April 23, 2008

Deferred payment scheme: Up to 4,200 homes may be dumped

No URA figure on units sold but experts say 30% could be offloaded

By Jessica Cheam

THE hugely popular deferred payment scheme (DPS) - scrapped last year - may now be a thing of the past, but what sort of shadow will it cast on the Singapore property market going forward?

This has been the question on market watchers' lips since the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) revealed last week that as many as 29,250 homes offered under the DPS, including 5,760 unsold units as at the end of last month, will be completed from this year to 2013.

The concern is that speculators who bought homes under the DPS could dump their units at below-market prices, and this could drastically drag down overall sentiment.

But just how many units are at risk of being sold, and how big will the impact be?

The URA said while it has the number of units approved under DPS, it does not have data on how many units were actually sold under the scheme.

But four property experts The Straits Times spoke to estimated that up to 30 per cent of homes sold under the scheme last year could be held by speculators who may offload homes as the completion date nears. This translates to roughly 4,200 homes, going by a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

That is because out of the 23,490 units approved under the DPS and sold, only about 50 to 60 per cent - or roughly 14,000 - are likely to have been sold under the DPS, say property consultants and agency bosses from Knight Frank, Savills Singapore, HSR Property Group and PropNex.

The remaining 40 to 50 per cent were not bought under the DPS. Either developers did not eventually offer it, or buyers chose to pay via progressive payments, because buying a home with DPS usually means a further 2 to 3 per cent added to the price.

Next, property experts estimated that of the 14,000 or so homes sold under the DPS, about 20 to 30 per cent were probably sold to short-term investors or speculators.

This means that as a group, speculators could be holding on to as many as 4,200 units.

Why are speculators prone to selling their units as they near completion?

The DPS allowed buyers to pay just 10 or 20 per cent of the sale price upon purchase, with the rest due only when the unit received its temporary occupation permit (TOP) on completion.

Speculators would, therefore, typically opt for the DPS and hope to sell their units for a profit before the TOP. Any later and they would have to pay up for their homes by arranging for bank loans or other means of financing.

Industry experts were, however, divided on the impact these 4,200 homes would have on the market.

Some maintained that panic selling is not likely, given Singapore's strong economic outlook, which is backed by upcoming mega projects such as the integrated resorts and the 2010 Youth Olympics.

Mr Eric Cheng, HSR's executive director, noted that homes set to be completed this year and next are less likely to be sold indiscriminately, since their owners are probably sitting on healthy gains.

But those who bought at the peak of last year's buying frenzy, from April till October, are most likely to be at risk. These homes are likely to be completed after 2010.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, Savills' director of business development and marketing, said the sell-off will likely be staggered, because investors have different levels of holding power.

Also, investors have bigger coffers compared to the last property peak in 1996, he added.

But he warned that if too many units in a single large project get dumped at below-

market prices, overall market sentiment may be hit.

Mr Colin Tan, Chesterton International's head (research and consultancy), thinks that the potential risk created by the DPS is relatively high.

He added that data on homes sold under the DPS should be collected and made public, so investors know 'what they're getting themselves into'.

The DPS was scrapped abruptly last October after a decade-long run to remove excessive speculation and ensure financial prudence in the property market.

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