March 9, 2009


Huge interest but few actual sales

Two recent auctions see only one sale as buyers await further price falls

By Linette Lai

FEW people are buying at property auctions with most holding back in anticipation of further price falls, according to Singapore auctioneers.

Interest in the auctions held by DTZ and Jones Lang LaSalle recently was high, with people spilling out of the doors - but actual buys were thin on the ground.

Of the 23 properties up for grabs, most were withdrawn without any bids placed on them. Only one successful sale was made.

This was a double-storey terrace house in Upper Serangoon Road with a land area of 1,760sqft. The successful bidder, who refused to be interviewed, clinched it at $820,000, despite the auctioneer trying to kick off the bidding at $880,000.

Among the few properties that attracted bids, most received only one or two conservative offers. Even for the properties that proved more popular, all the bids were well below the reserve price.

Genuine buyers were said to form an estimated 60 per cent to 70per cent of the turnout at both auctions, but most of them were hoping to net a sale at bargain basement prices. Agents and gawkers made up the rest.

Ms Grace Ng, deputy managing director and auctioneer with Colliers International, said: 'Buyers are afraid to commit now in case prices haven't yet bottomed.'

Ms Mok Sze Sze, head of auctions and sales at Jones Lang LaSalle, said: 'The difference between the opening price and the counter-offer is very big - bidders are slashing 25 per cent or even 50per cent off the original prices. This is reflective of the market in general.'

Buyers and sellers are currently in a stand-off situation, with sellers refusing to offer deep discounts and buyers expecting such discounts to be forthcoming at some stage in the future.

The stand-off was reflected in the auction of a 7,610sqft industrial building in Paya Lebar. The opening price was $2.38 million, but the highest offer came up to only $1.8 million. The property was withdrawn from sale.

Ms Mok said one factor preventing bidders from meeting the sellers' asking price was financing. If a buyer agrees to a price above the asset's valuation, he will have to fork out the amount above the valuation as banks are likely to lend only a proportion of the valuation price.

Despite the poor sales at auctions so far this year, property consultants insist that underlying demand is strong, as evidenced by the many requests to view certain properties as well as the turnout at auctions.

'You need someone to start the ball rolling,' said Mr Shaun Poh, DTZ's senior director for investment advisory services.

'Once one or two people start buying (auction) properties at a certain price, other people will think that it might be a good time to start buying as well.'

Agreeing, Ms Ng said buyer sentiment was weak but could improve as property prices fall to attractive levels, as was the case in 1998 when falling prices led to a pick up in demand in 1999.

Property markets saw mainly owner sales being put up for auction in 2007 and last year. This year, however, consultants believe more new mortgagee sales may come onto the market.

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