By Property Soul (Guest Contributor)
As we usher in the Lunar New Year, I’m going to peep into the crystal ball to see how the Singapore property market will fare in this Year of the Goat (or Sheep). (Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in any property-related company, or influence from any individual in the real estate industry.)
1. As gentle as a lamb
According to Chinese Feng Shui masters, 2015 is the Year of the Wood Goat that carries a strong earth element. Wood on dry earth with the absence of metal and fire is not a good sign for growth.
Investors have to exercise extra caution to avoid any blunder that might leave them high and dry. For the same reason, the construction and real estate industries may face challenges this year.
Gentle and timid are the traits of the sheep. It has no big ambition and lacks a fighting spirit. The animal is a follower rather than a leader. When something unexpected happens, it hesitates and acts cowardly.
This year it is difficult to find any sign of revival in the property market. Industry players have to go with the flow. Expect developers to go deeper on discounts, investors to continue holding off purchases, and owners to further lower rental expectations.
Another thing to keep in mind: The sheep has a soft character and is not strong enough to suppress any instability and turbulence. If there is a perfect storm, nothing is powerful enough to get things back under control.
2. The black sheep of the family
The Chinese believe that nine out of ten goats are imperfect (十羊九不全). Being born under the goat sign implies a life full of worries, hardships and misfortunes. That’s why many superstitious mothers-to-be in China chose to induce labor in the past few weeks just for a horse baby.
The fact is that whenever the road gets bumpy, we get grumpy and look around to find a scapegoat. It can be any convenient target: the government, the foreigners, our fate, or our Chinese zodiac sign.
Who is to blame for the slow market? The government which announced so many rounds of cooling measures; MAS that introduced TDSR and got us stuck in our borrowing and refinancing; or developers who kept overbuilding overpriced projects to create a supply glut?
The truth is: We are the ones who no longer believe in the upward spiraling of property prices. We are the ones who have lost confidence in the property market. When HDB resale flat prices rise 0.6 percent last month and the media unanimously deny the rebound of the market, we know that an upbeat note from a developer or agency can no longer save the negative market sentiments of the consumers.
3. Like lambs to the slaughter
Have you seen how the lambs line up calmly and obediently for the slaughter without the slightest complaint for their tragic fate?
The character of the sheep is known to be tame. It is loyal and submissive. It always knows its place and behaves discreetly. It is a pessimist and believes in destiny. It is ready to compromise, sometimes even to the extent of self-sacrifice for the common good.
In Singapore, 81.9 percent of the population stays in HDB flats. Most feel comfortable and are proud of their flats. Many cannot afford to upgrade to private properties. And the majority believe that prices are too high.
Think the government will lift some cooling measures or borrowing restrictions this year in celebration of SG50? Why rock the boat to please the minority before the next election? Maintaining a sustainable property market is in the interest of the whole society. So be patient and wait for that ‘meaningful correction’.
Perhaps the start of the sheep year is a good occasion to revisit what we learned in kindergarten.
When IRAS sings, “Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?”
Buyers reply, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”
“One for my mortgage (MSR and TDSR)
One for my stamp (ABSD and SSD)
And one for the property tax
We pay down the years” (repeat chorus)
4. Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Many people invest under ignorance, greed, fear, insecurity, kiasu or herd mentality. When the market is hot, they want to strike while the iron is hot. When the market direction reverses, they scramble for cover.
People like to listen to what they want to hear. But if things sound too good to be true, they probably are. The more irresistible an investment scheme sounds, the more likely it is a fraud.
More than 700 Singapore investors were left in the cold when the high-profile Brazilian social housing developer EcoHouse closed its office. Over $35 million was lost in Suisse International’s gold buyback scam. Easy money to flip old US houses promoted by CTL Global turned out to be an investor’s nightmare.
Donald Trump said if you go for get rich quick, you are really going for broke. Look at how some so-called property gurus who were once authoritative and inspirational behave when things go sour. The once media darlings now become unreachable.
Expect to see more get-rich-quick schemes fall flat in the sheep year. Watch how sheep are being slaughtered once the deceiving wolf takes off the sheep’s clothing.
When will people learn their lessons?
5. Separate the sheep from the goats
Like any Chinese zodiac animal sign, the goat also has its share of favorable traits. The animal is known for its industriousness, perseverance, determination, stamina and strong vitality.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Property owners who are resilient will be able to see it through. Those who have holding power will ride through any storm.
Take a hint from the sheep to be a diligent worker. Don’t shun the hard work and work from the ground up. There are 24,000 unsold units, 69,000 in the supply pipeline and countless resale units. Train yourself to separate the sheep from the goats; to tell the good properties from a batch of mixed quality projects. Look closer and dig deeper for fire sales, especially projects launched during the peak of the market, high-end condos in CCR and properties with high quantums.
Good luck in the Year of the Goat!