Published October 25, 2008

HDB prices up as demand rises

Rents also rise, Q3 data shows; prices and rents of private mass-market homes fall as demand shifts to HDB flats


DEMAND is shifting to HDB flats from mass-market private homes - pushing up HDB prices and rents, but causing mass-market home prices and rents to fall.

Figures released yesterday by the Housing & Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) show HDB's resale price index rose 4.2 per cent in the third quarter.

This means that in the first nine months of 2008, HDB resale prices climbed 12.4 per cent. The number of transactions also increased in Q3 to 8,110, from 7,760 in Q2.

In contrast, private mass-market properties put up a decidedly lacklustre showing in Q3. Prices of non-landed properties in the outside central region - where most mass-market private homes are located - fell 1.5 per cent.

The decline was not expected - most analysts have said mass-market home prices will hold steady this year.

'In contrast to the private property market, despite the gloomy economic outlook, demand in the resale HDB market is still very active, with buyers coming from up-graders, down-graders and Permanent Residents,' said ERA assistant vice-president Eugene Lim.

Analysts attribute this to a shift in demand towards HDB flats and away from private mass-market projects.

'Demand is moving towards the HDB market,' said Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank. 'A greater proportion of new homeowners, such as newlyweds and new immigrants, are looking only at HDB flats.'

In the past, a greater proportion of new homeowners would have considered private mass-market apartments, he said: 'Compared to purchasing private residential properties, buying an HDB flat may allow some to set aside funds for liquidity during this uncertainty.'

More people are also eligible to buy HDB flats now. Statistics show the number of Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs) is set to hit a record this year. In the first half of 2008, there were 34,800 new PRs and 9,600 new citizens, up from 28,500 new PRs and 7,300 new citizens in H1 last year.

Another reason homebuyers are choosing HDB flats over private mass-market homes is that HDB flat prices are still rising, while prices of private homes are falling.

'People want the asset they buy to appreciate in value. In the HDB market there is still room for prices to move up,' said Ku Swee Yong, director of marketing and business development at Savills Singapore. At Sengkang, where HDB flats are going for around $250,000-$300,000, prices could climb 5-10 per cent in the next few quarters, he said.

Private mass-market rents have also been hit by the shift in demand. They fell 2.7 per cent in Q3, as demand switched to the HDB rental market. Overall median sub-let rents for HDB flats rose slightly in Q3.

But looking ahead, even growth in HDB prices is expected to slow as the economy worsens. 'As such, although there is good demand for resale HDB flats, we expect buyers to turn more cautious and exercise more prudence by offering less for flats so as not to overstretch,' said ERA's Mr Lim.

Because of this, cash-over-valuation (COV) figures will continue to decline in the coming quarters, analysts say. The median COV for resale transactions fell to $19,000 in Q3, from $20,000 in Q2 and $21,000 in Q1.

The bigger drops in median COVs were for five-room flats (down 15 per cent) and executive flats (down 22 per cent), notes Mohd Ismail, chief executive of PropNex. 'This is evidence of buyers resisting paying larger COVs for larger properties in this bleak economy,' he said.

The increasing popularity of smaller three and four-room flats was also reflected in the median resale prices. The increase for smaller flats, at almost 5 per cent, outstripped the 1.5 per cent increase for larger flats.

HDB resale prices are expected to continue to increase, but probably at a more measured pace in the coming months.

ERA's Mr Lim said: 'For 2008 we may see an overall price increase of 15-17 per cent, slightly lower than the 17.5 per cent increase for the whole of 2007. As for 2009, we are likely to see only marginal quarterly price increases, as current resale prices are a new peak.'

Likewise, PropNex's Mr Ismail expects the HDB resale price index to increase about 15 per cent for the whole of 2008.