Thursday, July 2, 2009

Private home prices fall 5.9% in Q2

Suburban home sales prop up market; experts surprised at drop given buying craze last month

PRIVATE home prices slowed their downward slide in the second quarter, with suburban homes helping to hold up the market.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced yesterday that its initial estimates showed a 5.9 per cent fall in private home prices from April to last month, following a record 14.1 per cent slide in the first quarter.

Some property experts yesterday expressed surprise at the larger-than-expected drop. And with the recent strong demand, they are expecting to see a much smaller fall in four weeks' time, when final second-quarter figures are released.

A few are even expecting to see a small price rise by then because of last month's buying craze, which saw project launches attracting rising numbers of investors and speculators.

But given that the current frenzy is being whipped up against a still-weak economic backdrop, more analysts are turning cautious, saying it is unsustainable.

Yesterday, the URA reported prices of non-landed homes in the suburban areas falling just 2.6 per cent in the second quarter, compared with a bigger 6.6 per cent slide in city-centre prices and a 6.3 per cent decline in city-fringe prices.

The smaller mass-market price fall reflected the strong buying support from upgraders in the HDB market, where resale prices reversed a marginal fall to rise by 1.2 per cent in the second quarter.

The stock market rally, coupled with strong liquidity, has resulted in a surge in second-quarter new home sales. CBRE Research estimated that 4,000 new homes were sold - more than 50 per cent above the 2,596 units sold in the first quarter.

The volume lent support to home prices and, in some cases, allowed developers to raise their prices when supply was tight, it said.

The second quarter also saw more new launches at higher price levels because they were located either on the city fringe or in prime districts, CBRE Research added. These include Martin Place Residences, The Wharf Residence, One Devonshire and the sold-out 8@Woodleigh.

CBRE Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho said the 5.9 per cent decline in private home prices is 'contrary to the present market perception' as actual price levels in the second quarter are known to have risen more than 10 per cent from the first quarter.

DTZ head of South-east Asia research Chua Chor Hoon described the fall as 'surprising' because prices picked up around last month - especially in the prime districts of 9, 10 and 11.

Average home prices were still relatively flat in April and May - some developments saw price increases, while others saw price falls - she said. But last month, resale home prices rose from 3 per cent in the mass-market segment to as much as 11 per cent in prime areas, she added.

'Going forward, developers are likely to test the market with gradual price increases. Should the current momentum hold, we can expect private property prices to increase by 5 per cent to 8 per cent in the second half of the year,' said ERA Asia-Pacific associate director Eugene Lim.

While local buyers are now supporting the market, more foreign investors may come when the integrated resorts open, he added.

Colliers International director for research and advisory Tay Huey Ying thinks the strength of pent-up demand should not be underestimated as new home sales had sunk to a low of 4,264 units last year - half of the annual average of about 8,500 new units since 2000.

Home sales could remain robust in the second half of this year, possibly reaching 12,000 units or more. This will hinge on price rises not exceeding 5 per cent for mass-market homes and 10 per cent for higher-tier homes, as buyers remain price sensitive in view of the absence of economic expansion and growth in employment and personal income, she said.

If the positive buying mood continues, the third-quarter price index may show a rise, said OrangeTee's executive director (residential), Mr Steven Tan.

Others, like Ms Chua, think the final second-quarter index may already show some increase when more June caveats are included in the computation of the index. But she thinks this could be a 'temporary blip' with resistance setting in at some levels and prices possibly stagnant or falling from as early as the the third quarter onwards.

Source: Straits Times, 2 July 2009

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