Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DTZ Expects 2009 To Echo Property Price Plunge Of 2008

Source : The Business Times, December 30, 2008

Prime district property prices fall by 20%; similar decline seen in 2009

Prices of condominiums and apartments in the prime districts have fallen by more than 20 per cent in 2008 on a year-on-year basis, says DTZ.

DTZ is also forecasting a further decline of 15-20 per cent for this segment of the market in 2009.

Based on its preliminary analysis of official data, DTZ said that prices of non-landed freehold private homes in the prime districts fell by 14 per cent quarter-on-quarter (qoq) in the fourth quarter of 2008.

This follows two consecutive quarters of declines of around 4.5 per cent each.

The prime districts include District 9, 10 and 11.

Overall average prime prices fell 21.6 per cent year-on-year (yoy) to $1,160 per square foot (psf), below the level of $1,200 psf registered in Q207.

Freehold non-landed homes outside the prime districts fell in Q408 but at a lower rate of 9.3 per cent qoq or 10.5 per cent yoy.

Landed housing prices also fell 5.7 per cent qoq, or 2.9 per cent yoy, islandwide in Q408.

The fall in prices follows dismal developer sales in October and November with only 112 and 192 units sold in the primary market respectively, compared to the monthly average of 444 units sold in the first nine months of the year.

DTZ said that based on caveats lodged, preliminary data from URA's REALIS showed that the number of transactions in the year is only about 35 per cent of last year's 38,100 units.

On the upside, the percentage of HDB upgraders continued to grow. In 2008, a higher proportion of purchasers with HDB addresses was registered with 37 per cent of all buyers expected to be HDB upgraders in 2008 compared to 22 per cent in 2007.

Based on available caveats in URA's REALIS, the number of buyers with HDB addresses in Q408 is 582. While this is a preliminary number, it represents 43 per cent of total caveats lodged so far in the fourth quarter. DTZ noted that this is higher than the 41 per cent in Q308, 36 per cent in Q208, and 28 per cent in Q108.

'HDB upgraders buy mainly for owner occupation, so falling private home prices is a good opportunity for them to upgrade with greater affordability,' said DTZ senior director (research), Chua Chor Hoon.

But DTZ said that the downturn in the economy will deter buyers from committing to property purchases and sales are expected to continue to remain low in 2009.

Lower rental returns will not help either.

DTZ said that average monthly rents of prime non-landed homes decreased in Q408 by 9.4 per cent qoq or 9.2 per cent yoy to $4.36 psf.

Outside the prime districts, rents held up better with an increase of 2 per cent yoy, despite a fall of 1.2 per cent qoq.

The extent of price corrections is still uncertain but Nomura has already adjusted its forecasts. In March, it forecast average prices in the luxury sector to fall by 32.3 per cent from the 2007 peak over 2008-2010 - 16.9 per cent in 2008, 10.3 per cent in 2009 and 9.3 per cent in 2010.

It now expects luxury prices to fall 43.8 per cent from the peak, and mass residential prices to fall 32.1 per cent as yields move out by an additional 25-50 basis-points.

OCBC analysts also believe that high-end property prices could decline by 15-20 per cent in 2009 due to weak sentiment, unsold inventories and potential risks of buyers' default and fire-sales.

OCBC expects mass market property prices to remain resilient, supported by the stability in HDB prices. For the mid-market properties, it expects prices to fall further in 2009, with a projected decline of 5-10 per cent.

JTC To Bulk Up Space At Jurong Business Park

Source : The Business Times, December 30, 2008

Area to be increased by 20%; some parts to see plot ratios raised

The economy may be slowing but the government has already set its sights on riding the recovery. To meet future demand for space, JTC Corporation plans to expand the International Business Park (IBP) in Jurong by 20 per cent and will raise plot ratios for some areas in the park.

For the future: An artist's impression of the expanded International Business Park. JTC will be adding five parcels or around 5 hectares of land along the IBP's southern boundary. With a plot ratio of 2.5, this will generate some 125,000 sq m of new business park space.

Property consultants generally welcomed the news and believe that the new supply, which will enter the market only in the mid to long term, will have little impact on the weakening property market.

First established in 1992, the IBP now consists of 21 land parcels spanning 25 hectares, and JTC has fully allocated these plots. The park is home to several global technology firms such as Creative Technology, Acer and Dell.

'We are expecting a surge in demand for business park land in this area in the next economic upturn, which land intensification on existing IBP land alone would not be able to address,' said a JTC spokesman yesterday.

To prepare 'land supply in advance to meet investors' needs, we are planning to develop land parcels adjacent to the IBP for its expansion'.

JTC will be adding five parcels or around five hectares of land along the IBP's southern boundary. With a plot ratio of 2.5, this will generate some 125,000 square metres of new business park space.

JTC has also been receiving requests from existing IBP lessees to intensify land use. The overall occupancy rate for multi-tenanted buildings at the park has been high, at around 90 per cent.

To meet these needs, plot ratios for around 14.8 hectares of land will be increased from 1.4 to 2.5.

In line with the redevelopment, the government is looking to improve the area's road network by creating two road linkages to direct traffic from the IBP to the Ayer Rajah Expressway and the Pan Island Expressway.

It could take another 3-4 years for the IBP's revamp to be completed, estimates JTC. The redevelopment will complement the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2008 Master Plan to create a suburban commercial hub in Jurong.

'There is potential to create synergy between the IBP and the proposed developments in Jurong Gateway, the commercial precinct of the Jurong Lake District,' said the JTC spokesman.

JTC's announcement comes amid a cooling economy and a softening property market - consultants are predicting a fall in demand for industrial space and rents in the coming year. But some whom BT spoke to remain sanguine about prospects for the extra IBP space coming up.

'Business park space is still a good alternative for those looking at office space outside the Central Business District (CBD). As long as rentals in the CBD are considered high, interest in business parks will be healthy,' said Knight Frank's head of industrial business space, Lim Kien Kim. 'I don't think this new supply will significantly affect rents for business parks in general.'

According to its website, JTC charges a land rent of around $60.57 per square metre (psm) per annum, or a land price of $913 psm on a 30-year lease for IBP sites with a plot ratio of 2.5.

DTZ's executive director Ong Choon Fah also believes that the new IBP supply will not pose a big concern. 'This is long-term . . . There will always be market cycles, so we must not lose sight of the long- term goals . . . Announcing this now also allows market players to be aware of what is happening in the future, so they can start to plan.'

Cushman & Wakefield Singapore managing director Donald Han says that the new IBP plots could also be put on the reserve list if they are released in a subdued market. Reserve list sites are launched for tender only upon successful application by a developer with an undertaking of a minimum bid acceptable to the state.

'I don't think (the government) will force feed the market,' he said.

Alongside JTC's redevelopment plans for the IBP, URA also released other updates to its 2008 Master Plan for the Jurong Lake District yesterday. They include the rejuvenation of Teban Gardens and Pandan Gardens, and road improvement works for Faber Terrace and Faber Hills.

HK Mortgage Lending Falls For A Fourth Month

Source : The Business Times, December 30, 2008

38% plunge in Nov comes as home prices slide a quarter from five-year high

(HONG KONG) Hong Kong mortgage loans fell for a fourth month in November as banks tightened lending amid the economic slowdown and as property prices slumped.

The writing on the wall: A property agent at his office in Hong Kong. The outlook for mortgage lending in the city will likely worsen as unemployment rises and banks raise interest rates on home loans

Banks in Hong Kong approved HK$8.5 billion (S$1.57 billion) of new mortgage loans last month, 69 per cent less than a year earlier, figures from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) show. Loans fell 38 per cent from October, the HKMA said yesterday.

House prices in the city have slumped almost a quarter from a five-year high in March as the global credit crisis drives up unemployment and threatens more loan defaults. Existing home sales for the full year may fall almost 18 per cent to 75,160 units, according to a Dec 20 report by Centaline, one of the city's biggest real estate agencies.

'Banks are not willing to take on this business as margins don't amount to much and housing prices will adjust in this climate,' Yuk Kei Lee, a Hong Kong- based analyst at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International, said before the HKMA's announcement.

The outlook for mortgage lending will likely worsen as unemployment rises and banks raise interest rates on home loans. HSBC Holdings plc, which has the biggest bank network in the city, earlier this month raised mortgage rates as much as 75 basis points to maintain loan profitability.

The proportion of new loans approved at more than 2.5 per cent below the best lending rate fell to 15 per cent in November, from 90.9 per cent a year earlier and 51.7 per cent in October, HKMA figures show.

Hong Kong lending in October posted the first month-on-month decline since December 2007, the HKMA said. Total lending climbed 7 per cent to HK$3.41 trillion, the slowest growth since May 2007, from HK$3.19 trillion a year earlier, figures from the HKMA showed last month.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said on Dec 8 a recession in 2009 is 'inevitable' because of the global financial crisis, and forecast the economy will recover in 2010.

The city's economy last month entered its first recession since the outbreak of the deadly Sars epidemic in 2003. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the city of seven million people rose to 3.5 per cent in the three months ended Oct 31, the highest level in almost a year.

The number of homeowners with apartments worth less than the mortgages they borrowed - negative equity - almost doubled in the third quarter to an estimated 2,568 cases worth HK$6 billion, the HKMA said on Nov 21. -- Bloomberg

London Residential Prices Slide 10.1%

Source : The Business Times, December 30, 2008

Prices seen to fall a further 10% in 2009, 3% more in 2010

(LONDON) London house prices fell more than in any other UK region this year and probably will decline further in 2009 as the economy sinks deeper into a recession, Hometrack Ltd said.

Residential property prices dropped 10.1 per cent in the capital, more than the 8.7 per cent average across the country, the property researcher said in a report yesterday. London house prices fell one per cent in December alone, compared with a 0.9 per cent drop across Britain.

