Door shuts on flat applicant of ‘Other’ race

Door shuts on flat applicant of ‘Other’ race

 

I FORMALLY made Singapore my adopted home and took up citizenship in 2006. I believe that my family and I will make many contributions. We are currently posted overseas and look forward to returning home in March.

 

Like all Singaporeans, we spent a considerable amount of time and money looking for the ideal place to call home, and found such a place in Pasir Ris. When we executed the purchase agreement late last month, there were no restrictions for the ‘Other’ racial group. However, to our dismay, when we went to register the sale with HDB early this month, we were rejected as applications under the ‘Other’ category had closed.

 

I broadly understand the aim of the national housing policy and the desire to ensure a good racial mix in an estate. However, one needs to look no farther than my family for an example of racial/ethnic diversity. I am a Caucasian who has lived in Asia for the past 12 years. My wife is Malaysian of Indian descent and we have a two-year-old daughter who was born in Hong Kong. I have two older children whose mother is Chinese.

 

We don’t fit a cookie-cutter definition of race and to simply categorise us as ‘Other’ overlooks our unique blend of race and culture.

 

I am proud to call Singapore my home but feel it is time for Singapore to recognise that in today’s world the traditional definitions of race/ethnicity no longer exist.

 

John McHenderson Lackey

Bangalore, India

 

Source: Straits Times

Corrupt land sale: Recovered $1.1m back with Taoist group

Corrupt land sale: Recovered $1.1m back with Taoist group

 

Money placed in the care of Taoist Federation as a charity fund

 

By Yen Feng

 

A 15-YEAR-OLD saga of a corrupt land sale that sent three Taoist devotees to prison and bankrupted one family has come to a close.

 

Yesterday, in a room above the watchful gods of the San Qing Gong temple in Bedok, members of the Taoist Federation said the money recovered from the lawbreakers – about $1.1 million – has been placed in its care as a charity fund.

 

The money, said the federation’s chairman Tan Thiam Lye, will be used to help underprivileged Singaporeans pay for school expenses, medical treatment and other welfare services. Applicants for the fund need not be followers of the Taoist faith.

 

The return of this money to the charge of Singapore’s Taoist community has been a long time coming.

 

In 1991, the land on which sat the 100-year-old Kew Thian Neo Neo Temple in Balestier Road was sold for a tenth of its value – $132,000 – after three of its four property trustees accepted nearly $1 million in bribes from its buyers.

 

It was torn down soon after.

 

Two years later, the three trustees were found out, charged, and sent to jail.

 

The buyers, a businessman and his son, were spared jail time for their testimony, but were slapped with $6.3 million in fines.

 

More than 10 years later, the Attorney-General’s Chambers has decided to stop waiting for them to pay up the fine.

 

The businessman died in 2004, the same year his building supplies company closed down. His son declared himself bankrupt a year later.

 

Of the fine, father and son coughed up $952,000. Another $147,000 was recovered from the corrupt trio, rounding up the sum to $1.1 million.

 

The federation has appointed three new trustees to manage the money.

 

Unlike their predecessors, Mr Lim Chwee Kim, Mr Tan Tee San and Madam Maih Lan Ying hold respected positions in the Chinese community. They also come with years of experience in charity work.

 

Said Madam Maih, who has given away millions privately in the last 60 years: ‘This is the public’s money now. There will be strict controls and checks to ensure that every cent will go to a good and deserving cause.’

 

The Taoist Federation is not new to managing large amounts of money.

 

In 2004, it was appointed by the courts to handle $250,000 that came out of a legal tussle between the trustees of another temple – the Kew Ong Yah Temple in Upper Serangoon Road.

 

Currently, another $1.2 million of the temple’s funds is being held by the Public Trustee. That money is expected to be handed to the Taoist Federation for safekeeping, too.

 

Source: Straits Times

Office rents lift MMP Reit’s income

Office rents lift MMP Reit’s income

 

By Joyce Teo

 

MACQUARIE Meag Prime real estate investment trust (MMP Reit) yesterday reported a distributable income per unit of 1.68 cents for the fourth quarter, up 14.3 per cent from a year earlier.

