By Stuart Chng (guest contributor)
It’s been an honour and pleasure working together with the PropertyGuru team (Timothy Beer and Dr Tan Tee Khoon) over the past month on a collaboration for their quarterly Singapore property market report.
It’s not the first time collaborating with PG but this time round, it certainly was the most intense.
Balancing work, writing, and the little one climbing on my back several times a day, singing and dancing all around me, and asking me a thousand whys have been a real handful, but I guess I’m slowly attaining the superpower of “noise immunity”.
Slowly but surely.
The joy and pains of working from home with home-bound kids!
Anyway, we worked through mountains of data to distill and dissect the micro-trends in key districts and sought to understand why certain areas performed better and why some didn’t.
Hopefully, armed with this report, you will understand better what has transpired in the 1st Quarter 2020 and have better clarity on your investment goals in the coming months.
One very interesting insight explained in the report is PropertyGuru’s proprietary Property Supply Index (PSI), taken from the largest real-time database of listings in Singapore, and which may provide us leading indicators on the price elasticity of the market moving forward.
I’ve included a download link here in case you wish to download the PDF report or you may continue reading below if this format suits you.
For a third successive quarter, asking prices in the non-landed private residential market have continued to exhibit a slight downtrend.
A significant increase of residential listings shows owners are more willing than ever to sell their properties.
The quarter-on-quarter downtrend in median per square foot asking prices reflect a deterioration of market sentiments due to the worsening of the global situation and the economic impact of the circuit breaker.
Interestingly, amidst these, growth can be found among a few districts.
This report elaborates on the above trends in further detail, with the spotlight shone on the best and worst performing districts as well as highlight the new launches that are likely to continue to outperform the general market due to their exceptional attributes.
A Recap of 1Q 2020
2020 started on a very bright note for the Singapore market.
With interest rates back to new lows after three rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve, and an exuberant 2019 market that witnessed 10,104 new home sales amidst low unemployment rates, market watchers were expecting 2020 to be a year of clear skies and sunny days.
Unexpectedly, the black swan event, COVID-19, surprised the world, and soon began to spread globally and by early February, the first locally transmitted cases emerged on our shores.
The following 2 months since have turned market sentiments and all previous market forecasts on its head with the surge in infections and circuit breakers put in place.
The Guru View In Brief
- Asking prices in the non-landed private residential sector continues to see weakness as prices trend down for a third successive quarter.
- The significantly higher number of listings found on PropertyGuru this quarter signals higher downside price pressure and is likely to continue for another quarter as Q2 2020 bears the brunt of the two months of circuit breakers as of the time of writing.
- Six of the top ten best-selling uncompleted condominiums in the quarter were launched prior to 2019. Developments within 10 minutes walk at a leisurely pace to MRT stations continue to be in high demand with 6 out of 10 projects embodying this attribute.
- Buyers’ preference for larger-scale developments can also be observed as 7 out of 10 projects exceed a thousand units per development. Moving forward, well developers are likely to have an increased risk tolerance for larger plots of land as it is proven that demand is healthy and present.
- Q1 2020 top 5 performing districts are made up of 3 OCR and 2 RCR districts while the bottom 5 performing districts consist of 3 from the CCR and 2 from the OCR district. This is in line with historical trends of the Asian and Global Financial Crisis where CCR districts typically contracted the most.
Price Index Overview: Prices weaken on the back of subdued market confidence and lowered GDP forecasts
The PropertyGuru Singapore Property Price Index (SPPI)1, which tracks asking prices in the non-landed private residential market, fell marginally by 1% to 109.6 quarter on quarter.
In the same quarter, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) price index for private non-landed homes excluding ECs recorded a 1% decline that can be attributed to lower consumer confidence on the back of weakened GDP forecasts for the year.
Districts in the Core Central Regions appear to be leading the correction in prices, a trend that was observed in past crises, while districts in the Outside Core Region, have remained mostly resilient or bucked the trend.
The limited impact on property prices as at end-March 2020 can be attributed to sound fundamentals and quiet confidence in the general population on how the Singapore government is managing the COVID-19 situation.
Developers are generally holding firm on asking prices in this early stage as they are mostly well-capitalized and have sufficient runway to observe the market situation before their five-year time frame to sell off all inventory is up.
At this stage, the broader market has also not felt the brunt of economic impact as government stimulus packages help stem the bleeding at all levels of society.
However, despite the stimulus, money velocity remains low and it is likely that we will witness sharper corrections in Q2 2020 as certain gaps in the market place cannot be filled by rescue packages.
