Published September 2, 2008

Now, deferred payments with a twist

Credit-worthy buyers offered loans with no interest and instalment payment until TOP


(SINGAPORE) The deferred payment scheme may have been banned, but something strikingly similar is doing the rounds to help developers sell their properties.

The interest absorption scheme (IAS) and the zero instalment scheme allow the buyer to make a 20 per cent downpayment - and then pay nothing until the temporary occupation permit, which may still be up to three years down the road.

Maybank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB) are currently offering the scheme. Standard Chartered Bank is launching it soon, according to Dennis Khoo, its general manager of lending. Interestingly, DBS Bank has decided to stop offering such schemes.

The deferred payment scheme was banned by the government last October to dampen excessive speculation. It was offered by buyers and you did not even have to qualify as a borrower to buy property worth millions of dollars - as long as you had funds for the downpayment.

Under the new schemes, the buyers have to sign up to a bank loan for the property. 'The buyer has to be credit-worthy,' said Nicholas Mak, Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy. Once the creditworthiness is established, the buyer pays nothing more till TOP. During that period, it is the developer that pays interest to the bank, under the IAS.

Some small projects such as Chepstow Ville and Lynwood Grove are practically sold out after resorting to the IAS. However, the developer of another project who asked not to be named said the IAS has not helped his sales and he thinks it is the pricing that could be critical.

DBS Bank used to offer a zero instalment home loan scheme until TOP to buyers. The results were not always clear-cut. At the preview period of the 724-unit Livia, 160 units were sold in early July when DBS Bank offered a zero instalment home loan scheme. Subsequently, sales at the Livia slowed down and by end-July, it had sold 301 units, according to the latest data from the URA.

DBS said that the bank no longer offers the scheme. 'We had targeted the HDB upgraders on a project-by-project basis,' said Koh Kar Siong, DBS' head of deposits and secured loans. Some observers say such schemes could come back to bite the banks if the value of the properties fall. Last month, Citi analyst Wendy Koh said she expects a 20-30 per cent price correction for high-end properties from their recent peak, and reckons the mid-tier is likely to decline 10-20 per cent.

Said Helen Neo, Maybank Singapore head of consumer banking: 'Our credit assessment policy has always been to ensure that the buyer has the capacity to repay. It boils down to repayment capability.'

Kevin Lam, UOB head of loans, said the assessment of the customer is key. 'If the profile of the customer is good for a regular loan, he is good enough for this.' He also noted that the risks to the developer is lower with the IAS because the bank will disburse the loan to the developer according to the progressive payment schedule during construction. 'Unlike the deferred payment scheme, the developer gets no money from the buyers during the construction period.'

Gregory Chan, OCBC Bank head of secured lending, noted: 'Under the interest absorption scheme, the bank will not be exposed to additional risk as loan applicants are assessed based on their ability to repay both the principal and the subsequent instalments.'