Sunday, June 29, 2008

Now's the time to sell condos in Thailand

Oversupply could push prices downward


NINA SUEBSUKCHAROEN

Anyone thinking of selling a condominium should do so soon because prices are likely to drop in six to 12 months due to political uncertainty and oversupply, says Ian Soo, managing director of Hamptons Property.

Prices have already stabilised and as more units come on the market, they may be pushed down.

"I think there is an oversupply of units in central Bangkok and I think if you combine that with some sort of political uncertainty then what you will find is less demand," said Mr Soo. "This is effectively going to put pressure on prices."

He said that the downward price pressure was unlikely to be very pronounced in the 1-3 million baht condominium or townhouse segment. "I think the high end of the market will have some stock that will be harder to sell now, so it's more likely to affect the luxury end of the market."

As a lot of the property that was launched a few years ago is now coming on the market, developers will watch how sales pan out over the next six to 12 months. They are in a difficult position because of rising costs, but that does not mean they are going to be able to pass these on to the buyers.

"They can do that when the economy is strong and there is easy credit but not when the economy is stagnant," said Mr Soo.

While this raises fears that lower-quality buildings might be built, Mr Soo does not expect established companies to cut corners but will have to absorb some or all of the costs.

Whether lower prices could turn into a buying opportunity depends on what sorts of units come on the market, in Mr Soo's vie.w

And while sellers would get higher prices if they sell today, he said those who have money to spare are always going to be looking for investments, and property with rental yields of around 6% is not a bad place to park money. "But I think people are being a little bit cautious in this type of environment."

Some expatriate buyers too are holding back, though he says those who have money to invest are still active in the market.

The bright spot is in the rental market, which is unlikely to be affected by the anticipated price drop. But greater choice could lead to better-value units becoming available.

Demand right now is mostly for high-quality one- to two-bedroom units, even though the space is smaller. "There will always be people who will want 300 to 400 square metres, perhaps in an older building further away from the skytrain, but the majority of working professionals living here ... prefer smaller, more modern units."

Hamptons' clients, he says, prefer Sukhumvit as far as Ekamai, plus Silom and Sathon, and these are expected see both rental and buying demand.

Mr Soo said the real estate slowdown was widespread right now, but has not been as serious as in the UK and US because there are more cash buyers in Thailand, which has insulated the country from the credit crisis.

While many think it is good to buy during turbulent times, he said that a lot of people should keep their assets in cash if they are not sure what the situation will be like in a few months.

Although those who bought property during the 1997 meltdown did earn a big profit, this is seems easy in hindsight. "The economic crash of 1997 was huge, very sudden. This economic slowdown is not as dramatic."

Mr Soo urged the government to allow foreigners to get mortgages in Thailand. "They represent a very important part of the property market and expecting them to pay cash or not giving them financial support, something that they should do, is a mistake I think. Not all foreigners are really so rich that they can buy in cash."

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