'The onset of recession and the prospect of rising unemployment over 2009 will continue to damp confidence and in turn demand, which will inevitably lead to further house price falls over the next 12 months,' Richard Donnell, Hometrack's director of research, said in a statement.

Banks are rationing credit as they rebuild their balance sheets and brace for the recession, hurting the ability of consumers to afford moving.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government will announce new measures next month to revive lending after institutions failed to pass on the full impact of Bank of England interest rate reductions.

Hometrack, which surveyed 1,809 real estate agents and surveyors, said that many homeowners are choosing not to move as unemployment rises and companies including Woolworths Group plc and MFI Group Ltd tip into bankruptcy. Consumer spending shrank in the third quarter, triggering the biggest contraction in economic growth since 1990.

British consumers stepped up repayments on loans made against their homes in the third quarter, retiring £5.7 billion pounds (S$12.2 billion) of so-called housing equity withdrawal debt in the three months to September.

That compares with £2 billion in the quarter ending at the end of June, which was the first time in a decade that repayments exceeded new borrowing, the central bank said yesterday.

Bank of England policymakers have indicated that they may cut the benchmark rate further after trimming it to the lowest level since 1951. The key rate, now at 2 per cent, has declined by 3.75 percentage points in the past year.

House prices in London fell more sharply than the 9.5 per cent decline in East Anglia and 9.2 per cent in the south-east, the report showed.

Hometrack expects prices to fall a further 10 per cent next year and 3 per cent more in 2010, the researcher said on Dec 22. Rightmove plc and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors have also forecast a 10 per cent decline for 2009.

The number of home sales fell 45 per cent this year and will probably drop another 12 per cent in 2009, the Hometrack report said. On average, homeowners will move once every 31 years in 2009, double the rate during the last decade.

Home loan approvals plunged 61 per cent to 17,773 in November from a year earlier, the British Bankers' Association said last week. -- Bloomberg

New Shanghai Measures To Boost Property Market

Source : The Business Times, December 30, 2008

(SHANGHAI) Shanghai, China's financial hub, has issued new measures to make it easier for people to buy their second homes in a bid to help its ailing property market.

Shanghai citizens will now be allowed to buy second homes on the same preferential mortgage terms enjoyed by those buying their first homes, the city government said in an announcement posted on its official website (www.shanghai.gov.cn) on Sunday.

It did not place any restrictions on what kind of families can enjoy the favourable terms - a further relaxation from a State Council announcement earlier this month, which said that the lower rates would be given only to families whose per capita living area is smaller than the local average.

Just last year, China had made it more costly for homebuyers to obtain mortgages for their second homes, worried about then-rocketing property prices swelling into a bubble.

But with the real estate market losing steam quickly, China has shifted gears and is now attempting to prop it up.

Shanghai is the first city to further loosen rules after the State Council announcement, which cut property transaction taxes and encouraged banks to lend more to developers for acquisitions.

The Shanghai government also said that families could borrow up to 600,000 yuan (S$127,200) from the local housing fund to buy a second home - an increase from the 200,000 yuan previously allowed.

China has unveiled a slew of measures in recent months to stimulate domestic housing demand as part of its campaign to support economic growth amid the global financial crisis. -- Reuters

Rejuvenation For Jurong Residential Areas

Source : The Business Times, December 30, 2008

Better connectivity and more housing choices are on the cards

MORE residential areas in Jurong are to be rejuvenated as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2008 Master Plan to develop commercial hubs outside the Central Business District.

Supporting the growth of the Jurong Lake District, Faber Terrace, Faber Hills, Teban Gardens and Pandan Gardens will soon enjoy better connectivity and more housing choices.

Various infrastructure plans in the region will proceed 'notwithstanding the current economic downturn', said URA in a release yesterday.

The government will be enhancing roads at Faber Terrace and Faber Hills. Not only will this improve the area's traffic situation, it will also allow more low and medium-density housing fronting Sungei Ulu Pandan to be built in future, said URA.

Noting that traffic along the Ayer Rajah Expressway in the area can be heavy, DTZ's executive director Ong Choon Fah agreed with the plans. 'If you build up the Jurong Lake District, you will also need to find an accessible way to get there,' she said.

According to URA, new residences at Faber Terrace and Faber Hills will be private and could include landed property as well as low- and medium-density condominiums. The area could be suitable for cluster housing, said Cushman & Wakefield Singapore managing director Donald Han.

Teban and Pandan Gardens will also undergo rejuvenation. Two public housing sites at Teban Gardens are already under the selective en-bloc redevelopment scheme, and PUB's ABC Waters programme for the Pandan Reservoir will further enhance waterfront living in the area.

There are also plans to improve Teban and Pandan Gardens' connectivity with the Jurong Lake District.

The district - comprising a commercial centre at Jurong Gateway and a leisure hotspot at Lakeside - could attract more large and global companies and the redevelopment of the International Business Park would further support this. As JTC Corporation also said yesterday, it plans to add another five hectares of land and raise plot ratios for some areas in the park.

Knight Frank director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak pointed out that multinational corporations do pay attention to where the workforce is when they pick a site for their headquarters or factories. 'To know that (workers) are all living around is good, there is a ready pool of labour,' he said.

The announcements are also 'a signal to potential developers and investors that there is still land around the Jurong Lake area available,' he added.

URA also provided more updates on the development of Jurong Lake District yesterday.

For instance, dredging works to deepen the Jurong Lake for more water-based activities are already underway.

黄金地段高档公寓价大跌 有地私宅价也终于“失守”

Source : 《联合早报》December 30, 2008

明年展望欠佳,楼市情绪更趋谨慎和保守,致使私人公寓的价格在今年第四季以更大的幅度下滑,其中黄金地段的永久地契高档公寓价格受到最严重的打击,在连续两个季度分别下滑了4.5%后,在第四季(同第三季比较),更是进入双位数的跌幅——滑落了14%。

此外,就连到第三季还能“站稳阵脚”的有地私宅,到了第四季也抵御不了疲弱市场的下跌压力,价格终于“失守”。

不过,根据房地产咨询顾问公司戴德梁行(DTZ)第四季的房地产市场报告,若同私人公寓比较,有地私宅的跌幅其实较小。永久地契有地私宅的价格,季比下滑3.8%至5.7%之间,若同一年前比较,全岛有地住宅的价格则下滑1.3%至2.9%。

报告也显示,以整体来说,私人公寓的平均价格,同去年同期比较,已下滑了21.6%,平均报每平方英尺1160元,这也比07年第二季所取得的每平方英尺1200元还要低。

但若走出第9、10、11邮区的黄金地段,永久地契的私人公寓价格虽然也下滑了,其跌势并没有黄金地段的公寓那么急,季比下滑了9.3%,年比下滑10.5%,尽管如此,这还是比去年第三季的水平低。

在租金方面,私人公寓的租金在今年第三季出现首次调整,租金市场向来由不少派驻本地的海外人士“支撑”,随着更多海外人士撤离或回国,今年第四季的租金也进一步下滑。

黄金地段的高档公寓平均月租季比下滑9.4%,同2007年第四季比较,下滑幅度是9.2%,月租为每平方英尺4.36元。黄金地段以外的公寓租金季比虽稍微下滑了1.2%,但同去年第四季比较,反而还上涨了2%。

戴德梁行相信,那是因为随着住房方面的花费预算减少,越来越多租户在租约到期后,开始从黄金地段搬迁到市区以外的地区,或是从原本租用的大房子换成小房子、从新房子换成旧房子。

展望明年的楼市,戴德梁行认为,经济陷入长期衰退的阴影,将让消费者在花钱时更为谨慎,这个效应也将“传染”到楼市。加上人们担心饭碗不保,市场价格进一步下滑,让买家在现阶段裹足不前。因此,戴德梁行预计明年的公寓销售量会继续维持在低水平。

私宅成交量猛跌

今年9月中掀起的金融海啸,让本地楼市迅速冷却,私宅成交量猛跌。根据官方数据,今年10月份售出的新私宅单位只有118个,11月份也只有192个。在今年的首9个月,每个月平均还能售出444个单位。

戴德梁行根据房屋转让禁令(caveat)计算出来的初步数据也显示,今年的成交量只有2007年3万8100个单位的约35%。今年买家中,又以组屋提升者占较高份额(今年的为37%,去年只有22%),也为大众私宅获得扶持提供注解。

在第四季推出的一些私宅项目包括纽顿一带的Newton Edge,这个永久地契项目在推出所有的104个单位时,平均尺价是每平方英尺1060至1370元。位于兀兰地铁站附近的99年地契租约的Rosewood Suites,也以每平方英尺520至680元的价格,推出200个单位中的80个。位于里峇峇利路(River Valley)的永久地契项目RV Suites,则是以每平方英尺1140至1400元的价格推出所有96个单位。

根据官方数据,今年第三季,全岛楼价也终于失守,下滑2.4%。全球金融风暴所刮起的滔天巨浪,几乎全线冲击到我国的房地产市场。不但是高档私宅价格,就连中低档私宅、办公楼,以及商店的价格和租金,也都在今年第三季扭转风向,出现自2004年以来的第一次下跌,也使2008年的楼价涨幅缩小到1.5%。

一些银行分析师之前也曾预测高档私宅价格会大幅滑坡,其中又以野村证券(Nomura)这个月的新加坡房地产研究报告中所作出的预测最为大胆和悲观——高档私宅明年和后年的价格跌幅,有可能暴跌43.8%,大众私宅则可能锐减32.1%。

但戴德梁行相信,在一片“跌跌不休”声中依然有一线“曙光”。

戴德梁行执行董事邓淑玮就说:“虽然银行在借贷时更谨慎,但房屋贷款率低。市场上正有一些投资者在等待价格降到较吸引人的价位时择机进场。”

