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Saturday, November 7, 2009

A double whammy

Property buyers and investors are facing a double whammy – the proposed reimposition of the real property gains tax (RPGT) come Jan 1 and the inevitability of having to pay higher mortgage rates.

Coming at the heels of each other, they certainly spell the end of the short “honeymoon” for property buyers that kicked off early this year when developers started to introduce various housing packages and easy payment schemes to promote sales.

Since the announcement of the proposed reimposition of the real property gain tax (RPGT) on Oct 23, real estate investors and owners are still hoping that the Government will review the proposed tax reinstatement.

Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir’s remark on Wednesday that the Government may reconsider the RPGT’s reimposition after receiving feedback from all parties gave them hope that a reprieve may be in order.

Although some argue that a flat 5% tax on gains from property disposal is quite fair and not overly excessive, property buyers and investors worry that this may mark the beginning of reverting to the original tax scale.

Prior to the exemption of the RPGT in April 2007, tax on gains from property sales was on a progressive basis from 30% to 0% depending on the holding period of the property. Any gains made from properties that have been held for more than five years will not attract any tax.

However, the latest measure to extend the 5% RPGT to all gains from property disposal irrespective of the holding period, will mean that long held properties that may be centuries old will also be affected.

This has not gone down well with property owners as they see it as an enactment of an inheritance tax although Malaysia has no such tax legislation.

Their main grouses are that non property speculators have never been subjected to such a tax before and why impose one now and tax them at the same rate as those who speculate or “flip” their properties for quick profits.

If the proposal under Budget 2010 for the flat 5% RPGT is just a temporary measure and changes are made down the road, they will be regarded as “flip flops” on the part of the Government on real estate matters.

Certainly, the timing is also a factor as efforts to promote Malaysian properties to overseas investors are just kicking off.

The Government has recently allocated RM25mil to kick start efforts by Malaysia Property Inc (MPI), a joint public and private sector initiative, to bring Malaysian projects to overseas investors.

MPI has set a target to sell RM2bil worth of properties next year and the countries in its radar include Japan, South Korea, China, India, Britain and the Middle East.

In fact, MPI officials were leading a team of Malaysian developers to participate in a property exhibition in London when they heard news of the proposed reimposition of the RPGT. They have to answer to the many concerns of the potential British investors on the tax measure.

If such promotional efforts are properly coordinated and do not lead to over speculation in Malaysia’s property market, having more inflow of foreign investment in local real estate will be able to promote more depth and breadth in the local market. This is especially true if developers continue to improve on their project design capability to international standards.

Meanwhile, rising mortgage rates since early this month and plans by banks to introduce risk-based pricing in the calculation of interest rates will raise entry cost for new home buyers.

Some of the banks have also stopped absorbing the legal fees, stamp duties and other disbursement fees for loan documentation from their home loan offerings.

If the interest rates continue to move up, there will be knee-jerk reaction in buying interest and take-up rate in the short term.

Whether sentiment will be affected in the medium to longer term remains to be seen and it will largely depend on the strength of the country’s economic recovery.

Buyers will certainly shop around for value property and hopefully some freebies before signing up.

Deputy news editor Angie Ng says although sunnier days may be here again, Malaysians are not out of the woods yet and any new tax proposals that may be burdensome to the people are untimely.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

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