Is the time ripe to lift property cooling measures?

IT IS clear from a visit to showflats that the property market is a pale shadow of itself from a year ago, when the boom was in full swing.

Back then, agents streamed in with home seekers in tow, cost no object, amid shouts of "sold" resonating through the showroom as units were snapped up.

As developer Roxy-Pacific Holdings' chief executive Teo Hong Lim put it: "It's not like the good old days when you put up a project and it sells by itself."

If sales at newly launched projects are bad, they are worse in the resale market.

The number of resale condos and apartments that changed hands in the first quarter of this year plummeted 55 per cent to only 899 units from the same period a year ago, according to Knight Frank data.

"Nothing is easy to sell now, to be frank," said agent Alvin Ong.

"Before the measures, it took two to three months to sell a unit. Now it takes seven to eight months just to talk a buyer into seeing it." Mr Ong used to focus on resale properties, and now markets new launches instead.

But developers at least have the financial muscle to lure buyers with discounts, and are offering higher sales incentives to the agents.

A year of adjustments

INDUSTRY players describe the market as "slow" and "challenging". That's no surprise, coming after seven rounds of cooling measures, as well as additional loan curbs and structural lending reforms.

It has been a year since the loan framework, or the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR), was implemented.

This is often cited by analysts as the single move that has had the largest impact in reining in property demand.

That and the other killer move - the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) - managed to halt runaway demand.

The TDSR stipulates that banks must take into account a borrower's total debt obligations, including other mortgages, car loans and credit card debts, before a new loan can be granted.

Restricting a borrower's total obligations to not more than 60 per cent of gross monthly income has tied buyers' hands.

The effects are evident: In the first five months of this year, sales of new homes fell 52 per cent to 3,984 units from the same period a year ago.

Developers, faced with the risk of unsold units weighing on their balance sheets, have moved to entice buyers with discounts.

CapitaLand, for instance, managed to shift 80 units the day it relaunched the 509-unit Sky Habitat project in Bishan, at prices about 10 per cent to 15 per cent lower than at its initial launch two years ago.

But slashing prices can only go so far, as buyers baulk at stumping up huge sums to pay the ABSD.

Ship technical superintendent James Yeap, 41, who wanted to invest in a two-bedder, said the thought of forking out "an absurd amount" of money was hard to get over.

For him, it meant coughing up more than $170,000 in stamp duties since he already owns a Housing Board flat and private condo unit.

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