上海二套房贷松绑

Source : 《联合早报》December 29, 2008

(上海综合电)上海为刺激房地产市场再次提出新措施,包括再贷款购买第二套普通住房,比照执行首次贷款购买普通自住房的优惠政策。

据中通社报道,上海政府昨天公布房屋、财政、税务、建设、规土等部门《关于贯彻国务院办公厅文件精神促进本市房地产市场健康发展的实施意见》。

该“实施意见”提出三大政策措施:进一步拓宽建设资金筹措渠道,将住房公积金闲置资金补充用于上海经济适用住房等建设,确保保障性住房的土地供应,增加保障性住房供给。

鼓励住房合理消费。对已贷款购买一套住房的居民,为改善居住条件,再贷款购买第二套普通住房,比照实行首次贷款购买普通自住房的优惠政策;符合住房公积金贷款条件的,可按首次购买普通自住住房的住房公积金贷款政策实行。

对于其他购买第二套普通住房的家庭,符合住房公积金贷款条件的,每户家庭最高贷款限额从人民币30万元(6万3463新元)提高到60万元;对购买和转让普通住房的,给予税收优惠。

个人转让购买超过二年(含二年)的住房,普通住房免征营业税,对购买90平方米及以下普通住房的,暂按1%税率征收契税。

Global Growth Seen Weak

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 30, 2008

LONDON/SINGAPORE - GLOBAL growth will be very weak next year, a senior European banker warned on Tuesday, while Japan reportedly considered a US$110 billion (S$158 billion) scheme to buy bad loans from banks, the latest in a series of government moves aimed at fighting the worst downturn since the 1930s.

Analysts forecast more pain for consumers and investors in 2009 as bleak economic news continued to flood in from around the world. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Japanese stocks finished modestly higher on their last trading day of 2008, capping a grim year which saw the Nikkei index plunge 42 per cent, the biggest loss in its 58-year history, as recession fears battered global markets.

In Europe, the main stock markets were on track for a 46 per cent loss over the year when trading ends on Wednesday.

'Problems in financial markets are affecting the real economy across the world and global growth is expected to be very weak in 2009,' European Central Bank Governing Council member John Hurley said in an article for the Irish Times.

He did not give a global figure but the ECB has already cut its forecast for the euro zone, predicting a 1 per cent fall in gross domestic product next year.

The head of the German exporters' association, BGA, forecast exports will fall next year for the first time since 1993.

Analysts forecast more pain for consumers and investors in 2009 as bleak economic news continued to flood in from around the world, but said hopes of more government rescue packages were helping to shore up financial markets for now.

'Everyone's pinning their hopes on economic stimulus policies by the United States and possibly China,' said Tomomi Yamashita, a fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management.

'But people aren't watching things like company results as closely as they should be. We can't say for sure that the market's bottomed out until we see these next spring.'

The US government expanded its bailout of the auto industry late on Monday, pumping US$5 billion into General Motors' auto and mortgage financing arm GMAC and lending an additional US$1 billion to GM to help it buy shares in GMAC, which is considered crucial to GM's survival.

The loan to GM, the biggest US automaker, would come on top of assistance it was given earlier this month.

The US government agreed on Dec 19 to rescue GM and Chrysler LLC with up to US$17.4 billion in loans to stave off a collapse that would have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and dealt a severe blow to an economy already in recession.

GMAC has lost US$7.9 billion over the last five quarters as the global credit crunch lifted its borrowing costs sharply and the value of many of its assets plunged.

Japan's government may also be weighing fresh moves to keep the country from sliding deeper into recession.

The daily Sankei Shimbun reported on Tuesday that the government and central bank hope to launch a US$110 billion scheme by the end of March to buy bad loans and other financial assets from banks using public money to ease the corporate credit crunch.

The move would theoretically free up banks to lend more money to companies which are struggling to raise funds through more traditional means such as selling bonds or new shares. But banks worldwide are growing more reluctant to lend as they brace for more bad loans as economies turn sour.

Analysts also doubted whether any such plan would be as effective today as in the late 1990s, when Japanese banks were saddled with a much bigger pile of bad loans.

The global crisis has shut many firms out of credit markets and slashed their earnings, forcing companies to postpone expansions, reduce production and cut staff, further undermining economic growth and impeding recovery.

South Korea pledged on Tuesday to ramp up support for its banks next year as more grim economic news flooded in.

South Korea's industrial output fell 10.7 per cent in November, the biggest monthly decline since 1987, as domestic and export demand slumped. Some analysts say Asia's fourth-largest economy will shrink next year for the first time in 11 years, putting pressure on its central bank to cut interest rates further.

In New Zealand, data showed household borrowing fell for the first time in 17 years in November as consumers cut spending in the face of recession.

Many forecasters believe the downturn will continue well into mid-2009, with more layoffs and bankruptcies to come, but investors are hoping battered stock markets will rebound sooner in anticipation of a recovery.

'2008 was the year of the serpent, everyone got bitten,' said fund manager Paul Biddle with Souls Funds Management in Australia.

'Next year has got to be better than this year. It's going to be a tough year ... but there will be some come back in the market,' he said. -- REUTERS

More Biz Space In Jurong

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 30, 2008

Expansion of business park will position Singapore for recovery

THE economic outlook is all gloom but the Government is already positioning Singapore for the next upturn by unveiling plans to beef up the supply of business park space in Jurong.

Industrial landlord JTC Corporation said yesterday it will develop 5ha south of the existing International Business Park. -- PHOTO: JURONG TOWN CORPORATION

Its ambitious move comes even as demand in the property sector has fallen dramatically in recent months while office rents have dipped.

Industrial landlord JTC Corporation said yesterday it will develop 5ha south of the existing International Business Park. This will yield 125,000 sq m, or about 1.35 million sq ft, of rentable space.

The development will help JTC 'secure investments and anchor key companies' in an effort to better place the economy for the next upturn, it said.

Site surveys will start next month and infrastructure work, including improvements to the park's road networks, will begin in March. Two new road linkages to the Ayer Rajah Expressway and Pan-Island Expressway will be created.

Companies can lease space in the business park from 2011, said JTC.

Market watchers told The Straits Times that the Government is stimulating economic activity with the development while also seeking to avoid the kind of office space crunch that has hit businesses in recent years.

The economic boom that preceded the financial crisis saw prime office rents double to almost $19 per sq ft last year. This sparked a scramble to build more office space, including government moves to release transitional office sites to relieve pent-up demand.

While this has now led to concerns that Singapore could face an office space glut over the next two years, some analysts feel that early preparation of sites enables the market to respond faster when the economy does pick up.

Colliers International's research and advisory director, Ms Tay Huey Ying, said she did not think there would be a glut, and that this 'will help in ensuring a U-shape recovery instead of a V-shape one when the global economy recovers'.

CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun said government investment in public infrastructure like Jurong Island or Changi Airport during downturns has traditionally 'worked well for Singapore'.

Even though the impact on economic output 'will not be massive', such work will benefit local firms, added Mr Song.

The International Business Park - 21 land parcels of about 25ha - is Singapore's first such park. Established in 1992, it has drawn renowned tech firms such as Dell and Acer to set up shop.

JTC said a review of the park's masterplan was timely as the Urban Redevelopment Authority had recently announced a dramatic makeover for Jurong in its 2008 Masterplan.

The industrial town is to be redeveloped into Jurong Lake District - a 360ha mini metropolis of homes, hotels, shops, eateries and offices linked to the MRT via walkways and waterways.

It will consist of Jurong Gateway, the up-and-coming commercial hub of the West, and Lakeside, which is being developed as a destination for young families, with tourist attractions and parks complemented by water activities.

JTC said 'there is potential' for synergy between the expanded business park and the rejuvenated Jurong Gateway.

Collier's Ms Tay agreed that more business park space will add critical mass and 'aid in the realisation of the Government's vision for the Jurong Lake District'.

To complement the commercial developments, the surrounding housing estates will be rejuvenated by various statutory boards. This will mean upgrades to Teban and Pandan Gardens and the Faber Terrace areas in the next few years.

Govt To Proceed With Jurong Lake District Development

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 29 December 2008

The Singapore government is proceeding to put in the infrastructure to facilitate the growth of Jurong Lake District. This follows the unveiling of the area's development blueprint in April this year.

Artist's impression of Lakeside Village, Jurong Lake District

Giving an update on Monday, both the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and JTC said the measures include constructing a new spinal road, expanding the Jurong East MRT station and redeveloping the bus interchange.

There will also be upcoming developments at the International Business Park (IBP), Teban and Pandan Gardens.

The existing business cluster in the IBP will be expanded to maximise its potential in the next economic upturn.

Given IBP's proximity to industrial estates in the west and to the major commercial hub at Jurong Gateway, it remains an attractive location for many industrialists to site their headquarter operations.

JTC envisaged that this strong demand for business park space in IBP will continue into the next economic upturn.

It is planning to develop the land parcels along the business park's southern boundary, generating about 5 hectares of land and 125,000 square metres of business park space.

There will also be improvements to the road network in the IBP which was the first business park established in Singapore in 1992.

Teban and Pandan Gardens will be rejuvenated as well to provide attractive waterfront housing and to enhance their connectivity.

On top of that, there will be road improvement works at Faber Terrace and Faber Hills. This will improve current traffic situation in the area and allow more quality low and medium density housing fronting Sungei Ulu Pandan.

All these are part of Master Plan 2008 to develop new growth areas outside the city centre. - CNA/so

Medium- To Long-Term Prospects For S'pore Property Sector Still Strong

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 29 December 2008

Singapore's commercial and residential property sectors will remain attractive to investors in the medium to long term.

Property watchers told Channel NewsAsia that is because of Singapore's status as an international financial hub.

2009 looks set to be a difficult year by all accounts, but market watchers said property investment fundamentals here remain strong.

As global financial institutions cut costs, they are likely to move operations out of expensive cities in the US and Europe to Asian countries such as Singapore, where the cost of doing business is cheaper.

