Friday, January 29, 2010

Let market forces decide

I READ with interest Wednesday’s letter by Mr Robin Chua, ‘Costly flats – How did it come to this?’

Mr Chua appears to allude to the fact that the procreation rate has not risen because of higher prices of public housing, and ‘mixed signals’ in which young couples are urged to marry and have children early to help increase the procreation rate but then told indirectly to wait five years to buy a flat and start a family.

Without doubt, there have been calls to stop the practice of high cash over valuation (COV) and lower HDB resale prices. My take is that things should remain as they are and be dictated by market forces.

My paternal grandparents bought their first HDB flat in Bedok in the 1970s for about $7,000 – a sum that was paid in full in cash. Today, that three-room flat in a mature estate could be sold for $200,000 or more.

I believe elderly Singaporeans who bought such flats would be thankful they can cash out and unlock the value of their fully paid-up flats to see them through their remaining years.

Other Singaporeans who bought their flats later, say in the 1980s, would also be exuberant as they can capitalise on the capital appreciation of their HDB flats to downgrade to smaller units and use the savings for retirement and other needs.

A case in point is the Lease Buyback Scheme, where Singaporeans living in three-room flats can unlock the value of their homes and live on regular monthly payments from the authorities. This mechanism shows how the housing system can enrich Singaporeans when they reach retirement age and that citizens have a stake in the country and their well-being is not forgotten.

Another group who would have benefited from high HDB resale prices and COV prices is those who were caught in the property craze of 1996-1997. Some Singaporeans bought their HDB flat at a peak, and the value of their home tumbled. In negative equity then, these owners must now be relieved and thankful for the system, plus other external factors that steered them back to positive territory.

In essence, these factors play a part in stimulating economic activity where sellers of HDB resale flats with excess cash and housing agents with their sales commission contribute to gross domestic product figures with their spending. When this happens, the economy is buoyant, jobs are created, people are employed and confidence is restored.

Again, my take is that we are fortunate to have a system to help citizens secure an HDB flat tailored to suit their household income, have a stake in the country and ensure capital appreciation of their assets which will come in handy for future needs.

Irwan Jamil

Source: Straits Times, 29 Jan 2010

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