Friday, January 29, 2010

HDB doing ’speculation’ checks, will root it out

The Housing & Development Board (HDB) is checking to see if buyers are using its government-subsidised flats to speculate in the property market – even as resale flat prices hit a new high in the fourth quarter of 2009.

‘There are some people who are saying that people are buying HDB flats for speculation,’ said Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan. ‘So let’s look at that, see whether it is really happening and if so, whether any of our rules are allowing it to happen.’

Speculation ’shouldn’t be’ taking place as HDB flats under the government’s home ownership programme are for people to live in, Mr Mah added. He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the International Housing Conference on Wednesday.

The minister has asked HDB to relook its rules to make sure that prices are not being artificially inflated. ‘I have asked HDB to review its rules and see whether there are any rules that are encouraging and allowing people to speculate in HDB flats,’ he said.

The move comes as HDB resale prices hit a new record in Q4 2009, with prices climbing 3.9 per cent from the previous quarter. The median cash-over- valuation (COV) for all resale transactions doubled to $24,000 in Q4 from $12,000 in Q3.

Answering questions on whether HDB flats were still affordable, Mr Mah noted that the resale market should be allowed to operate as a free market, with prices set on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ basis. So if there is ‘genuine’ demand, prices will climb.

But he drew the line at speculation and stressed that public housing is for owner-occupation. He did not say which rules are being studied, but added that the review should be completed in a few months’ time.

Aside from reviewing regulations, Mr Mah said he has also asked HDB to step up enforcement. ‘I’ve asked HDB to also step up on any possible breaking of the rules. I don’t know if it’s extensive, but anecdotally you do hear of one or two cases,’ he added. ‘We want to make sure that this is not happening.’

Analysts BT spoke to said that there was little speculative activity in the HDB market – in the sense that few buyers are buying flats with the sole purpose of flipping them.

‘In my opinion, there is little or no speculative activity in the HDB market. I think the existing rules are relatively adequate,’ said PropNex Realty chief executive Mohamed Ismail.

Under existing rules, home buyers who receive a grant from HDB can sell their flats only after five years. Singaporeans who choose not to take up grants – as well as PRs who are not eligible for any grants – can sell their flats after a year if they have not received a loan from HDB.

However, there are concerns that people could be buying flats for rental investment. Recent media reports have suggested that some flat owners at the newly completed Pinnacle@Duxton have rented out their entire units without a minimum occupation period. This is illegal under HDB’s rules.

But market watchers pointed out that it will be difficult to check if an HDB flat is being occupied solely by renters.

Going forward, HDB will launch another 12,000 new flats this year as demand for public housing grows. Some 7,000 flats will be pushed out in just the first half of 2010.

‘So long as there is demand, so long as there is a genuine take-up rate, HDB will build,’ Mr Mah said.

Source: Business Times, 29 Jan 2010

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