For example, Singapore's corporate tax rate is 18 per cent, compared to 29 per cent in the UK and 40 per cent in the US.

And this could spur demand for office space in financial centres like Singapore, presenting investment opportunities for the commercial property sector.

Christopher Fossick, managing director, Southeast Asia, Jones Lang LaSalle, said: "Financial institutions are growing, in many cases from hundreds to thousands of jobs here in Singapore. The bigger these institutions become, the more real estate they need."

But there are opportunities in the residential market as well. The closing gap between debt servicing and rentals, as well as falling valuations in 2009, could see many investors looking for a good deal.

Eugene Lim, associate director, ERA Asia Pacific, said: "For example, those in district 9, 10, and 11, they tend to be more elastic, the prices. So when the economy is not doing too well, the prices come down quite a lot, especially amongst those who have, for example, bought from the developer and then now need to sell to raise cash flow. They are prepared to cut losses."

Observers said Singapore's property market will offer rich pickings to investors who have their eyes on long-term returns. - CNA/ms

Don't Be In A Hurry To Reinstate DPS

Source : The Business Times, December 27, 2008

Uncertainty in the market being caused now by the scheme should not be treated lightly.

THE deferred payment scheme (DPS) was scrapped over a year ago but it has left a lingering uncertainty in the market that may not clear for some time yet - a fact that should not be taken lightly in examining the merits of reviving the scheme, as some developers are urging the authorities to.

Developers say bringing back DPS will stimulate property demand and point out the scheme did help genuine home buyers tide over temporary cashflow issues.

However, DPS has also been blamed for creating excesses during the recent property bull run. It fuelled speculative buying, since buyers needed to pay only 10-20 per cent of a property's purchase price to the developer, with the rest only upon the project's completion.

Amidst the current property slump, DPS has also created a 'time bomb' that is ticking away as projects sold on the scheme near completion, which is when buyers have to pay the chunk of their purchase price to the developer. Buyers who have not secured a housing loan yet may find it difficult to get one, with the current tight lending regime being practised by financial institutions.

Without a housing loan, these buyers may not be able to meet their payment to the developer to complete their purchase. This will have consequences.

The government recently revealed that 10,450 private homes sold in uncompleted projects were under DPS as at Nov 30, 2008 and has even given a breakdown of this figure by location and expected year of completion. Of course, not all DPS buyers are speculators. Nevertheless, the debate continues to rage on how big an impact there will be on Singapore's property market from buyers failing to complete their purchase when projects receive Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP).

Predicting the size of the blast from the DPS 'time bomb' is tricky.

For one thing, no one knows how many of these buyers who purchased on DPS have already secured a housing loan. For those who have, paying that big instalment to the developer at TOP may not be an issue. Those without a loan may start to panic.

Other factors affecting the magnitude of the problem created by DPS include: how buyers are affected by the ongoing recession, prospects for their jobs or businesses, the economic and property market outlook at the time, and whether banks relent on their current tight lending policy.

So the impact of DPS is unclear. And the fate of buyers and developers remains uncertain.

Much has been said about DPS buyers defaulting on their purchases by walking away and returning units to developers. The reality is not so simple. The right to repudiate the sale-and-purchase agreement lies with the developer, not the buyer. Even so, some foreign buyers may get away with absconding from the deal and limiting their damage to the 10 or 20 per cent deposit paid.

However, local buyers who fail to complete their purchase risk being sued by developers to either complete the transaction or to compensate the developer for the shortfall between the original contracted purchase price and what the developer manages to sell the unit for later.

On the other hand, if buyers try to offload their units in a weak market, this may accelerate the tailspin in property prices. Another point to note is that those who sell their units at a loss in the subsale or secondary market will still have to cough up the difference and pay the developer.

For instance, if a buyer had picked up a $1 million property on DPS, has paid the developer a 20 per cent or $200,000 deposit and manages to sell his property to another buyer for say, $700,000 in the downmarket, the first buyer has to pay the developer the $100,000 shortfall before it agrees to transfer the title to the second buyer.

Developers too will have to count the cost of this whole episode, including the damage to their image if they drag financially strapped buyers to court.

The global financial crash has already dealt a big blow to sentiment in the Singapore property market. This is being exacerbated by the uncertainty over the likely fallout from DPS.

Defusing the time bomb

What can be done to defuse this time bomb? If buyers say they can't secure housing loans or sufficient loan quantums from banks to complete their purchase of properties bought on DPS, some of the stronger developers may be game to provide second mortgages for buyers - if the authorities allow that.

Alternatively, developers could record the outstanding payments from problem DPS buyers as debt owed to them. So these buyers become debtors to the developers, who may charge them interest on the unpaid amount until the sum is settled by buyers, as allowed under the sale-and-purchase agreement. Developers may, however, be deluged with buyers taking refuge in such arrangements. And these arrangements can only be made with the support of the developers' banks. Already, many mid-sized and smaller developers are highly geared.

Whichever way you look at it, somebody will have to pay the price for the problems created by DPS - be it buyers having to sell their units at a loss or being sued by the developer, or developers ending up financing buyers to help them complete their purchase.

Sentiment is so weak now that reviving DPS alone probably won't do the trick in jumpstarting private home sales.

Banks are tight-fisted now, but it is a matter of time before they have to relax on home mortgages. The business of financing will then be best left to them. In the months gone by, some banks had even devised novel schemes like zero instalment and interest absorption that mimicked DPS - and served the needs of genuine home buyers with temporary cashflow problems, just as well as DPS did.

The good thing about this approach is that banks will have to do checks on borrowers to ensure they are credit worthy - to minimise the risk of non-performing loans manifesting later from giving loans to poor-quality borrowers dabbling in properties beyond their means.

Developers, on the other hand, are not in the business of assessing the creditworthiness of potential buyers. Their business is to sell homes - to as many people as possible and at as high a price as possible. If developers are again allowed to offer DPS in its old form to home buyers, it may once more draw speculators with weak credit standing and create another round of excesses.

Some have suggested ways to temper DPS. For example, buyers could be required to pay an additional 10 per cent - say 18 months after they have paid the initial 20 per cent to the developer. The idea is that buyers would need to apply for and draw down a housing loan, bringing banks into the picture earlier. That may help to sift out financially weaker speculators.

DPS helps HDB upgraders to buy private property, as they don't have to sell their existing HDB flats immediately to make progress payments on their new home. But the problems being caused by DPS should not be treated lightly amidst calls to reinstate the scheme.

The Singapore property market will eventually recover after the dust from the global financial crash settles and the Remaking Singapore Story takes centre stage once again. In future, high-net worth individuals from overseas and other investors looking for places to park their monies may develop a distate for places brimming with excesses. After all, buying a property is a long-term commitment, best made within one's means.

Singapore's Private Home Sales, Prices & Rents Fall Sharply In Q4

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 29 December 2008

Private home sales in Singapore have taken a sharp fall in the fourth quarter of this year.

According to a report released Monday by property consultant DTZ, only 112 private homes were sold in the primary market in October, and 192 units sold in November.

This, compared to the monthly average of 444 units sold in the first nine months of the year.

The October sales volume is the lowest since the release of official monthly sales data by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in June 2007.

For the full year, DTZ estimated that the number of home sales in the primary and secondary markets will only make up about 35 per cent of last year's sales, which saw some 38,100 units sold.

The figure is based on caveats lodged with the URA so far.

At the same time, the fall in private home prices have started to gather pace in the fourth quarter, with prime non-landed properties the hardest hit.

Prices of non-landed freehold private homes in the prime districts fell by 14 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the three months ended December, according to DTZ Research.

Overall, average private home prices have fallen 21.6 per cent year-on-year to S$1,160 per square feet, below the level of S$1,200 per sq ft in the second quarter of 2007.

Meanwhile, average monthly rents of prime non-landed homes have fallen 9.2 per cent to S$4.36 per square feet.

DTZ expects home sales to remain low next year as the recession takes its toll and homebuyers are concerned over job security. - CNA/yb

Prices Of Private Homes Falling

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 28, 2008

Developers offer soft discounts, for example, by absorbing legal fees

Private home prices are falling - and they will fall even more next year.

Property developers may disagree, but there is no question about it, if you ask industry observers.

The economy has slowed considerably and there have been retrenchments and wage cuts.

The Novelty Group has cut its price for the 75-unit Luma at River Valley Grove from $2,800 psf to $1,450 psf to tempt buyers. -- BT PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

Sales volume of new homes looks set to reach an 18-year low this year, while supply is far from lacking.

'In every bear market, no matter what the developers say, it will happen,' Mr Leong Sze Hian, the president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, said of the price falls.

The only unknown, he added, is the extent of the fall.

Manpower Ministry data already shows that average monthly real earnings - pay minus the effect of inflation - fell by 17 per cent from $3,982 in the first quarter to $3,307 in the third quarter.

Also, on an annualised quarter-on-quarter basis, gross domestic product growth in the third quarter declined by 6.8 per cent, continuing the 5.3 per cent contraction experienced in the second quarter.

'All these will filter through to the property market,' said Mr Leong.

Right now, most buyers are remaining on the sidelines. New launches are few, and there are not many desperate sellers out there yet.

'Most are not feeling any pain from the recession yet. In the secondary market, many sellers are still hoping to do sub-sale at a profit,' said Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy, Mr Nicholas Mak.

The result? There are no major price reductions yet, he said.

Going forward, though, there could be more speculators desperate to get rid of their properties because they do not want to be saddled with huge loans, experts say.

These are people who bought properties when the market was booming under the deferred payment scheme, which means they will have to pay the full sum for the property upon completion.

The Government has said some 10,450 units of private homes sold under the deferred payment scheme have yet to be completed. Some 2,540 units - largely bought during last year's boom - will be completed in 2010.

