Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Launches Push Sales Of Private Homes Up In June

Source : The Straits Times, July 15, 2008

SALES of private homes in June almost doubled to 801 units, from 453 units in May, according to monthly figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday.

The positive data is largely due to an increase in new launches. Last month, some 1,069 new homes were launched by developers, up significantly from 474 launched in May.

Clover by the Park, a mass market project in Bishan alone accounted for 197 units sold in June while 144 units of Dakota Residences in Dakota Road were snapped up.

However, the mood in the property market remains largely cautious.

Singapore C.Bank Sees More Downside Risks To Markets

Source : Reuters, July 14, 2008

Singapore's central bank said it is closely monitoring financial markets in the wake of the crisis surrounding U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and warned of big downside risks in global markets.

"Significant challenges and downside risks in the international financial markets remain and financial institutions and investors should stay vigilant," the Monetary Authority of Singapore said on Monday.

"The direct impact of the credit crisis on financial markets and financial institutions in Singapore has been relatively modest so far," the central bank said.

Singapore's Straits Times stock market index <.FTSTI> has fallen 16 percent this year. The country's three banks have suffered relatively modest writedowns on their debt investments as a result of the credit crunch.

The U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve called on Sunday for sweeping measures to lend money and buy equity, if necessary, in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee $5 trillion in debt -- close to half the value of all U.S. mortgages.

The U.S. government plan to bolster the government-sponsored mortgage financiers helped calm markets on Monday, but did little to allay fears about the health of the U.S. financial system. [ID:nSP52252]

The MAS declined to comment on whether any of Singapore's foreign reserves are invested in debt from Fannie and Freddie.

Singapore had about $177 billion in its foreign reserves as of the end of June.

Foreign central banks, mostly in Asia, hold $979 billion of the $5 trillion bonds and mortgage-backed bonds sold by Freddie and Fannie.

LTA Unveils Locations Of DTL Stage 2 Stations

Source : The Straits Times, Jul 15, 2008

THE locations of stations along Downtown Line Stage 2, a 16.6km stretch joining residents in Bukit Panjang and Bukit Timah to the city centre, were revealed on Tuesday.

The line, one of half a dozen new rail projects Singapore is embarking on up to 2020, will make stops near schools like Singapore Chinese Girls School, Raffles Girls School, Hwa Chong Institution and National Junior College.

The line, one of half a dozen new rail projects Singapore is embarking on up to 2020, will make stops near schools like Singapore Chinese Girls School, Raffles Girls School, Hwa Chong Institution and National Junior College.

Several residential developments like the Equatorial, Blossomvale as well as the Housing Board heartland of Bukit Panjang will also have stations near them.

Starting from Singapore's downtown is the line's southern-most station of Rochor. North of this is the first of three interchanges, Little India station, which connects the North-east Line.

Next is Newton Interchange, near Singapore's most famous hawker centre; and then Stevens Station, under Stevens Road and a stone's throw from the Raffles Town Club.

After that comes the Botanic Gardens Station, which intersects with the Circle Line.

The line then moves through Singapore's most prestigious residential area, with stops near Duchess Avenue, Sixth Avenue (actually nearer to Fourth) and Blackmore (near King Albert Park).

In the vicinity are the Nissan and BMW showrooms.

From there, the line crosses over to the shop-and-dine hub of Beauty World, where a station will be located.

Stations north of Beauty World are Hillview (near Dairy Farm) and Cashew (near Assumption English School and St Joseph's Church).

Next, the Downtown Line links up with the Bukit Panjang LRT, at the Petir station.

The line terminates at Gali Batu Depot, which is to be sited on part of the Kwong Hou Sua Teochew Cemetery.

In all, there are 12 stations, of which three are interchanges (Little India, Newton and Botanic Gardens). As with the Circle Line, the Land Transport Authority will be asking the public to suggest permanent names for the other nine stations.

Stage 2 of Downtown Line is part of a $12 billion 40km project linking the north-western and eastern parts of Singapore to the new downtown. Major construction will start middle of next year.

