New home sales fall to lowest level in 5 years

Developers released fewer units in December as cooling measures bite

Sales of new homes plunged to their lowest level in five years last month as cooling measures and economic uncertainty hit the market.

Developers released fewer units in the wake of growing resistance from buyers, who are becoming increasingly keen to hold out for lower prices.

The result was that only 259 units were sold last month - the lowest since January 2009 and a remarkable 80 per cent down on the 1,271 units snapped up in November.

Last month's sales brought the 2013 tally to 15,015, which was 32.4 per cent lower than the 22,197 units sold in 2012, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday.

Market watchers said December is typically a slow sales period. But they noted last month's figures were still in stark contrast with December 2012, when 1,410 new units were moved.

Confidence in the property market was still high then, noted Mr Ong Teck Hui, national director of research and consultancy at property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

Cooling measures imposed since those heady days have been reining in the red-hot market.

Heftier additional buyers' stamp duties were implemented in January last year. This included levying 5 per cent duty on permanent residents buying their first home, and 7 per cent for Singaporeans buying their second. Foreigners also had to stump up a levy of 15 per cent for each home.

Tighter lending guidelines, known as the total debt servicing ratio framework, introduced last June made buying a home even tougher by capping a borrower's total debt repayments at 60 per cent of gross monthly income.

URA figures out earlier this month showed that overall private home prices for the three months to Dec 31 sank by 0.8 per cent from the previous quarter.

This was the first slide since the first quarter of 2012 and reversed the 0.4 per cent gain in the third quarter.

Ms Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at property firm Colliers International, said developers responded to tepid demand by focusing on moving unsold units instead of launching new ones last month.

Only 118 new units were released, the lowest since December 2008 - when the global financial crisis was setting in - with just 157 units released.

The best-selling project last month was Guillemard Suites in Geylang - launched in November - with 26 units sold at a median price of $1,494 per sq ft (psf).

The Glades in Tanah Merah sold 18 units at a median price of $1,477 psf. La Fiesta in Sengkang also moved 18 units, for a median price of $1,197 psf. La Fiesta was launched in January last year and The Glades in September.

Analysts expect sales to pick up after Chinese New Year as a fresh wave of launches comes on the market. But buyers are likely to stay cautious, thanks to the prospect of rising interest rates following the US Federal Reserve's tapering of its massive stimulus programme.

"Developers will deploy more aggressive strategies, such as pricing their projects competitively to move sales," said Knight Frank research head Alice Tan.

Ms Hilda Tan, 60, a finance director who has been searching for a three-bedder for the past three months, said: "I've not made a decision because I'm still waiting for prices to soften; they are still quite high now."