In the new homes market, there will be more new property launches or re-launches after Chinese New Year late next month, consultants say.

Frasers Centrepoint, for one, has plans to release Caspian, its 700-unit condo near the Lakeside MRT station.

'The smaller projects or those in less attractive locations will likely need to offer more discount,' said Mr Mak.

'Others may offer soft discount, so that the prices reflected in the caveats will not be reduced.'

Soft discounts can take the form of furniture vouchers or the absorption of legal fees or stamp duty.

There could be price cuts in some mid-tier or prime developments where prices are 'fairly toppish', Mr Mak said. 'They would, thus, have to adjust their prices to a more reasonable level.'

Novelty Group, for one, last month cut its price for the 75-unit Luma at River Valley Grove from $2,800 per sq ft (psf) to $1,450 psf.

Recently, City Developments adjusted its price for the 77-unit Shelford Suites in Shelford Road to $1,400 psf from a preview price of $1,600 psf on average in June. The price then was already lower than expected, as two units were sold in March at $1,869 psf and $1,905 psf.

Those seeking information on new launches can check out the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA's) website, which offers monthly sales and price data on the 15th of every month.

It shows the number of units sold in the past month, as well as the median, lowest and highest prices done.

The URA website also has information on individual caveats lodged for properties sold, so you can find out the prices done at a particular condo.

The problem here is that the information is not very up-to- date because deals take time to complete and caveats take time to lodge.

The price data can easily be two to three months old, which can be a long time in today's fast-moving market.

Potential buyers should check with their agents to ascertain the previous price levels done or check classified advertisements for the latest asking prices, experts say.

They should also try to get a bank valuation on the property they are eyeing, said HSR Property Group executive director Eric Cheng.

Those who want to buy a resale property now can bid below individual sellers' asking prices. They could aim for 5 per cent to 8 per cent below asking levels, said Mr Cheng.

Also, buyers should look for tenanted resale properties that can offer a 4 per cent to 5 per cent rental yield for at least the next year, said Mr Ku Swee Yong, the director of marketing and business development at Savills Singapore.

'In today's market, it is wise to buy something that you can see and profit from immediately,' he said.

The risk with new projects is that they could be delayed or their prices could fall from today's levels, he said.

But, be prudent and patient, warned Mr Cheng. 'Don't buy on impulse.'


Buying opportunity

Those who want to buy a resale property now can bid below individual sellers' asking prices. They could aim for 5 to 8 per cent below asking levels, said HSR Property Group executive director Eric Cheng.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

HDB Invites Tenders For Sengkang Market

Source : The Business Times, December 24, 2008

THE Housing and Development Board (HDB) began inviting tenders yesterday for a land parcel in Sengkang New Town for the building and managing of a market and food centre. The land parcel has a site area of 6,000 square metres and a maximum gross floor area of 4,000 sq m.

The tenure is for an initial five years with options for another two terms. The development will house an estimated 100 stalls offering fresh market produce and cooked food, as well as parking lots and a drop-off porch.

The tender arose from the Forum on HDB Heartware, which among other things, recommended the building of wet markets and hawker centres to promote community bonding and strengthen local identity. Sengkang was chosen for the pilot project as it is a new town and many requests have been made for another market and food centre.

Despite the dismal economic climate, Nicholas Mak, Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy, expects the response to be positive. 'The Sengkang area is a growing estate housing about 140,000 people at the moment and the location of the market is quite attractive as well, with it being surrounded by high-density flats and quite near the MRT,' he said, adding that the project would most likely be taken on by a contractor that frequently works with the HDB.

The project is expected to be completed on or before Dec 31, 2010.

UK Home Prices To Dip

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 24, 2008

LONDON - HOUSE prices in Britain will fall 10 per cent next year as banks rein in lending and buyers are deterred by the economic slowdown, a leading surveyors' group forecast on Wednesday.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the fall would bring house prices, which have roughly tripled over the last decade, down to at least 25 per cent below their summer 2007 peak.

'Lenders are likely to remain cautious,' said Simon Rubinsohn, the group's chief economist. 'This, coupled with an increasingly gloomy economic picture, suggests that house prices will continue to decline in 2009.'

However, the surveyors' group said the volume of sales would probably increase by 10 per cent next year, after plunging to a 30-year low in November, as government programs to increase the availability of affordable mortgages begin to take effect.

The group's 2009 house price forecast echoes the one that Hometrack property researchers published on Monday, which also predicted that house prices will fall by 10 per cent next year.

Several other leading British research groups - Nationwide and the Council of Mortgage Lenders - have decided not to publish house price estimates for 2009 because of market volatility. -- AP

监控结构安全 防范坍塌意外 新组屋与桥梁安装光纤感应器

Source :《联合早报》December 23, 2008

为监控建筑结构破损程度,建屋发展局在新组屋安装光纤科技,防范坍塌意外。率先采用的是盛港和榜鹅组屋区。

这类光纤科技将光纤布拉格光栅(Fibre Bragg Gratings)和长标距(long gauge)光纤感应器装置在建筑、桥梁及道路里,以监控并检测这些基础设施在长期使用中的破损程度。当建筑结构受破坏时,感应器能使用光纤技术侦察出张力或温度改变,即刻发出警报,让相关单位及时修复。

盛港新镇的“中桥”装置了光纤感应器,让建屋局时时监督桥梁的结构安全。(唐家鸿摄)

建屋局也定期收集和分析感应器所发出的数据和资料,以比较科学及有系统的方式评估建筑物及建筑结构的“健康状况”,并确保建筑物的设计符合安全要求。

榜鹅中心组屋最先安装

这项科技将能防止类似横跨美国密西西比河汽车天桥坍塌的灾难在本地发生。

建屋局是在2001年与光纤业专家合作展开实验计划,在一些新组屋安装上述两种感应器。最先装置光纤科技的是榜鹅中心第166A座组屋。发言人说,已有六座组屋安装光纤感应器,本月将为另外15座组屋完成光纤感应器装置。

它前年也在兴建盛港新镇的“中桥”(Middle Bridge)时,在桥墩及桥面安装感应器,监督桥梁结构安全。衔接盛港东大道和盛港西大道的双向汽车天桥今年9月通车。

针对采用光纤科技,副总理兼国家安全统筹部长贾古玛教授曾说,我国人口迅速增加,城市越来越拥挤,建筑愈建愈高,道路及桥梁也可能不胜负荷,因此建筑和基础设施的结构完整性与安全至关重要。

他当时说:“这项科技让我们能获得某种程度上的保障及安全感。未来,我们所住的高楼、所走的桥梁、所行驶的道路,即使经过长期使用也不会在毫无防备下坍塌。”

建屋局将继续为新组屋安装光纤布拉格光栅及长标距光纤感应器,但表示不会为现有组屋安装,因为感应器需安装在建筑结构内,不过它会通过其他措施确保建筑安全。

例如,建屋局和建设局今年3月决定拨500万元为82座各种屋龄建筑安装震动传感器(tremor sensor),以掌握全岛各种建筑受远方地震影响的晃动情况。这些建筑包括各类型高楼组屋、私人公寓和办公楼。

如果这些建筑受邻近地震影响,传感系统会记录晃动情况,立刻把数据通过简讯方式发给工程师。目前,传感器感应到的振动强度不足以影响本地高楼安全。

中国国务院发布六新措施救房市

Source :《联合早报》December 23, 2008

(北京讯)继上周三发布“国三条”后,前晚中国国务院发布了六项房地产新政细则。

中新社报道,专家指出,这些政策对房地产市场是利好,未来市场供求力量还将激烈博弈,房地产市场价格有望逐步下调,房地产市场运行更趋健康。政策效应释放需要一个过程,市场不会短期回暖。

国务院办公厅前日发布《关于促进房地产市场健康发展的若干意见》。意见主要提出六项内容:加大保障性住房建设力度、进一步鼓励普通商品住房消费、支持房地产开发企业积极应对市场变化、强化地方人民政府稳定房地产市场的职责、加强房地产市场监测、积极营造良好的舆论氛围。

北京大学房地产研究所所长陈国强在采访中认为,这次“意见”是对12月17日出台的“国三条”措施的细化,相比“国三条”更具体化,有了较大的可操作性,并对企业、商业银行、地方政府提出了具体要求。意见明确提出未来几年保障性住房建设的时间表,提出多渠道筹措保障性住房资金的措施,明文要求地方政府确保保障性住房建设用地供应,系统全面地提出解决住房保障问题措施,并具有较强的可操作性。

意见提出,进一步鼓励普通商品房消费,加大对自住型和改善型住房消费的信贷支持力度。并对住房转让环节营业税暂定一年实行减免政策。陈国强说,明确强调消费性和自住性住房消费,对改善性住房需求有明确界定,突出住房的消费需求和自住用途。而对住房交易转让环节税费的减免,这在很大程度上可以刺激和培育二手房市场,而培育较好的二手房市场的交易环境,可以间接推进一手房市场的活跃,其意义不可低估。

同时,政府鼓励房地产开发企业进行合理价格调整,并支持房地产开发企业的合理融资需求、取消城市房地产税。分析人士指出,此举将改善目前房地产开发企业的资金状况,有效降低房地产企业的风险。在这些措施的推动下,房地产市场将逐步摆脱行政干扰,市场供求博弈形成的房地产价格更趋理性。

谈到房地产新政对未来房地产市场的影响,陈国强指出,可以看出中央出台政策的良苦用心,希望市场向好的方向转变,不希望房地产市场出现大的波动。但政策是影响市场变化的因素,但不是唯一也不是决定性的因素。而企业在新的市场环境下,采取什么样的应对策略,将关系到未来市场的变化。

报道说,专家表示,今年以来房地产市场持续低迷一个基本的因素是部分城市房价上涨过快,并透支了未来房价上涨空间,市场虽然有刚性需要,但普通购房者已不具备住房消费能力。

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Not That Hard To Get A Renovation Loan

Source : The Sunday Times, Dec 21, 2008

No change in loan criteria despite tough times; contractors also have not raised prices

Want to renovate your home? You will be glad to know that getting a renovation loan is not any tougher these days.

