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Thread: Property 2008: The Business Times Supplement

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    Default Property 2008: The Business Times Supplement

    Published March 27, 2008

    A time for reflection and planning

    No panic mood this time round and developers are financially stronger unlike during the Asian crisis, but a lot depends on Singapore's growth, construction bottlenecks and costs, and investors' pricing power, writes KALPANA RASHIWALA


    AFTER two years of exuberant growth, Singapore's private housing market has come to a virtual standstill. Property launches and sales have slowed as local buyers adopt a wait-and-see attitude while foreign buyers, including institutional investors, are taking a similar approach in the wake of the sub-prime crisis.


    The Sail at Marina Bay: Established players have already made nice profits in the past couple of years and appear to be keeping their cool despite the current lack of activity in the property market.

    Despite a paucity of transactions, prices have not weakened. Ask most industry players and they will say that the fundamentals of the local property market are still intact. Veteran developer Kwek Leng Beng, executive chairman of City Developments, says: 'Today, the mood is not one of panic, unlike during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. We are not in recession today, but rather, we are the victims of our own success. Because we did not anticipate that our economy would be firing on all cylinders, we have a shortage of almost every type of property today.'

    Not only is the Singapore economy still growing, but the remaking of the Singapore story is still intact. Singapore's transformation into a global city and its evolution into the mother of all hubs - financial/wealth management, tourism, education, healthcare, research & development, etc - are coming along nicely.

    That and the development of two integrated resorts with casinos and the Republic hosting the Formula One race have served to boost Singapore's profile among overseas investors, keen on parking some money in Singapore, including in its property sector.

    Most developers appear to be keeping their cool despite the current lack of activity in the property market. After all, the established players have made nice profits in the past couple of years and have strong balance sheets. Most have stopped buying high-end residential sites for some months.

    The effective cost of borrowing for developers today is 3-5 per cent, nowhere near the highs of almost 20 per cent seen during the darkest days of the Asian crisis a decade ago.

    These days, developers reckon they can hold off new property launches, for some months at least. The strategy is that if they don't launch projects, then they don't need to drop prices to entice potential buyers. Thus, developers hope they can keep their hold on pricing.

    Analysts say one major factor that could weaken developers' pricing power is specu-vestors who bought multiple units in projects on deferred payment schemes earlier. The deferred payment schemes typically run out when the projects are completed, which is when buyers have to cough up big instalments. To avoid facing such a situation, and be forced to run around town looking for multiple housing loans - which they may or may not get - specu-vestors who bought multiple units may seek to offload their units, at below market prices if necessary, as the projects near completion. If significant numbers of specu-vestors dispose of units at lower than market prices, that may set lower price benchmarks for the overall market.

    Another factor that could potentially cause weaker prices could be smaller and newer developers, who may prefer to price their projects more competitively to draw buyers - rather than wait.

    Confidence will also hinge on macro factors - for instance, whether Singapore's economic growth remains in positive territory and employment is secure. Construction bottlenecks and higher construction costs are also eating into developers' margins.

    Already, some private investors are understood to have formed informal 'consortiums' among friends, hoping to scoop up some good buys when property prices fall.

    Some developers last month were saying the sub-prime crisis could clear by the first half of this year and that things will pick up in the local property market in the second half. Now, that view sounds optimistic, given the ongoing carnage in global financial markets, with no end in sight to the US sub-prime debacle. The staring match between buyers and sellers in the residential property market will continue. Who will blink first?

    In the office market, prime office rents nearly doubled last year after rising about 50 per cent in 2006. Despite tight office supply in the immediate term, resistance from occupiers to higher rents is expected to put the brakes on landlords' ability to achieve steep rental hikes this year. As well, the various projects on 15-year leasehold transitional office sites are expected to be completed within the next 12-15 months and should provide some short-term relief to the office crunch. If major financial institutions scale down their operations in Singapore, demand could take a hit. Post-2010, supply of completed Grade A office space will start increasing again. All these point to more competitive office rentals in Singapore in future.

