THE slowdown in the Singapore housing market has prompted two banks to predict a dramatic plunge in home values in the next two years.
In two starkly bearish reports, Barclays Capital and Credit Suisse have forecast drops of up to 40 per cent in home rents and prices, as demand and supply dynamics move in favour of buyers.
The reports, issued in the last two weeks, pointed to the malign cocktail of a flood of new homes coming on the market, climbing vacancy rates, a rising number of unsold condominiums and fewer rental transactions.
They also raised concerns about the possible dumping of units by speculators. Barclays said that should this happen, private home prices could slide 28 per cent to 30 per cent by 2010.
Credit Suisse predicted a possible 40 per cent drop in rents and prices. Its analysis showed that sub-sale prices recently started to dip at several developments.
Both banks also noted that developers were now more generous with price cuts, stamp duty rebates and agent commissions in an effort to move units. They warned that smaller developers were likely to ‘break’ first.
‘Just six months ago, City Developments and a few others gave zero commissions to agents,’ Credit Suisse said. By March, most were giving 1 per cent to 5 per cent, an increase of three to 10 times in just six months.
‘When Singaporean developers start to reach out to agents with higher commissions, you know they are feeling the pain,’ it said.
The pain is coming from slower growth in home rents and prices, as the effects of the United States sub-prime mortgage crisis takes its toll on market sentiment in Singapore.
Private home prices rose a smaller-than-forecast 3.7 per cent in the first quarter. Even then, Barclays analysts said this could have been boosted by a handful of high-priced transactions and ‘may not reflect the depth of pessimism in the market’.
Sales and launches of new homes also fell sharply last month, extending the slump.
Mr Colin Tan, the head of research and consultancy at Chesterton International, agreed with the Barclays report about a correction in prices.
As more new homes are completed over the next few years, he said, rents will feel the pressure and prices will start to fall.
Not all property analysts, however, have such a gloomy take on the housing sector.
Kim Eng analyst Wilson Liew believes the oversupply situation may be overstated. While there are 32,000 units being built and 42,000 more in the pipeline, current market sentiment could help slow the rate at which the planned units come onstream.
‘It is likely that most of these units would be deferred indefinitely until sentiment returns or when construction resources ease,’ he said.
Developers could also keep lands in their landbank rather than develop them if there is no demand, suggested Macquarie Securities’ head of Asean research, Mr Soong Tuck Yin.
Both he and Mr Liew believe the upcoming integrated resorts will give Singapore a boost and, while there may be a temporary weakness, home prices are unlikely to collapse.
Mr Soong also said developers had stronger balance sheets now than in previous market troughs, and the current low interest rates and high inflation could lead people to buy properties as a hedge against inflation.
The Credit Suisse report, however, said negative real interest rates – often touted as a driver for property purchases – had not historically helped home sales. It also said that even with construction delays, actual completions had usually come in higher than forecast.