 

This took its full-year distributable income per unit to 6.19 cents, up from 5.79 cents the previous year. The annualised yield is at 6.06 per cent.

 

Distributable income was at $16.2 million for the Reit, which owns about 74 per cent of Wisma Atria and 27 per cent of Ngee Ann City.

 

These favourable results were, in part, helped by Singapore’s strong office market.

 

Average office rents at the two buildings rose from $7 to $8 per sq ft (psf) in the first half to slightly above $12 psf at the end of last year, said Mr Franklin Heng, chief executive of the Reit’s manager.

 

Their asking rents are now $16 psf. They will be able to take advantage of the strong market in the next two years, he said.

 

The Reit’s performance was also boosted by income from newly acquired properties in Japan and China.

 

MMP Reit’s portfolio valuation increased 18.1 per cent to $2.2 billion in the fourth quarter, while net asset value per unit rose 27.8 per cent to $1.61 at the end of last year.

 

The Reit is set to benefit from the reconfiguration of the Ngee Ann city space occupied previously by the National Library. They are carving out at least eight new stores and will get average rents of $16.50 psf, up from $7.10 psf.

 

However, the big uplift this year will come from the June rent review of Toshin Development, which holds a master lease in Ngee Ann City, said Mr Heng.

 

Acquisitions are also on the cards.

 

Source: Straits Times

Heading to town? Choices galore for those in north

Heading to town? Choices galore for those in north

 

Fully open KPE, new expressway, Thomson rail line will cut travelling time to city

 

By Maria Almenoar and Amy Tan

 

MOTORIST Shiva Bhaskaran pays between $4 and $5 in Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges daily to get to work.

 

The 49-year-old information technology director passes under two gantries on his 25-minute drive from his Yio Chu Kang home to his office in Raffles Link via the Central Expressway (CTE).

 

Said the owner of an eight-year-old Mercedes-Benz: ‘I use the CTE although it is not the only route I can use. It’s the most convenient.’

 

He may have a few alternative routes now, but more viable choices in travel routes – and even travel modes – will open up for him by 2020, as for all those living in the north and north-east corridor.

 

Residents living in areas such as Woodlands, Sembawang, Yishun, Ang Mo Kio and Bishan will benefit from some of the projects Transport Minister Raymond Lim listed yesterday.

 

First up, the opening of the rest of the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) on Sept 20, following the opening of its maiden 3km stretch from Sims Avenue to Fort Road in the East Coast Parkway last October.

 

When fully open, a 12km underground stretch will link north-east neighbourhoods such as Buangkok, Bartley and Tampines to the Pan-Island Expressway and the city.

 

Those living in these northern suburbs can expect to cut commuting time to the city by a quarter, said Mr Lim, at the unveiling of the third and final part of the the Land Transport Review.

 

But the $1.74 billion KPE is not the only facility built to meet the travel demands of these residents. Another new expressway, the 21km North-South Expressway (NSE), will be built parallel to the CTE by 2020.

 

Singapore‘s 11th expressway, costing between $7 billion and $8 billion, is expected to cut travel time to the city by nearly a third, for those in the north. The NSE has been raised before as the long-term answer to the CTE’s congestion, but the Government has, till now, held off building it.

 

Asked why it was the right time now, Mr Lim replied that travel demand in the northern corridor was projected to grow by 63 per cent.

 

Besides the KPE and the NSE, the Government – which hopes to persuade more to use public transport – will add a new north-south rail line, the Thomson line, for residents in the north.

 

The 27km rail line announced last week will run from Woodlands to Marina Bay and link Sin Ming, Kim Seng and Thomson, neighbourhoods now outside the rail network.

 

By 2018, commuters in Sin Ming, for example, can shave 20 minutes off the 45 minutes it now takes to get to town.

 

Expressways and road interchanges in the northern corridor going south to the city will also be widened.

 

By 2011, the CTE will have an extra lane from Jalan Toa Payoh to Yio Chu Kang; traffic flow will also be improved along the northbound CTE where it enters the PIE.

