Week in Review – 17 June 2016

Local Property News
Local residential sales volume spikes in May 
Transactions of private homes in May rose 41.7 per cent month-on-month to a 10-month high. Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) data showed sales of 1,056 private homes, excluding executive condominiums (ECs) – an increase of 64 per cent year-on-year. The high volume of sales comes after developers increased private home launches to 1,345 units last month, up from 902 in April, and 500 last May. Of the 1,056 units sold, the Rest of Central Region (RCR) area accounted for more than half of total sales with 582 transactions, while the Outside Central Region (OCR) saw 414 transactions. The remaining 60 homes were sold in the Core Central Region (CCR).
The best performer was Gem Residences at Toa Payoh, selling more than half of its units launched (312 out of 578 homes) at a median price of S$1,431 per square foot. Investors made up the bulk of sales, targeting 1 and 2 bedroom units at the Toa Payoh development, according to Eugene Lim, Key Executive Officer of ERA. Developments located near MRT stations, such as The Poiz Residences, Sturdee Residences, and The Panorama were more popular among buyers. Stars of Kovan along Upper Serangoon Road did well too, managing to sell 76 out of the available 180 units.
Analysts expect developers’ sales this year to exceed the 7,400 homes sold last year; developers are likely to be aggressively driving sales over the next few months due to approaching extension charges. Month-on-month sales volume for ECs dropped 39 per cent to 332 units, with no ECs being launched in the month. However, analysts expect the segment to look up in the coming months with projects such as Northwave and Treasure Crest due to be launched.
Prime property sold at huge discounts as developers rush to avoid extension charges
A UOB Kay Hian report indicates that developers have taken to offering attractive discounts for prime residential units to avoid substantial extension charges. Ardmore Three at Tanglin by Wheelock Properties and Gramercy Park by City Developments were highlighted in the report as examples of such projects. At Ardmore Three, buyers are given a discount of up to 30 per cent with Wheelock Properties’ recent implementation of an ABSD Assistance package that offers an additional 13 to 15 per cent discount, supplementing a current 15 per cent discount. The additional discount has been effective in driving the sales of 40 more units at the project, compared to just seven units sold in March this year. The most affordable units were sold at about S$2,560 per square foot after discounts. The average selling price per square foot of the private development is at S$2,800, a huge drop from the initial marketed price of between S$3,000 and S$4,000 per square foot. 
For Gramercy Park units, additional discounts of up to 18 per cent were offered by City Developments (CDL), on top of an existing two per cent discount. However, the price reduction has only driven the sale of six to seven homes at Gramercy Park, with CDL saying it does not intend to give further discounts. UOB Kay Hian suggested that the difference in uptake between the two developments could be due to Ardmore Three being deemed as having better discounts, while a discount of 30 per cent at Gramercy Park may drive more interest in the project.
OrangeTee Research: Farrer Park site to be vied over by developers
The upcoming Farrer Park site in Perumal Road released in the Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme for the second half of this year is likely to be hotly contested, with at least 10 to 20 bids from developers. OrangeTee Research stated in a report that the site’s location, size, and proximity to the Farrer Park MRT station are desirable factors for developers. The site, which is opposite City Square Mall, will also be a draw for buyers should prices be attractive. OrangeTee expects that the winning bid will be between S$830 and S$890 per square foot per plot ratio. The report stated that other GLS sites in Upper Serangoon Road, Fernvale, and Westcoast Vale will also see keen interest from developers. 

Decline of Singapore’s industrial property persists
Industrial production in Singapore has been falling since 2010 and further contracted 5.1 per cent in 2015 year-on-year, negatively affecting the industrial property market. Following a 4.8 per cent fall in industrial property prices in 2015, prices continued to decline in Q1 2016. Overall rentals of industrial properties also dropped 5.1 per cent year-on-year and 2.7 per cent quarter-on-quarter in Q1 2016, according to data released by JTC. Rentals of multiple-user factory space fell by five per cent in the West and Northeast regions, while other regions experienced a drop between 0.8 to 3.6 per cent. 
Although the government has introduced measures to boost industrial production, high vacancy rates persisted. At the end of March, 12.7 per cent of multi-user and 8.1 per cent of single-user factories were vacant. Similarly, 18.3 per cent of business parks and 9.6 per cent of warehouses were unoccupied. Despite the high vacancy rates, 4.2 million square metres of factory space and 1.4 million square metres of warehouse space are expected to be completed by 2020, according to JTC data. 
According to the Singapore Economic Development Board’s Survey of Business Expectations of the Manufacturing Sector, over 71 per cent of manufacturers are expecting business conditions to remain poor for the coming quarters. Thus, prices and rental rates in the industrial property sector is expected to fall by seven to 10 per cent in 2016, according to Colliers International.

