Sunday, September 27, 2009

Don't bank on en-bloc jackpot yet

Most developers unlikely to meet owners' high asking prices, say experts

There is a bit of action in the en-bloc sale market as individual owners scramble to get a foot into the fast-rising private home market, which has left many developers hungry for land.

The strong response shown by developers at recent tender exercises is a clear motivating factor.

But for those who are banking on an en-bloc jackpot, it is best not to count on a sure-win yet.

Unless property prices pick up quickly, a speedy success may elude these owners for now. This is because most developers are unlikely to rush for the available collective sale sites at the prices the owners want, said experts.

So far this year, five residential sites have been put up for sale en bloc, and more are expected in the next few months.

A few tenders have closed, but no sale has been concluded.

'The en-bloc sale market won't move very fast because owners are asking high prices,' said property consultant Nicholas Mak, a real estate lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Collective sale prices tend to be on the high side as owners look to a premium above the value of their individual units. But those days of large profits made in quick sales have yet to return.

This year, the small stream of collective sale sites started with the launch in July of the freehold Dragon Mansion in Spottiswoode Park, near Outram and Tanjong Pagar.

The asking price was $120 million, or $1,020 per sq ft (psf) per plot ratio, a level significantly above the transacted collective sale prices in the area during the previous boom.

The tender closed on Aug 11 with no firm bids. Talks are still ongoing, said its marketing agent, CKS Property Consultants.

Then came Laguna Park, a 528-unit former HUDC estate in Marine Parade. Owners there are asking for $1.2 billion, or $844 psf per plot ratio, the same price that was decided back in late 2007 when prices were still strong. This tender closes on Oct 13.

At the freehold Changi Garden Condominium at Jalan Mariam, owners have a reserve price of $98 million, or about $361 psf per plot ratio. The tender closed on Sept 10 with no firm offers, although there were expressions of interest below the reserve price.

Time is not on the owners' side though: Their collective sale agreement will soon lapse as it was completed nearly a year ago.

There is also the freehold Marine Point, near the bustling Parkway Parade mall in Marine Parade. Owners of the 32 units there are asking for $120 million, or around $1,116 psf per plot ratio. The tender closed on Sept 7 with no firm offers, but four expressions of interest.

And last week, The Meyer Place off Meyer Road was put up for sale at an asking price of $1,150 psf per plot ratio.

At that price, the redeveloped freehold project will have to sell for $1,700 to $1,800 psf, said experts.

'Many owners who want to sell collectively are still holding on to the peak prices set in 2007 and early 2008,' said Colliers International executive director (investment sales) Ho Eng Joo.

The problem is that the reserve prices for the sites on offer were mostly locked in some time back when prices were still high, said experts.

The signature-gathering process for The Meyer Place had started early last year, for instance. It waited about six months for the market to recover before coming to market.

Also, owners are expecting high prices because they are afraid they cannot get a similar replacement unit, said experts.

'Their chances of success now, besides other factors, depend on which segment of the residential market has the most favourable outlook,' said Credo Real Estate managing director Karamjit Singh. 'The current flavour is mass market.'

While the land-scarce situation may just produce a developer hungry enough to match owners' asking price, interest in collective sale sites will generally not be very strong at the moment, said Mr Ho.

This will be so until the market continues to move up or returns to previous peak levels, he added.

Right now, small- and medium-sized developers do not landbank for long and are thus less inclined to go to the collective sale market unless there is already 100 per cent approval so they can launch their projects quickly, said DTZ senior director Shaun Poh.

Also, the Government has said it will bring back the confirmed list, whose sites are pushed out for sale regardless of developers' interest.

It may also replenish the reserve list, another sale method whereby sites are put up for sale only after a developer agrees to bid at a minimum price acceptable to the Government.

'If the Government comes out with a large number of sites, this will distract developers from the en-bloc market,' said Mr Mak.

All this does not even take into account the first hurdle owners have - getting sufficient approval to sell collectively under stricter rules in place since late 2007.

Source: Sunday Times, 27 Sep 2009

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