Govt in denial on HDB 99-year issue?


Why does the Government continue to be in a state of denial on the 99-year lease issue?

I refer to the article “HDB resale flats to become less attractive, as buyers look for better store of value: Credit Suisse report” (Todayonline, Sep 19).

It states that “Stating that the proposed Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (Vers) is “not a panacea” to the public housing lease decay issue, a Credit Suisse report released on Wednesday (Sept 19) expects the price gap to widen between Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats and private apartments over time.

Increasingly, those who can afford it will also turn to private homes as a better store of value. As a result, the proportion of residents living in HDB flats will continue to decline.

According to the report, the proportion has fallen from 88 per cent of households in 2000 to 79 per cent last year.

“We believe it will likely take some time for residents to understand the evolving narrative on the nature of HDB flats — from one where HDB flats are a good store of value and attractive investment class that will continue to appreciate, towards one where we are likely to see a steady diminution in value as we approach the end of the 99 year lease, following which the flats will revert to the government,” said Credit Suisse research analysts Louis Chua and Nicholas Teh, who penned the report.

The report described the Vers announcement — which was made during this year’s National Day Rally — as a “good starting point”. This is because it recognises that the majority of HDB flats will not qualify for Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS),  and hence will be returned to the government by default, while giving homeowners “partial autonomy in addressing the lease decay”.

“Rather than a panacea however, we believe the announcement… will bring about a paradigm shift in our understanding of the nature of HDB flats, where lease decay is a real and pertinent issue,” the report said.

It noted the absence of “critical details” of the proposed scheme, particularly relating to compensation.

Still, a key concern was that Vers is “not applicable” to the entire existing HDB stock of about 1 million units today.

Noting that one of the stated aims of the scheme is to spread out redevelopment, the report pointed out that flats with 10 years of lease remaining would theoretically be worth only half of flats with 30 years left.

“As the nature of the 99-year HDB lease is increasingly better understood, we believe potential resale flat buyers would likely demand a greater discount to prevailing market prices, given the heightened risk of the flats having zero residual value at the end of its lease life,” the report said.”

So, when even international expert reports say the obvious – why does the Government continue to be in a state of denial, by not substantively addressing the HDB 99-year  issue?

As to “In comparison, there is an established collective sale process for owners of private properties, through which developers can acquire the land for redevelopment purposes, subject to the consent of at least 80 per cent of owners in the estate.

The report argued that this means leasehold private residential properties would retain greater value as their leases depreciate, as compared to HDB flats.

Property analysts TODAY spoke to, however, felt that the report’s predictions were premature.

Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, who is the Director of the Institute of Real Estate Studies at the National University of Singapore, also pointed out that private properties and HDB flats have different objectives. Hence, it does not make sense to compare both types of properties, he said.

“It’s difficult to put them on the same level field to compare. Public housing is… meant to make housing affordable for the everyday man,” he added” – isn’t this kind of akin to stating the obvious, that public housing should by definition be affordable, and not be the most expensive public housing (ratio of price to income) in the world?

So, why does the Government continue to be in a state of denial, by not substantively addressing the HDB 99-year  issue?

With regard to “Assoc Prof Sing said the projections made in the report were based on the combined value of both the buildings and the land, and the assumption that this value will become zero when the lease expires.

However, he noted that the land still has a value, even if the value of the buildings sitting on it falls to zero upon lease expiry.

“Real estate is a unique asset, which consists of both building and land… unlike (a) car whose asset could depreciate to zero. Whereas for real estate, the land value could appreciate in value, if the redevelopment potential increases,” he said” – this is yet another ‘stating the obvious’.

Since the land retains its value at the end of the 99-year lease – why does the Government continue to maintain the immoral policy of taking back the land with the consequence of zero value and wiping out the CPF used too?

So, why does the Government continue to be in a state of denial, by not substantively addressing the HDB 99-year  issue?

In respect of “With the Government reviewing whether to relax financing regulations for older HDB flats, Suntec Real Estate Consultants director of research and consultancy Colin Tan added: “Financing restrictions on loans and use of Central Provident Fund savings have a crucial impact on prices because property is a very big ticket item… We must remember that the most important characteristic of property is location.

“So if financing are lifted, the first to benefit would be well located properties,” he added” – since it was the Government which created the current problem in the first place, by changing the policy a few years ago, on restrictions on the use of CPF and housing loans for older HDB flats – why does the Government continue to be in a state of denial, by not substantively addressing the HDB 99-year  issue?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.