‘Cooling off’ measures choke supply

By THE STAR

Imagine if a regulatory body decided to limit the number of durians purchased by each individual in order to lower the price of durians so that everyone would have the chance to taste the King of Fruits. What would happen?

If this campaign was successful to the point that prices fell to close to or below production costs, durian planters and sellers would rather walk away from their plantations and let the fruits rot on trees than to harvest the fruits, transport them to towns and sell them at a lost. Economics 101 tell us that when supply reduces, price increases.

This is what’s happening in the property industry especially in Asian countries today. As a developing and booming region, Asia has seen lots of activities in the property industry in the past 10 years.

The housing price increase in this region is also more significant due to rising input costs, strong economic conditions and growing populations.

To prevent the property prices from surging further due to growing demand and worldwide quantitative easing (money printing) government policies, several governments in this region have introduced various “cooling off” measures with the most insistent being China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In China, the State Council stepped up a three-year campaign to “cool off” home prices in March. Measures included raising first-time buyers’ down payments from 20% to 30%, and second-home buyers’ down payments from 50% to 60%, and ordering stricter enforcement of a 20% capital gains tax on sales. The government also limited home purchases in certain areas, tightened credit-quota limits and raised benchmark lending rates.

However, according to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) China, residential and commercial property sales totalled 3.34 trillion yuan (RM1.77 trillion) in the first six months, jumping 43.2% compared to a year earlier.

The pace of China’s year-on-year home price rises in April, May and June was also the strongest this year in spite of the March initiatives. Average new home prices in 70 major Chinese cities climbed 0.8% in June from the previous month based on data released by NBS. New home prices rose 6.8% in June compared to a year ago, the sixth consecutive rise and the fastest pace since January 2011.

In Hong Kong, the government introduced a series of steps to curb prices since 2009. Its measures included a 15% property tax on foreign buyers, mortgage restrictions and taxes on quick resale.

The government also limited the maximum term of all new mortgages to 30 years, and mortgage payments for investment properties could not be more than 40% of the buyers’ monthly incomes, compared to 50% previously.

According to a Knight Frank report for the first quarter of 2013, property prices in Hong Kong were 28% higher on average, compared to one year ago despite measures to “cool off” escalating prices.

As for our neighbouring country Singapore, the government just unveiled its eighth round of “cooling off” measures in June. The new rule states that home loans should not exceed a borrower’s total debt servicing ratio of 60%. Lenders will also be required to deduct at least 30% from all variable sources of earnings, such as bonuses, and rental revenue when determining an applicant’s income streams.

Prior to this, the Singapore government made seven attempts to cool off the residential real estate market since 2009. In January 2013, the government implemented an extensive round of tightening measures by imposing higher stamp duties, lowering loan-to-valuations for mortgages, and implementing stricter rules on permanent residents (PRs) buying their first home.

Nevertheless, despite a series of “cooling off” measures, Singapore private home sales in January 2013 continue to hit a high note, with a 42.8% increase from December 2012, and a 7.5% increase year-on- year.

In our home country, the Government has also introduced a number of “cooling off” measures.

These include the 70% loan policy for third property purchases, requiring the housing loan limits calculated based on net income instead of gross, and the loan tenure reduced from 45 years to 35 years previously, etc.

The “cooling off” measures introduced in various countries are believed to have some impact when they were first implemented, however the overall effectiveness has yet to materialise.

While we understand the good intentions behind these measures, they result in further heating up of the market because the fundamental issue of the shortage of affordable housing is not addressed.

There is fine line between “cooling off” and heating up the market, when the market is having a strong, genuine demand. “Cooling off” measures will constraint supply, and when demand is higher than supply, the prices will eventually increase.

In Malaysia, according to NAPIC, there is only a supply of about 100,000 new houses a year throughout Malaysia, while the demand in Greater KL alone is projected to be an additional one million units if Pemandu achieves its target of increasing the population from six million to 10 million by 2020.

Therefore, if our authorities are pondering further “cooling off” measures, it is beneficial to look at the real experience from other countries and not just the “short term” effects, the different environment of property development in our country should also be taken into account.

The original intention of controlling the price of durians in my earlier story is to allow more people the chance to taste this unique fruit at an affordable price.

However, such good intentions often backfire and worsen the current conditions. “Cooling off” could eventually lead to heating up!

– Malaysia Property News

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