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Hot property issues for consideration [07-09-2013]  
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OF late, there has been talks that the real property gains tax (RPGT) may be be reinstated in the coming Budget 2014 to be tabled next month. Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) has written to the authorities to state their views. Bank Negara is also studying the possibility of banning interest bearing schemes.

The Developers’ Interest Bearing Scheme (DIBS) is said to encourage speculation as buyers need only to pay 5% or 10% downpayment and need not pay anything until the property is completed.

The return of RPGT and the possible removal of DIBS are signs to prepare the property sector for the challenging times ahead, as seen by the volatile stock markets in South-East Asia.

While Malaysia has to tackle a number of issues in the greater framework of the economy, there are three issues befuddling the property sector – bubbles, speculative elements and affordability.

Developers want a benign RPGT regime and the DIBS to be maintained while certain quarters want the return of the old tax structure of 30% tax on profits on disposal in the first year.

The RPGT is both an anti-speculative and revenue-generating measure. RPGT will play its role to curb speculation, says property consultant Elvin Fernandez of Khong & Jaafar group of companies and the House Buyers Association (HBA). During the last two budgets, HBA had anticipated a tax regime with more bite and was sorely disappointed.

There was a time when not all developers offer interest absorption schemes. Today, most are pressured to do so. Says Rehda president Datuk Seri Michael Yam: “It helps people get on the house-ownership ladder.”

“It also nurtures speculative tendencies,” says Elvin.

Incidentally, interest absorption scheme was the first to be banned by the Singapore government as early as 2009 in a series of measures to cool the property market.

DIBS aside, the larger issue is transparency, says Elvin. When developers offer DIBS plus a host of other incentives – rental guarantee, cash back payment, free furniture, free stamp duty and legal fees – banks and lending institutions provide mortgage loans based on the larger headline figure inclusive of these discounts.

A mortgage based on the real price, without discounts, would reduce the loan amount and lessen household debt. Discounts tend to bloat up the loan amount by another 10% and 20%, says Elvin. The provision of the real price, without the discounts, gives a true and real picture of the housing market.

DIBS and discounts have also resulted in a buoyant primary market. In 2009, theNational Property Information Centre recorded a total of 211,600 residential transactions, of which 12.24% were purchases from developers and 87.76% from the secondary market.

Three years later, in 2012, out of 272,669 transactions, slightly more than a fifth (22.09%) were purchases from developers.

“This has never occurred before. This is an extraordinary jump, and this is because of DIBS and the discounts given,” says Elvin.

The shift in the market is clear and this represents risk, he says.

On the issues of housing beyond the reach of many, about a third of housing in the country is below RM150,000. Some of them are in enviable locations, for example near Jalan Maarof in Bangsar Kuala Lumpur.

But these are not well-maintained and young professionals do not want to live there. It boils down to an overall property management issue.

PR1MA Corp Malaysia CEO Datuk Abdul Mutalib Alias says more than 20,000 homes will be built under 15 affordable housing projects in Greater Klang Valley, Johor, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak in Phase 1.

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