Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, Lee Bee Wah, has called for the qualifying income ceiling to be raised to allow more people to buy executive condominiums (ECs) and new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.
Speaking ahead of the Budget statement on Monday (Feb 23), she said more middle-income couples are feeling the squeeze.
The last time HDB raised the qualifying income ceiling for homebuyers was in 2011. Then, the monthly income ceiling for those buying a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat was raised from S$8,000 to S$10,000, while the limit for those buying ECs went up from S$10,000 to S$12,000.
But amid rising incomes, there have been calls for this ceiling to be lifted further, by S$2,000-$3,000.
Ms Lee said: “Nowadays, people get married later and there are also more graduates. They get married later; by the time they apply for flats, their salary would have exceeded the ceiling. I think it is good to let Singaporeans have a chance to own HDB flats and stay in HDB flats to have that unique living experience.
“If they hit the ceiling, they are forced to buy private housing and some of them really feel the squeeze, especially if they need to support their parents and grandparents.”
Ms Lee has also called for more to be done to help divorcees with children and low-income families own a flat. She also said the Government could look at allocating more BTO flats to singles. Currently, about a third of two-room flats in non-mature estates are set aside for them.
Said Ms Lee: “Due to pent-up demand, there is still quite a big number of applicants for every batch of flats that is for sale for singles. I also get feedback because they need to wait and so perhaps we can increase the quota, because the demand from first-timers has eased.”
PROPERTY COOLING MEASURES
Property cooling measures are another issue on the minds of many. While National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said some of these measures are temporary, the market has to be cool enough for them to be relaxed.
However, industry experts have said this is unlikely to happen soon. They notes while prices have come down, they have not fallen drastically. Last year, overall prices of HDB resale flats fell by six per cent, while those of private homes fell by four per cent.
Analysts added that other factors should also be taken into account.
Associate Professor Lim Lan Yuan, from the Department of Real Estate at the National University of Singapore, elaborated: “The Government should really monitor the market situation. First, (they should) look at the number of property transactions, whether there is an indication there is a fall in the volume. They should also look at the prices, whether there is a drastic fall in the prices.
“On the other hand, they should also look at the number of mortgagee sales – it may have gone up, indicating that there is some problem with some of the owners who have bought high. They would of course look at the economy. Not only the local, also the external and global economy. So when the situation is not really that conducive, that may be a time they should consider relaxing some of the measures.”
However, Assoc Prof said the cooling measures, if relaxed, should be done in phases. He added that the Seller’s Stamp Duty could be one of the first to be removed. He said: “The Seller’s Stamp Duty is different, the impact is to really curb speculative activities.
“Speculative activities take place in a rising market, but right now, we are seeing a fall in the market and there is really very little speculative activities. So the Seller’s stamp Duty has less impact, so if you want to remove, then we could remove that first. ”
One analyst said the impact on the real estate industry should also be considered. Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said: “I suppose you have to assess the market … whether it has cooled. To all intents and purposes, some people will say the market has turned cold because if you look at some of the transactions, they are very low.
“So agents are not having enough income, the bankers, the valuers are not having enough work. In that sense, maybe something needs to be done. The market to these people may have been frozen.”
So Mr Tan said the Government could look into helping those who want to upgrade. He said: “What we could do is probably look at maybe helping the genuine upgraders because in any normal year, there will be a fair amount of upgrading. But the measures, while hampering speculators, are also having the same impact on genuine upgraders.
“So maybe we could look at some of the measures and tweak them, and say ‘if you are a genuine upgrader, we would maybe not impose the stamp duty up front, we give you six months, or we grant you the full mortgage loan as if it were your first property, because you are going to sell your current property’. These are some measures that will allow upgrading to work its way back into the market.”
Providing greater assurance for the elderly is also a theme in this year’s Budget, and Members of Parliament and experts add more could be done to educate seniors on the existing options to help them monetise their flats.