Tidal wave of property supply hits S’pore

Investors should sell their residential investments in Singapore. The property market, which has been gradually declining, does not need any new action to tip it over. Just the sheer number of new homes being supplied both in Singapore and Iskandar will drive prices lower.

New private home sales in Singapore have plunged in the past three months to about 40 per cent of the monthly average of the past five years or so.

Since January 2010, the average number of homes sold by developers each month has exceeded 1,300 units. The total number of new homes sold in June, July and August were 531, 560 and 490, respectively, including executive condominiums (EC). Excluding the hybrid housing type, the respective numbers were 482, 509, and 432, respectively, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Century 21 (IPA) data showed.

Given seasonal factors, such as the Hungry Ghost Month and the quadrennial football World Cup, the three months of dismal private home sales will not be sufficient to render the residential sector a bear market. However, the downward trend can be confirmed by several other indicators.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB)’s resale price index, which has a direct impact on mass market private properties, has fallen 5.4 per cent over the past four quarters.

During the same period, the URA’s private residential price index slipped 3.4 per cent. The weakness is also reflected in the rental market, where median private non-landed rentals eased 1.1 per cent in the past four quarters to S$3.79 psf per month. Meanwhile, private residential occupancy rates fell to 92.9 per cent in the second quarter of this year from 93.9 per cent in the third quarter of last year. In absolute terms, the number of vacant units increased to 21,268 in the second quarter of this year from 17,459 in the third quarter of last year.

Taken together, it is evident that we experienced a slow decline over the past year. Will this gradual weakening lead to a soft landing? Or are we about to fall off the edge of a cliff? As a practising real estate agent, I find it tougher to hold up high rents for landlords. With the rising vacancy rates amid a stream of newly-completed properties, the competition for tenants is intense, especially with the Government tightening foreign employment.

Although some landlords have yet to tune themselves to this new reality, others have reacted quickly ahead of next year’s record high supply, which will further pressure rents.

Supply of HDB, EC UNITS and Private Residences

In the past 10 years, Singapore has added about 8,000 new private residential units per year. But next year, we can expect about 22,000 units to be completed and 24,000 the year after and at least 16,000 in 2017. The pressure on rents will be overwhelming. Lifting the property curbs will not help fill vacant apartments and improve rents.

The expected supply of new HDB flats and ECs is large as well. More than 25,000 units will be completed every year over the next three years. There are also many second-time new HDB buyers and those who are upgrading to ECs who are required by law to sell their current HDB flats when they collect the keys to their new flats or ECs. Unless a few of the cooling measures are lifted and the foreigner employment policies are relaxed, the HDB Resale Price Index and the URA Residential Price Index are set to decline at a faster pace with the onslaught of new, completed home completions, even after taking into account the need for infrastructure to keep pace with population growth.

Supply in Iskandar

We must also not forget the promise of lower-cost properties across the Causeway in Iskandar.

The numerous Iskandar residential projects launched in Singapore since 2010, in locations such as Puteri Harbour, Danga Bay, Tebrau, Medini, etc, are now being completed.

They are ready to compete for tenants from Singapore seeking to reduce their housing costs and who do not mind making the commute between the countries. I estimate that over the next four years, about 10,000 new homes will be added per year in Iskandar and some of these will find tenants from Singapore with their attractive rents.

In the past six months, there has been an increase in the number of mortgagee home sales, with several headline-grabbing ones involving luxury condominiums in Sentosa Cove and the prime District 9. During the luxury property boom from 2006 to 2008, about 60 per cent of top-end apartments were purchased by foreigners. Some have held on to their investments, but they are now feeling stifled as a result of the multiple rounds of cooling measures, weak property demand and the restricted ability to refinance under the current regime.

For those who are willing to take a long-term view, say, 15 years and beyond, landed homes and high-quality freehold properties in Districts 9 and 10 would remain safe bets as these sub-segments are limited in terms of current stock and future supply.

As for now and the immediate future, as I forecast in a commentary in this column last year (“The price war has begun”, Nov 8, 2013), sellers are lowering prices and this will continue to take its toll on investors.

I recommend that investors sell their residential investments before they are engulfed by the tidal wave of new supply.

By Ku Swee Yong – a licensed real estate agent and the chief executive of property agency Century 21 Singapore. An author of two bestsellers, Real Estate Riches and Building Real Estate Riches, he has just launched his third book, Real Estate Realities — Accommodating The Investment Needs Of Today’s Society.

Source : Today – 19 Sep 2014

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