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HDB resale volume dips to 30-year-low but prices edge up

[SINGAPORE] Housing Board flat resale volumes tumbled still further last month, following the already record low number of flats resold in April and dropping to levels not seen in the last thirty years, real estate portal SRX figures showed on Thursday.

Just 364 flats changed hands in May, a 13.9 decrease from the 423 resold in April. Both figures logged during the circuit breaker months were lower than the previous record low of 778 flats resold in May 1990.

The resale market fared worse than it had in previous disease outbreaks too. In May 2003, the corresponding month during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, resale volume still managed to reach 2,272 flats.

Prices, however, held steady in May, even increasing 0.1 per cent compared to April. People on average paid about S$3,000 more than the flats' estimated value last month, SRX said.

Analysts said this shows that there was no panic selling of flats, with sellers maintaining their asking prices despite what appears to be free-falling demand.

OrangeTee & Tie head of research and consultancy Christine Sun said the drop in transaction volume was only "natural" since physical house viewings could not be conducted during the circuit breaker period.

A similar trend was observed in the private property resale market, she said, given that most people still do not feel comfortable making a purchase without having physically inspected their new home and its surroundings.

But more buyers could be getting used to making decisions based on virtual home tours.

"We have noticed that more buyers are becoming receptive...More resale sellers who are in urgent need to offload their units and buyers who need an immediate home may adopt such virtual tours.

"Virtual tours may be here to stay as long as Covid-19 continues to linger," she said.

ERA Realty head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak also said the drop in transactions was not surprising.

He pointed out that there is still "underlying strength" in the HDB resale market "about three to four months after Covid-19 reached our shores", with prices edging higher than last month's and still higher than a year ago.

"There was no 'fire sale'," he said. "Although house-viewings by prospective buyers were disallowed during the partial lockdown in May, the sellers were still able to hold their asking prices and transacted the HDB flats at prices that were slightly higher than in previous months."

"The median prices of most flat types, such as 3-room, 4-room and 5-room flats, increased in May over April's median prices. There were even two HDB flats that were reportedly sold for more than S$1 million each in May."

Both Ms Sun and Mr Mak expect the worst to be over as restrictive measures are gradually eased. But the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on annual resale is inevitable, Mr Mak said, predicting that about 17,000 to 20,000 HDB resales could be made by the end of the year.

Last year's total resale volume was 23,714.

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