HDB, private home prices decline at slower pace

Buyers taking advantage of lower prices helped bolster the public and private property markets last year. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Buyers taking advantage of lower prices helped bolster the public and private property markets last year.

Prices in both sectors fell at a slower pace thanks to a slight uptick in transactions.

Experts noted that Housing Board resale prices seem to have stabilised, but the decline in private home values looks set to continue amid turmoil in the equity markets.

HDB owners had some reason to cheer last year with resale prices rising for the first time since the third quarter of 2013, albeit by just 0.1 per cent, according to data yesterday.

This brought the full-year decline to 1.6 per cent, compared with a 6 per cent fall in 2014.

Lower prices sparked more HDB buying interest, with 19,306 resale deals last year, up from 2014's record low of 17,318.

Private home prices fell 0.5 per cent in the fourth quarter, taking the full-year decline to 3.7 per cent - still less than the 4 per cent decline in 2014. Prices are now 8.4 per cent below recent peak prices in the third quarter of 2013.

Private home sales rose in both primary and secondary markets, boosting total transactions by 9.9 per cent over 2014 to 14,117 last year.

Some buyers have re-entered the fray as prices do not seem to be coming down significantly despite cooling measures, said Mr Alan Cheong, Savills Singapore research head.

However, he warned that stock market volatility may be straining some nerves.

"Transaction volumes will probably take a hit this year," he noted. If this turns out to be a short-term disturbance, prices may continue to weaken slightly in line with softening resale values while new-sale prices should stay firm due to high development costs.

"But if there is a full-blown crisis, developers may choose not to sell anything. With only resale units transacted and lower volumes, this would flag out the weak sellers and prices will come off faster," said Mr Cheong.

If prices hold up well this year - say, falling less than 5 per cent - the Government may see no reason to tweak the cooling measures, said Ms Christine Li, director and research head at Cushman & Wakefield.

But if economic sentiment deteriorates fast, it may be compelled to review that stance by the end of this year, she added, noting: "The Government may be more concerned if our GDP numbers are weaker than expected, or if we are at risk of a technical recession."

Property prices also seem to track the Straits Times Index closely, with stock market performance leading by about a year - so prices could be in for a rough year, Ms Li added.

Prices of landed property fell 4.1 per cent last year while non-landed home values fell 2.5 per cent in the core central region, 4.3 per cent in the city fringes and 3.7 per cent in the suburbs.

The suburbs should face more price pressures this year due to the large number of completions there, said Mr Ku Swee Yong, Century 21 chief executive.

Vacancy rates rose by 0.3 percentage points from the third quarter to hit 8.1 per cent last year - a 10-year peak and the highest since the fourth quarter of 2005. This represents 26,517 vacant private homes, up from 25,169 in the third quarter.

"Demand is struggling to catch up with supply, given the number of completions last year and the tightened foreign labour conditions," said Mr Wong Xian Yang, research manager at OrangeTee. There were 18,971 private homes completed last year, with 21,906 more slated to hit the market this year.

"Vacancy rates may continue to edge up, given this year's completions, and the foreign labour situation is tipped to remain tight," said Mr Wong.

Indeed, the amount of unsold inventory in the market - about 24,000 units - could take more than three years to clear, given that new sales have been moving at just over 7,000 units a year, said Mr Cheong of Savills.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline HDB, private home prices decline at slower pace. Subscribe