 

Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC Ellen Lee is hopeful that the measures will relieve the congestion her constituents experience during the morning rush hour.

 

But just how will motorists take to the new projects, and will they bite at the alternative means of travel offered?

 

For Mr Shiva, giving up his car is not an option as he can afford it and also ‘because I have invested so much in my car’.

 

But he added: ‘I will definitely use the North-South Expressway when it’s ready.’

 

Source: Straits Times

Valuation wrong, so Strata board rejects sale of Regent Garden

Valuation wrong, so Strata board rejects sale of Regent Garden

 

In an unusual case, it says $34m price agreed on by owners and developer is well below market value

 

By Joyce Teo

 

AN UNUSUAL battle over the en bloc sale of Regent Garden intensified yesterday when the Strata Titles Board (STB) threw out the sale – ruling the $34 million sale had not been done in good faith.

 

The showdown over the fate of the 31-unit West Coast Road condominium site is now headed for the High Court.

 

The case is unusual because all six dissenting minority owners had withdrawn their objections to the sale, which was inked last April.

 

It is now the majority owners, who signed off on the sale, who are trying to back out of the deal with buyer Allgreen Properties.

 

The STB said it rejected the deal because it was not done in good faith, as Regent Garden’s valuation – on which the final price was based – was wrong.

 

It said that Regent Garden’s $34 million sale price was well below its market value.

 

The deal needed STB’s formal approval as there had originally been objections to the sale.

 

The dispute also involves alleged extra payments made to minority owners to quell those objections.

 

The majority owners filed an originating summons in the High Court this month trying to overturn the sale.

 

They argued that the $34 million sale price was wrong partly because of a wrongly estimated $7.2 million development charge – a charge for redeveloping a site to enhance its value. The charge, payable by developers, turned out to be just $950,000.

 

The large disparity is not common, and a consultant said it could be due to historical reasons, as the Regent Garden site permits more space to be built than usual.

 

Unless those involved knew the project’s development history, they would have been unaware of this, he said.

 

Allgreen has also gone to the High Court to ask for an order requiring the majority owners to complete the sale deal by Feb 28.

 

The two cases are likely to be heard together on a date that has yet to be fixed, said a sale committee member.

 

Another high-profile disputed collective sale, at Horizon Towers, as well as smaller cases such as Finland Gardens, are also due to be heard by the High Court.

 

The STB delivered its decision yesterday in an oral statement at the end of a half-day hearing, and has yet to give the grounds for the decision.

 

In a statement yesterday, Allgreen said it was surprised at the STB decision to hear the case despite pending court proceedings and the fact that there had been no objectors.

 

A property industry source who declined to be named said the case is unique as the STB took the effort to hear the merits of the case and threw it out even though there were no objections.

 

In a case where there are withdrawn objections from minority owners, these owners must sign the collective sale agreement in order to be a party to the deal. If not, the STB still has to rule on it.

 

However, in past cases, the STB just approved a sale, and did not look into the merits of the case as there was no need to, said the source.

 

Allgreen said that the STB decision would have no bearing on the case in the High Court.

 

Its fixed sale price of $34 million was the highest among all bids, it said. Also, it had offered owners the option of a floating sale price subject to the development charge.

 

But the sale committee had asked for the $34 million fixed price and refused advice to pay for an official figure.

 

The majority owners’ allegations are ‘nothing more than belated attempts to reopen a concluded bargain and to extract a better price for themselves’, said Allgreen.

 

‘We will rigorously pursue our case in court.’

 

Source: Straits Times

IMF: It is a global slowdown

IMF: It is a global slowdown

 

World growth expected to hit 5-year low over US fallout

 

Thursday • January 31, 2008

 

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its 2008 forecast for world growth, warning that the global economy will deliver the weakest performance in five years as United States-originated financial strains intensify.

 

The IMF said no country will entirely escape the fallout from a crisis in the US sub-prime mortgage market, where loans made to less credit-worthy borrowers were packed into securities by Wall Street firms and sold around the world.

