Thursday, May 27, 2010

Singapore Beats Hong Kong as Asia’s Most Livable City

Singapore retained its ranking as the Asian city with the best quality of life, while Hong Kong lags rival financial hubs as it struggles with air pollution, according to a survey by Mercer Consulting.

Singapore ranks 28 among 221 cities, Tokyo is at 40 and Hong Kong is placed 71, the list shows. The cities are rated on 10 factors including infrastructure, political and social environments, and access to medical care. Hong Kong scored poorly on health concerns, said Cathy Loose, a Tokyo-based Mercer officer who helped compile the list.

“The government hasn’t done very much to introduce green measures or reduce pollution,” Loose said in an interview. The list serves as a compensation guide for expatriate relocation.

Hong Kong’s air pollution was the worst on record during the past two quarters, sparking regular government health warnings. To address the problem, the government introduced a bill in April proposing a ban on idling engines among other steps.

“To tackle local emissions we have been implementing very stringent control measures which are equivalent to those being required by other advanced countries,” Eva Wong, spokeswoman at the environmental department said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg.

The government is working with local bus companies and also neighboring cities in southern China to curb air pollution and is investing HK$300 million ($38 million) to develop low-carbon transport technology to cut roadside emissions, she said.

Media Censorship

Singapore lags Hong Kong only on measurements of personal freedom and media censorship, said Loose. Mercer is a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos.

Hong Kong’s effort to cut pollution and protect the environment trails even that of Havana and ranks just above Damascus, the list shows. Overall, Vienna retains the top spot as the world’s best city to live in.

As posted in Bloomberg by Le-Min Lim

Monday, May 24, 2010

More mid-end units sold in April

According to April's price range of residential units sold from URA, there's an uptrend in the sale of condos in the mid-end price range ($1,000 to $2,000 psf). April has seen a total of 1,211 units sold in this price range, that's a 53% increase compared to March (791). High-end units on the other hand, didn't fare so well, seeing a 40% drop in sales.

Has the high-end segment lost steam? Or perhaps taking a breather? Or could the turmoil in far-away Europe be a contributing factor? It's hard to say.

It's interesting to note that sales in the mass market and mid-end market have contributed greatly to the big hike in April sale numbers.

Developers have of late been concentrating on the mass-market (Tree House) and mid-end (Waterbank at Dakota) developments, rightly so as these segments have been neglected since the start of the year.

For more fancy graphics, head to Tools > Private Residential units launched and sold (by Month).

As posted in by John

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lagoon View might go en bloc

Lagoon View, neighbour and identical twin of Laguna Park, could be on its way to an en bloc. But for that to happen, they first need residents to approve the purchase of the land within the estate (car parks, etc) from the Ministry of Finance at about $16m.

Let's hope they fare better than their brethren at Laguna Park and not end up in a sticky situation!

Laguna Park was asking for around $1.2 billion back in late 2008. As you all know the deal it fell through along with much drama.

With rules for collective sales becoming increasingly difficult, it's still a long road ahead for Lagoon View residents.

Just imagine this - if Lagoon View manages to put themselves up for en bloc at the same time as Laguna Park, and a couple of big developers buys both sites in one swoop, we're looking at the-mother-of-collective-sales!

As posted in by John

Friday, May 7, 2010

MND has proposed to set up a new board to regulate the real estate industry

The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) under the Ministry of National Development (MND) will replace the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's (IRAS') as the licensing authority for real estate agencies.

MND will introduce a Bill in Parliament in the second half of this year to set up the new Council and to establish the new regulatory framework.

More stringent criteria

Real estate agencies will have to satisfy new and more stringent conditions to qualify for their licences.

For instance, the licensees must not be undischarged bankrupts, possess criminal records involving fraud or dishonesty, or have previous track records of complaints as agents.

They also need to comply with a Code of Practice that stipulates systems and processes for areas such as agents' training, complaints handling and dispute resolution.

Agencies will also be expected to exercise effective supervision of their agents and take responsibility for their actions. To enable agencies to do so, all estate agents are to contract with only one agency.

As part of the new registration requirements, estate agents will need to pass a mandatory industry examination, and undertake mandatory continuing professional development (CPD) of six hours a year. The number of CPD hours will be increased over time to raise the professional standards of the industry.

Measures aimed at avoiding a conflict of interest, such as the dual representation of both the buying and selling parties, will be put in place.

Discipline and dispute resolution

The new regulatory framework will also include legislative powers and mechanisms to investigate and discipline agencies and agents.

Disciplinary actions will include warnings, fines, suspension and debarment of agencies and agents. Alleged criminal offences such as fraud and cheating will continue to be referred to the Police.

There will also be a dedicated dispute resolution process which will tap on existing dispute resolution facilities such as CASE and the Singapore Mediation Centre.

Public registry for real estate agencies and agents

Consumers will be able to check on the agency or agent they are engaging by tapping on a new public registry.

