Take a look at the world’s dizzying surges in the price of housing for 12 months at the end of June: London, up 20 percent. Manhattan, 18 percent. Sydney, 15.4 percent.
Then there are Singapore and Hong Kong: down 3.7 percent and 0.6 percent.
Prompted by concerns over potential property
bubbles and affordability for the middle class, the governments of the two Asian cities have been reining in home prices by imposing measures including mortgage caps, taxes on property flippers, and levies on foreign buyers as high as 15 percent.
“Hong Kong has successfully cooled down the market in terms of transactions and turnover,” said Raymond Yeung, senior economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Hong Kong. “Singapore has been more effective.”
So could New York, London and other global cities facing soaring housing prices pull off the same act?
Not really. Hong Kong and Singapore’s island geographies, preponderance of public housing resulting in two-tier housing markets and citizens willing to tolerate government directives make the cities unique, according to academics and researchers. London and New York have nowhere near the same level of control over their economies and the behavior of their residents.
Singapore and Hong Kong, as a special administrative region of China, have governments with policy-making power over their entire geographic areas, where they are relatively free of political opposition from neighborhood groups or borough councils that stymie directives or mitigate their effectiveness. The Asian cities control the land supply and are the biggest landlords.
That allows them to implement decisive policy measures. For example, in January 2013, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, effectively the central bank and chief regulator, cut the mortgage ratio allowable on purchases of second homes while more than doubling minimum down payments from 10 percent to 25 percent. The banks had no choice but to follow.
“Imagine doing something like this in the U.S. where there are 7,000 banks and many regulators,” said Sumit Agarwal, a professor in economics, finance and real estate at the National University of Singapore. “It’s a nightmare from the policy point of view and would be impossible.”
Hong Kong and Singapore haven’t shied away from using taxes to discriminate against foreign buyers -- something other locales with surging prices have yet to do. Non-permanent residents in both cities are subject to an additional 15 percent tax when they buy property, except in Singapore where Americans are exempted by treaty.