    Investment sales of office blocks have slowed, on the back of tighter bank financing. Even for residential development sites, relatively unseasoned players are finding it tougher to secure funding, because of tighter liquidity brought about by limited appetite in capital markets. With developers sated with prime freehold sites and given weak home sales, the collective sales market has also gone into slumber. Hopefully, there will be fewer en bloc fights among neighbours. Singapore property investment sales this year are expected to come in at about half of last year's record $54.5 billion, CB Richard Ellis estimates.

    All in all, we look set to have a quieter year in the property market. After the heady growth in the past two years, a consolidation will hopefully provide a time for reflection - and for planning the next move.

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    Published March 27, 2008

    En bloc: Importance of being earnest

    New rules can't prevent fights led by greed but tussles should be less explosive, writes KARAMJIT SINGH


    THE year 2007 will go down as the most spectacular in the 13-year history of Singapore's en bloc market. It was a story of massive fortunes made and lost. A record number of deals changed hands at a frenetic pace. Prices shot through the roof as it was a period when the perception of Singapore's prospects had changed dramatically and local property prices appeared cheap relative to the major global cities that Singapore started being associated with. Funds and investors from overseas poured in, and developers and local speculators bought feverishly.

    To be precise, it was the first half of 2007 that was truly phenomenal for the en bloc market. In just those six months, 58 en bloc deals involving 5,500 owners took place at a staggering value of $10.8 billion. That amount was close to the value of deals in the previous four years put together!

    In 2007, several other records were broken too. Farrer Court created history by being the biggest en bloc deal ever sold. It was the first and only transaction to cross $1 billion. The 618 units at Farrer Court also made the largest pool of en bloc sellers to be successful. Fittingly, Singapore's largest listed developer, CapitaLand, led the consortium that purchased it. They are proposing to build possibly Singapore's largest condominium project comprising 1,500 units. (The current record stands at just over 1,200 units at Melville Park in Simei.)

    The Westwood Apartments deal set the benchmark for being the most expensive residential site traded. It was sold in November 2007 at a land rate of $2,525 psf per plot ratio (ppr) to Malaysian developer YTL Corporation. As an indication of the extent to which prime land rates have surged, just 18 months before Westwood was sold, the nearby Beverly Mai was bought for less than half its rate - at $1,184 psf ppr. If Westwood had been sold 36 months earlier, chances are that it would have fetched only a quarter of the price it secured.

    Amid all the exuberance were negative voices raised against en bloc sales, as well as legal tussles between owners and purchasers involved in collective sale developments. There were calls to restrict or ban such sales, especially for projects with heritage or architectural value.

    There were also numerous complaints about how the process was handled, claims of bad faith and the railroading of minority interests. Above all, there were several high-profile legal tussles involving the purchasers, consenting sellers, non-consenting owners, and some owners who had consented but sought ways to rescind their sales agreement.

    The vigour with which legal tussles were fought in some cases seemed to be correlated with how quickly property prices shot up after their sales took place. Many relied on technicalities as potential loopholes, while others were simply a case of minority owners being dead set against the sale.

    The dissenting voices of the minorities in many en bloc projects - sold or not, irrespective of their motives - created the impression that the en bloc laws that had worked well for eight years needed an overhaul. On one hand, there are certainly areas where the rules could have more clarity. On the other hand, the voices were not totally representative, as the vast majority tend not to be vocal.

    Recognising this and balancing various views, the government introduced a new set of laws in October last year that raised the standards on governance and disclosure. At the same time, some redundancies in the application process to the Strata Titles Board (STB) were removed and STB's powers were enhanced to disregard non-prejudicial technicalities.

    The market largely welcomed the new laws. Some, however, wondered if certain new provisions were really needed, like allowing owners who sign a collective sale agreement to withdraw their consent within five days. It also increases costs for en bloc sellers and makes the exercise more long drawn out.

    By this time last year, 25 deals had taken place. So far this year, only one small deal has been reported. Such is the extent to which the en bloc market has slowed with the onset of the US sub-prime crisis in August last year. This points to the cyclical nature of such deals.

    En bloc sales take place when developers are confident of the market, and the prospects of profits are high. When the outlook is cautious or uncertain as it is now - or worse, bearish - developers refrain from buying land or en bloc sites. Moreover, with tidy gains made in the bull market of the past two years, developers here can afford to sit on their land stock for a while longer until market sentiment improves.