Indonesians and Mainland Chinese dominate prime home purchases in Q1 2016
More foreign buyers purchased homes in Singapore in the first quarter of 2016, according to a DTZ report. There was an increase of 5.4 per cent from Q4 2015 to Q1 2016 in the number of foreign buyers, with more than before purchasing properties in the S$2 million to S$3 million price range. Indonesians and Mainland Chinese made more luxury home purchases in Q1 2016 in comparison with Q4 2015. In Q1 2016, 41 homes in districts 9, 10, and 11 were sold to Indonesians, up from 23 in the previous quarter. Mainland Chinese home purchases in the same districts rose from 17 in Q4 2015 to 25 in Q1 2016. Overall sales to Indian, Malaysian, and Mainland Chinese buyers dipped 15 to 20 per cent, while sales to Indonesian buyers increased to 72 units, a 12.5 per cent rise. 

Cooling measures may see easing now that car loans are relaxed
Car loans were eased last month by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), with a raise in the loan-to-value ratios and extension of borrowing tenure from five to seven years. The changes were significant for Singapore, which is known for limiting car ownership with certificate of entitlement (COE) requirements. A CNBC article reported that the easing of car loans has prompted analysts to speculate that cooling measures for the property industry may be similarly relaxed. 
Credit Suisse expects property cooling policies to be tweaked by the end of the year, with the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) being removed first. Meanwhile, DBS analysts believe that it would be “premature” to assume that cooling measures will be removed soon, citing the modest decline of the Property Price Index – a mere 9.4 per cent dip from its peak – with prices still 40 per cent above that of the troughs in 2009. DBS analysts believe a further 13 to 15 per cent drop in home prices is required before the government will consider tweaking cooling measures. 
Nonetheless, the slowdown of the property market does not look set to last – while new property of about 35,000 private homes is expected to enter the market within the next four years, supply will dwindle in future with less than 4,000 units expected to enter the market in 2020. Home prices are also projected to fall by about five to eight per cent this year as extension charges loom ahead in 2017 for foreign developers with unsold housing units, according to analysts at CIMB. Heavy discounts on these units are also predicted. 
Global Property News

Mapletree acquires prime mixed-use property in Saigon CBD 
Mapletree Investments has acquired Kumho Asiana Plaza Saigon in District 1 of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City at S$400 million. The mixed-use development yields almost 146,000 square meters of gross floor area and comes with a 21-storey Grade A office building with a serviced apartment tower and 21-storey hotel. The property was described as a “rare asset” by Hiew Yoon Khong, CEO of Mapletree, due to its huge size, various prime units that serve different uses, and prime central location. With the addition of the newly acquired Saigon development, Mapletree now possesses over S$1 billion in Vietnam assets since its venture into the country 11 years ago. At the same time, Mapletree is also constructing Saigon South Place, a 4.4-hectare mixed-use project located along Nguyen Van Linh Boulevard in District 7’s Tan Phong Ward. A 30,000 square meter Grade A office tower within the project is slated for completion by the end of the year while construction of an internationally-operated serviced apartment building and a residential block will soon commence, slated for completion by early 2018. 
Westpac and ANZ tighten mortgage lending to foreigners
Westpac New Zealand and ANZ have tightened mortgage lending to foreigners. Westpac will turn away foreign borrowers who are paying off their mortgages with non-local income, and will only lend to temporary residents who have a local residence and are earning their keep locally, according to Westpac’s spokeswoman in an e-mail to Reuters. The bank has previously lowered the acceptable loan-to-value ratio for domestic borrowers with overseas income from 85 per cent to 70 per cent.  Meanwhile, ANZ will only lend to foreigners using non-local income to live in the purchased homes, according to their spokesperson. 
The clamping down of lending to foreign property investors in New Zealand comes after Westpac Australia and ANZ in Australia tightened foreign mortgage lending in recent months. The growth rate of home prices in New Zealand is second in the world, behind Qatar, according to the International Monetary Fund. Combined with its low interest rates, the attractive migration destination has drawn many global investors and new residents alike. 

