Just to recap, in my previous post, I discussed the risk of additional cooling measures for the property market, which I think is low due to the demography of the people who are actually pushing up the housing prices here. In this post, I shall discuss leverage and interest rate risk.
Risk 2: Risk of US-style housing defaults due to falling prices
A primary cause of the housing crisis in the US is the high leverage that homeowners there have on their property. Leverage means the use of loans to finance purchases of assets. Leverage is good in the sense that you’re using OPM (Other People’s Money) to buy your property, which can significantly increase your return on capital. It also allows you to borrow money cheaply against your home’s equity. However, using loans requires you to pledge your property to the bank as collateral, and in the event that market value falls way below the loan amount, then the bank has the right to ask you to pay down a portion of your outstanding loan. If you were not able to comply, the bank has the right to take over your property and sell it in the market to recover their loan. Although you will get any excess after the bank and CPF board are paid, the amount is typically very little, if any, since this usually happens at the worst time when the market is down. Buyers of such properties are looking to buy at fire-sale prices, and the bank’s main concern is to cover their loan, rather than to try to get a good price for the property, so transaction prices tend to be low.