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Home prices feel pull of gravity after 31% rise

Q4 tempers spectacular growth of 2007; mass market may shine this year

(SINGAPORE) Private home prices rose 31.0 per cent in 2007 – the biggest year-on-year jump since 1999 – despite a slowdown in the fourth quarter caused by the withdrawal of the Deferred Payment Scheme (DPS) and sub-prime woes, flash estimates show.

HDB resale prices also climbed some 17.4 per cent last year – the fastest growth seen since 1996 – as private home price gains filtered down. But HDB resale prices also saw a slowdown in growth in the fourth quarter.

At a doorstop yesterday, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said that over the last few months, the government had taken several steps to try and cool down speculative activity in the property market. However, the market is also being affected by external factors beyond the authorities’ control, he said.

‘For Singapore, we are optimistic that we will continue to do well but there are many things beyond our control,’ Mr Mah said. ‘It is up to us to keep a close eye on the market and be able to tweak those policy levers that we can in order to keep property prices stable.’

Private home prices rose 6.6 per cent in the fourth quarter – down from the 8.3 per cent growth seen in the third quarter.

Similarly, HDB resale prices grew 5.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2007 – down from the 6.6 per cent rise for the previous quarter.

Experts said that the slowdown was brought on by both poor global market conditions as well as the removal of the DPS scheme.

Knight Frank managing director Tan Tiong Cheng said that the fourth-quarter slowdown was not surprising considering the sub-prime crisis in the United States.

‘People are still waiting for signs as to how bad the sub-prime situation will turn out,’ Mr Tan said. ‘It affects the whole outlook; people are uncertain.’

Demand could also be muted as lending by banks in the US, UK and Europe has been tremendously curtailed since the crisis, he said.

On the other hand, OCBC Investment Research analyst Winston Liew believes that the bigger culprit is the withdrawal of the DPS. ‘After the DPS was withdrawn, the whole market went down – the resale market, new launches and the stock market,’ he said. He has a ‘neutral’ rating on the Singapore property sector.

For the HDB resale market, the slowdown could also be attributed to buyers holding back in the face of rapidly increasing asking prices, said ERA assistant vice-president Eugene Lim.

‘The slowdown in price increase was largely expected as the market hit resistance level in the light of unrealistic sellers demanding for high cash-over-valuation (COV) transactions – particularly for the five-room and executive flat-types,’ said Mr Lim.

The slowdown in price growth, experts said, will continue in the first quarter of this year.

‘It is unlikely that there will be much activity in January or February,’ said Knight Frank’s Mr Tan. Agreed OCBC’s Mr Liew: ‘I would expect the rate of growth to slow down.’

CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), for example, expects the take-up of new homes to be between 9,000 and 11,000 units for 2008. By comparison, the property firm estimated that a record 15,000 new homes were sold in 2007, 34.5 per cent more than the 11,147 new homes sold in 2006.

This year, the property market will be driven by mid-end and mass-market homes, experts said. Prices and take-up of luxury homes are expected to moderate.

In the fourth quarter of 2007, the price increase was led by non-landed homes in outside central region (OCR) where the index showed an increase of 7.5 per cent.

The strong showing, CBRE said, could be attributed to new project launches during the quarter, such as Park Natura and Hillvista. Prices in the core central region and rest of central region rose by 7.0 per cent and 7.3 per cent respectively.

For 2008, ‘we expect a moderate rise in overall prices as luxury prices are likely to firm up at current levels while mid-tier and mass-market prices have the potential to rise by about 10-15 per cent’, said Li Hiaw Ho, executive director for research at CBRE.

Others were more bullish about the mass market. Ku Swee Yong, director of marketing and business development at Savills Singapore, predicts that mass-market prices will climb by 30-50 per cent this year.

In response to a question about the rapidly climbing prices in the mass market, Mr Mah told reporters that the government is watching the segment closely and will take action if necessary.

‘People who can’t afford the central region to buy or to rent are starting to look outside, which I think is the sensible thing to do,’ he said. ‘We will continue to keep an eye. We’re watching it every day. If necessary, we’ll do something, if not necessary we’ll just let it be.’

The overall price index for private homes could climb by anywhere between 10 per cent and 25 per cent this year, depending on how quickly the market recovers, experts said.

And for the HDB resale market, prices could climb by between 10 and 15 per cent, they said.

‘With the buoyant economy and expected positive market sentiment in 2008, the HDB property market in Singapore is likely to enjoy a double-digit growth in the 10-11 per cent range,’ said Mohamed Ismail, chief executive of property agency PropNex.

 

Source: Business Times 3 Jan 08

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