By Property Soul (guest contributor)
In my twelve years studying in a Catholic girls’ school, I was taught to pray. Till today, whenever I run into trouble, I just keep praying. And I also visit different temples to say the same prayer just in case. I believe that, in the end, some God will do something. It may have nothing to do with my devotion, but the fact that God just can’t stand my nagging any more.
Pray it again, Sam
I am not alone.
Recently, stakeholders in the property industry are sharing the same belief: The more you say it, the more likely your wish will come true.
On February 18, President of REDAS (Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore) Augustine Tan said there was an “urgent need” to bring stability and ensure a soft landing in the property market “to prevent further damage to the fragile economy.”
A week later, KwekLengBeng, Chairman of Hong Leong Group and City Developments, told the press that the government will press the button at the right time. He suspected that the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) will be abolished first and he hoped the authorities would do it sooner rather than later.
In July 2014, Mr. Kwek had told the government to review the cooling measures, or risk losing property investment dollars to other countries.
And just recently PropNex put forward a proposal to advise the government why and how to tweak property cooling measures, including loosening the ABSD, loan-to-value limits and Mortgage Servicing Ratio.
See how the industry stakeholders are singing the same tune. Their philosophy is: If you want the government to do something, you have to say it again and again.
But the question is: What make them think their problems will be solved if the government relaxes the cooling measures tomorrow?
No one can tell what will happen tomorrow. The lifting of the property buying restrictions may coincide with an untimely stock market crash, financial crisis or economic recession.
In 2005, the government introduced a series of property measures trying to stimulate the property market. That’s when the loan-to-value limit was raised from 80 percent to 90 percent. But still, there were few takers.
What the developers and their marketing agents really want is to offload the unsold units to the buyers. Never mind the fact that, the moment buyers sign the Option to Purchase, they are bound by the rules of TDSR, ABSD and Seller Stamp Duty. Buyers are exposed to the risks of supply glut, soft rental, interest rates hike and economic downturn.
Afterall, it is no longer the developers’ problem once their problem becomes someone else’s problem.
Many projects in the market are on sites where developers had bought from the government at all time highs. But just because developers have submitted a high bid to secure the land parcels doesn’t mean that buyers have to foot the bill.
Two ways to save the market
There are two feasible solutions to help in clearing developers’ outstanding stock:
1. Stimulate the demand
The government can loosen the existing property cooling measures in TDSR, stamp duties and loan-to-value limits. Or it can increase housing demand by the importing of more foreigners.
On the other hand, developers can offer attractive discounts on their unsold units. Potential buyers might be tempted to take the plunge if the price is right. Lowering prices can make the units more affordable which automatically expands the pool of buyers.
2. Limit the supply
This is under the complete control of the Singapore Land Authority. The government has announced that it would cut land sales. But in the first half of 2016, it is still be selling three confirmed residential sites and another eight sites on the reserve list, with the potential to build 7,420 new homes. This is on top of the 7,825 homes from residential sites released by Singapore land sales in second half of 2015.
REDAS claimed that, as of end of last year, there are over 60,000 units in the pipeline and a record 26,500 vacant units.
There is no way for developers to clear their stock if there is incessant supply in the pipeline.
Developers fighting an uphill battle
Developers have five years to sell all units in a residential project, or pay ABSD on the unsold units. REDAS’ Mr Tan estimated that there are some 700 unsold units from 13 projects that will be affected by the Qualifying Certificate rule by the end of this year, with extension charges amounting to S$100 million.
This is under the law that developers have to obtain Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) for their projects five years after the land sales and sell all the units two years after TOP. Failing to do so, they have to pay extension charges of 8 to 24 percent of the land cost in the subsequent years. Moreover, land purchased after Dec 8, 2011 are subject to ABSD of 10 percent after five years. The first batch of projects to pay ABSD will be in December this year.
Of course, developers can take the easy way out by selling the unsold units to an investment holding subsidiary or a cash-rich corporate buyer. Or they can simply delist from the Singapore stock exchange.
Looks like the industry stakeholders have no choice but to continue their prayers until some deity takes pity on them.