    This market lull will remain as long as the mood is cautious or there is no confidence in the health of the market. However, the expected growth in population due to immigration and the withdrawal of housing stock through last year's en bloc sales mean demand and supply are still out of sync and it could take a while before they find equilibrium again.

    Then there is the slew of exciting projects taking shape like the integrated resorts and hosting of the Youth Olympics. This points to latent activity in the Singapore property market.

    When the sub-prime cloud clears, demand for land from developers should pick up and en bloc sales will be back on track. Activity in this round is unlikely to mirror 2007, as it would be taking off from a higher price base.

    En bloc sales are the main source of prime freehold land. They will continue to play an important role in urban renewal in Singapore as they help revitalise the property market by stimulating demand.

    Disputes in such sales are not likely to go away, even with the introduction of the new laws, as no amount of legislation can prevent disagreements or actions led by greed or dishonesty. However, the market is unlikely to see a repeat of the spectacular price rise of 2007 anytime soon. As such, tussles should be less explosive.

    Karamjit Singh is the managing director of Credo Real Estate.

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    Published March 27, 2008

    Seven tips for buying a second home

    There are still pockets of new developments in Singapore that are priced below $1,000 per sq ft, writes PETER OW


    HOUSE hunting can be challenging at a time when sellers are holding firm despite a quieter property market while buyers are expecting a steeper discount based on weaker sentiment from the US sub-prime woes.

    Those on a strict budget should note, however, that the record prices were achieved mainly by new launches in the first 10 months of 2007. This is also true in suburban locations as buyers pay more for new developments under construction. Nonetheless, there are still pockets of new developments in selected parts of Singapore that are priced below $1,000 per sq ft such as Bedok and Jurong.

    Well, it may be the right time to start looking for a second home as an investment. Given the more cautious economic climate and rising inflation, price naturally becomes the most significant factor for a property purchase as that would have an impact on initial cash outlay and the long-term mortgage financing of the property. Here are seven key tips to note when shopping for a second residential property for investment. Before buying, ask yourself the following questions:

    # Is the price reasonable?

    # What are the prospects of getting a tenant?

    # Can you possibly stay there yourself?

    # Can you get financing and service the monthly instalments?

    # What is the expected return on the investment?

    # How long will you hold your investment?

    # Is the tenure important?

    Price: While price is a key consideration, nobody can predict when prices will hit rock bottom. Thoroughly research the locations you are interested in, walk around the area and check out the resale values. This is probably the best time to negotiate when nobody is interested in buying as there will be less competition.

    Location: Location, location, location, that's what property is all about. We have to ask ourselves: Is this a location where expatriates like to stay? Districts 9, 10 and 11 will readily satisfy the criteria of convenience and proximity to the CBD. Outside these districts, a development near an MRT station, suburban shopping centre, or good views of the sea or waterway have great potential. For such locations, regardless of good times or bad, one will be able to find a tenant. Getting the wrong location might result in vacant periods when the economy is not doing well.

    Returns: When buying primarily for investment, yield or return on investment is the key thing to consider. If the financing cost is low and the returns are much higher, then the second residential property purchase will, indeed, be an asset and a financial nest egg. A savvy investor might find that investing in equities offers higher returns. But equities are also riskier. Any property that gives you a gross return of 4-5 per cent is considered fair, while 6-7 per cent is good. Rentals are usually fixed for two years which gives you security of tenure.

    Under current conditions, an investment in property will be better than putting money into bonds or fixed deposits, where yields are relatively low. However, when shopping around do not get the notion that high-end or luxury properties always give better returns. Keep in mind that not many expatriates have a rental budget of $30,000 to $40,000 a month. You may be surprised to find that an HDB flat near an MRT station will give you a higher return (possibly 10 per cent) than most private properties.

    Financing: Look for a financing package that suits your needs. Most banks offer packages without a lock-in period at higher interest rates while those with lock-ins have a lower rate. However, early redemption or refinancing can be costly. If you are an investor with a long-term view, go for a package that offers the lower interest rate so as to reduce your costs as much as possible.

    You must also consider how affordable your monthly repayments are. As a guide, they should not exceed 30 per cent of your disposable income. Most of us use our CPF to pay part of the purchase price or the monthly instalments. The prudent approach is not to do that. One should keep enough money in the CPF to pay instalments for a one-year period. This is a defensive strategy so that should you be out of work for a year, the loan can still be serviced.

