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Business as usual, with 17,000 new BTO flats

23 May, 2017

2017 looks set to become the year when policy changes in housing are being quietly set in motion behind the scenes. On the stage, however, few fireworks are expected.

In October, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, in an interview, highlighted some changes to come.

One of the most significant is the launch of new flats for young couples with shorter waiting times, as part of a national strategy to help Singaporeans settle down and have children. Mr Wong said he wanted to cut the wait to two to three years, down from the current three to four years. They will likely be introduced in 2018.

Thus, the coming year will be when the preparatory work is laid out: The HDB will "plan and prepare the land for several new sites" for these Build-to-Order (BTO) flats, wrote Mr Wong this month.

"These units will not be ready next year, but I hope we can begin to offer them by 2018," he added.

Another impending change is in what more can be done to help elderly home owners, "especially when it comes to right-sizing (their flats)", said Mr Wong. He gave no further details, adding only that it would be delivered within his term.

While these changes are percolating, there is likely to be little action on the market.

Barring any surprises, the biggest events of next year might simply be business as usual: the quarterly BTO launches, with a total of 17,000 new flats up for sale. The first of them, in February, will see about 4,100 flats offered in Clementi, Punggol, Tampines and Woodlands.

As for the resale market, experts' consensus on the year ahead was that not many changes will be seen as prices have largely consolidated.

The resale market has been largely flat for the past two years.

This year, HDB resale prices fell a marginal 0.1 per cent in the first quarter and stayed completely flat for the following two quarters, according to official figures.

If longstanding cooling measures are not relaxed, experts expect this stability to continue into 2017 as global uncertainty and economic weakness keep resale demand weak. Young families will be more careful about making a commitment.

However, things could be different if economic growth and job prospects improve, as this could bring about a modest price rise of 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent in the second half. In the absence of such a recovery, prices are expected to remain very range-bound around 0 per cent.

The exception will be well-located flats in or around the city. Transactions of more than $1 million - for units at premium project Pinnacle @ Duxton, for instance - will continue.

Resale deals are expected to increase as sellers adjust to the lower price norm. For beleaguered property agents, more transactions would be good news. Apart from the slow market, agents face competition from do-it-yourself online portals that let buyers and sellers bypass middlemen.

Going into 2017, the real estate agency industry will need to transform itself to remain relevant," said Council for Estate Agencies executive director Lee Kwong Weng.

Some agencies have created mobile apps for their agents, and even online consumer ratings of agents to build trust, he noted.

Adapted from: The Straits Times, 28 December 2016