Stocks rout adds to property market woes

Private housing market data points to rental market reaching critical state

By Kalpana Rashiwala

[email protected]


Jan 23, 2016

SOME analysts believe the private housing market is a resilient one, given the rise in volume of private home sales last year and the mere 0.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter dip in the official private housing price index in the fourth quarter - the smallest fall since prices peaked in Q3 2013.

But weak economic growth, job-market concerns, rising interest rates and the ongoing stock market rout are coming together to put a damper on the outlook for this segment of the residential property market.

Property consultants say the impact of the diving stock markets will vary on potential property buyers, depending on their profile, but there is little running away from the fact that a weak stock market makes most people feel poorer, and will rub off on sentiment in the property market.

Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong said: "The sharp stock market decline may strike fear in the hearts of potential buyers even if they can afford to buy. Therefore, until the problems affecting stocks are resolved, market transaction volumes in the private residential sector could languish, with developers holding back new launches and buyers going back into their shells."

The reduced level of interest in the resale market brought about by the weak stock market could further soften prices in the first half of the year.

"If it hadn't been for the ill wind from the stock market, we believe that prices in the resale market would have begun to turn around by mid-2016," he said.

JLL's head of Singapore and South-east Asia research Chua Yang Liang is more sanguine about the impact of the stock market on the private housing market, where activity has already slowed on the back of government policies.

He said: "The 7,440 and 7,316 private homes sold by developers in 2015 and 2014 reflect the underlying demand; most of these people are buying for their own needs.

"But those who are purchasing second or third properties or buying for investment, that is, those who do not need to buy a property now or the marginal buyers and fence-sitters - they may delay their purchase."

Agreeing, Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng said: "If you are buying for investment, better take a look at the rental market. It's becoming even more challenging."

Even as the inflow of foreign talent remains tight and some foreign banks lay off staff, completion of private homes remains at elevated levels.

The number of private homes completed climbed from 10,329 in 2012 to a record 19,941 units in 2014.

Last year, the figure fell 4.9 per cent to 18,971 units, but this year, it is again expected to spike to a fresh high of 21,906 units, based on data submitted by developers to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Next year, the figure is projected to ease to 14,351 units.

With more completions, vacancy levels have been rising, and rents, sliding.

The vacancy rate for private homes crept up from 5.4 per cent at end-2012 to 8.1 per cent at the end of last year.

The URA's overall rental index for private homes retreated at a quicker pace of 4.6 per cent last year, against the 3.0 per cent drop in 2014.

Among non-landed properties, those in the suburbs or Outside Central Region (OCR) posted the steepest fall in rent last year - 5.6 per cent, compared with falls of 3.8 per cent in Core Central Region (CCR) and 4.9 per cent in the city-fringe or Rest of Central Region (RCR).

This was not surprising. Ong Teck Hui, national director at JLL, noted that nearly three-quarters (about 72 per cent) of the new private homes completed islandwide last year were in OCR. This was a substantial increase from a 48 per cent share in 2014.

"This has put significant pressure on the suburban leasing market, as owners struggle to find tenants, driving rents south."

This year, rents are expected to post an even bigger drop.

As DTZ South-east Asia chief executive Ong Choon Fah said: "There's a lot of new project completions this year. So tenants will either choose to stay put and negotiate for lower rents or within the same rental budget, upgrade to a larger, better-located or newer property."

She added, however, that properties near MRT stations and amenities will continue to be resilient.

ERA Realty Network key executive officer Eugene Lim said he expects the URA's overall rental index for private homes to post a bigger drop of between 5 and 8 per cent this year.

He also expects its overall price index for private homes to ease by 4 to 6 per cent. (Last year, the index declined 3.7 per cent; the year before, it fell 4 per cent.)

Said DTZ's Mrs Ong: "My guess is that the drop in the price index this year will be similar to last year - provided the economy stays on track and there are no external shocks."

In the non-landed segment, the price index for OCR last year fell at a faster pace of 3.7 per cent, compared with the 2.2 per cent decline in 2014.

The other two regions posted slower price falls.

In CCR, the index fell 2.5 per cent after having eased 4.1 per cent in 2014; in RCR, prices shed 4.3 per cent in 2015, after slipping 5.3 per cent in 2014.

Amid a slowdown in state land sales, the pipeline supply of private homes has shrunk steadily - from a high of 88,623 units at end-Q1 2013 to 55,638 at end-Q4 2015. "This provides some support for prices of private homes," said Mrs Ong.

The number of resale transactions of private homes rose 24.1 per cent to 6,160 in 2015 from 2014.

Cushman & Wakefield head of research Christine Li expects a step-up in resale activity this year, as more owners of units purchased following the January 2011 introduction of the higher-rate seller's stamp duty (SSD) cross the four-year holding period; after this, they will no longer be liable for any SSD payment if they divest their properties.

She said: "This could incentivise those who have broken even or even made some capital gains to offload their properties in the market. So 2016 will be a good year for bargain hunters, as home prices will be more affordable."