Private home sales see robust price gains in fourth quarter

Private resale transactions accounted for 61.3 per cent of all sales done in the fourth quarter. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The private home market has defied the pandemic and Singapore's worst-ever recession to notch up price gains in the fourth quarter of last year.

The numbers racked up in the fourth quarter would have scarcely been believed back in April, when pundits were forecasting sharp price falls if the economic slump worsened and the circuit breaker was prolonged.

Instead, private home values rose 2.1 per cent in the fourth quarter compared with a 0.8 per cent gain in the third, and a 0.5 per cent rise in the final quarter of 2019.

It was also a stellar year for sales of Housing Board resale flats with prices leaping 5 per cent last year - the steepest growth since 2012 when values jumped 6.5 per cent.

But it is the private market's resilience amid higher unemployment and an economy that is expected to have contracted 5.8 per cent last year that has sparked comment - and some unease.

Recent remarks that the Government is keeping a close watch on the market are fuelling speculation of more cooling measures.

Urban Redevelopment Authority data out yesterday showed that prices rose 2.2 per cent last year compared with a 2.7 per cent year-on-year expansion in 2019.

Those numbers pale against the boom year of 2018 when prices shot up 7.9 per cent.

Some analysts say it is still too early to make a call on cooling measures after only one quarter of strong growth but that could change if prices continue to grow at more than 2 per cent for another one to two quarters, noted Mr Wong Xian Yang, associate director of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at Cushman & Wakefield.

Ms Tricia Song, Colliers International's research head for Singapore, sees prices and sales extending their rally this year but warned that the "spectre of more cooling measures - should prices outpace economic fundamentals - could temper that momentum".

Meanwhile, new home sales fell 26 per cent in the fourth quarter from the previous three months, but developers eked out a small gain in overall sales for last year.

Developers moved 2,603 units, excluding executive condominium (EC) units, in the fourth quarter, down from 3,517 in the third, and 9,982 new homes for the year, up 0.7 per cent from a year earlier.

Robust demand in the primary market spilled over to the secondary one, with private resale transactions accounting for 61.3 per cent of all sales in the fourth quarter compared with 49.2 per cent in the previous quarter.

Resale volumes surged to 4,249 units in the fourth quarter from 3,467 in the third.

The figures for the year as a whole were even more impressive with resales jumping nearly 20 per cent to 10,729 compared with 8,949 in 2019.

More buyers are turning to the resale market because of "a widening price gap between new sales and resales, and a preference for larger older apartments due to the work-from-home trend. There could also be more demand for readily available housing given the delays in new home completions", Ms Song said.

New launches set benchmark prices late last year and helped homes in the prime region rise 3.2 per cent in the fourth quarter after falling in the third.

Non-landed property in the city fringe or rest of central region jumped 4.4 per cent to carry on that sector's rally, while homes in the suburbs or outside central region grew 1.8 per cent, driven by HDB upgraders, analysts said.

Private home rents dropped 0.6 per cent last year compared with a 1.4 per cent rise in 2019 although suburban rents gained 3 per cent. Rentals in the prime and city fringe areas fell.

Ms Song expects overall rents to stabilise: "While expats' demand may decline due to job losses or pay cuts, rents are unlikely to crash as completions will be significantly below the 10-year historical annual average of 12,948 units, with potential delays."

Developers launched 10,833 uncompleted private homes for sale last year compared with 11,345 in 2019 with 3,147 of those coming in the fourth quarter, a slight fall from the previous three months. There were 49,307 uncompleted private homes (excluding ECs) in the pipeline with planning approvals as at the end of the fourth quarter, compared with 50,369 in the previous quarter.

Developers still had 24,296 unsold units as at the end of the fourth quarter, compared with the 26,483 units in the previous quarter.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2021, with the headline Private home sales see robust price gains in fourth quarter. Subscribe