Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Private home sales feeling the chill of cooling measures

PRIVATE home sales stayed buoyant last month, but experts believe the cooling measures imposed in the middle of the month will likely take some of the heat out of the market.


That will not be apparent until this month's numbers are released next month, but figures out yesterday have given the industry plenty to digest.


They showed that 1,189 new units were sold last month, 11 per cent down on December and nearly 40 per cent lower than November, but higher than expected by market watchers.


If sales at executive condominium estates such as Prive and Austville Residences were included, last month's sales would be 1,534 units.


But early signs have emerged that the tougher new rules, which include a sellers' stamp duty of up to 16 per cent, might have dampened sales activity and prompted some buyers to rethink their purchases.


Mr Li Hiaw Ho, executive director of CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) Research, can point to about 30 cancellations for units at new launches at The Tennery, Robinson Suites and the Prive last month.


Last month's lower sales could also be due to the measures weeding out purchases by short-term investors. Genuine buyers who bought either for occupation or long-term investment were likely to have made up January's figures, said Mr Li.


Jones Lang LaSalle's (JLL) head of research for South-east Asia, Dr Chua Yang Liang, added that new projects launched last month generally saw a take-up rate of under 50 per cent.


But Spottiswoode 18 and Loft@Holland, which have a large number of so-called shoebox apartments of less than 500 sq ft, were some of the exceptions, with more than 80 per cent of units launched last month snapped up.


These small-sized flats saw robust sales as their lower overall price attracts both owner-occupiers and investors, said Mr Png Poh Soon, Knight Frank's head of research and consultancy.


Most homes sold last month were in the suburban and city fringe areas. The city fringe was especially popular, with sales up 42 per cent to 401 units compared with December's numbers.


'The provides support...to our view that prime properties are likely to see better performances this year as savvy investors return to pick up bargains in this segment of the market,' said JLL's Dr Chua.


The luxury market also enjoyed a fair level of interest, particularly projects that were newly completed or approaching completion, said CBRE's Mr Li.


The most expensive properties sold last month were three units of Scotts Square, which went for a median price of $4,621 per sq ft (psf), and a unit of The Orchard Residences at $4,258 psf.


OrangeTee Research, however, found that islandwide median prices inched up 1.8 per cent to $1,573 psf from the previous month. This could be due to the large number of shoebox apartments being sold, which generally have a relatively higher psf price.


Experts say that current market sentiment may not be easily subdued in the short term as the vibrant buying has been driven largely by record low interest rates and an economy flush with cash.


The brakes might be applied when interest rates start to rise and an increase in supply enters the market in the next few quarters from the recent government land sales, said Ms Christine Sun, senior manager at Savills Research & Consultancy.


'As it stands, the cumulative units launched but unsold have been increasing over the past few months, indicating that supply has already started to outstrip demand...Therefore, some downward pressure on mass-market home prices could be expected in the months ahead,' she said.


Knight Frank's Mr Poh estimates that between 800 and 900 homes will be bought this month. Propnex chief executive Mohamed Ismail expects close to 1,000, as almost 500 units have already been sold, he said.


Last month's top-selling projects included Spottiswoode 18, with 204 units sold at a median price of $1,992 psf, and Canberra Residences, where 155 flats went at a median price of $831 psf.

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