Published October 29, 2008

Property auctions see few takers

Buyers waiting for prices to fall further, despite recent drop, say auctioneers


PROPERTIES for auction are being left on the shelf even after vendors cut prices - as buyers hold out for further drops.

198 properties were put on the block by the five main auction houses from July to September this year, according to figures from one of them, Knight Frank. But just 14 of these properties were sold during their first time on the podium.

And in October, there have been no takers at the two auctions held so far - one by Knight Frank and the other by Jones Lang LaSalle. DTZ, Colliers and CKS have yet to hold auctions this month.

The abysmal results are a far cry from 2006 and 2007, when many properties were snapped up the first time they were auctioned.

'The current market is essentially a buyer's market as sentiment is very sluggish in view of the global financial turmoil,' said Knight Frank's executive director for auctions Mary Sai.

The slowdown started early this year, auctioneers say. 'The auction market has been generally quiet since the beginning of 2008, and as such, buyers are adopting a wait-and-see attitude,' said Shaun Poh, DTZ's senior director for investment advisory services and auction.

Buyers are not biting because they are waiting for prices to fall, even though asking prices have already come down as much as 20 per cent in some cases, auctioneers say.

'Vendors generally are more realistic in their pricing now as property values have declined in the past few months in the wake of bad news on the economy, inflation and sub-prime woes,' said Ms Sai.

Mr Poh said that properties from various sectors are being put up for auction, and vendors are mostly hoping to make just a slight profit or break even.

But despite this, transaction volumes are low, although property firms are still getting enquiries.

Demand from investors is weak, but there is still some interest in value buys and properties that are well located and priced right, as investors are very price-sensitive, said Grace Ng, Colliers' deputy managing director for agency and business services.

Demand from owner-occupiers is slightly better. Colliers says that it is seeing good interest in mass-market private homes from upgraders and for landed properties such as terraced houses.

As yet, there are no fire sales, auctioneers report. But looking ahead, fire sales from owners who need to unload properties and cut losses before banks step in to foreclose are likely, said Knight Frank's Ms Sai.

There will also be more mortgagee sales as borrowers default on loan payments - if they lose their job or find themselves unable to hold multiple properties they acquired earlier at much higher prices and are now unable to rent out, she added.

Demand will come from owner occupiers, said Colliers' Ms Ng. 'As for the investors, they are likely to take advantage of the current market situation and offer prices that are below market valuation,' she said.