We survey what's on offer by major banks and discuss key features of the packages.
WITH the recent home buying spree, one pertinent issue is how to pick the best home loan from among the dozens on the market. What with all the different plans and reams of fine print to go through, the search for the right home loan can often be a headache. Here, online websites can be a boon by making comparison of features easier. Check out smartloans.sg which has details of home loan packages from eight banks - HSBC, Standard Chartered, Rashid Hussein Bank (RHB), Maybank, UOB, OCBC, POSB and DBS.
The fixed rate package from Stanchart and floating rate package from HSBC are currently the most popular among users of the website. And it is constantly trying to add new banks to the list, with talks now ongoing with Citibank Singapore. Smartloans.sg's chief executive Vinod Nair says he expects the bank's packages to be listed on the website soon.
While the large variety of loan schemes available may leave many house buyers confused, Mr Nair says that there are a few things to keep in mind. 'It depends on why you are buying the property. If you are buying it for investment purposes, you should take the floating packages because there are usually no lock-ins for floating rate packages. Also, they are usually pegged to rates like Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (Sibor), which should remain fairly low in the next one to two years,' he says.
'If you are planning on taking on a long-term tenure for your own occupation, it might be better to take up fixed rate packages, which offer greater comfort to borrowers because of the certainty it provides. Also, most people usually refinance their mortgages, so as long as you refinance your loan every three years to ensure that you get the best rates, it should be worth it.'
BT asked some of the banks about their most popular home loan packages and their features.
Citibank: Sherry Leong, Citibank Singapore business head for home financial services, says its Citibank Home Saver has always been a popular choice with clients. Home Saver is an index-linked home loan that offers borrowers the widest selection of index tenors in the market - from one-month to three years. The indexes linked to its loans include the one-month and 12-month Sibor.
Clients also have the flexibility to switch from one tenor to another on the maturity date, enabling them to decide on fixed or floating rates, depending on their view of interest rate trends, she says.
For instance, clients can take advantage of the low one-month Sibor now and then change to a 12-month Sibor later if they feel that interest rates are likely to rise, thereby fixing the rate on their instalments for that period. In addition, Home Saver comes with an interest-offset feature that helps borrowers pay down their home loans faster. Clients can put deposits into the offset account to earn an adjustment currently at up to 70 per cent of their home loan rate. This adjustment reduces the interest payable on the home loan, thereby helping clients reduce their principal outstanding faster. The offset account is an all-in-one home loan, checking and deposit account with a debit card.
'Our clients also tend to use this as their main salary and transaction account to maximise their benefits from this feature. This feature will also appeal to customers who may have cash in hand but don't want to commit all of it to a property in case funds are needed for other investments,' says Ms Leong.
For owner occupied property, the maximum financing is 90 per cent though Citibank customers usually borrow up to 80 per cent, she said. Investment buyers, depending on their profiles, need to pay between 20 and 30 per cent cash downpayment, she said.
On valuations, Ms Leong says the bank noted that new launches command a slight premium above older properties and this is particularly telling when the property is leasehold.
HSBC: At HSBC, the leading home loan which is available till Sept 30 is its relationship-based package with an attractive interest rate of Sibor plus one per cent throughout the loan tenor. It is on offer to all existing HSBC customers as well as new customers who start banking with them. There is no lock-in period for the package.
This package comes with deals and discounts in recognition of customers' relationship with the bank, said Sebastian Arcuri, HSBC's head of personal financial services. 'We are the only bank in the market to adopt a relationship-based approach that rewards customers for maintaining their relationship with the bank,' he says.
Their Sibor-pegged loyalty and relationship-based Sibor packages are the most popular, with 90 per cent of home loan customers choosing these packages. Its Sibor- pegged loyalty package rewards customers for keeping their home loan with HSBC, by offering them a year-on- year decrease in the interest rate spread charged in the first three years.
Maybank: While the current economic climate seems to favour floating rate packages, Maybank Singapore says that its three-year fixed rate package is still preferred by its clients as it offers them peace of mind.
For its three-year fixed rate promotional package, the bank offers a fixed rate from as low as 1.6 per cent, after which the rates will be pegged to the Singapore residential financing rate (SRFR), which is currently 3.75 per cent. This applies to both completed and uncompleted properties, and HDB and private residential properties. There is no minimum loan quantum. Maybank offers free one-time repricing to its prevailing home loan packages, normally not found in fixed-rate loan packages in the market.