Penang pre-war shophouses threatened by influx of foreign investors
Rental prices of pre-war shophouses in the heritage district of George Town have increased drastically as a result of foreign buyers and investors – mainly Singaporeans.  Foreign investors purchase multiple units, refurbish the shophouses, and lease them out at rates more than 500 per cent above previous prices. For instance, rental prices of shophouses near Komtar-end of Jalan Pintal Tali have increased from RM1,300 to as high as RM10,000 after refurbishment. This has caused George Town Heritage Action, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO), to lobby for the implementation of rent control so that existing businesses and residents will not be forced to relocate. The co-founder of George Town Heritage Action Mark Lay told The Star Malaysia that the law would be similar to the Rent Control Act 1966 that was removed in 1997. According to Mr Lay, such a law is required to stop heritage property rents from being inflated, as well as to help preserve the characteristics of George Town. He added: “We know it is legal and on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis, but this economic growth can erode George Town’s heritage. We want public discussion on this to get Penangites to think about what is happening.” 
UK currency and home prices to fall with Brexit
The sterling dropped to an eight-week low last week as the decision on Brexit looms ahead in the June 23 European Union (EU) referendum. It fell to US$1.4116 on June 13, the lowest since April 14’s low of US$1.4091. Four separate polls conducted by different companies reveal an increasing “Leave” sentiment, prompting the one-month volatility gauge to reach its highest point in eight years. For the first time in almost four years, a majority of property valuers polled by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) expect a decline in UK property prices in the following three months. The drop in house prices may also be attributed to the newly implemented tax on buy-to-let properties and second-time home owners. Other tell-tale signs of real estate market stagnation include a drop in mortgage lending in April at the Bank of England to the lowest level since 2012. 
RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn, however, said that this was only a forecast of a temporary dip in prices which does not indicate a permanent shift in trends. Valuers at RICS projected annual growth in home prices to exceed four per cent over the coming five years. A Reuters economists poll revealed an expected growth of home prices by about five percent this year and 4.1 per cent in the following year should “Remain” emerge triumphant, and a 3.8 per cent growth in prices and zero the following year should “Leave” come out victorious next week. 

New South Wales joins Victoria in imposing further restrictions on foreign property buyers
New South Wales (NSW) has become the second state in Australia after Victoria to implement a property stamp duty on foreigners. The most populated state in the country intends to put a four per cent stamp duty in place from June 21, and an additional 0.75 per cent tax surcharge for foreign buyers starting 2017, according to New South Wales Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian. This comes after an announcement in April by the Victorian government to increase the stamp duty surcharge on foreign purchases from three to seven per cent, starting from July 1. The additional stamp duty implemented in NSW, on top of a mandatory buyer stamp duty, is projected to raise at least A$1 billion in four years. The existing stamp duty of A$40,490 is applicable for all buyers purchasing properties above A$1 million. Buyers are also charged 4.5 percent of the value exceeding A$1 million.
The stamp duty comes in response to increased demand from Chinese property investors, which have contributed to record housing prices – Sydney’s median home prices have almost doubled since the end of 2008, while the median home prices in Melbourne have risen 60 per cent in the same period, according to CoreLogic Inc. 
Tony Sherlock, a Sydney-based analyst at Morningstar, told Bloomberg that the tax is unlikely to have a heavy impact on global investors as they tend to have a longer-term outlook. However, Mr Sherlock noted that the changes will affect investors who intend to purchase buy-to-let homes, as the taxes will reduce revenue. According to the Foreign Investment Review Board’s annual report, Chinese investors spent A$24.3 billion between June 2014 and June 2015, almost doubling the A$12.4 billion spent in the same period the year prior. 
Singapore 2nd in the world for green buildings
Singapore is second only to Paris for its green building performance – judged based on its total number of green buildings, efficiency, initiatives, and the capacity of infrastructure to facilitate green practices, according to a White Paper published by Solidiance this month. Buildings were cited as being the largest consumers of energy in the world, contributing to 40 per cent of global energy use and about 30 per cent of emissions in its cities – highlighting the importance of the real estate industry taking up more environmental awareness and responsibility.
Terri Willis, CEO of World Green Building Council UK, said: “Singapore can certainly be considered a leader in the field of green building.” This was in response to its commitments to turn 80 per cent of its built-stock green by 2030, with the implementation of aggressive policies and targets to reach that goal. Examples include a blanket Building Control Act that was implemented eight years ago requiring buildings to minimally achieve a certified rank in the Green Mark Scheme, the local green building certification system. Six years later, more than a quarter of Singapore’s buildings were green. London came in third in the global green cities ranking. Newcomers Beijing, Dubai, and Shanghai made their debut on the list this year – fruit of their green efforts that began six years ago.