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Redas urges govt to intervene if property market turns volatile

Redas chief echoes the property market's concern over the effects of cooling measures
Thursday, November 27, 2014 - 05:50
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Redas Foundation presented a cheque for $50,000 to Habitat for Humanity at the dinner. From left, Redas president Chia, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Habitat for Humanity Singapore's national director Yong Teck Meng, and Catherine Loh, the CEO of the Community Foundation of Singapore.

Singapore

THE president of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas) Chia Boon Kuah on Wednesday urged the government to "stand ready to take supportive measures to prevent a tipping point" if the property market turns volatile and worsens.

Speaking at the association's 55th anniversary dinner at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia hotel, he said developers were concerned about the slowdown that has gripped the residential market since the cooling measures and the total debt servicing ratio kicked in.

"The data and facts truly speak for themselves," he said.

The transaction volume is expected to halve to under 9,000 this year, from around 18,000 in 2013; overall private home prices have declined in the last four consecutive quarters.

Mr Chia said: "The industry is expecting unabated headwinds as the slew of cooling measures continue to bite and dampen buying sentiment. The looming supply of 68,000 completed new residential units in the next few years is likely to cause the home vacancy rate to head towards 10 per cent. This will add even more pressure on the residential market."

He added, too, that the dampened buying sentiment has led the genuine home buyers among Singaporeans to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

The malaise in the property market could also infect the economy at large: After all, a quarter of the top 20 listed companies in Singapore are property or property-related firms, and one in five persons has a job in real estate or construction.

Approached later, Mr Chia declined to elaborate on the kind of "supportive measures" he thought the government ought to make.

But the developers who spoke to The Business Times at the event echoed his views, although they did not recommend a complete roll-back of the cooling measures and loan curbs.

Qingjian Realty (South Pacific) Group general manager Li Jun was one of those who said the market was already at a point where the government should intervene. He cited as one of his reasons the outflow of capital into overseas foreign properties at a time when investing in overseas real estate assets carries higher risks.

"It's hard to say what kind of supporting measures the government should extend. I don't suggest removing all the measures but perhaps some, and gradually, to prevent a hard landing," he said in Mandarin.

Tuan Sing group chief financial officer Chong Chou Yuen suggested drawing the line for cooling measures at the mass-market mid-end homes to maintain their affordability.

He suggested that the government could afford to relax the policy for high-end investment properties for both local and foreign investors, and spoke of a mismatch between what the government and what developers deemed as a sufficient price correction.

Knight Frank Singapore executive chairman Tan Tiong Cheng said the government was "playing a very delicate game". Part of the rationale for keeping the cooling measures in place was to keep property prices down to give wages time to catch up.

"The government is acutely aware that real estate forms a big part of Singaporeans' collective wealth. They are not about to allow the situation to deteriorate to a panic stage. But they do have priorities to take care of before developers' interests," he acknowledged.

"In a low-interest-rate environment, the only way to cool the market is to ensure that buyers don't overborrow, and reduce competition among investor-buyers of second and third properties. This is so that when interest rates rise, these people will not find themselves financially stretched."

At last year's anniversary dinner, Redas had raised its concern over the substantial number of completed residential units coming on stream in the next three years. This seemed to have some impact on policy, as the government moderated land sales this year.

At the dinner, Redas also signed a memorandum of understanding with four partners, who will work with the association to pioneer the Redas developer-centric Building Information Modeling initiative.

Under this, players in the real estate value chain will share information, improve work flow and raise productivity. Once successful, this will be scaled up for the entire industry.

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