 

Defaults are soaring on the loans and no one has a firm estimate on eventual losses. Banks are continuing to write down billions of dollars in projected losses, raising fears they will be reluctant to lend, which would further crimp economic expansion.

 

“It is a global slowdown, without any question,” IMF chief economist Simon Johnson said. He declined to comment on a possible US recession, but the IMF made plain that it was braced for more bad news.

 

“The overall balance of risks to the global growth outlook is still tilted to the downside,” the IMF said in an update to its semi-annual World Economic Outlook released in October.

 

It lowered its global 2008 growth projection to 4.1 per cent from 4.4 per cent.

 

This would be the weakest performance since 2003, when world growth notched 3.6 per cent, and reflects a marked slowdown from the 4.9-per-cent pace last year — although emerging economies have held up so far and China has not faltered.

 

“The financial market strains originating in the US sub-prime sector … have intensified, while the recent steep sell-off in global equity markets was symptomatic of rising uncertainty,” said the IMF.

 

It cut its US growth forecast for this year by 0.4 percentage point to 1.5 per cent and lowered the euro-zone projection by 0.5 percentage point to 1.6 per cent.

 

Forecast for Japan was lowered 0.2 percentage point to 1.5 per cent, but China’s economy was still expected to expand by a respectable 10 per cent this year. — Reuters

 

Source: Today Newspaper

Property players hold back

Property players hold back

 

Companies wary of acquisitions amid market uncertainty

 

Thursday • January 31, 2008

 

Esther Fung

esther@…

 

EVEN as property prices come off their peaks, sector participants are keeping cautious, with Macquarie MEAG Prime Reit’s manager becoming the latest to say it will hold off making acquisitions for now.

 

The uncertain mood brought on by turbulence and volatility in financial markets is curbing enthusiasm for property around the world.

 

“We have been shy of making acquisitions at the wrong price. So far, we have been prudent in terms of looking at what’s a good buy for us,” said Mr Franklin Heng, chief executive officer of Macquarie Pacific Star, the manager of the Macquarie MEAG Prime Reit. The Reit has interests in properties such as Wisma Atria and Ngee Ann City.

 

He announced at a briefing that for the three months ended Dec 31, the Reit had a distributable net income of $16.2 million, which means a distribution per unit of 1.68 cents.

 

On Tuesday, Keppel Land CEO Kevin Wong said he will “selectively acquire commercial and residential sites”, while Mapletree Logistics trust said last week it “will continue with its yield plus growth strategy, but in the current environment, it will focus on optimising yield from its existing portfolio”.

 

This strategy to look to organic growth to drive earnings contrasts with that of last year, when property trusts derived a large part of their profits from acquisitions.

 

“Most Reits still have balance sheets to take on acquisitions. But for major acquisitions, perhaps not this year, especially if that requires equity fund-raising,” said Mr David Lum, an analyst from Daiwa Securities. “I don’t think any Reit wants to be forced into any equity fund raising.”

 

“We are starting to see some sellers coming out of the sub-prime crisis. They may have to sell their assets very quickly, particularly those who are heavily-geared. So, getting financing is very challenging now,” said Mr Heng.

 

Macquarie‘s “balance sheet is very healthy, so, it’s much easier for us to gear up, to make those acquisitions. Especially towards the second half of this year, there should be some quality assets from Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong up for sale”..

 

Source: Today Newspaper

Regent off the hook for now

Regent off the hook for now

 

STB stops Allgreen’s purchase of condo for lack of ‘good faith’

 

Thursday • January 31, 2008

 

Tan Hui Leng

huileng@…

 

AN APPLICATION for the en bloc sale of Regent Garden has been dismissed by the Strata Titles Board (STB) — much to the delight of the majority owners.

 

A group of 25 owners at the 31-unit condominium had earlier sued the buyers, Allgreen Properties, for allegedly breaching the sale and purchase agreement by grossly undervaluing the property at West Coast Road. Allgreen has denied the allegations.

 

While the High Court has yet to hold a hearing on the case, the STB yesterday decided that the $34-million sale was not conducted in “good faith” because the basis for the valuation of the property was wrong.