    Time frame: Property is an illiquid asset - it takes time to get in as well as to sell out. Thus, we should look at a longer time frame for property investment, preferably a three- to five-year holding period. Property prices go up and down, but if you look back over 30 years, the new peak has always been higher than the previous one. This leads us to the next consideration.

    Can you stay in the property?: It is good to take this into consideration because if there is a need you can move into the property, be it for downgrading or upgrading. So if you have a family of four, it is advisable to buy a three or four-bedroom apartment. You will also have a choice of which property to rent out and which to occupy. You may want to rent out the unit that gives you the better return.

    Tenure: Is a freehold property better than a 99-year leasehold? The answer is no because the rentals of both will be the same since the tenant will not bother about the tenure. Leasehold properties, being cheaper, will give a comparatively higher yield. Every investor has his own criteria for investment, thus a property suitable for one might not be suitable for another. However, bear in mind that the less risky the investment, the lower the likely return. Also, with any property investment, it is best to take the long-term view.

    Peter Ow is executive director (residential) at Knight Frank

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    Published March 27, 2008

    Home prices surpass 1996 levels

    Even if the US sub-prime problem drags on, mid and mass market homes would still see price increases this year, says HAN HUAN MEI


    RESIDENTIAL property prices in Singapore saw phenomenal growth in 2006-7. Robust economic growth of about 7-8 per cent in the past three years, a growing number of millionaires and anticipated spinoffs from the integrated resorts ignited the high-end segment before finally filtering down to the mid and mass markets in the second quarter of 2007.

    By the end of 2007, prices in dollar terms had surpassed the levels in 1996, although the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) private residential price index had yet to hit the peak of 181.4 points achieved in Q2 1996. This is especially the case for new projects. For example, units in luxury projects like Cliveden at Grange, Hilltops and The Orchard Residences were selling at above $3,500 per sq ft compared with those in Ardmore Park, which were selling above $1,800 psf in 1996.

    In the mid-tier segment, units in projects like Aalto, Jardin and Zenith were selling above $1,600 psf in 2007, compared to 1 King Albert Park and Trellis Tower, which were sold at $900-$1,100 psf in 1996. As for mass market projects, 2007 saw units in projects like Fontaine Parry, Hillvista and Oasis Garden being sold at $850-$1,000 psf while in 1996, units in Hazel Park, Ballota Park and Sherwood Condominium were sold at $680 psf-$850 psf.

    In the last two years, the URA price index showed that prices of landed homes rose by 32 per cent while those of non-landed homes (apartments and condominiums) rose by 47 per cent. Furthermore, within the non-landed segment, prices of uncompleted homes (mostly new launches and developers' sales) grew by 53 per cent whereas those of completed homes (existing stock, resale transactions) rose 45 per cent.

    Based on URA price indices by region for uncompleted non-landed properties, the Core Central Region (CCR, districts 9, 10, 11 and Downtown Core and Sentosa) took the lead with a 67 per cent growth followed by the Rest of Central Region (RCR, Central Region outside the core region) with a 41 per cent growth and the Outside Central Region (OCR), with a 35 per cent growth.

    For non-landed homes in the resale market, the price increase was 45 per cent over the last two years, driven mostly by transactions in the CCR. Prices there rose by 43 per cent, followed by 31 per cent for those in the RCR and 28 per cent for those in the OCR.

    A comparison of median prices in Q4 2007 showed an interesting geographical shift across the island from Q4 2006. For simplicity, we have confined our analysis to non-landed homes.

    For the new homes sold as at Q4 2006, the highest price band was $1,500-$2,000 psf for properties in districts 1, 2 and 4. Examples of new projects in these districts in 2006 would include Marina Bay Residences, Lumiere, and The Coast and The Oceanfront at Sentosa Cove.

    Properties in the lowest band - below $700 psf - were found in districts 5, 8, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 22, 23, 6 and 27. Examples of new launches at that time included Ferraria Park, One St Michael's, The Infiniti, The Quartz and The Stellar. Most of these are 99-year leasehold projects catering to the mass market. However, by Q4 2007, the highest price band moved up to over $3,000 psf for properties in districts 9 and 10 for projects like 8 Napier, Cliveden At Grange, Scotts Square and The Orchard Residences. Similarly, the lowest band was raised to $700 psf to $1,000 psf for projects in districts 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, 17, 19 and 22, reflective of prices of Casa Fortuna, Fontaine Parry, Oasis Garden and The Lakeshore.