Supply Index Overview: Significant growth in the number of willing sellers
The PropertyGuru Singapore Property Supply Index (SPSI), which tracks the number of non-landed private residential listings posted on PropertyGuru, recorded a gain of 41.6% from 136.2 in Q4 2019 to 192.9 in Q1 2020.
In absolute numbers, the recorded number of listings in Q1 2020 is 110,710, compared to 78,184 in Q4 2019—an increase of 32,526 listings.
The number of listings in Q1 2020 indicates a new peak in supply that surpasses the last high of 101,824 seen in Q3 2017.
Meanwhile, Q1 2020 URA statistics indicated a 5.4% vacancy rate of completed private residential units, a 0.8% reduction from the previous quarter, and a 7 year low since 2013.
A 2.5% reduction in the number of planned and under construction private residential units in the pipeline supports the observation that resale and sub-sale units newly placed on the market are the main contributors to the growth of listings in the past quarter (as opposed to newly launched, uncompleted units).
Further downward pressures likely but may vary according to micro market trends in each district
Market trends within individual districts of the region may vary dependent on the number of new unsold supply overhang or vis a vis, the lack thereof, the duration before which the economy can resume normalcy, and the urgency of developers to switch to risk management mode and offer greater discounts.
Although sentiments point to an overall correction in the property market, PropertyGuru believes that the correction will not be excessive given the robustness of Singaporean households’ and developers’ balance sheets and the systemic safeguards that have been put in place via prudent Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) and Loan To Valuation (LTV) measures over the years.
According to SingStats Yearbook of Statistics 2019, the growth in liquid assets among Singaporean and PR households has outpaced the growth in liabilities.
This indicates greater financial resilience of the masses to withstand any short term shocks to the property market.
The eventual decrease in locally transmitted cases and subsequent resumption of the economy should see pent-up demand fuelled by the record-high number of HDB MOP flats upgraders and investors returning to the market with a vengeance; both to take advantage of lower interest rates and to position themselves well for the next bull run.
Upgraders with dry powder to start prowling for larger homes in better neighbourhoods
Inadvertently, there will be business owners and investors caught in this storm and forced to liquidate their portfolios as a means to stay afloat.
Agents whom PropertyGuru Research spoke to indicate that many have received interest from their existing clients to scout for good deals as the situation unfolds.
Many are willing to enter the market if they are offered a deal with good risk premiums and to hold through the recovery as they have seen how property prices have rebounded back consistently in the past.
Further, with global quantitative easing at unprecedented levels, the demand for good physical assets with regularity of income will ultimately prevail when the dust settles.
Larger homes, such as 3 and 4 bedroom apartments, penthouses and landed properties, are the preference of this group of ready buyers.
Projects that are completed or nearing TOP are also expected to be of interest to buyers as developers with nearer ABSD and Qualifying Certificate deadlines may resort to discounts to lower risks to their balance sheets.
Kopar at Newton
No. of units: 378
Developer: CEL Development
Q2 2020 – Launch Quarter
No. of units transacted: 76 (All new sale)
Average psf price of sold units: $2350psf
The stars of Q1 2020
Despite the situation so far, PropertyGuru has observed that projects that are selling at a reasonable per square foot prices, have a fairly large number of units per development and are located within 10 minutes walk at a leisurely pace continue to attract buyers.
Buyers preferences favour large developments with great accessibility to transportation hubs
Notably, 6 of the top 10 best selling projects were launched before 2019 and similarly, 6 in 10 are within 10 minutes walk from the MRT station.
Agents surveyed mentioned to PropertyGuru that aside from price, the distance to an MRT station plays the next largest part in determining the interest for a project launch.
The increasingly larger development sizes taken on by developers have seen good acceptance and take-up rates across local and foreign buyers thus far. Out of the 10 top-selling projects, 7 crossed the 1000 units per development mark.
This trend may ultimately embolden developers to take on larger site projects if ABSD and QC deadlines were to be pro-rated by the authorities according to the number of units being developed.
DISTRICT 9 TREND
Prices in District 9, part of the Core Central Region, has declined by 2.3% quarter on quarter to $2563psf amidst uncertain market conditions and particularly with the onslaught of several project launches in the neighbourhood since late 2019.
Recent launches in Q1 2020 such as Kopar at Newton and The Avenir has seen a healthy take-up rate with the former in particular, launching near to the circuit breaker commencement and yet performing at a healthy sell-through rate of 76 units at the time of writing.
This can be attributed to the very reasonable prices that the developer, CEL Development, had decided to launch at.
