Friday, April 3, 2009

Private Home Prices Take Double-Digit Dive

Source : The Business Times, April 2, 2009

Even gravity-defying HDB resale prices show signs of cracking in Q1 with 0.6% slide

Private home prices plunged 13.8 per cent in the first three months of this year - a record quarterly drop as developers and other market players slashed their expectations.

It was the third quarterly fall in prices - and much steeper than the 6.1 per cent drop in the preceding Q4 2008, according to advance estimates released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday. Private home prices dipped 1.8 per cent in Q3 2008 after 17 straight quarters of growth.

Prices of resale HDB flats, which seemed to defy gravity and grew throughout 2008, also fell in Q1 2009 - by 0.6 per cent - after nine quarters of growth.

Analysts were expecting a significant drop in private home prices, but the actual fall was bigger than thought. In recent months, developers have cut the selling prices of new homes and sellers of secondary properties have also trimmed their asking prices.

'The fall is not surprising as a lot of developers have reduced prices to move new units, and in the resale market, people are now asking for more reasonable prices,' said DTZ's senior director Chua Chor Hoon.

DMG & Partners Securities' analyst Brandon Lee said that new projects and units in previously launched but unsold projects, were being launched or relaunched at 10-30 per cent discounts to the original intended selling prices. Also, there were distressed sales in the secondary market.

Aggressive price cutting by developers seems to have paid off. An estimated 2,100-plus new homes were sold in Q1 - the highest level since the market was hit by the US mortgage crisis in the last quarter of 2007 and more than four times the number of new units sold in Q4 2008. But the pick-up in sales volume was at the expense of prices.

URA's non-landed private home price index for the Core Central Region, which includes the prime districts, financial district and Sentosa Cove, fell 15.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter in Q1. In the Rest of Central Region, prices fell 17.2 per cent. And in the Outside Central Region, which is a proxy for suburban mass-market locations, they fell 7.5 per cent.

The drop in HDB resale prices took some observers by surprise, as analysts tracking the sector had said that they would continue to rise in the first half of this year, though at a slower pace than in 2008.

'HDB resale prices increased some 32 per cent since Q1 2007 before reaching a new peak in Q4 2008,' said ERA Asia-Pacific associate director Eugene Lim. The marginal decrease in Q1 shows HDB resale prices are now moving in tandem with the deteriorating economic and unemployment conditions.

Analysts said that the main cause of the fall in HDB's resale index is the lower cash-over-valuation (COV) amounts that buyers are now willing to pay. 'The slight dip is probably due to more buyers of HDB flats being resistant to paying high levels of COV,' said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail. 'While demand for HDB resale flats is evidently still strong, sellers in this economic climate are realising the weaker buying power of consumers.'

Private home prices are expected to continue falling in the rest of the year. 'While the fall in prices of private residential properties in the first quarter was acute, the drab economic situation is expected to continue to place downward pressure on home prices in 2009,' said Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.

But the pace of decline is expected to taper off. 'Developers have already made a quantum leap in reducing prices in Q1 2009 and although further declines in launch prices can be expected, the incremental drop is likely to be marginal and more gradual,' said Tay Huey Ying, director for research and advisory at Colliers International. Ms Tay expects the rate of decline in the URA price index to taper off to about 8 per cent in Q2 2009 and then 3-5 per cent for each of the subsequent two quarters.

For the full year, analysts put the overall drop in private home prices at 20-30 per cent, with homes in the suburban areas taking the smallest hit.

The fall in HDB prices, on the other hand, is expected to pick up steam in the rest of 2009. Analysts expect that HDB resale prices will fall by between 5 and 15 per cent for the whole of 2009.

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