    As for properties in the popular East Coast area, their prices have moved up from $700-$1,000 psf to $1,000-$1,500 psf for district 15. In district 16, they moved from below $700 psf to $700-$1,000 psf over the same period.

    In the resale market, there was a lag in price growth because this sector involved basically older properties which lacked the aesthetic appeal and quality of new properties. As at Q4 2006, among the properties that were sold, only those in district 9 made it to the top of the range for the price band of $1,000-$1,500 psf. These included properties like Aspen Heights, Cairnhill Crest, The Claymore and The Pier At Robertson. However, a year on, the price band moved up to $1,500-$2,000 psf. Transactions in district 10 joined this category, involving units in Ardmore Park, Draycott Eight and The Tessarina.

    With the exception of districts 4, 9, 10 and 11, resale transactions in the rest of the island were largely below $700 psf in Q4 2006, the price band for mass market properties. Similarly, in Q4 2007, property prices in the more popular districts (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 12, 15, 16 and 21) moved up to the $700-$1,000 psf price band.

    Notably, prices of properties in districts 1 and 3 as well as 11 moved up to the $1,000-$1,500 psf band in Q4 2007 from previous price bands of below $700 psf and $700-$1,000 psf respectively.

    Last year ended on a cautious note as the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US had a somewhat negative effect on global financial markets and the economy. Most home buyers have been infected by the current mood and have turned cautious. Should the US enter a mild recession in the first six months of 2008 and the sub-prime problems clear up so that sentiment improves after June this year, the private residential market should continue where it left off in the third quarter of 2007.

    Luxury prices would remain firm, mid-market homes would be expected to rise by 5 to 10 per cent while mass market home prices could grow by 10 to 15 per cent in 2008, once the situation becomes more positive.

    In the worst case scenario, where the US sub-prime problem drags on to the end of the year and beyond, prices of luxury properties may ease marginally, while mid- and mass market homes would still see price increases, albeit at one to 2 per cent and 3 to 5 per cent respectively.

    Han Huan Mei is an associate director, CBRE Research, CB Richard Ellis.

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    Published March 27, 2008

    Prices and rentals of landed homes set to rise

    Land scarcity in Singapore should ensure sustainable capital growth in landed housing in the medium to long term, write STEVEN MING and AVIN SEOW


    LANDED homes saw their strongest price rise last year since 1994 but they have yet to catch up with their non-landed counterparts, leaving room for more capital as well as rental growth in 2008. Prices of landed homes rose 23.4 per cent last year, going by the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) index of landed private residential property island-wide. This growth rate reaffirmed the upward trend, especially compared with the negligible growth in previous years - 0.6 per cent in 2004 and 2.4 per cent in 2005.

    For landed homes in the suburban areas, average prices rose to $636 per sq ft, an increase of 45.1 per cent year-on-year. Landed homes in the prime districts of 9, 10 and 11 enjoyed healthy capital growth of 24.3 per cent to reach $961 per sq ft in 4Q 2007.

    Good Class Bungalows (GCBs) were the star performers in 2007. According to URA numbers, average prices of GCBs surged 58.7 per cent year-on-year to $763 psf from $539 psf in 2006. The average cost of a GCB stood at $13.8 million in 2007, compared to $10.3 million in the preceding year. The trend of some GCBs being sold and resold within 12 to 18 months continued into 2007.

    An example of this trend is a GCB at First Avenue that was sold for $10 million in September 2007, only to be resold at $12.5 million in October 2007, and then resold again at $16 million in December 2007. This is a whopping increase of 60 per cent in just four months.

    Boasting a unique waterfront lifestyle, new 99-year leasehold homes on Sentosa Cove have redefined luxury landed living since their emergence in 2004. Expatriates and overseas investors have since lent much support to the capital growth in this segment. Average prices climbed 20.8 per cent to $1,463 psf by end-2007.

