Singapore property sales plunge 65 per cent in February

PHOTO: Singapore property sales plunge 65 per cent in February

SINGAPORE - New private home sales in Singapore plunged 65 per cent in February from a month before as market cooling measures and the Lunar New Year holidays kept buyers away, official data showed Friday.

Only 708 private homes were sold in February, down from 2,016 units in January, according to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

"In line with expectations, private residential market activity was subdued in February, following the market cooling measures... and the Lunar New Year festive period," said Chia Siew Chuin, director of research and advisory at Colliers International.

"Developers held back on project launches, while homebuyers stayed on the sidelines to assess the impact of the measures and reassessed their options."

Ong Teck Hui, national director for research and consultancy at Jones Lang LaSalle, said the measures imposed in January 2013 to avert a bubble "made it more difficult for developers to assess the market in order to set prices and gauge demand".

But he said the February home sales numbers were "likely to be one-off and not indicative of a particular trend".

In the latest move to tamp down the red-hot property market, Singpore's government in January made it costlier for foreigners to buy property by raising stamp duties, and sharply increased minimum cash downpayments for individuals applying for loans for second or subsequent homes to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

The latest measures were imposed after property prices continued to rise despite an economic slowdown that saw the city-state narrowly avoiding a technical recession last year.

The trade-reliant economy grew just 1.3 per cent in 2012, down from 5.2 per cent in 2011, with 2013 expansion forecast at 1.0-3.0 per cent.

Earlier measures by the government to tame the property market included a move by the central bank in October to impose a maximum tenure of 35 years for new housing loans.

Analysts said market players will continue to closely watch home sales in March for trends.

"Now that the dust is more or less settled, developers have started project launches in March. Hence, March and the coming months will be the real litmus test for market demand and the effectiveness of the cooling measures," Chia of Colliers said.

She added that while home sales are expected to "return to a normalised level" this month, the new measures meant the government "will continue watching the market closely and policy risks remain".

Property stocks tumbled Friday after the figures were released, with Capitaland down 4.23 per cent to Sg$3.40, City Developments falling 3.67 per cent to Sg$10.76 and Keppel Land easing 2.04 per cent to Sg$3.84.