Stage 1 is is where the Integrated Resort, Gardens by the Bay and new financial district are. Stage 3 goes through MacPherson, Bedok Reservoir and Tampines areas to end at the East-West Line's Expo Station.

The LTA, meanwhile, on Tuesday gave another progress report on the Circle Line. Stage 3, linking Bartley to Marymount, is on track to be the first portion of the orbital rail line to be opened in mid-2009.

The five stations along this stretch are expected to attain temporary occupation permits by end of this year.

Overall, about 90 per cent of tunnels of the 33km line are completed, with the rest by early next year.

Federal Reserve Tightens US Home Mortgage Lending

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 15 July 2008

WASHINGTON - The US Federal Reserve on Monday tightened home mortgage lending in a bid to improve consumer protection from practices blamed in part for the worst US real-estate crisis in decades.

The Fed said its board of governors approved rules for home mortgage loans "to better protect consumers and facilitate responsible lending."

"The proposed final rules are intended to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts and practices in mortgage lending, while keeping credit available to qualified borrowers and supporting sustainable homeownership," Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said in a statement.

"Importantly, the new rules will apply to all mortgage lenders, not just those supervised and examined by the Federal Reserve."

The new rules address two categories: all home mortgages and a newly defined category of "higher-priced mortgage loans" -- effectively the subprime, or high-risk, home loans at the heart of spiraling loan defaults that burst a housing bubble two years ago.

In the sub-prime category, lenders will have to assess borrowers' ability to repay the loan, verify their income sources and will be barred from penalising prepayment except in certain circumstances.

For all home mortgage loans, the rules prohibit certain practices such as pyramiding late fees, coercing a real-estate appraiser to misstate a home's value and providing deceptively low cost estimates for the loan.

"Although the high rate of delinquency has a number of causes, it seems clear that unfair or deceptive acts and practices by lenders resulted in the extension of many loans, particularly high-cost loans, that were inappropriate for or misled the borrower," Bernanke said.

The approved rules mainly encompass proposals the Fed made in December. Most of them take effect on October 1, 2009. - AFP /ls

URA Offers Upper Changi Residential Site For Sale

Sourc : The Straits Times, July 15, 2008

A RESIDENTIAL site at New Upper Changi Road and Tanah Merah Kechil Avenue was put up for sale by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Tuesday.

The land parcel is one of four residential sites to be sold through the confirmed list under the Government Land Sales Programme for the second half of 2008.

Covering an area of 0.99 ha, the site, within an established private residential estate, will have a maximum permissible gross floor area of 27,652 sqm.

More details on the site are available on the URA website (www.ura.gov.sg)

No Perks For Less Popular Features

Source : The Sunday Times, July 13 2008

New guidelines could discourage condo developers from including planter boxes and bay windows

Buyers of most new developments have been paying for bay windows and planter boxes even if they have no use for such building features.

But soon, they may no longer have to do so as a recent change in government guidelines is expected to discourage developers from building such features.

Homebuyers will soon no longer need to pay for features they do not want, such as bay windows and planter boxes. New URA guidelines require developers to include the provisions as part of gross floor area, and to pay for them. -- ST FILE PHOTOS

Last week, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said it will include planter boxes and bay windows in the calculation of the gross floor area (GFA) of residential developments. This means that developers will have to pay for these boxes and windows. They have been happily providing these features as these are 'bonus' space that they can sell.

'It makes economic sense to utilise the exemption,' said a local developer. 'Whether we continue to build bay windows and/or planter boxes will depend very much on the design of the building.'

Consumers benefit in that they will be paying for only liveable space, market watchers say.

Few owners interested in gardening

The URA had encouraged developers to build planter boxes so as to give visual relief to Singapore's high-density living environment. However, feedback and its investigations have revealed extensive unauthorised conversions of planter boxes for use as balcony space or an extension of the living room.

'Such conversion will result in additional GFA for which the end-user will need to meet onerous requirements such as seeking consent from the management corporation and paying further development charge, if applicable,' the URA said.

It has also received feedback that flat owners are unhappy that they are not allowed to convert the planter boxes to other uses since they had paid for the space when they bought their flat.

