No surprises in property report

Property experts say the findings of the Property Market Report 2013, released last week by the National Property Information Centre, came as no surprise, with the various cooling measures having their intended effect of curbing speculation and excessive price growth.

Less certain is whether demand will recover in earnest during the second half of this year, in what some expect to be a “pre-GST boom”.

CEO-Agency of property consultancy PPC International Sdn Bhd Siva Shanker tells StarBizWeek that he sees buyers making a beeline to snap up property in the two quarters prior to April 2015, when the GST takes effect at an initial rate of 6%.

Shanker, who is also president of the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents, does not believe Malaysia will follow the example of Australia, where prices soared and then tumbled pre- and post-GST back in 2000.

“In Malaysia, what goes up does not come down. I think our property prices will rise ahead of GST and find their level there,” he says.

According to the Property Market Report 2013, volumes shrank 10.9% to 381,130 transactions but their value rose a marginal 6.7% to RM152.37bil from RM142.84bil in 2012, indicating that prices gained strength despite a raft of measures designed to rein in speculation, including a ban on interest-bearing schemes and a higher real property gains tax.

“Most people say 2014 and 2015 will be tough years for the property market. A slowdown usually lasts for two years.

“But looking at the report, my view is that 2013 and 2014 are the slowdown years. I expect the market to normalise in 2015 and make a full recovery in 2016 and 2017,” Shanker remarks.

“This year’s volumes will probably be flat, but prices are not likely to go down.”

As in the past, the report showed that the residential market dominated close to two-thirds of all transactions.

Approvals for housing loans, however, fell sharply compared with an expansion the year before. Total loans disbursed for the purchase of residential properties rose to RM74.4bil from RM64.1bil.

The report says construction activity stayed solid, backed by high-rise and high-end properties in the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor. The shop and industrial segments also saw higher starts and building plan approvals in 2013.

The occupancy rate for retail and office space remained firm, buoyed by a moderate increase in new supply, as well as fewer starts and new planned supply.

But the market showed evidence of softening across the board. All sectors posted reductions in transaction activity, led by commercial and industrial properties.

Most states fared worse save for Johor and Perlis, which recorded high single-digit improvements.

Five states experienced double-digit contraction in activity, with Putrajaya, KL and Kelantan topping the list.

According to the report, residential properties saw improved sales of new launches and more housing starts and completions, which helped pare down the number of “overhang” properties.

The all house price index jumped to 192.9 points against 172.8 points the year before. Average prices rose 10% to RM266,304 from RM241,591.

In terms of volume, most states posted a downturn except for Johor, which expanded 16.6%.

In value terms, all major states saw growth except for Kuala Lumpur, which declined by 9.7%. Johor was most improved with 63.2% growth, while Selangor recorded 2.8% growth and Pulau Pinang, zero growth.

Houses priced between RM250,000 and RM500,000 were the most popular, capturing 27.3% of all transactions, while demand for those in the low-cost RM100,000-RM200,000 category weakened.

Terraced houses made up the largest share of residential transactions, with Selangor, Johor and Perak contributing to more than half of the market share, followed by condominium and apartment units, most of them being transactions in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

The number of new launches fell last year after three straight years of growth to 48,290 units from 57,162 units in 2012, even as their take-up receded to 45.1% against 47.7%.

Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak topped the list of new launches, commanding 57.4% of the national total.

From a price standpoint, the Kuala Lumpur market continued to be resilient. The report reveals that single-storey terraced homes at Bukit Bandaraya and Lucky Garden, both in Bangsar, saw 25.3% and 11.4% growth, respectively, pushing the value of a unit to upwards of RM1mil.

Spurred by the MRT factor, homes in Taman Bukit Anggerik and Salak South Garden posted 17.2% and 17.8% growth, while double-storey terraced units in Kepong’s Desa Park City ranged between RM1.31mil and RM2.48mil.

The report highlights that select condominiums in Kuala Lumpur, such as Bangsar Puteri, OBD Garden Tower and Casa Vista experienced growth of over 20%.

A downtrend was seen in Mont’Kiara Damai and Tijani 2, however, as prices tumbled by 5.7% and 12.4%, respectively.

Home prices also stayed firm in Selangor, but Johor’s landed residential segment jumped by double-digits in certain areas, particularly Johor Baru.

Condominium pricing in Johor Baru remained competitive, with the highest transacted price being RM500,000 per unit in Taman Pelangi. On average, units were priced between RM150,000 and RM350,000.

Up north in Pulau Pinang, residential properties were stable as the limited number of terraced houses on the island boosted demand for the Timur Laut and Barat Daya districts.

While Iskandar Malaysia was clearly a boon for Johor, CH Williams, Talhar & Wong managing director Foo Gee Jen says he is concerned if that performance is sustainable.

The veteran property consultant also expects a pre-GST rush for property.

“Buyers are concerned that prices will go up. If you are looking at a piece of property, now is the time to lock in your purchase,” he quips.

In Foo’s estimation, residential property could experience an 8%-10% jump in price after GST, and the landed segment a stronger 10%-15%.

“There is no oversupply in landed homes, but I can’t say the same for condominiums, especially the Soho (small office home office) or Sovo (small office versatile office) types.”

Kim Realty CEO Vincent Ng tells StarBizWeek that demand in the primary market remains firm and will likely continue apace unless interest rates go up.

“The primary market may gain traction in the second half as developers have been holding back on launches. Those with unsold stock will want to unload them before GST,” he points out.

“I don’t think prices will be cut drastically, but developers will make it attractive for buyers.”

Nonetheless, Ng acknowledges that the banks have tightened the screws on mortgages, leading to a mass of loan rejections.

“From what I understand, 30%-50% of the people who have put in deposits have had their loan applications denied for various reasons,” says Ng.

“The damage has already been done. More cooling measures will kill the market,” says another property agent. - By John Loh (StarProperty)

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