Malaysian developers seek budget boost as property market slows

KUALA LUMPUR: As the Malaysian economy is slowing, so is its housing market.

An industry survey by the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association showed sales of property developers dropped “significantly” in the first half of 2016 compared with the second half of 2015. Almost 70% of respondents said end-financing for buyers was the biggest problem.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is expected to announce measures to help middle-income earners buy a house when the 2017 budget is unveiled on Oct 21. Here’s a snapshot of Malaysia’s property market and what steps could be introduced to improve home ownership. The Finance Ministry is in discussions with four banks to see how home affordability can be improved for middle- and lower-middle-income groups.

Najib’s administration is studying ways to do this as many successful applicants of a government housing program have faced problems obtaining full bank financing, Second Finance Minister Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani said last month.

The Government is also in talks with Malaysia’s biggest pension fund manager to potentially increase the amount that members can use from their mandatory savings for home purchases. Membership is required for working Malaysian citizens, who make a monthly contribution, and the funds can be withdrawn ahead of their retirement for home loan payments, health care and education.

Depositors can now withdraw as much as 30% from the Employees Provident Fund to service their mortgages, and this may be raised to 40%, Johari said this week. The limit needs to be raised to a range of 60% to 80% for the impact to be significant, Saw Xiao Jun, an analyst at CIMB Group Holdings Bhd., wrote in a Sept 22 report.

Developers including Mah Sing Group Bhd. said banks should consider generally providing bigger loans to those purchasing their first homes.

Banks typically lend as much as 90% of the value of a home to such buyers and Mah Sing managing director Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum said it should be raised to as much as 95%.

The Malaysian central bank last month shot back at those requesting that it review extending the maximum mortgage repayment period to 40 years from 35 years. Bank Negara said the current tenure is more than sufficient for borrowers to settle their loans by their retirement age. It also said access to financing isn’t the main problem confronting potential buyers, pointing to affordability and the shortage of reasonably-priced houses.

The government should consider granting tax incentives for the development of affordable housing for lower-income earners especially in cities, UEM Sunrise Bhd. Managing director Anwar Syahrin Abdul Ajib said. The government could also provide affordable land and infrastructure to allow private developers to execute the projects, he said.

The Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry is considering issuing selected developers a money-lending license to help some house buyers overcome the problem of making downpayments.

The suggestion attracted criticism, and Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar later said the Cabinet has asked him to fine tune the plan. Granting lending licenses to property developers could add to risks associated with Malaysia’s rising household debt, and runs counter to measures introduced by the central bank over the last six years to rein in the rise in household indebtedness, Fitch Ratings said. — Bloomberg

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