The 8th round of property cooling measures announced by MAS on 28th June is intended to be a long-term one, put in place not just to tackle the current market situation, but to maintain prudent credit controls in the years to come.
I think at this point it would be timely to remind ourselves why Singapore’s government is so fixated on avoiding a property bubble. Sure, housing affordability is always of certain political significance in any country, but I struggle to think of any other nation where the government is quite so heavily involved in the property market. Having chosen to take on the mantle of providing public housing to over 80% of the population for all these decades and being so closely involved in the control of the private housing market too, it is unsurprising that the electorate considers the health of the housing market a key element when assessing their overall satisfaction with the ruling party’s performance.
As Minister Khaw has pointed out previously, he faces the delicate task of balancing the public’s call for affordable housing, with the need to maintain stable property prices to protect the interests of many Singaporeans whose homes and real estate holdings represent the bulk of their total net assets. Thus in the government’s efforts to provide affordable public housing, they must at the same time avoid a property crash at all costs.
The main focus thus far has been on beefing up rules and regulations: hiking stamp duties imposed on buyers and sellers, and reducing the availability of financing by lowering loan-to-value ceilings, restricting loan tenures, and general tightening of credit controls. But as any honest draftsman or legislator would be able to tell you, it is near impossible to draft a completely watertight book of rules without becoming unwieldy and impractical to implement. And in any case, is there substantive proof that heavy regulatory control is better at maintaining a stable market than free market forces?
An increasingly complex, convoluted series of rules and regulations governing the property market certainly poses a challenge for layperson consumers seeking to purchase or deal with their property holdings. I believe it would be helpful to take a look at trends that have been taking place both in Singapore and other cities for alternative means of coping with rising home prices. Continue reading “Affordable homes in Singapore? Looking beyond cooling measures.”→
MAS has just announced the introduction of a debt servicing ratio framework, with effect from tomorrow, 29 June 2013.
Whilst the cap of 60% on debt servicing ratios (monthly debt obligations versus monthly income) is not something drastically different from banks’ current practices, my focus would be the impact of the following restrictions:-
borrowers named on a property loan must now also be mortgagors (ie. co-owners) of the residential property for which the loan is taken;
“guarantors” who are standing guarantee for borrowers otherwise assessed by the bank at the point of application for the housing loan not to meet the TDSR threshold for a property loan are to be brought in as co-borrowers (and therefore, must also become co-owners); and
With personal income tax capped at a modest 20% and no capital-gains tax, it’s unsurprising that Singapore has become a magnet for wealth around the region. In a recent survey of 1,000 mobile millionaires, Singapore was deemed the most desirable place to call home in Asia – billionaires Richard Chandler and Eduardo Saverin are amongst the notable individuals who have chosen Singapore as their home-away-from-home.
According to Boston Consulting Group’s 2012 Global Wealth Report, Singapore has the world’s highest density of millionaire households at 17.1% or 188,000 households. At the same time, its popularity as an offshore banking hub is also growing in leaps and bounds, with wealth under management set to overtake Switzerland by 2020. Switzerland currently manages some $2.8trillion in assets, whereas Singapore has seen assets under management grow from just $50billion in 2000, to $550billion by end-2011.
It is somewhat counter-intuitive then that Singapore’s luxury property market has performed dismally in recent years, particularly when the property market as a whole has had a spectacular run. One could blame it all on the whopping 15% additional buyer’s stamp duty payable by foreigners, but ABSD was initially introduced only in December 2011 and raised only recently in January 2013, whereas the luxury market has been slow since the financial crisis of 2008, never recovering its shine unlike the mass-market sector which experienced a rapid rebound beyond previous highs. Sales of non-landed homes above S$5M screeched to a halt between October 2008 to March 2009, and barely hit 400 transactions in the whole of 2012. In 2007, there were more than triple that number of transactions, at a time when there was a lot less money and a lot more exciting alternative investment options competing for a share of the pie.
Market naysayers claim that cheap financing has resulted in hot money, which has in turn created an unsustainable property bubble. While I constantly remind young, first-time home buyers not to overstretch their budgets by projecting affordability on the basis on today’s abnormally low interest rates, the continued upward march of property prices here was certainly not due to low interest rates alone. In any case, with the various phases of loan-to-value and loan tenure restrictions introduced since February 2010, the capacity for interest rates to create heat in the property investment market has been brought down to a minimum. (After the latest cooling measures in January 2013, the maximum loan-to-value in certain situations is a mere 20%.)
And so, when a property agent friend recently asked me for my opinion on whether she should advise her home-buyer client to “wait for property prices to drop”, I responded with a question in kind, “how long can she wait?” If you ask me for my honest opinion, today’s market is indeed a challenging one for buyers seeking an investment unit in the residential sector, and it takes a sharp eye to spot a gem worth surmounting the ABSD payable(there ARE such gems out there, I can personally vouch for that!). However, for those without a home to their names hoping to eventually get out of the rental cycle, I silently worry when they confide that they are waiting for prices to drop. (I stay silent in such cases, as my policy is never to give unsolicited advice, the opinions shared on this blog are for you to consider only if you choose to.)
After murmurs on the subject have been rippling through the market for weeks, I believe the move to further restrict Mortgage Servicing Ratios (MSR) on private residential property is on the cards over the coming week, possibly as early as tomorrow.
According to multiple sources, MSRs are likely to be brought down from the current 30-60% to just 30-40%. To illustrate what this means in practical terms, let’s take the example of a $1.5M property:-
A $1.5M home with 30-year, 80% loan-to-value housing loan of $1.2M at an interest rate of 1.5%p.a. ($4,141.44 monthly installment) would previously require a monthly income of $10,353.60 to support a 40% MSR threshold. When MSR is reduced to 30%, a corresponding one-third increment is monthly income is necessary to support the same loan.($13,804.80/month). Alternatively, the buyer with a $10,000/mth income would need to reduce his loan to $900K and either come up with more cash or assuming he maintains his cash/CPF downpayment at $300K, shift his sights toward properties $1.2M or below.