Should first-time homebuyers be encouraged to enter the market now?
For Joseph Tsang, managing director of property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle Hong Kong, the answer is a straightforward no. Not in the present climate.
"Those who entered the market in the past few months were first-time buyers, as the series of property cooling measures introduced by the government had deterred investors and upgraders," said Tsang.
But these buyers were also the most financially vulnerable, paying for their homes with the lowest down payments and requiring the highest loans. "If home prices fall 10 per cent, they will be seriously hit," Tsang added.
"Some could be at risk of negative equity in view of falling home prices as interest rates rise and supply increases. The situation is worrying."
Since October, the government has introduced a 15 per cent additional stamp duty, called buyer's stamp duty, on property purchases by non-permanent-resident and company buyers; increased from two to three years the period during which additional stamp duty, called special stamp duty, is payable on quick resales of property, and raised the rates of those duties; and doubled the stamp duty payable on purchases of all property worth Hk$2 million or more
Tsang warned there was no easy escape route for those already tempted into buying. "If they want to sell to cut their losses, they will be required to pay the special stamp duty - another measure created by the government," he said.
Tsang joined the chorus of property agents calling for the doubling of stamp duty to be rescinded. His firm have also urged the government to consider removing the buyer's stamp duty for properties valued at over HK$20 million, and replacing the special stamp duty with a capital gains tax. "Tax them only when they make money. It is more reasonable," he said.
Tsang also highlighted the recent rise in prices of second-hand government-subsidised flats sold under the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS). "Some are being sold at record prices that could be even higher than private flats," said Tsang. Chief executive Leung Chun-ying said in July last year that 5,000 private tenants ineligible for housing subsidies would be able to buy second-hand HOS flats without having to pay a land premium.
The announcement triggered a jump in the resale prices of HOS flats. In Charming Garden in Tai Kok Tsui, a HOS flat was sold in June for HK$4.68 million (HK$10,858 per sq ft in terms of saleable area), a new record.
Knight Frank's head of research for Greater China, Thomas Lam, said HOS prices remained lower than private market prices and required a smaller down payment, which meant buyers found it a lot easier to raise mortgage financing. "But the quality of HOS flats is not as good as private units and they are now overpriced," he said.