Singaporean’s love for property is well-documented.
However, affordability has become a major bugbear for home buyers as they struggle to keep up with soaring prices.
An index measuring Housing Development Board (HDB) resale prices has risen for 13 straight quarters while private property prices slipped just a marginal 0.2% after growing non-stop for three years despite the imposition of yet another round of cooling measures in September last year.
Along with rising interest rates, property affordability has become a hot-button issue for the government and Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong sought to address this issue earlier this week during his annual National Day Rally (NDR).
Introducing a new “Plus” category
PM Lee announced that the HDB will scrap its decades-old practice of labelling HDB estates as “mature” or “non-mature”.
Instead, from the second half of 2024 (2H 2024), new build-to-order (BTO) projects will have three distinct classifications – Standard, Plus, or Prime.
The majority of HDB’s BTO supply will be Standard flats that will enjoy the usual subsidies and have a minimum occupation period (MOP) of five years.
The “Prime” category was introduced back in November 2021 and is reserved for the best locations such as the city centre or within the Greater Southern Waterfront region.
Such flats have a MOP of 10 years and have an income ceiling requirement of S$14,000 for couples and S$7,000 for singles.
Now, the “Plus” category introduces a middle ground between Standard and Prime.
This new category will be tagged to locations that are favourably viewed by buyers, such as being near key transport nodes and town centres.
Plus flats will enjoy better subsidies than Standard ones and will also come with a 10-year MOP. There will be eligibility requirements as per Prime flats but these have yet to be firmed up.
Aside from the introduction of Plus flats, singles can now apply for two-room Flexi BTO flats in all locations and can also buy a Standard or Plus flat of any size.
A new layer of demand
Introducing a new category of BTO flats is a savvy move by the government to help couples cope with the rising cost of living.
By designating BTO flats as “Plus” flats, affordability can be maintained without compromising on location and the government will supplement such flats with grants to further improve affordability.
The new classification should benefit property developers such as City Developments Limited (SGX: C09) and Frasers Property Limited (SGX: TQ5).
Couples who can purchase these new and affordable BTO Plus flats can eventually sell them once the MOP is up and then upgrade to executive or private condominiums.
Without this new classification, buyers will have fewer choices and may baulk at the current high prices of condominiums while despairing at hitting the jackpot when bidding for a popular BTO project.
Banks and property brokerages to benefit
The new rules will likely reduce the “lottery effect” for well-located HDB BTO flats and also limit the pool of potential applicants for both Prime and Plus flats.
These applicants will, in turn, be pushed to apply for Standard BTO flats instead.
All-in, the measures hope to moderate demand for highly sought-after HDB locations and ensure prices do not run ahead of fundamentals.
If healthy HDB transaction volumes are maintained, it will be a boon for real estate brokerages such as APAC Realty (SGX: CLN) and PropNex (SGX: OYY).
By extension, the local trio of banks – DBS Group (SGX: D05), United Overseas Bank Ltd (SGX: U11) and OCBC Ltd (SGX: O39), should also benefit from these measures as buyers will continue to take up mortgage loans if flats remain affordably-priced.
Get Smart: Monitoring and tweaking
Both HDB and the Ministry of National Development (MND) reminded that it will take more than 10 years before Plus flats become available in the resale market.
With the new classification kicking in only in 2H 2024, the earliest batch of Plus flats that meet the MOP will be in 2H 2034.
The government has assured that it will monitor the impact of the NDR announcement on the HDB resale market and introduce changes and tweaks, if necessary.
With the government’s consistent goal of keeping flats affordable, it seems potential HDB flat buyers should feel reassured that they can purchase their choice location without breaking the bank.
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Disclosure: Royston Yang owns shares of DBS Group.