The resulting PropertyGuru Supply Index increased from 106.7 to 139.3 or a jump of 42.6% with listings increasing from 5384 to 7679 units.
With District 9 being the evergreen crown jewel of Singapore, and increasingly attractive deals surfacing soon, we can expect buyers to return enthusiastically if the situation improves by 2H2020.
DISTRICT 21 TREND
Prices in District 21, part of the Rest of Central Region and consisting of Upper Bukit Timah, Clementi Park, and Ulu Pandan, declined a marginal 0.2% quarter on quarter as the PropertyGuru Supply Index increased by 23.7%.
Listings count increased to 2501 from 2022 units in the last quarter while prices corrected from $1644 to $1641psf.
The marginal price decline can be attributed to the popularity of this neighbourhood with its numerous good schools, accessibility to town and suburban amenities, and the gazetted 2019 URA Masterplan to develop this neighbourhood.
Exciting plans from an integrated transportation hub at Beauty World, conservation and greening efforts to develop the area should inject renewed vibrancy into this highly sought after neighbourhood.
DISTRICT 23 TREND
Prices in District 23 declined by 2.8% with median asking psf prices reaching $1214psf. The 54% increase in the PropertyGuru Supply Index brought listings count up to 6352 units from a previous quarter of 4123 units.
The price decline can be attributed to the new supply from Mont Botanik, Dairy Farm Residences and Midwood on top of remaining units that came onto market from Le Quest which achieved its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) in March 2020.
However, PropertyGuru notes that with almost 4900 HDB flat owners in Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang reaching their MOP in 2020, and another 2500 owners in 2021, it is likely that the sell-through rate of private homes in District 23 will increase substantially if movement controls subside by 3Q2020.
Review of the Impact of COVID-19 On The Real Estate Market
With real estate sales falling under non-essential services, many stakeholders in the industry are undergoing a similar income crunch as the majority of industries.
The extension of the circuit breaker from 4 weeks to 8 weeks has witnessed an increase in real estate stakeholders turning to digital means such as video consultations, digital signing of sales and purchase agreements, and collection of deposits through i-banking to minimise the disruptions to the sales process.
Perhaps an unintended gift of the virus is the acceleration of the Real Estate Transformation Roadmap as advocated by the Ministry of National Development.
Although sales of new and resale homes have so far been lackluster from sources we spoke to, it is possible that the past month’s re-adjustments everyday life has taken priority over scouting for properties.
The 2nd half of the circuit breaker should show whether consumers are willing to jump on the bandwagon of attending off-site digital viewings and commit to purchases without the usual physical inspection of showflat or ready properties.
Crystal Ball – Moving forward to 2nd Half 2020
With the current wave of COVID-19 cases seemingly declining in the general population globally, hopes are high that the resumption of normalcy in life will bring about the surge in transaction activities post circuit breaker and put economic activity back on track locally.
The record number of MOP flats that have started entering the supply stream since 2019, and will carry on till 2022, should see many upgraders in the HDB segment seize their chance to cash out and move on to a private property as arbitrage opportunities offer them greater capital growth potential in the next cycle.
Well-capitalized investors should start scouting and bottom picking in the 2nd Quarter 2020 when sentiments that the worst is over start emerging from news reports on improving figures of infections.
The standstill in the construction industry compounded by the stay home notices for 180,000 foreign workers related to the same sector will see TOP completions and renovations being delayed hence, improving vacancy rates and adding resilience to the rental market.
Although the likelihood of a V-shaped recovery is low, due to global trade weakness and lock-downs that might extend through the year, the persistently low-interest-rate environment and unprecedented levels of quantitative easing should see the overall real estate market benefiting from the liquidity.
In conclusion, by and large, the general population and global investors trust the Singapore Government’s capability to steer the economy skillfully out of these choppy waters, given their track record in the last half a century.
With all guns blazing and multiple policy tools at their disposal, even with a sluggish macroeconomic environment to come, it is not difficult to imagine how minor adjustments to any of the current measures, at an appropriate timing, can unleash a wave of property-loving investors back into the ring.
Hope this report gave you greater insights into your investment positions and entry exit visibility.
Stuart Chng, Senior Associate Executive Director of OrangeTee & Tie, is a renowned leader, real estate broker and personality in the real estate industry. He is a licensed real estate agent, team leader, industry trainer and speaker, columnist for several property newsletters and blogs and is often quoted in media interviews on 938FM, Channel 5, PropertyReport, PropertyGuru and other publications. Throughout his career, he has also coached many top million dollar producing agents from different real estate agencies in Singapore.
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