Seller’s Stamp Duty — a double-edged sword?

The Government first introduced a Seller’s Stamp Duty (SSD) in February 2010 on all residential properties to cool the housing market that was rebounding on the back of the economic recovery from the global financial crisis in 2009.

The SSD was subsequently revised twice — in August 2010 and January 2011 — to serve as additional deterrence against short-term speculation. Sellers are slapped with a stamp duty of 16 per cent of the property price if the home is sold within a year of purchase. The SSD reduces to 12 per cent, 8 per cent and 4 per cent if the property is sold within the second, third and fourth year of purchase, respectively.

The move helped to curb speculation and drove down sub-sales but the market impact of the SSD was rather short-lived. Demand for new private homes picked up pace and a few more rounds of cooling measures were introduced amid record high property prices. So is the SSD still relevant today, given that it has had little effect on reining in property prices?

In fact, the SSD may actually delay the physical housing supply over the next two to three years and, if not dealt with properly, could act as a double-edged sword for the private home market.

In order to understand how the SSD changes the supply in future, it is assumed that owners of recent purchases would choose to wait out the four-year period in order to avoid paying any SSD. In reality, there may be some owners who might cash out their properties earlier and pay the relevant duties.

According to our findings, a total of 16,173 units have received or are expected to receive their temporary occupation permit (TOP) this year, but 950 units are not available for sale in the open market. This is because they were bought within four years from January 2011 and are still affected by the SSD.

As a result, the actual number of newly-completed units available in the market will be 15,223 units.

The same trend will continue in 2014 and 2015: There will be 2,308 and 6,313 net units locked up by the SSD, reducing the original pipeline supply by 12 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively. Interestingly, the supply situation will reverse in 2016, as more locked-up units will be made available in the market after the four-year hold-out period.

A total of 33,555 units are expected to hit the market in 2016 alone, tripling the 10-year average number of private home completions. Of this, 27,181 units will come from newly-completed projects, while the remaining 6,374 will be from the stock of previously locked-up units. The actual number could be about 10 per cent to 20 per cent higher because caveat data is typically lower than the actual number of units sold by developers.

Hence, the imposition of the SSD seems to stifle actual supply in the market in the short term, which could result in even lower transaction volumes in the next two years. The rental market could also be weighed down, as all the newly-completed units which were bought within four years are likely to be leased out instead.

When buyers have insufficient choices in the secondary market, the primary market will naturally become their focus. This could potentially push up demand for private residential properties, despite having record completions in the pipeline.

The SSD could, therefore, work against the Government’s intention to have sustained price growth for housing that is in line with the economic fundamentals.

Perhaps, it is time to tweak the SSD and allow owners to sell their units within four years. This will of course come with certain conditions, so as to prevent investors from flipping their units too quickly. The move will also help to stabilise the rental market in the medium term.

Perhaps, for properties bought and sold within one year, the SSD can remain at 16 per cent, but for those sold after one year, a capital gains tax can replace the SSD to give sellers some flexibility.

Source : Today – 30 Aug 2013

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