News

Will flat prices ever reCOVer?

tnp@sph.com.sg

Over the past year, she viewed more than 100 flats in Punggol before she found the perfect home.

The spacious five-room flat was a steal because it was offered at $495,000, below valuation by a whopping $60,000.

On top of that, it is surrounded by sprawling greenery and is just minutes away from the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway.

The new owner of the flat, who wanted to be known as Ms A. Lee, is in her 50s and lives with her maid. She is single and her mother died 1½ years ago. She sealed the deal in December last year.

Ms Lee was adamant about living in Punggol because of her familiarity with the area. The general manager of an SME had moved from a four-room flat just a few blocks away. She had wanted to move to a bigger home.

She declined to reveal the exact amount but said that her previous flat was sold for about $460,000 and $17,000 below valuation.

PropNex property agent Ray Sim, who helped to sell the flat to Ms Lee, admitted that he was shocked at the price of the flat.

UNUSUAL

Mr Sim said: "This transaction is unusual and definitely does not reflect the current market. Usually people sell their flats $20,000 or $30,000 below valuation at most."

He explained that the price dipped so drastically because the flat had been on the market for seven months.

At least 20 prospective buyers had seen the flat in the three weeks before it was sold to Ms Lee.

Mr Sim added that the seller wanted to move to Penang urgently and lowered the price to make the fourth-storey unit more attractive.

She had wanted to sell the nine-year-old unit at valuation - $555,000.

Ms Lee had been eager to buy the flat also because her workplace, a mall and many eateries are easy to reach from there.

The block also has a rooftop garden, barbecue pits and a multi-storey carpark which is linked to her level.

Although Ms Lee had to pay a bit more to upgrade from her old flat to her current one, she is pleased with her new home.

"I moved in just before Chinese New Year and invited my relatives over because my home is more spacious now. My colleagues hope to come over for a barbecue soon."

While Ms Lee's case is unusual, the cash-over-valuation (COV) has been on the decline in recent months.

Last month, median COV fell to $3,000 - its lowest since the 2009 financial crisis. Almost 30 per cent of HDB resale deals closed below valuation.

According to the Singapore Real Estate Exchange, Punggol was not the only HDB town that was hit by cases of negative COV.

Last month, a total of eight estates had a zero or negative median COV.

Property analyst Nicholas Mak said he expects median COV to remain between zero and $5,000 for the rest of the year. "Zero or low COV is a sign that the HDB resale prices are stabilising at a low rate of change.

"In 2014, HDB resale market participants need to get used to the new reality that low or zero COV will become increasingly common."

'COMBINATION' OF FACTORS BEHIND TREND

A total of 24 estates had units that were sold with a COV below valuation last month.

Sengkang and Punggol led the drop in the cash-over-valuation, with more than half of their resale deals transacted below valuation.

Jurong West, located at the outskirts, had 23 units sold below valuation last month, the most number of cases in Singapore.

Sengkang was second, with 16 units, according to figures from the Singapore Real Estate Exchange.

A combination of factors has led to the trend of low COV, said property analyst Nicholas Mak.

COOLING MEASURES

They are the surge of supply of build-to-order (BTO) flats as well as resale flats from sellers who are collecting the keys to a new property, and the latest cooling measure - in which resale flat buyers who take HDB loans can now only use up to 30 per cent of their gross monthly income to repay their loans, down from 35 per cent - that curbed the borrowing power of buyers.

PropNex property agent Alvin Koh, who handled a recent case of a Sengkang flat that sold for $10,000 below valuation, said that some sellers might have no choice but to sell their current flats because they are getting the keys to their new BTO flats.

Crest One Realty property agent Robin Goh said that some of these sellers might have been forced to sell off their flats to settle debts.

"Honestly, who would want to sell their flats now unless they are really desperate? It's really market mati (Malay for die) now."