    Another trend which we have observed is the increasing popularity of cluster housing. Since it resurfaced in 2000, this lifestyle concept has become ever more popular, especially among younger home owners and permanent residents. Cluster houses, offering shared facilities, blend the elements of landed property with condominium style living. Known as strata landed housing, these developments may be bungalows, terraced or semi-detached homes. Some developers have added more exclusivity to their projects by including a private swimming pool in each house. Notable launches last year were Dunsfold 18 and 8 @ Stratton in Stratton Green, both of which received good sales response.

    There are several reasons for optimism across all landed housing segments this year. We believe that more capital gains can be expected this year since the price index of landed homes remains some 25 per cent below the peak of 2Q 1996. Landed homes have yet to see the sharp price rises of their non-landed counterparts. Emerging from a relatively low base, landed properties may be more appealing to investors this year.

    Secondly, landed housing will always be considered a luxury in land scarce Singapore. This inherent scarcity should continue to lend support to the landed housing market. As such, GCBs look poised for yet another good year of capital value growth. It would not be surprising to see average GCB land prices cross $900 psf in 2008, due to the scarcity of such bungalows (there are an estimated 2,500 of them) coupled with the rising transacted prices on Sentosa Cove.

    Similarly, landed homes on Sentosa Cove should continue to trend higher. Unlike those on the mainland, these houses have a broader market. There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of landed homes on Sentosa Cove. The continued influx of expatriates, together with the growing appetite of the rich for something unique and exclusive, is likely to fuel prices of these luxurious homes.

    Rental yields are an attractive component of property investments, providing landlords with regular and stable income. Landed properties have become increasingly popular with tenants, with rents rising at their fastest pace in seven years. As at 4Q 2007, average rents of terrace houses and semi-detached houses climbed to $1.87 and $2.22 psf per month respectively, up 52 per cent year on year, while rents for detached houses rose by 23 per cent to $3.09 psf per month.

    Rental growth is clearly outpacing capital growth for landed homes, and with the expectation that landed home prices will catch up this year, landed properties could offer an investor both healthy rental and capital gains in 2008 and beyond.

    Given the above factors, the landed housing market should be able to attain capital gains of 10 to 20 per cent this year, notwithstanding the continued US credit turmoil. Singapore's property market remains fundamentally sound, backed by a robust job market and an expanding economy. Perhaps the most fundamental fact is the scarcity of land in Singapore which should ensure sustainable capital growth in landed housing in the medium to long term.

    Steven Ming is director at Savills Prestige Homes and Avin Seow, analyst, Savills Research & Consultancy.

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    Published March 27, 2008

    Don't overpay for your home loan

    With over a hundred home loan packages available in Singapore, DENNIS NG discusses how to pick the right one


    WHAT interest rate are you paying on your housing loan? If you are paying 3.5 per cent or more, you might be overpaying. With the US Federal Reserve cutting interest rates, the Singapore Inter-bank Offered Rate, or Sibor, has been on a downward trend. Sibor is the rate at which banks lend to one another. Currently, the three-month Sibor has fallen to about 1.4 per cent, down from about 2.5 per cent last year.

    Banks have started lowering interest rates offered on housing loans to as low as 2.08 per cent. Thus, if you're paying an interest rate of 3.5 per cent or more, it might make sense for you to refinance your housing loan to enjoy interest savings.

    For example, if your outstanding loan is $500,000 and you're currently paying 3.5 per cent interest with a remaining loan period of 20 years, the total interest savings for the next three years from refinancing can work out to $13,831.38. After factoring in the cost of refinancing, the net interest saving still works out to $13,331.38. Thus, by refinancing, you can be 'richer' by over $10,000.

    Floating rate vs Sibor/SOR pegged packages: Each bank will usually set its own board rate and after deducting a 'discount factor', arrive at the floating (adjustable) interest rate charged to clients. The problem is that each bank will set its own board rate arbitrarily and there might be occasions when Sibor rates fall, and banks don't reduce the interest rates charged on floating (adjustable) rate packages. Thus, in a bid to increase the transparency, some banks have recently introduced housing loan packages with interest rates pegged to Sibor or Swap Offer Rates (SOR).

