Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty 'can be safely removed'

No risk of rapid price expansion because of factors like debt, mortgage limits, says SRX

Private condominiums and HDB flats in the eastern part of Singapore. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

A combination of steps by the Government and the real estate industry over the last few years has made it safe to remove the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD), said the Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX).

In a report yesterday, SRX noted that the latest market data showed a subdued market in both public and private housing and there is no longer a threat of a housing bubble.

It reiterated that overall price indexes have not kept pace with economic and median household income growth.

Under the circumstances, housing remains very much affordable, thanks to efforts by the Housing Board, including the construction of more Build-to-Order flats and other initiatives designed to improve affordability.

"Since prices are under control and home ownership is accessible to all generations of Singaporeans, it is an opportune time to remove ABSD for the good of the overall economy." SRX cited three reasons why ABSD can be done away with safely without risking a return to the rapid price expansion between 2010 and 2012. They are:

• Standardised underwriting constraints;

• Flexible speculation controls; and

• Transparent pricing.

In 2003, the Monetary Authority of Singapore took several steps to standardise the mortgage underwriting process. These include tightening loan-to-value limits, reducing loan tenures, lowering the mortgage servicing ratio to 30 per cent for HDB loans, and introducing a total debt servicing ratio of 60 per cent for private property loans.

This comprehensive standardisation, which had not kicked in when ABSD was implemented, coupled with an increase in housing supply, helped to stabilise the market.

"This should give us confidence that we can lift ABSD and still protect Singaporeans from overextending themselves in a low interest rate environment," SRX noted.

Second, there are already in place flexible speculation controls in the form of the Seller's Stamp Duty (SSD), which curbs speculation without deterring good capital inflows into Singapore.

Under the rules of the SSD regime, properties sold within the first year of purchase would be slapped with the maximum fee of 16 per cent. Those sold within two, three and four years will incur a rate of 12 per cent, 8 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

Third, the pricing of properties today is much more transparent than previously. Since 2012, the Government has made property data more accessible to the industry and the public.

Developers are now required to submit a range of transaction data every week to the Controller of Housing, including sales volumes and transacted prices of individual units, as well as the value of any benefits extended to buyers, such as cash rebates, legal or stamp fee absorption, rental guarantees or furniture vouchers.

Private-sector initiatives have also helped to improve pricing transparency, productivity, and market efficiencies, SRX noted.

Follow ST on LinkedIn and stay updated on the latest career news, insights and more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty 'can be safely removed'. Subscribe