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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Prices creep up after property's long dive

Kalpana Rashiwala
Business Times Singapore

Developers test waters at some projects by cutting back on discounts

(SINGAPORE) Some developers have quietly started raising prices a notch as they test waters after strong sales volumes seen in the first quarter.

Price adjustments are often made by reducing discount levels. On a project average basis, the effective prices for some developments may have gone up between 2 and 5 per cent compared with levels earlier this year, according to developers and property consultants.

'Developers aren't raising prices overnight. Prices are being adjusted only after clear buying momentum has set in for a project. If you look at the first and last units sold in the project, the price difference could be, say, 10 per cent; but if you look on a project average basis, the price increase would be less than 5 per cent,' says Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng.

The recent stock market rally has generated its share of positive sentiment. Even so, property agents say that prices of only the better-selling units have been raised in some projects, while the others have seen more widespread rises. 'Developers are careful; if they push up prices too fast, potential buyers may start looking at other projects,' one agent said.

The recent price adjustments have to be viewed against the significant price declines before that, seasoned players point out. For instance, Q1 2009 prices of mass-market condos were about 10 per cent off the peak levels in late 2007/early 2008, while for luxury condos, the price decline was steeper, at around 30-40 per cent.

DTZ executive director Ong Choon Fah says that developers started to inch up prices in April and May from Q1 levels. 'In the secondary market, sellers have been more aggressive; some are asking about 5 to 10 per cent more than in Q1,' she added.

Property giant Far East Organization's residential projects such as the Mi Casa condo in Choa Chu Kang, The Lakeshore in Jurong, Hillview Regency in Bukit Batok, Floridian at Bukit Timah Road (non-premium units), and Vida at Peck Hay Road are among those that have seen slight price gains lately.

Rival City Developments is also said to have incrementally raised prices for The Arte at Thomson as sales progressed briskly. The developer has sold more than 250 units since it previewed the mid-end project in March.

BT understands that prices of the remaining 80-plus units have been adjusted upwards slightly this week. The average price is now about $900 psf and the freehold project includes a mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom units.

Bukit Sembawang is also said to have introduced a single-digit per cent price hike for later units (apartments) at The Verdure at Holland Road after the initial batch of units were sold.

UOL Group and Kheng Leong are also understood to have upped prices selectively - for better-selling units - at Double Bay Residences in Simei.

A major developer said: 'Demand is better now. People are prepared to come to the negotiating table and not baulk at prices, compared with last year when it was very difficult to even get buyers to sit down. I think there's a sense that the worst is over.'

He says that the quantum of price appreciation that a developer can achieve in the current market will hinge on a project's location, the nature of the development and the profile of its buyers. 'For instance, for a prime district project with a lot of small units costing $1-2 million each, you can adjust prices a bit more, especially if you have a fair number of foreign buyers,' according to the developer. 'Mainland Chinese buyers are more optimistic, and can accept price hikes better as they have seen an upturn in their own property market,' he added.

Mr Tan says that there's currently a 'sweet spot' in the Singapore market for projects priced below $1,000 psf and on a lump-sum basis costing $1 million to $1.2 million per unit (for three-bedroom units) and $800,000 and below (for two-bedroom units). Their prices can take a sub-10 per cent increase without affordability being seriously dented.

Mr Tan argues that a small price increase will not generally price buyers out of the market or send them to the sidelines again - 'especially if they think the worst is over and don't want to miss the boat'.

'Even if the view is that we're not at the bottom yet, there seems to be a greater sense of price stability now. The thinking now is that if prices drop a further 5 or 10 per cent, can I live with it? Three months ago, there seemed to be no bottom,' Mr Tan recalls.

Agreeing, CB Richard Ellis executive director (residential) Joseph Tan says: 'Once people are more confident, they can accept the fact that price may be higher, but in an improving situation. If I believe the market has bottomed, the closer I buy to the bottom, the better it is for me. That sort of thinking is also being fuelled by the stock market rally; traditionally the residential property market lags the stock market by three to six months.'

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