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Khaw sees light at end of property market tunnel

[SINGAPORE] National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan says that he is seeing "more light at the end of the tunnel" in the quest to achieve a sustainable property market in Singapore. "But we are still in a tunnel," he added.

"So we continue to have to watch very carefully over the market and at the same time, wish for better luck too," he said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza, who had asked among other things, what can be done to ensure a predictable regulatory regime, beyond "ad hoc" cooling measures, to regulate foreign ownership in Singapore's property market in order to create sustainable property prices.

Replying, Mr Khaw said that "ad hoc" measures are part and parcel of managing Singapore's property market. "You have to be nimble and try to anticipate somewhat, to make certain projections. But you can never be sure.

"And therefore some measures when you do it, then you have to calibrate the quantum. But . . . so far, so good . . . As you can see, I'm now more relaxed, my hair has even turned black," he added, drawing laughter from the House.

He also said he shared Mr De Souza's wish to "try and achieve a sustainable, perhaps even boring, property market".

"But for a small Singapore market that is plugged into the global system, you know that there are many factors which are quite completely outside, beyond our control."

Mr Khaw also cited data to show that the cooling measures have had their intended effect of dampening foreign demand and reducing speculation. Since 2011, foreign buying in Singapore's private housing market has shrunk, both in proportion and in absolute numbers.

The proportion of purchases by foreigners (who are not Singapore permanent residents) has fallen from 17 per cent in 2011 to 7 per cent in the third quarter of this year. Over the same period, the number of purchases by such foreigners has also declined from about 1,400 per quarter to 330 in Q3 this year.

Mr Khaw also gave figures on subsales, which are often seen as a gauge of the level of speculative activity in the property market. Subsales as a proportion of all private housing transactions dropped from 7.6 per cent in 2011 to 4.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2013. In absolute numbers, subsale transactions have fallen from about 670 per quarter in 2011 to 181 in Q3 2013.

Highlighting policies reflecting the priority to support home ownership for Singaporeans, Mr Khaw said: "Only citizens are allowed to buy new HDB flats and provided grants to purchase resale HDB flats.

"Almost all landed housing can only be purchased by Singaporeans. The private condominium market allows foreigner buying and the cooling measures have moderated their impact. The resultant trend is encouraging but we continue to closely monitor the market and we will not hesitate to act further when necessary."