S. Korea rolls out toughest rules yet to cool housing, hikes capital gains tax

A man rides his motorcycle along an alley as a luxury high-rise apartment complex is seen in the background at Guryong village in Seoul April 2, 2015. — Reuters pic
A man rides his motorcycle along an alley as a luxury high-rise apartment complex is seen in the background at Guryong village in Seoul April 2, 2015. — Reuters pic

SEOUL, Aug 2 — South Korea will raise capital gains taxes on owners of multiple homes and impose fresh mortgage curbs to rein in speculators who policymakers blame for stoking a housing bubble in main regions across the nation.

The latest measures — the third set of steps in 10 months — are the most stringent on record and signal government worries that rampant household debt could imperil the economy if left unchecked.

Starting from April 2018, those with two homes in the designated regions will face 10 percentage point of additional capital gains tax, on top of the current tax rates ranging from 6 per cent to 40 per cent depending on the size of profits, the government said in a statement today.

Those with more than three homes will face an additional 20 percentage point tax on top of the existing levy.

The proposed changes in capital gains tax need to be approved by lawmakers.

Today's measures also designate all of Seoul and parts of the outskirts of the capital as "overheating zones," which will be subject to tighter mortgage rules.

"By far this is the strongest measure to curb buying frenzy," said Lee Mi-yun, an analyst at Real Estate 114 Inc., a real estate research agency.

"Those with multiple homes are likely to stay in wait-and-see mode, as the proposed changes needs to go through the parliamentary hurdle."

Mortgage rules that came into effect July 3 and other restrictions in November last year have failed to stabilise prices. The July measures saw loan limits tightened for home buyers in regions showing signs of overheating, including Seoul.

Locally listed construction company shares showed muted reaction to announcement as many had fallen steadily in the past few days in anticipation of the tighter rules.

The sub-index for construction-related companies declined 3.2 per cent since July 26. GS construction is off 7.7 per cent since last Tuesday.

Debt risks

Household debt is currently at a record high, a headwind for growth as it crimps private consumption and potentially exposes the economy to a sharp down turn in the event of a housing market collapse.

Regulators are also concerned speculators could drive up property prices beyond the reach of first-home buyers and those in low-income category.

"Residential properties shouldn't be investment products but a home, and any speculative demand should be curbed," the government said in the statement.

The average price of a Seoul apartment in March exceeded 600 million won (RM2.29 million) for the first time, an increase of more than 20 per cent from four years earlier.

Despite the tighter mortgage curbs in July, apartment prices in Seoul rose 4.81 per cent from a year earlier in July, while prices nationwide increased 1.6 per cent, data from Koomin Bank shows.

Today's announcement will see loan limits for home buyers in Seoul and its outskirts tightened to 40 per cent of a property's value, down from 60 per cent.

Debt repayments will also be limited to 40 per cent of home buyers' annual income in those selected regions, down from the current 50 per cent, it said.

Within Seoul, those investing in the affluent Gangnam district as well as Mapo, and Yongsan will face even tougher mortgage rules and resale restrictions.

Details on when the fresh mortgage rules will kick in will be decided before year-end, the government said. Unlike the proposed changes in capital gains taxes, the new mortgage rules don't need parliamentary approval.

"Measures announced today could slow home buying for now," Lee said — Reuters

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