'From a practical point of view, most homebuyers do not make use of planters,' said ERA Asia Pacific's assistant vice-president, Mr Eugene Lim. Bay windows, however, do help to make the room look bigger than it really is. They also let in more light, he said.

Bay windows bring light and also heat

Indeed, bay windows are supposed to help encourage energy-efficient building design and sustainability. They were originally not counted as part of the GFA because they were viewed as raised window ledges.

But the relaxation of the height of the bay window ledge has made it a usable internal space that is no different from the rest of the floor space, said the URA.

Also, the URA found that there are more new buildings that are virtually wrapped around by bay windows. The extensive use of bay windows leads to higher heat transfer into buildings and increases the need for air-conditioning to cool the buildings, it said.

It noted: 'Often, the provision of bay windows is intended mainly to increase the saleable strata space.'

Typically, planter boxes and bay windows take up about 5 per cent of a unit's saleable space, although it can be a bigger portion in some developments. This information is often not divulged to buyers.

The motivation is there to increase the proportion of such space vis-a-vis the GFA or what used to be called liveable floor area, said Chesterton International's head of research and consultancy, Mr Colin Tan. 'That is why we see new units sold today have larger balconies, lots of bay windows and planter areas and super-sized air-con ledges.'

The URA said it will now leave it to developers and building owners to decide if they wish to continue to provide bay windows and planter boxes. Non-residential developments such as hotels and offices are not affected by the revised guidelines.

They take effect from Oct 7 and will affect new development applications received on or after the date.

When deciding between a new unit and one with planter boxes and bay windows, a buyer may perceive the latter to be worth less than the former, assuming they are of the same size, said Mr Tan.

'A consumer will view a unit with full GFA of 1,300 sq ft as being worth more than a 1,300 sq ft unit with 1,150 sq ft of GFA and 150 sq ft of non-GFA area, although both will be listed as having the same strata area of 1,300 sq ft.'

Fake Landlord Cheats Expat Of $1,400

Source : The Electric New Paper, July 15, 2008

He's not only victim who paid man deposit to rent Farrer Park flat

HE fell in love with the flat the moment he saw it - so much so that he signed a tenancy agreement on the spot.

Mr Bhattacharjee and his wife liked the flat so much, he signed the tenancy agreement that very day. -- Picture: CHOO CHWEE HUA

But perhaps, he was a tad too hasty in making the decision.

Now, Indian national Rohan Bhattacharjee, who is in Singapore on an employment pass, is $1,400 poorer.

The money was for a rental deposit on a two-room flat at Farrer Park.

But two days before he was due to move in, Mr Bhattacharjee's 'landlord' disappeared.

Mr Bhattacharjee, 27, has been unable to contact the man since. The New Paper understands that the 'landlord' Mr Bhattacharjee dealt with is not the owner of the flat.

Mr Bhattacharjee, who came to Singapore in 2004, previously rented a room in a three-room flat in Bukit Batok. He is here with his wife, 19, also an Indian national.

On 23 May, he saw a newspaper advertisement offering the Farrer Park unit for rent. He decided to view the flat four days later as it was nearer his workplace at City Hall.

He works in a law firm as a clients liaison manager.


He said of the flat: 'It was clean and well-furnished. It was also big enough for my parents to stay if they visit me from India.'

The monthly rent of $1,600 was reasonable, he thought.

Though he had other viewing appointments for other units, he and his wife were so happy with the Farrer Park flat they signed the tenancy agreement immediately.

Mr Bhattacharjee paid the 'landlord', whom he described as a man in his early 30s, a deposit of $1,400. They arranged to meet on 13Jun to settle the $200 balance and for Mr Bhattacharjee to get the keys.

But on that day, the 'landlord' did not show up for their meeting at the flat. His handphone was turned off when Mr Bhattacharjee called.

He could not reach the man for the next two days either.

On 15Jun, Mr Bhattacharjee left a note for the man on the door of the flat, asking the latter to call him.

The next day, he got a call, but not from the 'landlord'. Instead, it was a fellow Indian national, who told him he was working here as a doctor.

Mr Bhattacharjee said: 'He told me he also signed a tenancy agreement with the same man.'

They met the next day and the other man showed Mr Bhattacharjee his agreement.

