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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Affordability vs yields

Balancing the need for affordable housing with property market speculation

SHANKAR, a 27-year old law degree holder, works as a paralegal with a law firm in Kuala Lumpur and earns below RM2,000 a month. He is currently studying part-time for his Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP).

Shankar and his fiancee, a kindergarten teacher, hope to be able to buy a home by the time they get married later next year. He admits that with both their salaries combined, affording a home in the Klang Valley is indeed a tall order.

Shankar is hopeful that once he is a qualified lawyer (after completing his CLP and once he has been called to the Bar) and earning a better salary, both his wife and him will be able to afford a nice place in the city.

“It is our dream to have our own house,” Shankar says. Both his fiancee and him currently live in their respective parents’ houses, some 50km apart.

Here’s the irony. Once he completes his CLP, but before he can be called to the Bar, Shankar has to do nine months of chambering (pupilage). During that nine months, his salary would actually drop (because he would be hired as a student instead of an employee)!

“It’s how the (legal) industry works, sadly. It does not help that property prices are also very high in the Klang Valley. Sometimes I wonder if we would even realise our dream of buying our own house,” laments Shankar.

Shankar’s plight is shared by many Malaysians with low salaries who, while struggling to make ends meet, are also hopeful of having a permanent roof over their heads – one that they can proudly declare their own.

The residential property market in 2012

It does not help that residential property prices are constantly on the uptrend.

“Property is unique, in the sense that they’re big ticket items that are virtually recession-proof. Today, it’s at one price, tomorrow it will definitely be higher,” says one industry observer.

According to data by the National Property Information Centre (Napic), the price of the “average house” in Malaysia reached RM206,513 in the first quarter (Q1) of 2011. The price increased steadily from the previous four quarters; RM189,604 (Q1 2010), RM194,286 (Q2 2010), RM199,085 (Q3 2010) and RM203,903 (Q4 2010).

“The highest prices were recorded in Kuala Lumpur at RM438,150, Sabah at RM325,676 and Selangor at RM307,586. Johor registered the price at RM147,441 while the lowest prices were noted in Perak at RM127,096, Kedah at RM126,940 and Perlis at RM115,072.

“In Q2 2011, the price of the “average house” in Malaysia increased marginally by 1.1% to RM208,725. Kuala Lumpur continued to record the highest of all house prices at RM442,864,” said JPPH.

Next year, property price increases are expected to continue in Malaysia, albeit at a lower rate, due to rising inflation and slower economic growth.

Citigroup in a recent report says global economic growth (at current exchange rates) is expected to slow from 4% last year to 3% this year to 2.9% next year. This was a downward revision from its forecast last month of a 3.1% growth for this year and 3.2% for next.

Property consultancy DTZ Nawawi Tie Leung Sdn Bhd executive director Brian Koh reckons that housing prices could increase 4% to 5% “across the board” next year.

“We expect a soft landing of property prices next year due to rising inflation. Furthermore, people are more cautious (about their spending),” he says.

“After strong increases in property in the last two years, especially within the Kuala Lumpur area, we expect price increase to be more gradual next year,” Koh adds.

Property consultancy, VPC Alliance (KL) Sdn Bhd managing director James Wong says he does not expect the outlook for the local housing sector next year to be as vibrant as it is this year.

“The economy is facing a slight slowdown and disposable income will be less. This explains developers’ push to launch as many projects as possible.

“Next year, we are expecting less recorded transactions and launches within the primary housing market.”

With fewer launches in the primary housing market, many buyers will look to the secondary market, Wong says.

Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia (Rehda) in a recent briefing says it is “cautiously optimistic” of the housing market outlook in the first half of next year despite a marked increase in building material and labour costs as well as a slowdown in economic activity.

Respondents to a Rehda survey reveal that developers are more optimistic about the second half of this year than the first half of next year. Most respondents said prices would likely rise by up to 20% in the second half of this year, with 47% of respondents planning to increase selling prices by at least 15%. The survey showed that launches in the period were equally split between strata-titled and landed properties.

