singaporeans or permanent residents looking for properties to live in or rent out for the long-run, and having waited a couple of years for the property cooling measures to be lifted to no avail, are now dipping more than their toe into the pool.

July has proven to be a good month for the real estate market, with some property agents reporting up to a 50 per cent increase in sales in a year-on-year comparison.

Property market’s road to recovery a gradual one

While the global economy remains in the doldrums and the authorities keep the local property cooling measures in place, Singapore’s real estate market is likely to see a gradual gentle road to recovery, starting with stabilisation.

LakeGrandeJuly’s sales figures show promise, with 1,091 units sold (excluding executive condominiums). That is almost double that of June’s 536 units. Although August’s numbers may dip due to the Hungry Ghost month and the lack of major property launches, September will see the launch of Parc Riveria at West Coast Vale and Forest Woods in Serangoon. The former is developed by EL Development and the latter by City Developments.

Consumer interest on landed homes, a rare commodity in local context, has also shone of late. CapitaLand‘s launch of 6 Victoria Park Villas‘ units which all sold between $4.3 to $4.9 million led the way to positive market sentiments. July’s major launch of the highly affordable units at Lake Grande largely boosted sales figures, accounting for 40 per cent of the total number of units sold.

VictoriaParkVillasProperty analysts are expecting monthly sales of 500 to 700 units for the rest of the year, totalling up to 8,000 units for 2016. Selling prices have remained steady in July while sales figures rose 22 per cent, signalling the start to the market’s road to recovery.

Regional centres primed for growth

28 districts and 29 HDB estates strong, Singapore’s real estate market still holds space for growth, especially in the suburbs. As buyers become more investment-savvy, and the country grows, their needs and demands shift with the tides of time.

Lakeside URA MasterplanPhoto credit: URA

Buyers of today are looking for properties in a good location, not necessarily only in the central region, with the potential for value appreciation. There are now more regional centres than 2 decades ago, such as Woodlands, Tampines, Jurong and Seletar. These townships are considered second-tier commercial zones where residential, retail and industrial sectors connect and where residents can live, work and play all in the same location without having to step foot into the city centre. It helps spread the population out across the island and also create job opportunities and boosts property value and prices.

FLoravilleWith the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Masterplan moving into action, there may be even more property hotspots coming up by the end of the decade. There are plans to develop the once sleepy Lakeside district into Singaporea’s second CBD. The Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail terminus will be located at Lakeside Gateway, which will be a good way of driving rental traffic in the area. The North will also see the development of the North Coast Innovation Corridor, centred around Woodlands and connected to the North South and Thomson MRT lines. And over in the North-east, the Seletar Aerospace Park is poised to bring in 10,000 new job opportunities and the early adopters of properties in the area may do well in the long term.