'He signed it one day after I did!' Mr Bhattacharjee said.

After advising the man to make a police report, Mr Bhattacharjee did so himself the next day. The police said they are investigating the matter.

Mr Bhattacharjee said he did not hear from the other man again and has lost his contact number.

But they may not be the only victims.

A neighbour who lives next to the Farrer Park unit, who gave his name only as Mr Feng, told The New Paper that five different men had turned up at the flat within a week.

'They told me they rented the flat and were looking for the owner. They showed me photos of the man from whom they rented the flat.'

But Mr Feng, who moved into his flat only at the start of July, did not recognise the man in the photos.

'I met a man who told me he was the flat's owner and he does not look like the man in the picture. I don't think it is the same person.'

Mr Bhattacharjee said: 'I think the man (with whom I signed the tenancy agreement) could have been a tenant.'

He said he has given up hope of getting his money back and has deleted the man's number from his handphone.

'What can I do? I will take it that I lost my wallet with $1,400 inside,' he said.

When The New Paper visited the flat on 4 Jul, no one came to the door.

We saw an orange plastic bag wedged between the door and the gate. But it was gone when we went back three days later. We went again two days later and still, no one was home.

Mr Bhattacharjee is now renting a room in a Bendemeer flat and said he would go through an agent the next time he wants to rent a flat.

He said: 'Even if I find the man, I may not get my money back. I just want to share my story so others can be careful.'

Fiona Liaw, newsroom intern

Outlook Bright For Singapore Economy? Yes, But...

Sourc : The Straits Times, July 15, 2008

Analysts share MM Lee's upbeat forecast but fear inflation and global slowdown would be spoilers

SINGAPORE'S transformation into an international cosmopolitan city will help keep the economy buzzing in the medium to long term.

But analysts, while generally backing Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's bullish view of the economy, warned that the good times may be some time coming.

They said rising inflation and slowing global growth were casting a shadow over the immediate outlook.

Mr Lee said last Friday that the next five to 10 years will be the most promising in Singapore's history, adding that gross domestic product (GDP) growth could reach 7 to 8 per cent in years when the world was not in recession.

His optimism stemmed from efforts to make Singapore a vibrant city where talented people from around the world would want to live.

It is a campaign that is already luring massive investments in buildings and services that the influx of 'foreign talent' will need.

'I share Mr Lee's optimism that for the medium to long term, Singapore's economic outlook is bright,' said Action Economics economist David Cohen.

'The economy is an attractive location for international businesses looking to establish operations in the region and as the region paces global economic growth, Singapore should be able to ride that wave.'

Economists said efforts to restructure the economy are starting to pay off, pointing to how resilience in the services and construction sectors is helping to shield Singapore from the ongoing turmoil in the world economy.

Key to these is the opening up of borders to foreign talent. The influx of foreigners working and living here will lead to investments in services to cater to their needs, they said.

This would help build up the domestic economy and wean Singapore off its heavy dependence on external demand.

'It's very healthy to step back to look at the forest, rather than the short-term cycles,' said Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho.

'With talent now coming here from every corner of the earth, there's going to be a bigger diversity of needs and wants for restaurants, shops and other services.'

He reckoned that Mr Lee's longer-term GDP estimate is reasonable, noting that the economy grew 7.7 per cent last year, and that even after a strong 2006.

Other analysts were more circumspect, including Dr Chua Hak Bin of Deutsche Bank's private banking arm, who said '7 to 8 per cent is a bit high for me'.

'Last year's GDP growth was on a cyclical high. Over the next decade, an average of 5 per cent would be a decent achievement,' he said.

He warned that while the current slowdown is cyclical, it may be some time before things return to normal, noting that similar crises in Japan and Scandinavia have lasted several years.

'Global conditions are not going to be as conducive as they were in the last five years. We're not just facing a credit crunch but stagflation risks from higher oil prices.'

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng said Singapore's restructuring can reduce 'cyclical pain' but cannot completely offset it.

'A lot of the optimism over the remaking of Singapore is overdone and overplayed.

'The fundamental paradigm for Singapore and Asia is that their fortunes still depend in a large extent on the global economy.'

