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[SINGAPORE] Developers sold 480 private homes in March, down from 739 units in February and 2,793 units in March last year.
This brings the first quarter's tally to 1,791 private homes sold, down from 2,568 units in Q4 2013 and 5,412 units in Q1 2013, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) data shows.
The muted sales were partly due to the low launch volume in the first quarter. Only two new projects were launched in March: The Santorini in Tampines and Ascent@456 at Balestier Road - 724 units in all.
This brings the total launch volume in Q1 2014 to 1,964 units - "the lowest quarterly launch and sales volume since Q4 2008 and Q4 2009 during the global financial crisis", said Colliers International's director of research and advisory Chia Siew Chuin.
PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said: "The tight supply situation is a result of developers adopting a deliberate stance to time their launches and possibly adjust their pricing strategy appropriately before putting their product on the market."
Jones Lang LaSalle national director Ong Teck Hui added that it can be "daunting" to launch new projects in the current difficult market, since new sales launches after the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework was imposed have not performed well.
"Of all the new projects launched after TDSR was implemented, only about a quarter achieved a good take-up of 70 per cent and above, but in subsequent months, most of these projects still struggle to sell their units."
This feeds back into the cycle. "The unsold units in projects previously launched also act as a deterrent for new launches as it only intensifies the competition amongst projects for a limited pool of buyers," he added.
Although The Santorini sold only 76, or 13 per cent, of its 597 units in March, it became the top-selling project. Median prices for its sold units average $1,100 per sq ft.
Amid the bleak data, some consultants saw a silver lining in the rest of central region (RCR) and core central region (CCR). Colliers' Ms Chia noted that sales in the city fringes and city area improved 44.3 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively in March - due to homebuyers picking up units from earlier launched projects.
In the RCR, Eight Riversuites sold 44 units, Guillemard Suites 14 units, and Bartley Ridge 12 units; in the CCR, Hallmark Residences sold 13 units, Liv on Wilkie nine units and Goodwood Residences eight units.
Head of CBRE Research, Singapore, Desmond Sim, said "realistic pricing" has helped to move more units in the CCR, where there may be "probable renewed interest".
"This is where we noticed that a large proportion of CCR units have moved, with 150 units sold over a launch of 42 units (in Q1)," he said. Prices for these units have come down slightly from their original launch prices, but one - Hallmark Residences - saw the steepest discount of about 15 per cent on its launch prices.
Analysts are expecting buying activity to improve in April, with sales volume likely to climb to 500 to 800 units, going by healthy interest in new projects Commonwealth Towers and Lakeville in Jurong.
Other projects in the pipeline include The Crest and Highline Residences at Tiong Bahru, and The Sorrento at West Coast Road.
"Now that the TDSR has been in play for nine months, the dust has somewhat settled and buying volume is likely to improve in tandem with the anticipated launch of attractive and well-located residential projects," said Colliers' Ms Chia.
Mr Ismail said existing launches are still fairly muted compared to pre-TDSR days as buyers become more selective and await more attractive entry points.
But he believes that the underlying demand for real estate investment is still present, going by the encouraging sales performance of Rivertrees Residences and Riverbank @ Fernvale in the mass market segment, and Hallmark Residences from the high-end segment.
"Potential buyers could be waiting for good bargains to come, so the key is to find the right price point at which buyers are comfortable with."
The figures exclude executive condos (ECs), a private-public housing hybrid. Including ECs, developers moved 535 units in March, lower than the 787 units in February this year and 3,072 units last March.
URA will release the final Q1 2014 figures on April 25.