'As property purchase is a long-term commitment, we would advise customers to take a long-term view and go for regular instalment payment comprising principal and interest payment. This is also in view of the relatively low interest rate environment currently,' says Maybank's head of consumer banking Helen Neo.
OCBC: Packages offered by banks come in two forms: fixed rate and floating rate. For fixed rate packages, the interest rates are fixed for the first few years of the loan. The interest rates generally tend to be higher than those of variable rate packages, says OCBC's head of consumer secured lending Gregory Chan. The benefit is the protection it can offer against future interest rate hikes.
Floating rate packages are pegged to the bank's respective reference rate - typically influenced by the prevailing market conditions - and banks can change the rates at their sole discretion. 'Such packages generally lag behind interbank rate movements and are relatively less volatile compared to market pegged packages such as Sibor or Swap Offer Rate (SOR) pegged packages,' says Mr Chan.
'For investors who do not intend to keep the home loan for an extended period, they may prefer floating rate home loans as compared to fixed rate home loans, which come with pre-payment penalties for early settlement and partial pre-payments,' says Mr Chan. 'Hence, the final decision lies with the preference and interest rate outlook of home buyers.'
Currently, the floating rate packages such as the SOR- pegged home loans are preferred over the fixed rate packages at OCBC given the low interbank rates currently, and the depressed outlook for the rates in the medium term. The bank offers up to 90 per cent for financing of property purchases - though at higher rates compared with financing 80 per cent of a home.
Stanchart: The bank has a variety of Sibor-linked, fixed rate and floating rate packages, including MortgageOne Sibor and MortgageOne Optimizer that provide an offset feature where customers can use the interest earned on their deposits to reduce the interest payable on their home loans.
In the last two months, more than 50 per cent of their customers took up the fixed rate packages, including the 1.5 per cent one-year fixed rate package introduced in conjunction with the bank's 150th anniversary, says Dennis Khoo, general manager, retail banking, Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore.
'We also see strong interest in the three-month Sibor- based packages as customers prefer interest rate transparency and enjoy the flexibility of making repayment anytime without any lock-in period,' he says.
He advises home owners to look at mortgage insurance as well. 'A mortgage is the single largest financial commitment for many Singaporeans and it is important that we accord the same value, if not more, in protecting our homes, as much as in purchasing and building them,' says Mr Khoo. 'Customers should consider signing up for a mortgage reducing term assurance (MRTA) plan as it provides protection and gives them peace of mind when planning for a home purchase and the future.'
The bank offers both single-premium and regular premium MRTA plans. MortgageCover, a single-premium MRTA plan, offers a convenient and affordable solution as customers can choose to finance the single premium together with their mortgage loan, without the need to maintain a separate insurance plan or payment plan.
The insurance plan provides customers coverage for the entire loan amount from the onset and will help to alleviate the financial and emotional burden of the home owner and his family in the event of an unforeseen event. Customers also have the option of a regular-premium MRTA plan, Mortgage Protect, if they prefer flexibility in payment to match their cash flow.
UOB: SOR packages are popular at UOB currently, says the head of its loans division, Chia Siew Cheng. Its promotional one-month SOR with one-year constant monthly instalment plan, for instance, allows customers to fix their monthly instalment for a year, regardless of interest rate movements.
Customers can continue to fix their monthly instalment for a one-year period for subsequent years as the constant monthly instalment will be re-computed based on the remaining tenor and interest rates. 'If interest rates move up, customers can be assured that their monthly cash flow will not be disrupted. If interest rates decline, customers can pay off more of the principal amount,' says Ms Chia.
Another popular package is UOB HomePlus, which allows customers to earn the same interest rates on their deposits in a UOB i-Account of up to 75 per cent of the amount the bank loans to the customer. This gives its customers the option to use the deposit interest earned to offset the interest they have to pay for their loans.
UOB currently has a promotional HomePlus package, which offers rates with deposit interest matching of up to 33 per cent of the amount on loan to a client. 'Depending on the deposit amount maintained in the UOB i-Account, the implied interest rate payable for a customer's loan can be as low as one per cent per annum in the first year and up to 3 per cent per annum in the third year,' says Ms Chia. UOB finances up to 90 per cent of the purchase price or valuation price of the property - whichever is lower - for owner occupation purposes.
Source: Business Times, 24 Sep 2009