Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Once red-hot, Singapore’s property market dwindles

AFP , SINGAPORE

The Year of the Ox begins later this month but the bull run is already over for Singapore’s property sector, described as the world’s hottest market just two years ago.

Prices of private homes fell 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter, following a 2.4 percent drop in the preceding period, the latest data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the state agency responsible for land use planning, showed.

The fourth quarter marked the sharpest drop in home prices in a decade, URA said.

“Further contraction is on the way,” analysts from the Hong Kong-based CLSA brokerage and investment group said in their outlook for the property sector.

“We continue to expect the URA index to see an accelerated fall in the next quarter,” they said.

Local home prices have not fallen so far since 1998 when Singapore was stung by the Asian financial crisis that pushed the local property sector into a slump lasting until 2005, when the government approved the construction of two multi-billion-dollar casino complexes.

By 2007, real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle was describing Singapore’s market as the world’s hottest, and the city-state’s property prices surged 31 percent overall.

Rents at condominium units favored by the many expatriates also dramatically increased and in some cases doubled.

CASINO-STYLE

While fourth-quarter data remains preliminary, analysts said the casino-inspired property boom is history now that the economy is in recession.

Analysts said the duration of the current property slump was difficult to predict but they agreed it will hinge on when Singapore pulls out of recession.

“A lot of it depends on the economy,” said Ong Choon Fah, executive director for consulting and research with DTZ real estate consultancy.

“The economy really underpins the market … People have to feel safe about their jobs. That is the first thing,” she said.

Serious buyers see pockets of opportunity in the current slump but are being unusually cautious because of the recession, Ong said.

Property agents at a show flat for a yet-to-be built condominium, located less than 20 minutes’ drive from the main Orchard Road shopping belt, said they were hopeful, despite the dismal market.

“There will always be buyers even in a tough market and our prices are rather attractive,” said one agent, who did not want to be named.

FALLLING

A two-bedroom unit at the condominium, which will come with a heated swimming pool and a gym, sells for about S$860,000 (US$583,000).

In good times, the 82m² apartment could fetch at least US$915,000, the agent said.

At another condominium project, launched last year, prices have also eased substantially. A one-bedroom unit measuring 58m² is priced at about US$800,000 — compared with almost US$1 million before the slump, the agent for the project said.

Some unsold units remain and the developer is offering incentives, including the absorption of interest charges in the first three years of the loan, providing the mortgage is taken with a preferred bank.

Until the economy recovers, prospective property buyers are likely to hold out in hope of better bargains, said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB-GK brokerage.

“I think it’s a natural reaction to any big-ticket spending,” Song said. “If you are not in a hurry to buy, you will want to wait.”

Singapore’s economy shrank 12.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year on a seasonally adjusted annualized quarter-on-quarter basis, its biggest contraction since records began in 1976, the government said.

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