    The advantage of such packages is that as and when inter-bank offer rates move up or down, your interest rate would be adjusted as well - it would not be at the bank's discretion. Currently, Sibor/SOR have fallen below 1.4 per cent and interest rates charged on such loans can be as low as 2.08 per cent.

    With the US expected to continue cutting interest rates in the next few months, Sibor is expected to remain low or even fall further in the next six to 12 months. Thus, if consumers hold the view that interest rates are likely to fall, choosing a housing loan package pegged to Sibor would enable them to automatically enjoy lower interest rates as Sibor moves lower.

    Beware: Fixed rate packages typically come with lock-in periods. Some banks recently also adjusted interest rates charged on their fixed rate packages downwards to an average of 2.58 per cent for the first three years. However, such packages come with a penalty period of three years. Thus, such packages might not be suitable for consumers who intend to sell their property within the next three years, as they are liable to a penalty fee.

    Should you apply for a housing loan now for properties purchased on a deferred payment scheme? You might have purchased a property on a deferred payment scheme and only need to take a loan when the project gets its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP), which might be in 2009 or 2010. Should you apply for a housing loan now?

    By applying for a loan now, you eliminate the risk of loan rejection should there be any adverse change in your financial situation in future, for instance, a pay cut or job loss when the property is ready. You also eliminate the risk of banks granting a lower loan quantum should the property market turn and prices fall. To safeguard your interests, you can choose a loan package that allows you a free loan conversion so that you can switch to a better package should one be available nearer TOP.

    Cash in on your property without selling it: With property prices having gone up in the past three years, you might now own a property whose value has doubled. In that case, your current debt-to-asset ratio might have fallen considerably.

    For instance, say you bought a $1 million property three years ago and took an 80 per cent loan, or $800,000. Currently, the loan outstanding is about $750,000, while the current value of this property might have gone up to $2 million. This means your current debt-to-asset ratio is only 37.5 per cent.

    How can you benefit from the rise in the property price without selling your property? You can consider taking an equity loan on the property. For instance, in the above example, subject to your credit score, banks might grant you an additional equity loan of up to $850,000. To be conservative, you can consider taking up a lower equity loan of, say, $450,000, bringing your debt-to-asset ratio to a comfortable 60 per cent. You can use the $450,000 equity loan granted by the bank to start a business, or even to invest in another property. The interest rate on equity loans in Singapore is very low and can be as low as 2.2 per cent currently.

    Should you pay off or reduce your housing loan?: The Singapore government has projected the inflation rate in 2008 to be about 5 per cent. On the other hand, the interest rate on housing loans is about 2.2 per cent. Thus, we have a rare scenario of negative interest rates, that is, a person who takes a housing loan is actually ahead of someone who saves money in bank deposits because of the shrinkage of money from inflation.

    On the other hand, interest rates on bank deposits have fallen to about 1.5 per cent. With inflation at 5 per cent, it means that a consumer is losing 3.5 per cent a year by putting money in bank deposits.

    Instead of paying down your housing loan which charges low interest rates of less than 3 per cent, you can consider investing your cash in a stable investment that is not subject to large price fluctuations and offers higher returns than fixed deposits. One example is UK-traded endowments, which have a guaranteed cash value and generate annual returns of 6-8 per cent.

    How to choose a suitable housing loan?: There are over 113 different housing loan packages available in Singapore at any one time. Each package has its own unique features, with its own pros and cons and different terms and conditions. Consumers might be confused by the wide array of choices. In the last few years, with the emergence of independent mortgage brokers in Singapore, home loan shopping and comparison have been made easier.

    Basically, an independent mortgage broker who knows your requirements can help you zoom in on the most attractive home loan packages suitable to your needs. You typically do not have to pay for the service of a mortgage broker as banks pay them a fee.

    In more advanced countries such as the US and Australia, people usually apply for home loans through a mortgage broker rather than go to the bank directly. In Singapore, many people are still unaware of the services and benefits of engaging a mortgage broker, but things are likely to change with public education and increasing awareness.

    Dennis Ng is a Certified Financial Planner with 15 years of experience in bank lending. He co-founded an independent mortgage consultancy portal www.HousingLoanSG.com in 2003.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Property 2008

    Published March 27, 2008

    Residential rents seen rising further

    En bloc sales and population increase caused by influx of foreigners will continue to fuel demand, writes LEONARD TAY


    RESIDENTIAL rents bottomed out in 2004, recovering until 2007 when they staged an extraordinary rise, surging by more than 40 per cent within the year. This was the highest rate of increase in Urban Redevelopment Authority's private residential rental index since the index started in 1990.

