Saturday, May 16, 2009

Upmarket homes start to sell as momentum rises

Sales in core central region get big boost in April, soaring to 19-month high of 322 units

THE high-end property market - which has remained subdued since the beginning of the year even as activity increased in the mass-market segment - started to move in April.

According to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), some 1,207 units were sold by developers last month. And unlike in the first three months of the year, homes in Singapore's core central region (CCR) - which includes the prime District 9, Marina Bay and Sentosa - sold as well, with transaction volumes there soaring to a 19-month high of 322 units. In contrast, only 133 homes were sold in the CCR in March.

This rebound is an encouraging sign that the high-end market is not totally void of life as feared, analysts said. Outside the CCR, some 523 homes were also sold in the mass-market outside central region in April, as well as 362 homes in the more upmarket rest of central region.

Buoyed by the performance of the mass market over two consecutive months in February and March, developers started testing the ground with launches in the mid-tier and high-end segments in April.

While just 70 units were launched in the CCR in March, the number rose almost five times to 339 units in April - the highest number since September 2007. Launches in the CCR accounted for almost one-third of all units launched in the month.

'Developers were probably hoping to ride on the rebound in buying momentum to clear their stock and land bank,' said Tay Huey Ying, director for research and advisory at Colliers International.

Colliers' analysis showed that there was a significant jump in the number of new units sold in April in the range of $1,500 per square foot (psf) and above. Some 90 units were sold at above $1,500 psf in April, compared to less than 12 units a month in the preceding six months. Of note, Illuminaire on Devonshire sold all of its 72 newly launched units at a median price of $1,703 psf.

Homes in the $1,000-$1,500 psf price range also sold well. Projects with significant numbers of units sold in this price range include the 51-unit BelleRive on Keng Chin Road (where all 21 units launched in April were sold for $980-$1,404 psf) and Attitude at Kim Yam in the River Valley area (where 22 out of the 33 units launched were sold for $1,157-$1,306 psf).

However, there was still no activity in the luxury segment. April marked the fourth consecutive month with no units transacted above $2,500 psf, pointed out Nicholas Mak, Knight Frank's director of consultancy & research. 'Although the sale volume is showing signs of increase, price growth is still subdued,' Mr Mak said.

Analysts said there could be a variety of reasons why the buying momentum carried on from February and March. Some 1,332 homes were sold in February, and another 1,220 in March - a huge pick-up in sales volume after just 108 homes were sold in January.

Talk that the United States and Singapore economies are recovering, combined with the recent stockmarket rally, could have injected confidence and lifted the sentiments of potential buyers, analysts said.

There is also an increasing sense among potential homebuyers that home prices could be nearing bottom, with URA's statistics showing that private home prices chalked up their worst-ever quarterly decline of 14.1 per cent in Q1.

Developer sales for the January-April period are already about 90 per cent of all developer sales in 2008. Such launch and sales activity can be sustainable in the months ahead if the Singapore economy and employment market were to expand in 2009, said Knight Frank's Mr Mak.

The second quarter may chalk up home sales volume of 3,000 units, said Li Hiaw Ho, executive director of CBRE Research. In Q1, 2,660 homes were sold.

Priya Sengupta, associate director of Savills' research & consultancy unit, warned, however, that in the coming months, cautiousness is the key in developer launches as any sign of 'false euphoria' may scare the buyer away, leading to several months of inactivity again.

Others similarly called for 'cautious optimism'.

There is still enough pent-up demand from homebuyers for a few more months, said Chua Yang Liang, Jones Lang LaSalle's head of research for South-east Asia. But he added: 'However, until there is a clear signal of a stabilisation and underlying positive growth in the real economy, the residual pent-up demand alone cannot be expected to lift the residential market in the long term.'

Source: Business Times, 16 May 2009

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