Tuesday, November 24, 2009

12,000 HDB flats per year to meet demand

In Singapore, a large percentage of Singaporeans live in Housing Development Board flats or HDB flats. Since the government controls the supply of the flats, there has been a steady increase in the value of the flats over time.

Over the past few months, there has been complaints (mainly amongst younger couples) that there are not enough HDB flats to go around with long queues and waiting times to buy their dream homes.

Just today, I read the newspapers and see that the Housing Board has decided to offer between 10,000 to 12,000 flats ever year over the next 5 years to meet this growing demand. This will serve as the guide for HDB's build-to-order scheme with the actual number made available depending on market conditions.

This year's planned supply of 6,500 flats was quickly raised to 13,500 flats after there was a spike in demand.

So what does all these changes by HDB show?

1. Demand of flats is totally unpredictable and depends on market conditions. Since demand is unpredictable, supply of the flats need to be changed and tweaked accordingly.

2. Complaints by Singaporeans are heard by the government. That is certainly good news for all of us.

Some concerns I have still remain however.

It is my personal opinion that if the supply of flats can be readily tweaked accordingly, this will have an impact on the value of ALL HDB flats across Singapore.

When most Singaporeans spend a large amount of their money and savings into buying their homes, it is not in the benefit of the majority of Singaporeans if the value of their houses do not rise in accordance with market conditions.

I also attach an email from one of my friends regarding this HDB issue. It was written by a professor from NTU and contains a lot of insightful thoughts on the matter. As I do not have the name of this professor, I am not able to give him the necessary credit due in this email.

Please see the email (with certain details deleted).

Thanks xxxxxxx,

Yes, we are living in an upside down world, and Singapore is no exception.

In my joint paper with ******* (attached), to appear in the book "*****" to be launched next month by *** ***, we made the point that in 1965, the goverment owned 20% of the land in Singapore. Today, it owns 80%. There is really no proper market-based land market. The price of land on which HDB/URA builds is artificial. I think about 2/3 of the cost of a new HDB flat is land cost. However, this land was obtained at confiscatory prices from private landowners under the Land Acquisition Act. Hence the present land cost of HDB flats is inflated, because it is based on private land values which are themselves inflated.

Hence, somebody who bought a landed property in 1965 (like myself) has seen its value increase 500 times in 40 years. I sold it and donated 1/3 to charity (****** etc.) as it is not due to my hard work or economic foresight.

I wrote an article in the *** *** suggesting a way out, otherwise young Singaporeans will be priced out of buying HDB flats. Since all land on which HDB flats is government owned, such land should be based on their acquisition cost which is very low, and not on the "market" valuation, which is essentially that based on inflated private property values. Hence new HDB flats will once again be affordable to young graduates. When I graduated in 1960, I could get a HDB flat at 3-4 times my annual income. Today it is 10 times. No wonder our recent graduates feel frustrated.

The problem with this radical proposal is that the values of resale flats would drop. Their prices are also artifically high due to the decision made in the early 80s (referred to in Ngiam Tong Dow's book "The Making on a Mandarin") to raise the value of the land on which HDB flats are built. This was because existing flats owners were making excessive profits when they sold their flats, since they had bought their flats based on HDB land valued at confiscatory prices, and now they can sell at private market-based land values. Hence the prices of new HDB flats rose from the early 80s onward. This made the rise in CPF rates of contribution to 25 +25% necessary which caused the 1985 recession, the first in Singapore's economic history. The HDB in other words did not want new flat owners to make that kind of a handsome profit.

Today the flat owners who are making really handsome profits are those who had bought theirs before the early 80s. There is a politicial cost in alientating these flat owners if the price of new HDB flats drops to what is their "real" cost (i.e. based on the confiscatory acquisition value of the land), so that the price of old resale flats also have to drop. Senior citizens would vote against the governement.

However I think this group is like me, who never really dreamed to get such a high capital gain, when they sell their property. However they are now in the 50+ age group and are facing an uncertain future due to the lack of a safety net for those growing old. If we favour the young by making new HDB flats cheap, the medium-old and old-old would suffer by seeing their only asset, an HDB flat, depreciate in resale value.

Another problem is that some of these old flats are still being HDB-loan financed. If their resale value drops, the HDB may get into trouble. It was only in 2000 that the HDB allowed commercial bank financing.

However this also means that commercial banks now would get hit should those who purchased HDB resale or new flats on commercial loans, find that their market value is below their loan value (negative equity).

Any suggestions on how to get out of this dilmma, now that 85% of Singaporeans stay in HDB flats?

*** ***

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