At the briefing, Rehda president Datuk Seri Michael Yam reportedly said the industry was concerned about how the local economy would be affected by external forces including the pressure on the sovereign debt ratings of Malaysia’s developed market trading partners.

Research houses, meanwhile, have started to downgrade the property market.

HwangDBS Vickers Research in its recent research report says there are signs of property sales slowing down, due to less mortgage applications and approvals (due to banks becoming stricter with financing margins), developers delaying launches and buyers cancelling bookings.

“Mortgage approvals and applications eased from July to August 2011, after hitting record highs in June,” it said. However, for the first eight months of 2011, mortgage approvals and applications grew 25% and 10% respectively year-on-year, which was still ahead of the total banking sector average of 20% and 4% year-on-year respectively.

The research house also says it sees a risk to Malaysia’s economic growth amid the current global financial malaise.

“As property sales correlate strongly with GDP (gross domestic product) growth, demand will likely weaken going forward, which could dampen property prices. If there is a recession (in 2012) property sales could drop by 10% year-on-year on lower volume sales and average transacted prices.”

The need for more affordable housing

With rising inflation and spending power being curbed, the chances of people like Shankar are a little bleak. Fortunately for people like him, there is the My First Home Scheme (MFHS). Launched by the Prime Minister in March, the scheme allows 100% financing for first-time house buyers earning less than RM3,000 a month to purchase homes below RM220,000.

The limit was increased to RM400,000 by Budget 2012, with joint loans between spouses. This comes into effect next January.

“Increasing the amount will allow both of us to apply for our dream home,” says Shankar, who is happy with the Government’s recent budget announcement.

According to reports, seven areas within the Klang Valley have been identified under the scheme, namely Damansara, Cyberjaya, Putrajaya, Shah Alam, Puchong, Rawang and Klang.

“The MFHS is a good move, so is the move to increase the price of the homes to RM400,000 from the previous cap of RM220,000,” says VPC’s Wong.

According to Napic, more than 214,000 transactions took place in the property market in the first half year of this year. Of that number, the majority (66% or 142,600 transactions) was made up of properties priced below RM200,000. Just 10% (or 22,500 transactions) were properties priced at more than RM500,000.

“With the bulk of transactions below RM200,000, the MFHS is timely,” says one industry observer. The scheme has also received criticism – opponents have argued that RM400,000 is deemed too high to be considered as “affordable housing.”

“RM400,000 is too high for a first-time buyer. We need affordable housing at sustainable prices. The scheme doesn’t send out the correct message,” one industry observer says, while another analyst says he is supportive of the move to increase the limit to RM400,000.

“It would encourage more developers, especially renowned ones, to build properties for first-time buyers. They may be put off from buying homes worth RM220,000 and below, especially with higher raw material prices.”

Some developers have, however, expressed intention to develope mass housing projects. Mah Sing Group Bhd earlier this month announced plans to launch linked beginner homes, with prices estimated to begin from RM390,000 in Rawang by as early as the first half of next year.

Earlier this year, SP Setia Bhd also proposed to purchase 1,010.5 acres in Ulu Langat, Selangor to build starter homes priced from RM300,000.

Curbing speculative prices

Budget 2012 also proposed that a real property gains tax (RPGT) of 10% be applied to properties held and disposed of within two years. Meanwhile, the rate of 5% will be maintained for properties sold within the third, fourth and fifth years after purchase.

The current RPGT, imposed after Budget 2010, is 5% for all properties sold within the first five years of purchase. Following the budget announcement, industry observers opined that the 5% increase in the RPGT, for units sold within the first two years after purchase, would have little impact on speculative activities in the property market and escalating house prices.

“The minimal increase is unlikely to curb speculation,” says an analyst.

Wong concurs: “The 10% imposed is not much as it is only imposed on the gains and is a manageable quantum.”

By The Star (by Eugene Mahalingam)

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