According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore's notice for unsecured credit facilities, it has not lowered the maximum cap of six times the monthly salary of the borrower, or $30,000, whichever is lower, for renovation loans since 2003.

A DBS Bank spokesman confirmed that the number of applications for renovation loans has remained relatively constant, and there has not been any change in the criteria for the approval of such loans.

'As renovation loans are governed by regulatory guidelines, the bank has to abide by these guidelines when processing these applications,' the spokesman added.

DBS and Standard Chartered set their minimum loan amounts at $5,000. RHB Bank's minimum loan amount is $10,000. There is usually an administrative fee of 1 per cent of the approved loan.

A check with five banks showed that interest rates can start from 3.88 per cent per annum for RHB Bank, to OCBC Bank's range of between 6.25 per cent and 10.5 per cent per annum.

The rates are subject to change and depend on the choice of interest rate packages.

The interest rates are also usually based on monthly rest, which means that each monthly repayment reduces the loan amount and interest charges.

Applicants have between one and five years to repay a loan.

On the renovation contractors' side, the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association said contractors have not increased prices over the years.

Mr Gerald Mark, director of Wing Khiong Construction, said this was because of fierce competition.

'If we increase prices too much, we will lose customers,' he said.

He added that the market practice is such that contractors are reluctant to raise or cut prices too much. As a result, prices remain more or less the same and any increase is 'marginal'.

According to the association, a new three- or four-room HDB flat costs about $15,000 to renovate, although it was quick to clarify that all prices quoted were a rough guide and varied from contractor to contractor.

Mr Mark said the price includes flooring, kitchen cabinets, painting and plumbing works, curtains and cornices.

For the higher-end renovation of HDB four-room flats, prices can go up to between $80,000 and $100,000, he said.

'This is because of the owners asking for design carpentry works, such as the construction of false panel walls,' he added.

Still, the current downturn has led some home owners to tighten their belts. Contractors said that in these tough times, customers are either forgoing renovation works if they have a choice, or cutting down on renovation budgets.

Mr Richard Soon, manager of Luck Ann Construction and Renovation, said in Mandarin: 'If nothing is wrong with your home, you wouldn't do any renovation.

'People are thinking of their rice bowls. Even if they need to renovate, they will do so only at a lower price and not go for the full works.'

Mr Mark agreed, saying: 'What makes it obvious is that usually, the stretch from September up until January, Chinese New Year, is our peak period. So we can see clearly that there is not as much activity now as there was in the year before.'

HSR Property Group executive director Eric Cheng noted that not many people want to renovate their properties, so business has dropped.

'With lower demand come lower prices. You can negotiate for lower prices as companies would be more willing to give a better price,' he said, adding that one might be able to get discounts of between 10 and 15 per cent.

'After Chinese New Year, the rates could be more attractive.'

Dempsey Hill - Lifestyle Enclave To Get Bigger

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 19, 2008

THE popular lifestyle enclave of Dempsey Hill is set to get even bigger.

Country City Investment, the team that developed the zone in Tanglin Village, has won the bidding for a new plot of land from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) that will add to its restaurants, bars and gourmet grocers.

The firm offered to pay rent of $378,300 on a three-year lease, renewable to 2018.

Country City general manager Nicholas Ng said the firm would spend '$2 to $3 million' on redeveloping the 20,000 sq m plot, which includes Blocks 13, 14, 15, 16 and 26 on Dempsey Road.

The main tenants now comprise a few furniture stores, which Country City plans to use as the basis for boosting Dempsey Hill's retail mix.

Mr Ng hopes to launch the new sector by the end of April next year.

To woo businesses in these difficult economic times, Country City said it will 'not only be offering competitive rents to new and current tenants', but also 'support them with various marketing activities'.

Mr Ng said that while Dempsey Hill's food and beverage tenants are 'still doing okay' in the downturn, the furniture retailers have reported that sales are 'down some 30 per cent'.

But he remained 'very confident' that the development will be launched within the next two quarters.

Country City already rents a cluster of seven buildings on a one-ha plot from SLA on a three-year lease renewable up to 2015.

Last year, it transformed the buildings, many of them former barracks for the British army, into various food and drink outlets, such as Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop, Harry's bar and Mexican restaurant Margarita's.

This was done in two phases. Dempsey Hill was launched in July last year and boasts about 20 restaurants, cafes, gourmet delis and bars.

Dempsey Hill Green, launched last December, is an extension of the original concept, with tenants including Samy's Curry, Long Beach Seafood and RedDot Brewhouse.

About $3 million was poured into developing Dempsey Hill, and a further $1 million to $2 million into Dempsey Hill Green.

Mr Ng said: 'It was natural for Country City to tender for the new blocks... because we already have two clusters and this one falls in between. It's good if we can manage the whole area.'

Big Drop In Building Activity

Source : TODAY, Weekend, December 20, 2008

THE value of projects under construction in Singapore is expected to be slashed next year, with the biggest impact to be felt in the central business district.

The value of construction activity in Singapore is likely to fall 32 per cent to US$17 billion ($24.6 billion) next year from US$25 billion this year, said BCI Asia Construction Information, a construction industry research company that undertook a study of the region’s building sector.

“The greatest impact in 2009 and 2010 will be felt in the CBD, in Singapore and Hong Kong,” said Mr Thor Kerr, managing director of BCI Asia.

As funding becomes scarce and rents start to soften, the high-end commercial and residential sector is likely to see more deferred construction activity next year, compared to projects in infrastructure and in the industrial space.

BCI Asia’s prediction is in line with forecasts from the Building and Construction Authority, which expects construction demand here to reach $30 billion this year, and slow down in the next two years.

“But in past crises, we see in these urban areas, at least Singapore and Hong Kong tend to bounce back very quickly. They bounce back slower in Indonesia and in other places,” said Mr Kerr. He added that Government spending on housing and other projects will help mitigate the slowdown.

Mr Kerr said that the decline in construction activity next year should not be taken as grim news because the value of these projects are not slipping to the levels seen during the Asian financial crisis.

“You’ve got to put it in context; US$17 billion gets you back to where you were in 2006. We’re getting back to a more reasonable level,” said Mr Kerr.

Bleak Times Ahead For Region's Building Sector

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 20, 2008

Report sees value of projects shrinking but analysts say situation here will be better

THE construction sector in South-east Asia and Hong Kong faces bleak times next year, a new report by information provider BCI Asia has found.

The value of projects under construction in the region would contract by at least 16 per cent next year and, in a worst-case scenario, would shrink by a hefty 32 per cent - or about one-third.

The preliminary forecast is part of a major study on the construction industry to be released by the firm next month.

'All the data indicates that construction spending in this region peaked in 2008. The value of projects at design and documentation phases has contracted 2 per cent this year and we have seen major projects abandoned for lack of finance,' said BCI Asia's managing director Thor Kerr.

'There will be far fewer new industrial facilities and utilities being constructed from 2009. As local economic conditions deteriorate further, developers will postpone the construction of new offices, hotels, recreation facilities and downtown retail centres,' he said.

BCI Asia reported that the value of projects under construction leapt from US$107 billion (S$154 billion) last year to US$140 billion this year. It estimates that this will decline to US$118 billion next year in a best-case scenario.

In the most pessimistic recession scenario, the value of the projects under construction would slump to US$96 billion.

Despite the grim predictions, some analysts say Singapore will not be as badly hit as the region as a whole.

Mr David Cohen of Action Economics said: 'I think the situation in Singapore would not be as severe. There is still a substantial backlog of projects to go through.

'The growth might slow down next year and we might see some job losses, but there would not be a major impact on the economy.'

Mr Cohen predicted that there would be a contraction of less than 5 per cent in the construction sector here next year.

Mr Ng Yek Meng, assistant secretary-general of the Singapore Contractors Association, agreed that things were still looking stable for the year ahead.

'In general, the trend is that the construction industry is slowing down.

'But in the next 11/2years, most contractors should have enough jobs and work in hand. When they signed on for jobs in 2008, they signed two-year contracts,' he said.

'We also haven't seen any major retrenchments yet.'

He added that major construction projects such as that of the SMRT Downtown Line would continue to help boost the local industry.

But he warned of impending uncertainties for the industry in 2010, after the two integrated resorts have been constructed, and when contracts come to an end.

'After contractors have finished their jobs, there might be no new jobs and some might have to go overseas to search for new projects,' Mr Ng said.

'No one knows what's going to happen in the future for now.'

D-Day For Homebuyers

Source : TODAY, Weekend, December 20, 2008

7,100 units ready in next two years, buyers may face difficulties: Analysts

JUST how vulnerable is Singapore’s :souring economy to a wave of defaults from private home buyers who had made use of the popular Deferred Payment Scheme (DPS)?

It’s a question that continues to split analysts, even as the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Friday released, for the first time, data on private homes sold under the DPS, a decade-old plan scrapped in October last year.

To “provide transparency”, the agency revealed that 10,450 uncompleted private homes had been sold under the scheme as at end-November.

As the DPS tends to be used by speculators, the data breakdown reflects the potential number of homes that could be returned to developers, should buyers fail to secure financing by the time a project is completed and receives the Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP).

For many, D-day approaches Most of the units — 4,560 — will be ready next year, followed by another 2,540 units in 2010.

With these two years likely to be weighed down by a global economic slump, buyers with shallow pockets will have difficulty coughing up the bulk of the price tag by the TOP date, especially as banks have become tight-fisted. If the purchase falls through, units will return to the market, possibly depressing prices.

To Chesteron Suntec International research director Colin Tan, the statistics paint a grim picture.

