Why It Matters

Time to review property cooling measures

Private residences and HDB flats.
Private residences and HDB flats. PHOTO: ST FILE

After years of rocketing values, it has almost become a foregone conclusion that housing prices slip every quarter now. But while headline numbers point to a gradual fall, it's uncertain if the landing will be soft, and regulators should take care they are not boiling a frog alive.

What is clear is that pressure is building. Data on Wednesday shows private home prices were down for the seventh straight quarter, shedding 0.9 per cent in the three months to June 30. Prices are down about 6.7 per cent from the third quarter of 2013.

From a historical perspective, this looks a modest decline. Prices fell a whopping 20 per cent from the second quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2004.

But while price falls in the central region and city fringes seem to have slowed, those in the suburbs, once thought to be more resilient, are falling faster.

This is due to waning support from Housing Board flat upgraders as they deal with falling median prices for their homes. Add in the oversupply, which has been a concern for some time, and you have the makings of a real property downturn.

There are about 24,800 vacant homes across private residences and executive condos - enough for two years of population growth, analysts say. And 22,000 private homes will be completed this year and around 21,000 next year.

Sales volumes have risen as prices decline, although at a moderate pace: Resale transactions of private non-landed homes were up 16.6 per cent from the first quarter, and up 2.7 per cent year on year. Rents have weakened considerably and are down 5.1 per cent from the third quarter of 2013 - in line with tighter immigration policies.

Interest rates have also risen. In a sign of mounting stress on home owners, mortgagee listings continue to rise, with a fair share of mass market flats and shoebox units in the mix - indicating that not only high-end speculators have been hit.

Jobs are at stake, too: About 16 per cent of people employed here are in the real estate or construction industry. Both shed jobs in the first quarter.

As the froth in the residential market dissipates, the cries from property players and buyers to review the cooling measures will grow louder .

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Time to review cooling measures?'. Print Edition | Subscribe