Shanghai, China (up 35.4%) was the world’s strongest residential
property market during the past full year, according to a compilation
of official and private-sector statistics by the Global Property Guide.
Bulgaria (up 34.6%) was in second place, followed by Slovakia (up
32.5%) and Singapore (31.1%).
The worst performers were the United States (down 8.9% by Case-Shiller
calculations), Ireland (down 7.3%), and Estonia (down 3.9%).
Asia-Pacific’s strong performance was led by China, Singapore
(31.2%), Hong Kong (25%), the Philippines (15.2%), and Japan (8.4%). In
most cases, this was due to strong economic growth.
Price rises in Japan have now paused. Outside the US and Europe, Japan
has been the hardest hit by the credit crunch. In March, Reicof, a
listed property investor, failed with debts of Y42.6 billion (US$422
million). Deals are now being postponed, and the credit squeeze is
hitting private real estate funds, which tend to be highly leveraged,
and have borrowed mainly from foreign banks. These private funds are
finding it hard to refinance and are being forced to unload property.
Hong Kong surged ahead this past year (up 25%), but transaction levels
have now fallen sharply, despite declines in interest rates in line
with the US.
Singapore’s residential market is still holding steady, but last year’s euphoria seems to be over.
In both Hong Kong and Singapore prices are high by most yardsticks and
there are low rental returns, usually a harbinger of price weakness.
China’s housing market seems to be on the verge of significant
weakness. It has a history of very strong cycles, and the authorities
have discouraged the house price boom by prohibiting foreign
acquisitions, by higher interest rates, and by credit controls.
South Africa’s market seems to be weakening, having experienced the first decline in 8 years.
The Baltics has been hard hit. Latvia, last year’s star performer
(up 69%), was this year’s biggest disappointment with a price
decline of 1.7%. Estonia followed Latvia down with a decline of 4%.
Eastern Europe shows sign of weakening, partly due to the end of inward
money flows associated with buy-to-let boom, but more importantly due
to past price rises. Yet there are many islands of strength. Slovakia
has seen continued price rises. Land prices in Bratislava increased by
an average of 50% in 2007. The price of residential apartments also
rose strongly. Strong economic growth, continued foreign investment, a
burgeoning mortgage market, and a shortage of new developments, are all
contributing to Bratislava’s performance, which looks likely to
continue at least next year.
In Bulgaria, Sofia prices are still rising strongly, while the coast and mountain resort booms are over.
Those looking for upcoming trends may want to consider Latin America.
The increasing willingness of Americans to retire abroad and to look
beyond the Caribbean has led to strong buying interest in both
beachfront property and in colonial cities such as Guatemala’s
Antigua, Nicaragua’s Leon, and Colombia’s Cartagena.
Latin America sadly lacks property price indices, the exception being
Colombia whose economic prospects have been transformed by President
Alvaro Uribe’s stern anti-rebel policies, causing property prices
and the currency to surge.