“If we assume all the people buying under DPS meant to flip, the 4,560 units represent one year of supply for a bad year. It’s bad,” Mr Tan told Today.

Only 4,000 to 5,000 new private homes are expected to be sold this year, he said, way below last year’s 14,800.

Under the DPS, the downpayment is only 10 to 20 per cent of the unit’s price and the customer makes no other payments during the construction period — typically two to three years — until completion. The arrangement appeals to speculators who, during boom time, made just a small payment upfront and managed to “flip” the unit for a quick buck before the TOP date.

Some feel the DPS may create a local version of a sub-prime meltdown. Will the market soon be flooded with desperados cancelling purchases or defaulting? Developers are putting up a brave front.

“We note that DPS cases will peak in 2009. These units would have been purchased in 2005/6 before property prices peaked in late 2007. As the purchase prices of these units are likely to be below current market price, we are confident that such property purchasers will want to proceed with completion of their sale, upon their unit’s grant of the TOP,” the Real Estate Developers’ :Association of Singapore (Redas) said in a statement.

Redas also stressed that buyers have no right to cancel sale-and-purchase agreements; only the developer does. So if the buyer fails to adhere to the contract, the developer could not only keep the downpayment but also demand claims and resell the property.

Redas did not say if their members were witnessing an increase in customers asking to repudiate contracts.

According to Knight Frank director of consultancy and research Nicholas Mak, people who bought units outside the Core Central Region – plum areas including Orchard and Sentosa – are “less at risk of default because a relatively higher proportion of these homes were bought for owners’ occupation”.

Two-thirds of the unfinished homes bought on DPS are outside the Core Central Region.

In the first place, said Savills Singapore director of marketing and business development Ku Swee Yong, DPS customers do include genuine home buyers, not just speculators.

Mr Mak said even if the property market weakened further next year, homebuyers collecting their keys “could either lease out the homes at relatively good returns or sell the homes at their breakeven level or with a profit”.

As for those taking delivery in 2010, they are unlikely to be pressured to sell at distress prices as “we expect the property market to stabilise in 2010 and may show some signs of recovery”.

10,450 Deferred Payment Homes Weigh On Prices

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 20, 2008

Cash-strapped buyers may sell low if they can't get sufficient loans

PRICES in the the already fragile property market could be battered even more from next year if some of the 10,450 homes bought on deferred payment are dumped by cash-strapped buyers.

The danger is that when final payments are due at completion stage, buyers faced with falling values may just sell at fire-sale levels, putting even more pressure on prices.

And a key reason for buyers to dump units is that in today's tight credit markets, risk-averse banks will demand that buyers put in more of their own cash before they will agree to lending the balance.

Take a flat that was bought for $1 million with a deposit of $100,000. The buyer must provide $900,000 on completion but if prices have fallen too far, the bank will not come to the party with a loan for the full amount.

So the buyer either dips into his own pocket or cuts his losses and sells - likely into a falling market.

The numbers, revealed for the first time by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday, are sobering.

Two-thirds of the 10,450 uncompleted homes will come on stream in the next two years - 4,560 in 2009 and 2,540 in 2010.

They were sold from 2005 to this year. That includes a period when many properties were being snapped up by eager buyers with little regard for price.

Deferred payment was introduced during the Asian financial crisis to boost the market, but scrapped late last year. It was blamed for encouraging speculation, as buyers could secure a property for little cash down and then flip it for a profit before a brick had been laid.

Down payments are 10 to 20 per cent with the rest deferred until completion a few years down the track.

To make things worse, the URA said that the 10,450 new homes include sub-sale units.

They were likely bought at even higher prices from speculators, who had already flipped the units for a profit.

The figures also show that the homes are spread far and wide - about 4,000 each in the core central and city-fringe areas and the rest in the suburbs.

Analysts say that the real danger lies in the 1,270 prime units in the core central region that will be completed in 2010. These were boom-time buys.

Knight Frank managing director Tan Tiong Cheng said possible defaults will likely come from people who bought at the height of the market last year.

'It is cause for concern but it is not a big problem when you look at it in percentage terms,' he said.

In contrast, projects slated for completion next year were bought in 2005 and 2006 when prices were not that high, so chances of defaults are slim, added Mr Tan.

Prime area projects in Orchard Road, Sentosa Cove and Marina Bay like Marina Bay Residences, One Shenton and The Orchard Residences were known to have lured the speculators.

Some of these projects also attracted consortia, which bought one floor at a time, but yesterday's data did not offer any insight into such buyers.

'This is the 'high-risk' group, particularly as banks have become cautious and demand has fallen,' said Standard Chartered economist Alvin Liew.

Jones Lang LaSalle's South-east Asia research head, Mr Chua Yang Liang, said: 'The 10,450 number seems large but...if buyers can get loans, the problem won't be as severe as some people think.

'But psychologically, buyers may see it as a reason to bring prices down.

Responding to the news, the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore said the figures released by the URA underscored the popularity of the scheme.

It maintained that the scheme was beneficial to the market and reminded buyers that although they can sell their units to other buyers on the market, they cannot easily repudiate sales contracts and return the homes they bought to developers.

Priced For The Market

Source : TODAY, Friday, December 19, 2008

Increased supply of flats in Yishun a response to demand, says HDB

BUOYED by demand for its previous Build To Order flats (BTO), the Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced yesterday the launch of its latest BTO project — Dew Spring@Yishun.




















“The previous BTO launch in Yishun — Jade Spring Phase One and Two was five times subscribed, and therefore, we feel that there could be demand for flats in Yishun, which is why we’re putting out this contract,” said the Board’s deputy chief executive Tan Poh Hong.

A total of 864 standard flats will be built, comprising 144 two-room, 216 three-room and 504 four-room units, with Dew Spring@Yishun having the largest number of two- and three-room flats — 170 more than Senja Green, a BTO project launched in August.

Located at the junction of Yishun Ring Road and Yishun Street 41, prices for the two-room units start at $76,000, the three-room flats at $120,000 and four-roomers at $197,000.

With the latest release, the Board has launched a total of 833 units of two- and three-room flats, and there are plans to offer another 280 similar units soon.

In all, the HDB plans to offer 4,000 smaller flats over the next two years.

When it was pointed out that 90 per cent of BTO flats are reserved for first timers and that the remaining 10 per cent may not be sufficient to meet the demand of downgraders forced to monetise their flats during bad economic times, Ms Tan assured: “If there is a need for more, we will build more.”

This is in line with National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan’s statement to Parliament last month that lower-income families and those who need to downgrade could look forward to a steady supply of smaller flats.

Property firm, PropNex’s chief executive Mohamad Ismail called HDB’s launch of the smaller units “timely” amidst the current economic uncertainty.

“These flats are priced very attractively,” he said. “The smaller units are actually going at below $200 per square foot, which is very much below the median resale prices for that area in the last quarter.”

As the units are situated not far from the Orchid Country Club and the Sungei Seletar Reservoir, Mr Ismail expects an over-subscription for these units. He also commended HDB for reaching out to the lower-income bracket with more affordable units.

In pricing the new flats, HDB said it considers several factors, such as prevailing market conditions and the resale prices of similar units in the vicinity, making adjustments for differences like location, amenities, design of the project, age and orientation.

It added that when comparing prices of flats it should be like-for-like.

Said Ms Tan: “It is not correct to compare a flat in Yishun and Sengkang, because they are two different towns, having different attributes. When we do comparisons, we use comparables within the same vicinity.”

She was responding to media reports which compared the prices of new BTO flats to resale flats, and to criticisms that new HDB flats were not affordable.

The Board also clarified that construction costs do not affect prices of HDB flats as HDB adopts a market-pricing approach which reflects the true value of flats — how much Singaporeans are willing to pay for such flats in the open market.

It also ensures the optimal use of public resources.

Said HDB’s acting deputy director of marketing and projects, Mr Ignatius Lourdesamy: “If it’s too high, there will be no demand for new flats. If it’s too low, it diminishes the market value of existing flats and we will be over-spending public funds on housing.”

10% Fall Seen In UK Home Prices Next Year

Source : The Business Times, December 23, 2008

(LONDON) UK house prices will decline 10 per cent next year as a shortage of mortgage finance limits new sales, according to Hometrack Ltd.

Fewer deals: Sales volumes of houses in the UK will fall 12 per cent next year after dropping 45 per cent in 2008, according to Hometrack

Values will drop a further 3 per cent in 2010 after dropping 9 per cent this year, the London- based property researcher said in a report yesterday.

Home lending will increase by just £15 billion (S$32 billion), down from £39 billion in 2008 and a peak of £107 billion last year.

Bank of England deputy governor John Gieve said in a BBC interview that the bank knew the rate of house-price growth was unsustainable and underestimated the severity of the problem.

After prices tripled in a decade, policymakers now are struggling to revive the market for home finance, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushing banks to revive lending.

'Prices will remain under downward pressure for the foreseeable future,' Richard Donnell, Hometrack's director of research, said in the statement.

'The onset of recession and rising unemployment is set to act as a major constraint on demand compounding the level of price falls in the near term,' he added.

Sales volumes will fall 12 per cent next year after dropping 45 per cent in 2008, while repossessions will climb to 70,000 from 45,000, Hometrack said.

The global credit squeeze has pushed the UK into its first recession since the early 1990s.

Unemployment rose at the fastest pace since 1991 in November, with the number of people claiming jobless benefits climbing above one million.

Mr Gieve said using interest rates to tame asset prices may have limited growth in other areas of the economy.

He made the remarks in a BBC interview which was to be broadcast on its Panorama programme last night.

Mr Brown has partly suspended a tax on house purchases, and the government has created a £50 billion rescue package for UK lenders stung by credit losses. -- Bloomberg

Tapping Market Indices To Signal Office Rental Swings

Source : The Business Times, December 23, 2008

DTZ system predicts chance of office market correcting or recovering

In Singapore as well as Hong Kong, stock market indices lead official office rental indices between two and five quarters before correction or recovery sets in, property consultancy DTZ observes in a report issued yesterday.