Condo Sales At Showflats Tapering Off

Source : The Business Times, July 15, 2008

One developer blames Livia's pricing for 'spoiling' other projects' sales

WHILE City Developments managed to sell 96 units last week at its Livia condo at Pasir Ris, developers of most other projects suffered rapidly declining sales at their showflats.

Woodsville 28: When Frasers Centrepoint previews its project this weekend, the stakes for nearby Kovan Residences are expected to go up

At least one developer blamed Livia's attractive pricing - $650 psf on average - for 'spoiling' sales of other projects, while others said a tapering off was to be expected given negative news flows from overseas on the state of the financial and stock markets.

Developers and property agents generally reported still strong turnouts at showflats last weekend, although take-up slowed.

Sim Lian sold 19 units last week at its Clover By The Park condo in Bishan, less than the 59-unit sales it achieved in the preceding week. To date, Sim Lian has sold 273 of the total 616 units in the project. 'That's almost 45 per cent of a large project in just three weeks; that's quite an achievement given current market sentiment,' Sim Lian Group executive director Diana Kuik said when approached by BT.

The 99-year leasehold project's average price remains at $750 psf.

Sim Lian also sold a unit at The Amery, a freehold project in the Telok Kurau area, last week - again a less sparkling performance than the four units it sold a week earlier.

Next to Geylang River, NTUC Choice Homes and Ho Bee found buyers for another nine units at Dakota Residences last weekend. This brings total sales to 170 units in the 99-year project, which has an average price of about $980 psf.

Over in the Kovan MRT Station vicinity, the developer of Kovan Residences sold about 20 units last week, bringing total sales to over 100 units since the 99-year project was previewed at a private party on June 28. The average price is somewhere in the $870-900 psf range. Nearby, MCL Land sold another three units at its D-Pavilion, a freehold project priced at $900 psf on average last week. This was a slower sales rate than initial sales of 10 units the preceding weekend.

The stakes will go up for these two developers when Frasers Centrepoint previews this weekend its Woodsville 28 near Potong Pasir MRT Station - which is three MRT stops closer to town than Kovan MRT Station.

The 110-unit condo will have an average price of $880 psf. The 99-year leasehold development comprises two 17-storey blocks.

'The two- and three-bedder units, with respective average sizes of 883 sq ft and 1,195 sq ft, are about 5 to 6 per cent smaller than conventional units as we've adjusted our sizes to fit the profile of the market we're targeting - those just starting their families or young couples who want to stay near the city and even retirees.

'Two-bedroom apartments start at $700,000 and three-bedders from just over $1 million,' says Frasers Centrepoint Homes chief operating officer Cheang Kok Kheong.

CDL's spokeswoman said Livia saw strong take-up of various unit types last week, especially two- and three-bedders. 'The four-bedroom apartments were purchased either for owner occupation or rental potential in view of United World College's East Campus coming up in the vicinity.

'The project's average price remains $650 psf, with prices for certain unit types and facing being upped by 1-3 per cent for the latest release of 120 units last weekend,' she added.

The 96 units sold at Livia last week contrasted with sales of 160 units in the preceding week when CDL previewed the 99-year leasehold project, resulting in total sales of 256 units. So far, 320 of the condo's total 724 units have been released.

A veteran property consultant said: 'Crowds were generally still very good at showflats last weekend, though take-up has slowed. In any development, demand for 30-40 per cent of units comes from the surrounding population catchment. Usually that's the case, good or bad times.

'Once sales in a project launch hits a certain percentage from this catchment demand, developers have to attract people from other parts of Singapore. That's a tougher job, with a lot more convincing to be done compared with selling to people who already know the area.'

Another problem is that buyers are unsure of the property market's direction. 'Even when there are attractively priced projects, potential buyers worry if property prices will go down further. They also ask themselves whether they really need to upgrade; they worry about the economy and their jobs. The bad news coming out from financial institutions in the US is a big concern,' a property agent said.

On a more positive note, Sim Lian's Ms Kuik said: 'If you have a good product in a location where there's a pool of buyers and if your pricing is reasonable, there will be take-up.'