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No lifting of property cooling measures till 2017: Redas seminar speakers

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Property cooling measures are unlikely to be unwound this year, given that interest rates are expected to stay low for a longer time amid greater uncertainties arising from the "Brexit" vote.

PROPERTY cooling measures are unlikely to be unwound this year, given that interest rates are expected to stay low for a longer time amid greater uncertainties arising from the "Brexit" vote.

The earliest that policy relaxation could take place is 2017, according to speakers at a property market seminar organised by the Real Estate Developers' Association (Redas) on Tuesday.

While there has been speculation that a tweaking of property market measures will follow the recent easing of car loans, "that does not seem to be the case", said OCBC head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling.

Calling the ongoing price adjustments in the housing market a "soft landing", Ms Ling pointed out that it has been marked by lower volatility compared to other key Asian markets.

But with more supply coming onstream, there will be greater pricing pressures, Ms Ling said. "I think the earliest when we may see some unwinding of measures will be 2017 because we haven't quite reach the double-digit price correction that they want."

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Increased macro-economic uncertainties arising from Britain's vote to depart from the EU also means that central banks globally are likely to maintain an accommodative monetary policy, which could lead to a re-allocation of resources and investments out of the UK and the eurozone into Asia, where property has traditionally been an attractive asset class.

Concurring with this prognosis at a panel discussion was CBRE head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia, Desmond Sim, who noted that while cooling measures have certainly affected transactions, prices have fallen by a smaller magnitude.

But Redas president Augustine Tan is circumspect about whether more Asian investors will turn their eyes back to investing in Singapore real estate in the wake of the Brexit vote, noting that investors are taking a wait-and-see approach.

He reminded his audience at the seminar that the property cooling measures were introduced at a time when "this sea change of global economic relationships was nascent and undetectable".

In his opening remarks, Mr Tan said: "In an increasingly inter-connected world, as Brexit clips the movement of trade and people across Europe, the rippling effect of slower growth will impact Singapore. At the same time, businesses continue to contend with rising business and manpower costs."

In face of weak demand, landlords and developers of retail, commercial and industrial properties are feeling the pressure on rents and high vacancy rates, said Mr Tan, who is also the executive director of property sales and corporate affairs at Far East Organization.

On the residential front, demand has fallen sharply on the back of hefty supply. To move sales, developers have cut prices ranging from 5 to 25 per cent for some of their projects, Mr Tan observed. At new property launches, sales peter out after the initial launch.

Still, penalties for unsold units await developments affected by qualifying certificate (QC) rules and the additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD) remission claw-back.

Giving an update on its projections, Redas estimates that some 1,100 to 1,200 unsold units across 17 developments will be affected by QC extension charges by end-2016, with estimated charges amounting close to S$138 million. Currently, about 5,300 units remain unsold in 47 developments, excluding executive condominiums, which will be impacted by the ABSD remission claw-back from end-2016 to 2018.

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