    And 2008 is likely to see continued strength in rentals, although growing at a more modest pace of 5-10 per cent.

    Rents rose a negligible 0.2 per cent in 2004, and then a stronger 3.1 per cent in 2005, according to the URA private residential rental index. But as the residential sector recovered strongly from 2006 onwards, rental values rose more steeply.

    The non-landed residential segment, which forms the bulk of the leasing market, chalked up rental growth of 15 per cent in 2006 before sky-rocketing 43.1 per cent in 2007.

    A key reason for the supernormal growth in rents was the population increase as a result of immigration. Singapore's total population rose from 4,401,400 in 2006 to 4,588,600 in 2007, an addition of 187,200, of which Singapore residents made up 57,200 while foreigners constituted 130,000. This is a 14.8 per cent rise year-on-year and is the largest increase in the number of foreigners seen in over seven years. The foreign population refers to professionals, workers, students and their family members. This is the first time the total has crossed the one-million mark. The increase in 2006 was 9.7 per cent.

    Main attractions

    The positive run in the economy, growth prospects for the country and an attractive living environment brought many here, leading to the surge in demand for housing accommodation. The foreigners chose Singapore because of the job opportunities here and its connectivity to other major cities in Asia. Generally, they formed the bulk of the tenant pool and the prime districts (Orchard, Holland and Bukit Timah areas) were their favourite locations. However, due to the recent escalating rents, more expatriates have opted to move out of the prime districts for cheaper accommodation elsewhere. Some have even gone ahead to buy their own homes instead of renting.

    The swelling demand was further fuelled by the number of residential projects that were sold on the collective sale market. A number of displaced home owners have rented in the interim while waiting for their new replacement homes to be completed.

    While rents have increased islandwide, some regions are ahead of the pack. Rents in the Core Central Region (districts 9, 10, 11, Downtown Core and Sentosa) lead the market with a median rent of $3.86 per sq ft per month, going by URA's median rent numbers at end-2007. This is followed by the Rest of Central Region with a median rent of $2.74 psf per month and the areas Outside of Central Region with a median rent of $2.01 psf per month.

    Using CBRE Research's basket of properties for the luxury, prime and island-wide segments of the leasing market, average rents have reached even higher levels. The average rent for luxury residences ended 2007 at $6.10 psf per month, having risen 36 per cent during the year. Properties in this luxury class include the top 10 to 15 completed condominiums located in the prestigious areas around Orchard Road.

    Average rents for prime residential properties were $4.50 psf per month, having increased by 55 per cent in 2007, while islandwide rents were $2.65 psf per month, after rising 33 per cent in the same period.

    As rentals at prime and popular locations become more expensive, both local and foreign residents have been moving further out; first to the city fringe and eventually along the east-west axis of the MRT lines to the suburban areas. A comparison of non-landed median rents from the URA's Realis system in December 2006 and December 2007 shows that the most significant increases have not been restricted to the central areas, but have been seen in the eastern and western parts of the island.

    It should be noted that although districts 9 and 10 remain the most popular among expatriates, these districts have a range of old and new residences, leading to a relatively lower median rent compared with those in district 4. The residential landscape in district 4 (Telok Blangah/Harbourfront) is generally more homogenous and comprises newer developments that can fetch a premium.

    Outlook for 2008

    The leasing market is expected to remain firm in 2008 and rents will continue to rise, albeit at a more moderate pace in line with the less aggressive growth projected for the economy. The same phenomenon experienced in 2007 will continue into 2008 as fringe and suburban areas become more sought after by occupiers who find the higher rents in the prime central areas prohibitive. The spillover from the central area would cause rents to rise in other parts of the island and lead to overall growth in the leasing market.

    At the same time, as Singapore continues to attract the well-heeled from around the world, rents for luxury and city living condominiums in the popular areas around Orchard Road and the CBD will continue to move upwards. Average residential rents are expected to increase by about 5-10 per cent this year.

    Leonard Tay is a director of CBRE Research

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