The Business Times 1st April  2021

Analysts flag higher odds of cooling measures as Singapore private home prices rise for fourth straight quarter

THE odds of a fresh round of cooling measures have been dialled up a notch, with private home prices in Singapore in Q1 rising for a fourth straight quarter. 

Singapore private home prices rose 2.9 per cent in Q1 from the previous quarter, according to latest flash estimates from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Thursday. The price rise comes after a 2.1 per cent increase in Q4 last year. 

This is also the sharpest quarterly increase since the second quarter of 2018 when private residential prices rose by 3.4 per cent before property curbs hit in July that year.

Analysts said a stronger price surge could be captured when full figures for March are in. For now, the flash estimate is compiled based on transaction prices given in contracts submitted for stamp duty payment, and data on units sold by developers up to mid-March. URA will release its full set of real estate statistics for Q1 on April 23.

CBRE noted that to date, private property prices have increased by 6.2 per cent since Q1 2020. The gains come amid pent-up demand and cheap mortgages.

The URA flash estimate showed prices of non-landed private homes were up 2.1 per cent in Q1 versus Q4, after a 3 per cent increase in the previous quarter.

Prices of landed properties rose 5.6 per cent quarter on quarter in Q1, after falling 1.6 per cent in Q4.

However, for non-landed homes, prices in the core central region slipped 0.3 per cent in Q1, reversing a 3.2 per cent growth in Q4.

In the rest of central region (RCR) or city fringe, prices went up by 6.1 per cent, building on the 4.4 per cent rise in the previous quarter. CBRE noted that 337 caveats were lodged at The Reef at King’s Dock at a median unit price of S$2,257 psf, which is likely to have contributed to the higher psf prices registered in this quarter.

In the outside central region or suburbs, prices rose by 0.9 per cent in Q1, compared with an increase of 1.8 per cent in Q4.

Lee Sze Teck, director of research at Huttons Asia, said chances of cooling measures have been "raised by a notch" as the government looks to keep prices in check.

"First-time home buyers are likely to be unaffected as past measures have targeted investors and foreign buyers. Wealth taxes in the form of ABSD (Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty) may take centre stage and Singapore will be one of the first few countries in the region to tax the rich," he said.

"Another possible measure is the tightening of TDSR (Total Debt Servicing Ratio) for investors and foreign buyers while keeping it unchanged for first time home buyers."

ABSD is additional tax levied on top of Buyer's Stamp Duty, a tax that property buyers fork out for a property. TDSR caps the amount borrowers can spend on debt repayments to 60 per cent of their gross monthly income.

Mr Lee said the final tally for the private residential market could possibly see a higher price increase when figures for March are in. These would include transactions for the launch at Midtown Modern. About 340 units or 61 per cent of GuocoLand's 558-unit Midtown Modern condominium in Bugis were sold during its launch weekend. The majority of the units moved during the launch weekend were one-bedders and two-bedders.

Meanwhile, the 20-unit luxury development Eden was fully sold this month at an average price of S$4,827 per square foot (psf). The project by Swire Properties involves 20 four-bedroom units of over 3,000 sq ft, each of them occupying an entire floor. 

Citigroup analyst Brandon Lee also sees upside risk to the flash estimate when the statistics are updated later this month.

He noted that if the quarterly pace of property price increase in the region of 3 per cent is sustained for one to two more quarters, which is likely given upcoming launches are mainly high-end, there is heightened risk of cooling measures.

Goh Jia Ling, manager, research, Southeast Asia, CBRE noted that while psf prices have been trending up, buyers have been gravitating towards smaller units. The "sweet spot" still remains at an affordable quantum of below S$2 million, which makes up 85.6 per cent of new home sales this quarter.

That being said, the latest estimates raises the possibility that more cooling measures could be rolled out. Price growth at this pace is likely to exceed the government’s GDP growth forecast of 4-6 per cent, while the launch of some upcoming projects at higher psf pricing might continue to push the price index higher.

Commenting on the landed property segment, Knight Frank Singapore’s research head Leonard Tay said: “Elderly retired landed home owners form a ready pool of sellers, as they would be incentivised to profit and downgrade as they grow older, even as the cost to upkeep such properties grows heavier.”

He noted that as landed home supply is not likely to increase significantly in the foreseeable future, these homes have become the new blue chip.

In the Good Class Bungalow market, a record sale in the Nassim area was recently done at S$4,005 psf.  

The benchmark psf price achieved is for a S$128.8 million transaction last month. The buyer is Jin Xiao Qun, the wife of Nanofilm Technologies International founder and executive chairman Shi Xu. The Singapore citizens became a billionaire couple following the company's successful listing on the mainboard of the Singapore Exchange in October last year.

On the 32,159 sq ft freehold site is an old bungalow. It is being sold by Oei Siu Hoa, also known as Sukmawati Widjaja, the controlling shareholder of Top Global.

And even with the latest GCB record price of S$4,005 psf on land area just set, some market watchers are predicting that the next bungalow to be sold in the prized location is likely to surpass this price.

As for prices of non-landed homes in CCR, Knight Frank's Mr Tay said this segment has not performed as strongly due to lack of new launches and ongoing travel measures that have restricted potential foreign investors.

He expects Singapore’s attractiveness among the globally mobile wealthy as well as Asian family offices will continue to draw prospective foreign buyers to newly launched projects in the CCR, such as The Atelier and Irwell Hill Residences

Mr Tay projects overall private residential prices to increase by more than 5 per cent in 2021.

Ismail Gafoor, CEO of PropNex noted the performance of the private residential market exceeded expectations in 2020 and the main drivers that have spurred sales and supported prices last year continued to propel the market in Q1 this year.

He said that the pace of price growth, particularly in the last two quarters will certainly draw the government’s attention and may heighten the risk of new cooling measures being introduced down the road. Mr Gafoor added: “We believe the final pricing data for Q1 and Q2 this year will be closely watched and a stronger pick-up in home values could likely trigger new measures to keep prices in check.”

Christine Sun, senior vice-president of research & analytics at OrangeTee & Tie, said: "The rock-bottom interest rates may mitigate the impact of property price increases and help keep mortgages affordable for borrowers."

She noted that Singapore's economy is expected to see a strong rebound this year, which will help to lift buyer sentiment and lend support to Singapore’s property market.

But Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at ERA sees the introduction of any property cooling measures currently as premature.

He notes the current pace of growth in property prices is lower than that in Q2 2018 when cooling measures were introduced. Citing that the Singapore economy is still weak from the recession, Mr Mak said any cooling measures would in turn impact the construction industry and slow down the economic recovery.

He added that any hike in stamp duties for foreign buyers could be taken as a signal that the government does not welcome foreign homebuyers.

This article is written by LESLIE YEE from The Business Times. Click here for the original article.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Business Times on April 1st 2021, with the headline 'Analysts flag higher odds of cooling measures as Singapore private home prices rise for fourth straight quarter.'

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