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Mass market on the rebound

The outlook for this sector is bright, riding on strong demand fundamentals

PRICES of mass market residential property are finally seeing a clear uptrend, as reflected in the latest Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) statistics. Non-landed residential properties sited outside the central region (OCR) – where most suburban mass market properties are located – enjoyed a price rise of 7.2 per cent in Q2 2007.

This trumped the 2 per cent rise in Q1 2007. It was the highest quarterly gain since the market bottomed in Q2 2004, and indicates that confidence in the high-end residential property market has filtered down to the mass market.

Upswing seen across all locations and projects

Based on caveats lodged, the upswing in prices of mass market developments occurred across most suburban locations, although to different degrees. (See Table 1) The steepest price rise was seen in District 5. Median prices in this district rose by some 46 per cent from the low point in Q3 2005 to Q2 this year. This was followed closely by District 22, with a 42 per cent price rise. District 21 saw a 41 per cent gain in median prices. District 18 had a slower recovery. As of Q2 2007, median prices of mass market projects in the east picked up by 13 per cent from its trough in Q4 2006. A similar trend was observed in district 27, where the median price of private homes registered an increase of 16 per cent between Q1 2007 (the district’s record low) and Q2 2007.

The upswing is also more pronounced in larger and newer projects, which boast comprehensive facilities, as well as in those close to MRT stations and amenities.

One example is Kovan Melody, located next to the Kovan MRT station in District 19. Median prices there rose by 16 per cent, from $520 per sq ft when it was launched in 2004 to $605 psf in Q2 2007. At the other end of the spectrum, smaller and older developments located further from amenities, saw slower or flat price recovery. For instance, Central View in district 19 recorded a price gain of about 6 per cent between Q4 2006, when median prices were at the lowest for the development and Q2 2007.

Buyers of mass market homes are genuine purchasers

URA figures show that new projects sold by developers and resale deals make up the bulk of transactions in mass market districts located in OCR. Such sales made up more than 95 per cent of all deals since the general market bottomed out in 2004. On the other hand, sub-sales – which refer to secondary market transactions in uncompleted projects and often seen as a proxy for speculative activity – remained low at under 5 per cent.

Although sub-sales as a percentage of total transactions in OCR have been rising since Q3 2006, they are still relatively low at 3.1 per cent as of Q2 2007. This compares to 19.4 per cent for high-end properties in the core central region (CCR) and 10.4 per cent for private homes located in the rest of central region (RCR).

When taken as a percentage of total new sales within the respective regions, the proportion of sub-sales was just 7 per cent for the OCR, compared to 53 per cent for the CCR and 27 per cent for the RCR.

Supply crunch driving the mass market recovery

The rapid pace at which residential developments in the central area have been collectively sold in the last two years created an acute supply crunch, stemming from the massive withdrawal of homes from the existing stock.

This became one of the main drivers of the recovery in the mass market, which enjoyed a filtering down of demand, both in the sale and rental markets. Evidence of this can be seen in the much higher proportion of mass market property buyers with private residential addresses – from a low of 12 per cent in Q2 2002 to 61 per cent in Q2 2007.

However, the supply crunch is expected to be short term. The estimated 6,200 homes already withdrawn or about to be withdrawn from the stock in the central area – due to collective sales between 2005 and June 2007 – will be replaced by some 13,000 spanking new, modern and more luxurious homes in the next two years.

Moreover, the recent injection of private residential sites into the government land sale programme for H2 2007 could add another 5,580 new mass market homes.

Upswing in the mass market sustainable

Unlike the mid-1990s upturn that was propelled largely by speculative buying and weak demand fundamentals, the current upswing is supported by strong demand fundamentals on the back of bright economic prospects.

Historically, Singapore’s property cycles, measured from trough to trough, last between 10 and 13 years. Taking that as a guide, the current upswing in the mass market, which commenced in mid-2004 and picked up momentum this year, is likely to continue and peak in 2010. This coincides with the expected completion for many of the infrastructure programmes (such as the integrated resorts and Marina Bay Financial Centre) which support Singapore’s economic restructuring.

However, downside risks remain and they stem from the recent turbulence in world financial markets and uncertainty over the impact of the US sub-prime mortgage woes. Nevertheless, while the US and Europe may suffer a hit over the next few months, the economic fundamentals of Singapore and Asia remain strong.

Mass market prices could hit the 1990s peak

Launch prices of new mass market residential projects during the 1990s property boom ranged between $550 psf and $1,050 psf. One of these projects was Bishan 8, which was launched at a median $1,050 psf in 1997. The highest unit price achieved for a mass market project during the mid-1990s peak was a unit in Heritage View, which sold for $1,127 psf in September 1997.

In comparison, in the first eight months of this year, new mass market housing was launched at prices ranging from $500 psf to $880 psf, just some 9 to 16 per cent lower than the levels achieved at the last peak. The highest price achieved for mass market property in the current market was for a unit in The Parc, which sold for $1,040 psf in August this year.

Meanwhile, in the secondary market, the median resale price of mass market properties as of Q2 2007 was $516 psf, just some 14 per cent below the peak in Q3 1996. However, for those projects that were launched at the height of the boom in the mid-1990s, their median resale prices as of Q2 2007 are still some 11 to 45 per cent off from their highs. (See Table 2)

With the upswing expected to be sustained until 2010 at least, and assuming a conservative price growth of 5 per cent per quarter, prices of new mass market projects are likely to attain the 1990s peak level by H1 2008, barring unforeseen circumstances. For mass market properties in the secondary market, resale prices should match the last high by the end of 2008.

Table 1 Upswing Table 2 Playing Catching Up

 

Source: Business Times 27 Sept 07

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