Photographer: Darren Soh/Bloomberg

Is Singapore's Property Slump Finally Ending?: QuickTake Q&A

Singapore home prices have ground steadily lower since reaching a record in 2013, when the government imposed the last of a slew of measures to cool a red-hot market. Authorities in the Southeast Asian island-state loosened some of those restrictions in March, raising speculation that the end was nigh for the cooling measures -- and those falling prices. Transaction volumes have certainly perked up and real estate shares are on a tear.

1. How long have home prices been dropping?

For 15 straight quarters. However, the latest decline in that record run was a mere 0.1 percent in April to June from the previous quarter. That’s the smallest drop since the retreat in prices began. Home values are down about 12 percent since 2013, but there are signs of a turnaround: Residential sales jumped by 64 percent in the first half of 2017.

2. What about those cooling measures?

The March changes were a case of minor tweaks, such as imposing stamp duty only if a seller had owned the property for three years or less, down from four years. Singapore’s central bank said in June that it’s not yet time to ease property curbs and the adjustments made by the government in March didn’t signal an unwinding of the measures.

3. Why did the market ignite in the first place?

Singapore has one of the world’s highest rates of home ownership at 90 percent. It’s also a popular investment destination for neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, not to mention nations further afield including China. From mid-2009 to the 2013 peak, home prices jumped more than 60 percent. The government began imposing restrictions as speculative buying surged, from home and abroad, backed by the availability of cheap money as a result of global central bank monetary easing.

4. How did Singapore cool the market?

Through waves of increasingly harsh limits on buying, selling and financing. The toughest policies -- "macro-prudential" in economist speak -- included an extra 10 percent stamp duty for foreign buyers in 2011, raised to 15 percent in 2013. Purchases by foreigners had jumped to almost one-fifth of total sales at one stage in 2011. Also in 2013, limits were set on what proportion of an individual’s income could be used to service debt and a mortgage.

5. Doesn’t this tune sound familiar?

Vancouver, Sydney and Hong Kong are among real-estate markets that have also taken measures to control tearaway prices.

6. What’s happened to Singapore’s property stocks?

They are heading for their best annual performance in five years, reflecting the brighter mood in the real estate scene following years of increasingly strict residential market controls backed by government assertions that there was no need to reverse course. The bullishness also reflects an expected decline in vacancy rates over the next few years.

7. Is the property party about to return?

It’s too early to say, but the oversupply of new properties that has characterized the past few years is coming to an end. Still, Singapore remains Asia’s most expensive city for luxury homes after Hong Kong, according to Knight Frank. And analysts note the easing in March was aimed at sellers, with nothing to improve the buyer’s lot. Some think that may come next. Bloomberg Gadfly’s Andy Mukherjee argues that more substantial easing is on the way as Singapore interest rates rise in tandem with the U.S., heaping more pressure on the property market.

8. Anything else to note?

In another sign that the turnaround is gathering pace, there’s been a rebirth of one of the markers of Singapore property booms: the en-bloc sale. These are redevelopment deals in which a group of owners band together to sell entire apartment blocks at a hefty premium. Add to that, Singapore investors are shunning overseas properties and choosing instead to buy at home, the Business Times reported, citing Knight Frank data.

The Reference Shelf

  • Bloomberg reports on diverging property strategies in Hong Kong and Singapore.
  • Statement on the March 10, 2017, review in property measures.
  • QuickTake Q&As on soaring property markets in Australia and Canada.

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