The registry will provide a comprehensive listing of all licensed agencies and registered agents, with records of disciplinary actions taken over the last three years or any recognition and award received.

Agents will also be required to wear a standard agent identification card when doing estate agency work.

Exemptions for current agencies and agents

Arrangements will be made to help existing estate agencies and agents transit to the new licensing and registration framework. For instance, they will be exempted from the new educational qualification criterion.

Those who have passed an industry examination will not be required to take a new examination.

Those who have not passed any existing industry examination will be given one year to pass the examination, and be given a provisional registration in the interim.

Existing agents who are undischarged bankrupts or have past criminal records will be considered for registration on a case-by-case basis.

New regulatory framework

* New Statutory Board - Council for Estate Agencies - to strengthen regulation of real estate agency industry
* Enhanced Licensing for Estate Agencies
o At least 3 years of working experience (enhanced)
o Completed at least 30 property transactions in past 3 years, of which at least
10 must be private properties and at least 10 must be HDB flats transactions (enhanced)
o Have minimum 4 GCE O Level passes or equivalent (new)
o Fulfill fit and proper criteria (new) such as
(i) Must not be an un-discharged bankrupt;
(ii) Must not possess criminal records involving fraud or dishonesty;
(iii) Must not have previous track record of complaints or convictions.
o Put in place systems and processes to ensure proper management of business and agents (new)
o Be covered under a Professional Indemnity Insurance (new)
o Must not be a licensed moneylender or an employee of a licensed moneylender (new)
* Registration of Agents through their Agencies
o Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident
o Must be at least 21 years old
o Not be registered with another agency or be an existing licensee of an agency
o Have minimum 4 GCE O-Level passes or equivalent
o Pass examination for estate agents
o Undertake mandatory continuing professional development
o Fulfill fit and proper criteria such as
(i) Must not be an un-discharged bankrupt;
(ii) Must not possess criminal records involving fraud or dishonesty;
(iii) Must not have previous track record of complaints or convictions;
o Must not be a licensed moneylender or an employee of a licensed moneylender.
* Regulations on Conduct of Real Estate Agency Work
o Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
o Standard prescribed estate agency agreements
o No dual representation
* Mechanisms for Discipline and Dispute Resolution
o Disciplinary actions such as warnings, fines, suspension and debarment
o Dedicated dispute resolution mechanism covering both mediation and adjudication
* Public Education
o Agent identification card
o Public registry of agencies and agents

Monday, May 3, 2010

Houses remain overvalued in many countries where prices are now rising

HOUSING markets continue to strengthen, as The Economist’s latest survey of global house prices shows. Our periodic round-up was dominated for nearly a year by countries where house prices were falling year-on-year. But the latest available data show that in half of the 20 countries whose markets we monitor, house prices are higher than they were twelve months earlier.

Since these indicators were last published at the end of 2009, house-price inflation has quickened in each of the seven countries where it was already positive. In Hong Kong, prices are more than a quarter above their level a year earlier. With the exception of Ireland, the pace of decline has slowed in countries where the market has yet to turn the corner. In America, two of the three measures we follow show that prices remain below their level a year earlier, but the Case-Shiller index of house prices in ten big cities was at the same level in January as it was a year earlier.

Singapore has gone from being one of the most depressed housing markets in the third quarter of 2009 to being the second-frothiest in the three months to March. This effervescence clearly worries its government, which has made it more difficult for buyers to delay mortgage payments and taken steps to deter speculative purchases. In Canada, another country where house prices are rising again, new rules announced in February make it more expensive to buy an investment property and reduce the amount that existing homeowners can borrow against their houses.

Should other countries consider similar steps? That depends in part on a judgment about whether prices have fallen far enough to erase the excesses of the bubble, or whether houses remain overvalued. One way to get at this is to compare the ratio of house prices to rents in a country to its long-run average, as our measure of fair value in housing does.

In Japan, Switzerland and Germany housing-to-rent ratios are below their long-run average. But even for America, one version of The Economist’s fair-value measure suggests that the correction in house prices may have gone far enough. Prices measured using the Case-Shiller national index have fallen enough to make houses there look underpriced. In the big American cities covered by the Case-Shiller ten-city index, the price-to-rent ratio is nearing its historic average. Houses in America are still overvalued by around 13% if prices are measured using the index maintained by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, but this excludes properties financed using subprime mortgages, many of which have been sold at very low prices, and so may understate the extent to which prices have been plummeting.

The story is different in Britain. British house prices had risen by nearly 10% in the year to the end of the first quarter of 2010, but the country’s price-to-rent ratio still outstrips its long-term average by nearly a third. This pattern—of prices rising in markets where houses still look overvalued—is also seen in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Sweden and Canada. In France, Italy, Spain and Ireland, houses do appear overpriced relative to their earnings potential, but at least prices there are still falling.

As posted in The Economist