Office vacancy rates in these two Asian cities also led office rent correction and recovery by a few quarters. Guided by this finding, DTZ has developed an in-house early warning system to predict the probability of office markets in both cities entering correction or recovery phase within the next three to six months.

This will use the stock index and vacancy rate as leading predictors. These indicators are based on the probability concept and expressed in percentage terms.

Figures exceeding 50 per cent indicate that the probability of entering the correction phase in the next three to six months is high, and vice-versa.

As at end-Q3 2008, the Singapore office probability indicator reached 65 per cent while that of Hong Kong hit 63 per cent. 'The risk reflected for Singapore matched the official pronouncement by the Urban Redevelopment Authority,' DTZ says.

The URA office market rental index for Q4 2008 will be released only in late January.

DTZ, in its report, does not give latest Q4 office rents for Singapore.

However, BT reported recently that, according to latest estimates by rival property consulting group CB Richard Ellis, average Grade A and prime office rental values in Singapore have slipped about 20 per cent in the fourth quarter of this year over the preceding quarter - after rising steadily for nearly four years.

The rents for these two categories of office space peaked in Q3 this year. DTZ evaluated the quarterly movements of the STI against URA's office market rental index as far back as 1993.

For Hong Kong, it mapped the official office rental index against the Hang Seng Index as far back as Q1 1997.

'The results . . . clearly show that such a delayed effect is not a one-off event. It had occurred in the past during the Asian financial crisis in 1998 and the tech bubble crisis in 2001,' DTZ says.

The Straits Times Index peaked at 3,900 points on Oct 10, 2007, while the Hang Seng Index peaked at 32,000 on Oct 30 last year, DTZ notes.

Rents To Hold Steady Despite En Bloc Influx

Source : The Strait Times, Dec 23, 2008

Supply limited and not all are fit to be rented out, say consultants

MORE units at developments sold enbloc are expected to be released onto the rental market, as developers look to ride out the market downcycle by renting them out, instead of leaving them empty.

Airview Towers at St Thomas Walk in River Valley is one of a number of collective sale developments that would be put back onto the rental market next year. -- PHOTO: DTZ

But the additional supply of apartments from these developments should not weigh heavily on an already falling rental market, property consultants said.

Several developments that were sold en bloc last year and intended for demolition and redevelopment were put back onto the rental market this year, following the deterioration of market sentiment.

There has been a thin but regular stream of such developments since early this year. They are typically leased out at rents that are at least about 20 per cent below market level, said Knight Frank director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak.

More will follow next year as some developers have yet to take possession of their collective sale properties. For instance, Airview Towers in the River Valley area will be leased out from February next year, for a one-year period.

Units there will be rented out at more than $2,000 to less than $4,000 a month.

An owner there said their rent-free period will end in February, but a few units are already being leased out to quite a number of foreigners on work permits.

Two other developments, Spottiswoode Park and Oakswood Heights, on Spottiswoode Park Road are also likely to be put on the rental market early next year, said a market watcher.

Mr Mak said these developments are unlikely to add much downward pressure on rents as there are not many of such developments, which come with just basic facilities and a short lease.

Secondly, they are mostly rented out to existing tenants or ex-owners of the development, he said. 'Thirdly, not all the units in the developments are fit for rental. One reason why these developments went for en-bloc sale is because they are rundown,' said Mr Mak.

Also, as the projects are meant for redevelopment eventually, developers are unlikely to spend a lot of money to spruce them up, consultants said.

'Rents in general, like capital values, reflect the physical condition of the stock, the tenure, location et cetera,' said Jones Lang LaSalle's South-east Asia research head, Dr Chua Yang Liang.

As the reported rents must also account for the transient nature of the leases, the depressive effect of such rents on the general market is marginal, he said.

Rents of private residential properties here have fallen and are expected to fall further next year. Average prime rents are now at $4 to $4.40 psf, slightly down from $4.20 to $4.60 psf in the third quarter, according to CB Richard Ellis.

Other collective sale developments being leased out include Fairways in Telok Blangah, Grangeford at Leonie Hill, Lucky Tower in Grange Road and even Merlin Mansion in the East Coast Road area.

Fairways is offering a one-year lease at rents from $1,900 a month while rents at Grangeford start from about $3,500 for a two-bedroom unit. Both were bought around the middle of last year.

Developments that have already been in the rental market for months include Leedon Heights off Holland Road, Sophia Court in Adis Road and Lincoln Lodge off Newton Road.

Monday, December 22, 2008

US Housing Bubble Stoked By '97 Tax Cut

Source : The Business Times, December 22, 2008

US HOUSING HYSTERIA

(NEW YORK) Ryan Wampler had never made much money selling his own homes.

Starting in 1999, however, he began to do very well. Three times in eight years, Mr Wampler - himself a home builder and developer - sold his home in the Phoenix area, always for a nice profit. With prices in Phoenix soaring, he made almost US$700,000 on the three sales.

And thanks to a tax break proposed by then-President Bill Clinton and approved by Congress in 1997, he did not have to pay tax on most of that profit. It was a break that had not been available to generations of Americans before him. The benefits also did not apply to other investments, be they stocks, bonds or stakes in a small business.

Those gains were all taxed at rates of up to 20 per cent.

The different tax treatments gave people a new incentive to plough ever more money into real estate, and they did so. 'When you give that big an incentive for people to buy and sell homes,' said Mr Wampler, 'they are going to buy and sell homes.'

By itself, the change in the tax law did not cause the housing bubble, economists say. Several other factors - a relaxation of lending standards, a failure by regulators to intervene, a sharp decline in interest rates and a collective belief that house prices could never fall - probably played larger roles.

But many economists say that the law had a noticeable impact, allowing home sales to become tax-free windfalls. A recent study of the provision by an economist at the Federal Reserve suggests that the number of homes sold was almost 17 per cent higher over the last decade than it would have been without the law.

Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate and economics professor at George Mason University, has said that the tax law change was responsible for 'fuelling the mother of all housing bubbles'.

The provision - part of a sprawling Bill called the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 - exempted most home sales from capital gains tax. The first US$500,000 in gains from any single-home sale was exempt from tax for a married couple, as long as they had lived in the home for at least two of the previous five years. (For singles, the first US$250,000 was exempt.)

Mr Wampler said that he never sold a home simply because of the law's existence, but it played a role in his decisions and also became part of his stock pitch to potential customers who were considering buying the homes he was building in the desert. He would point out that the tax benefits would increase their returns on a house, relative to stocks.

During the boom years, he prospered. But today he owns 32 hectares of land on the outskirts of Phoenix that he cannot sell. He owes US$8 million to his banks, which may soon foreclose on his land.

The change in the tax law had its roots in a Chicago speech that Bob Dole, Mr Clinton's Republican opponent in the 1996 presidential election, gave on Aug 5 of that year. Trailing Mr Clinton in the polls, he came out for an enormous tax cut, including an across-the-board reduction in the capital gains tax.

The proposal made Mr Clinton's political advisers more nervous than almost anything else during the campaign. The campaign's chief spokesman, Joe Lockhart, travelled to Chicago to stand outside the ballroom where Mr Dole was speaking and make the case that the Dole tax cut would cause the deficit to soar. At the same time, Mr Clinton's aides began scrambling to come up with their own tax proposal. Getting rid of capital gains on most home sales seemed like the perfect idea.

Treasury officials had become interested in that provision earlier in Mr Clinton's term after Jane Gravelle, an economist at the Congressional Research Service, had called it to their attention, according to Eric Toder, an official in the tax policy office at the time. He and his colleagues were looking for ways to simplify the tax code, and Ms Gravelle told them that eliminating capital gains taxes on houses was an excellent candidate.

Three weeks after Mr Dole's speech, with support from top Treasury officials, the proposal had made it into Mr Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention. During the presidential debates that followed, he used it to parry Mr Dole's calls for a big tax cut. The following summer, he signed the provision into law. -- NYT

Economist Sees Even Chance Of A US Depression

Source : The Business Times, December 22, 2008

(WASHINGTON) The US economy has a 50 per cent chance of falling into a depression over the next three years, said Roger Farmer, a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research's economic fluctuations and growth programme.

'There's a significant probability that things will get worse,' Dr Farmer, 53, said during a phone interview last week. 'We're certainly not at the end of the recession and things are getting worse.'

A drop in the Conference Board's index of leading indicators, released last Friday, underscores economists' expectations that the recession would be the longest in the post-war era as banks restrict credit, home and stock values plunge, and job losses mount.

Dr Farmer, who is also graduate vice-chair of the economics department of the University of California at Los Angeles, is predicting that the US recession would last at least another year. 'Everything depends on business confidence, and what I see is declining confidence.'

The loss of confidence is leading households and companies to undervalue assets, which in turn is hurting consumer spending and investment, he said. A government fiscal stimulus programme will have a 'questionable' immediate effect on consumption and financial markets, Dr Farmer said. Instead, he supports the idea of letting the Federal Reserve or government step into the stock market by buying indexed securities such as those linked to the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

'I don't think anything from historic episodes suggests that, left to itself, the economy is going to magically recover and come back to full employment,' he said. 'Certainly, economies can occasionally stagnate and we should be concerned that that could potentially happen again.'

Employers cut 533,000 jobs from payrolls in November for a total loss so far this year of 1.9 million, which more than erases last year's gain of 1.1 million. The unemployment rate, now at 6.7 per cent, may go above 10 per cent and 'potentially stay there for a while', Dr Farmer said.

The NBER's economic fluctuations and growth programme focuses on the US economy. The programme includes the Business Dating Committee, which officially marks the beginning and end of recessions and expansions. -- Bloomberg