COVs at lowest level in nearly a year; experts attribute slowdown to cooling measures

Recent property cooling measures have taken a bite out of cash premiums for Housing Board flats, pushing them to the lowest level in nearly a year.

The overall median cash paid above a flat's valuation (COV) has gone down from $35,000 in January to $27,000 in the first three weeks of May, according to preliminary data from the Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX).

This is the lowest figure since June last year, when the median premium was $26,000.

Although COVs have dropped across the board, premiums for large executive flats slipped the most - from $55,000 in January to $45,000 this month.

Property analysts attribute the slowdown to the cooling measures that the Government introduced in January.

The measures include capping mortgages at 30 per cent of a buyer's monthly household income.

This limits how much a buyer can borrow to fund a home purchase. Previously, there was no cap.

Permanent residents, who can buy only flats from the HDB resale market, also have to fork out a 5 per cent duty on their first residential purchase. There was previously no duty for PRs, who make up a fifth of public home buyers.

According to data from HDB, 4,335 flats changed hands in the first quarter of this year, a new low since 1997.

Usually, the number of transactions in the first quarter averages 8,000.

"If transaction numbers continue to be low, then it shows cooling measures are having their intended effect," said Mr Colin Tan, head of research at real estate consultancy Suntec Chesterton International.

"Another reason could be that buyers are waiting to see what new options the Government comes up with next in hopes of landing a better deal."

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in March that he plans to offer cheaper new flats in non-mature estates, although details are not yet known.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng does not believe COVs will go down drastically in the coming months.

"Buyers are more realistic because other than the premium, they still need to pay for things like renovation. But sellers are unlikely to back down too much, as they still expect a certain carrot before they are willing to let go of their flat."

Despite the fall in cash premiums however, median prices of flats are still on the rise, according to the latest flash report from SRX, which collates data from major property firms here.

Prices rose from $460,000 in January to $465,000 last month.

For tutor Mohamed Nizam, 26, they are too high. He said: "It's hard to come up with so much cash just like that, so I'm now deciding whether to wait till COV goes much lower, or go for a new flat and wait a couple of years."