People should be free to decide what a flat is worth: HDB

I refer to the letter “People should be free to decide what a flat is worth: HDB” dated 14th Sept 2009.

HDB claims to be responsible for sustaining flat prices over the long term. Looking at resale flat prices from 1990 to the present, sustenance of flat prices hardly needs worrying about as increases in flat prices have far outstripped increases in peoples’ incomes. Conversely, shouldn’t it be HDB’s responsibility instead to ensure that increases in flat prices do not outstrip the people’s capactity to pay for them?

The title of the letter itself suggests a misconception surrounding the myth of “willing buyer, willing seller” so often perpetuated by the HDB. The fact that HDB is claiming to be responsible for sustaining flat prices means that it has the means to influence the overall price level of HDB flats. That is the crux of the issue. While people are free to decide how much to price their flats, their decision cannot deviate significantly from market conditions that are largely controlled by the HDB itself, through such mechanisms as controlling the amount of land that it releases to the public and the number of new flats that it builds. Ask ourselves, how can we sell our flats at a premium when the govt is building one exactly the same right next door to be sold at cost? It is because the govt isn’t building them or isn’t pricing them at cost or is choosing to release the land for private condominimums for example that resellers are able to command the premium that they are getting.

The situation is not unlike the case of a sole importer monopolising the rice trade. If he opens up all his warehouses and distributes the rice to all the shop keepers, there will be plenty of rice for everyone and no one will have to pay a premium for rice. But the moment the importer restricts his supply of rice such that supply barely meets demand, people will start to fight over rice and the shop keepers will now be able to command a high price for rice. That is exactly what is happening to our HDB resale market. By not supplying enough new flats, the HDB creates the conditions for the resale market to heat up.

The HDB claims that the total number of bookings for HDB flats with grants amounts to 13,000 to 15,000 units each year, which far exceeds the 8,000 new flats HDB is building this year. So isn’t this clear evidence that the HDB is not building enough new flats to satisfy demand?

The HDB claims to have enabled 80% of the population to own their own homes. But going by the exhorbitant price people have to pay for house ownership, house ownership becomes a terrible liability rather than a proud asset that the people can be proud of.

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