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Poor new-home sales in December sum up placid 2014 market

A three-party situation continues to grip home-buyers, developers and the authorities as they wonder: When can cooling measures be lifted?
Friday, January 16, 2015 - 05:50
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Developers sold just 230 private homes in the lull festive-cum-vacation month of December - down from the already-dismal 423 units moved the month before and marking a low not seen since early 2009 at the tail end of the global financial crisis.

Singapore

DEVELOPERS sold just 230 private homes in the lull festive-cum-vacation month of December - down from the already-dismal 423 units moved the month before and marking a low not seen since early 2009 at the tail end of the global financial crisis. INFOGRAPHIC: Developer sales

One reason for the poor sales stemmed from developers holding back launches and scaling back their marketing efforts, preferring to strategise for 2015 instead. As a result, a measly 53 units were released in the primary market, 94 per cent fewer than the 863 units launched in November.

The other reason, of course, was the continued weak market sentiment; buyers were waiting on the sidelines for better price offers from developers and more attractive project launches, said Knight Frank's head of Singapore research Alice Tan.

Actually, going by a year-on-year comparison, December 2014's new home sales was on par with the 259 units sold the year before, figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority on Thursday indicated.

December's figures brought the full-year tally to about 7,380 homes sold and 7,750 units launched; this was half the 14,950 units sold and 16,040 units launched in 2013 - and a sign of the sustained impact of the property-cooling measures and loan curbs.

These figures exclude executive condos (ECs), a public-private housing hybrid. Including ECs, however, developers sold 406 units last month, less than a third of the 1,278 units sold in November. But November's relatively high number came because a throng of three ECs (Bellewoods, Bellewaters and Lake Life) were launched that month, compared with just one (The Terrace) launched in December.

Including ECs, a total of about 8,960 units were sold in 2014, out of the 10,260 units launched.

About 2,500 EC units were launched last year, after a long drought induced by the 15-month period imposed on developers before they can put units on sale.

This year, analysts are expecting developer sales of 7,000 to 10,000 units. Prices of private homes are forecast to drop by 5 to 8 per cent after a full-year decline of 4 per cent in 2014.

OSK-DMG analyst Ong Kian Lin sketched out what he called a continuing "three-party catch-22 situation" among home buyers, developers and the authorities: "Home buyers are holding back in anticipation of a surge in physical completions in 2015 to 2016 and prospective price declines. Developers are dragging launches, with an eye on the government stepping in to reverse some of its anti-speculation measures.

"From the authorities' perspective, without a significant drop in property prices, it will be difficult to justify easing the cooling measures; prices are only slightly off - down 4.9 per cent - from their peak in Q3 2013." (At the Q3 2013 peak, prices were 62.3 per cent up from the market trough in Q2 2009.)

Mohamed Ismail, chief executive of PropNex, said much will still depend on developers finding the right pricing strategy to match the current sentiment.

Ong Teck Hui, national research director at JLL, said the property market may improve in 2015 as buyers attempt to time their purchases with the government's easing of measures:

"Many see 2016 as a possibility, perhaps even late 2015, by which time prices are likely to have corrected by more than 10 per cent. This could result in more buyers re-entering the market in the later part of the year, enticed by lower prices and before measures are eased."

UBS Asia-Pacific investment office head Tan Min Lan believes that easing may come only in 2016, when prices have fallen by a cumulative 15 per cent after "manageable" price declines over three years.

She told reporters on the sidelines of the bank's annual investment conference: "At the same time, nominal wages have started to pick up, so your price-to-income ratio would have gotten back to a more sustainable trajectory."

Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at Colliers, added that last year's moderation in transaction volume and prices are better aligned with the slower rate of economic growth of 2.8 per cent in 2014. "This is an indication that the market is being steered from a state of excess exuberance in the not-so-distant past towards greater stability and sustainability."

Developer sales are expected to pick up, with upcoming launches of highly-anticipated, large projects such as Sims Urban Oasis and NorthPark Residences in the first quarter.