Private home-owners can’t play HDB chip any more

String of steps to douse speculation; prices and sales of mass-market private homes may be hit

The Prime Minister had hinted on Sunday that major moves were afoot to cool the property market. Even so, when the Ministry of National Development (MND) spelt out the measures yesterday, several market-watchers did a double-take. Many of them expect private home prices and sales to be hit.

Of all of MND’s new measures, analysts pegged the move to disallow concurrent ownership of HDB flats and private residential properties within the minimum occupation period (MOP) as the most significant. The MOP is the time that buyers are required to stay in their flats before they can sell.

Private property owners who buy an HDB flat now have to dispose of their private homes within six months. National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, who announced the measures, said that right now, around half of private property owners who buy an HDB flat sell their private properties. The rest hold onto both.

The MOP for non-subsidised flats was also increased to 5 years from 3 years.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said that the mandate to dispose of one’s private property when purchasing an HDB flat will have ‘great ramifications’ for the industry. Based on his firm’s records, about 10 per cent of all HDB resale purchases are by private property dwellers.

‘These may be investors who will now not be able to purchase HDB flats and keep their private property for investment purposes,’ he said.

MND also targeted potential buyers of second homes with two policy changes. Those who hold an existing mortgage can now only borrow up to 70 per cent of a property’s value for the second home, down from 80 per cent previously. They must also pay 10 per cent in cash, up from 5 per cent.

And owners who sell houses and apartments less than three years after buying them will also have to pay a seller’s stamp duty. Previously, the seller’s stamp duty was only imposed on those who sell their homes within one year of purchasing.

The Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (Redas) said in a statement that while the latest measures may affect affordability due to higher upfront cash component, they will not impact genuine home buyers.

But at least one developer BT spoke to felt that the measures would hit sales of mass market private homes as HDB upgraders will have to cough out 10 per cent cash and can only borrow up to 70 per cent of the property’s value.

‘Genuine upgraders could be turned off as they will have to sell their HDB flats and settle that loan before buying a new property,’ the developer said. ‘Now, the practice is to buy units from developers at new launches and then wait for their new property to be built before selling existing homes.’

CBRE Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho also pointed out that the pool of HDB upgraders looking to buy private properties will shrink as this group will now have to wait for five years instead of three.

The government acted as Singapore’s strong economic growth, low interest rates and high liquidity continued to push home prices up in 2010 – sparking concerns of a property bubble. Private home prices were up 38 per cent year on year as of end Q2, while HDB resale prices climbed 15 per cent over the same period.

‘If the current momentum in the market continues, what will likely happen is that a property bubble will form,’ said Mr Mah. ‘And when the bubble bursts – not if, but when it bursts – there will be severe implications for individuals as well as for the economy as a whole. Furthermore, the very low interest rates we are seeing today are not sustainable in the long run.’

Analysts said that the new measures will hit private home prices and sales volumes.

Colliers International’s director for research and advisory Tay Huey Ying said that developers’ sale volume for September to December 2010 is now predicted to come in at the lower range of her earlier forecast of between 800-1,000 units a month.

She also revised her earlier forecast of up to 5 per cent growth in the official residential property price index for Q4 2010 downwards to ‘at most 2 per cent’.

HDB prices are also expected to moderate as the government plans to release up to 22,000 new build-to-order flats in 2011, up from the more than 16,000 in 2010. It will also release more land for executive condominium projects and design, build and sell scheme (DBSS) flats next year.

Yesterday’s measures follow earlier demand-side measures introduced in February.

Then, the government first implemented a seller’s stamp duty for all residential properties sold within one year from the date of purchase. It also lowered the loan-to-value limit to 80 per cent from 90 per cent for all housing loans provided by MAS-regulated financial institutions.

But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday that previous measures had failed to keep prices from rising.

Looking ahead, collective sales and bidding for government land sales are expected to slow down for the rest of the year as developers monitor the market and the strength of recovery in the US and European economies, said DTZ’s head of South-east Asia research Chua Chor Hoon.

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