COVs take a dip as housing transactions drop

Cash premiums that buyers pay for Housing Board flats have fallen in the first three months of this year, on the back of a lower volume of transactions.

The largest drop came from areas such as Punggol, Tampines and Pasir Ris, where the premiums went down by 21 per cent, 13 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

According to data from Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX), the median overall cash-over-valuation (COV) for the first quarter of this year was $33,000, down from $34,000 in the preceding three months.

However, overall median prices still rose from $455,000 to $457,000 during the same period.

SRX also recorded just 3,186 HDB resale transactions in the first quarter of this year, the lowest quarterly figure since 2009.

Property analysts say these numbers are a result of a slowdown in the market, as buyers come to grips with cooling measures that restrict their purchases, and take stock of the new flats on offer.

Since January, mortgage payments to banks have been capped at 30 per cent of a borrower's monthly household income. There were no restrictions for such loans before, allowing some home buyers to spend up to half their wages on their mortgages.

"The new rules mean buyers on the borderline, who would have gone for the larger flats, would need to settle for smaller units instead," said ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim.

Some 70 per cent of HDB transactions for the first quarter of this year involved three- and four-room flats, while five-room units and executive apartments made up the rest.

"There were new flats launched in areas like Punggol, for instance, so that served to draw away some demand," added Mr Lim. The median cash premium paid for Punggol flats has fallen from $45,000 to $35,500, said SRX.

The 470 Punggol Build-To-Order units launched by HDB last month pulled in around four applicants per flat.

In Tampines and Pasir Ris, demand for homes seems to have slackened, said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail. One reason, he said, could be the new rules affecting permanent residents, who typically represent about 20 per cent of the HDB resale market. Since January, they need to pay 5 per cent stamp duty for their first residential home, up from zero before.

Another reason, he noted, could be that buyers are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

One example is marketing manager Lawrence Wong, 29, who is waiting for 3,000 balance flats to be launched by HDB next month.

These unsold flats are in greater demand, as they are either already being constructed, or are already built. "Balance flats are basically like getting a brand new resale flat at a subsidised cost and with zero COV," he said.

But not all towns saw weakening cash premiums.

Popular spots Ang Mo Kio and Kallang/Whampoa both saw a rise in overall COV of about 8 per cent.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said demand is typically strong for such areas, which do not often see new launches.

darylc@sph.com.sg