 

The majority owners argued that developer Allgreen had overstated the development charge, or DC, thus depressing the sale price.

 

The DC was initially stated to be $7.6 million, but worked out to be just over $950,800. The STB heard that the sale committee had discovered the shortfall from a letter dated July 23 last year, sent from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to Allgreen’s architects in their proposed redevelopment project.

 

In explaining the STB’s decision, which also took into account the views of two valuers who had performed valuations of the condominium, deputy president Alfonso Ang said the first calculation of the DC “gave rise to incorrect market value”, thus resulting in “the sale price of $34 million that was well below the market value”.

 

When the STB announced its decision yesterday, owners who were present were all smiles and congratulated one another.

 

However, this is just round one of what is to come. There are still two High Court orders on whether the contractual agreement signed between the condominium’s sale committee and Allgreen is valid.

 

The developer said in a statement it was “surprised” at the STB’s decision to proceed with the hearing despite the pending Court proceedings initiated by both parties.

 

“The Board’s decision will have no bearing on Allgreen’s case in the High Court, where Allgreen will continue to ask for an order that the majority owners complete the sale and purchase of Regent Garden in accordance with the terms of the sale and purchase agreement,” it said.

 

Allgreen said that before the agreement was signed, it had offered the option of having a floating sale price that would be subject to the DC. The sale committee, however, rejected this option and decided to fix the sale price at $34 million in order to guarantee itself certainty of sale, the developer added.

 

Source: Today Newspaper

State properties for office use see healthy take-up

State properties for office use see healthy take-up

 

SLA to release more sites this quarter to further ease office space crunch

 

By ARTHUR SIM

 

(SINGAPORE) Offices in state-owned properties seem to be catching on. After a quick turnaround time of about six months and about $2 million spent, Phillip Securities has opened its new Phillip Investor Hub at the former Moulmein Community Centre this week.

 

And following the healthy take-up of state-owned properties – 12 out of 15 properties put up for dedicated office use were awarded in 2007 – the Singapore Land Authority says it expects to release another 32,300 square feet of space for potential office use in the current quarter. Properties that have been earmarked include the former Siglap-Changi Community Centre.

 

SLA says that of the 12 properties, which have a total of over 1.1 million sq ft of floor area, half have achieved full occupancy.

 

Foster Wheeler, a US engineering and construction services consultancy, is another company that will move to the former ITE Pasir Panjang site, taking up 70,000 sq ft. SLA believes the company’s move will free up 50,000 sq ft in the central business district or CBD.

 

SLA director of land operations Simon Ong said: ‘More importantly, the relief supply met the immediate need of tenants decanting from prime locations.’

 

The new Phillip Investor Hub was leased to Phillip Securities after it emerged as the top bidder in a public tender with a bid of $35,000 a month for the 22,593 sq ft gross floor area (GFA) building, or just $1.55 psf per month.

 

Phillip Securities will still maintain its corporate offices in the CBD, but it is quite happy to expand part of its operations to SLA properties. Phillip Securities business development director for consumer services Lisa Lee said: ‘Since we have spent close to $2 million to renovate the place, we intend to lease the state property from SLA for as long as we can.’

 

While the new Phillip Investor Hub will occupy 100 per cent of its leased premises, ERC Holdings, which was awarded the former River Valley Primary School property, plans to sub-let part of the property to other companies to cover some of its costs.

 

ERC chief executive Andy Ong said that it would have spent between $3.5 million and $5 million when the refurbishment is completed.

 

Already, it has signed tenants including luxury watch maker Audemars Piguet, which will set up a service centre, and restaurant group Senso Holdings.

 

While occupying old buildings does come with certain challenges – power supply and plumbing being the main issues – ERC has nevertheless decided to move a substantial part of its offices out. Mr Ong said that ERC would give up three-quarters of its 20,000 sq ft office in Robinson Road ‘after the rent was increased by 350 per cent’.

 

Knight Frank director of business space Agnes Tay said that push factors notwithstanding, these state properties may not be for everyone. ‘Most of these tenants are very clear about what sort of location they want,’ she added.

 

Knight Frank is the leasing agent for the former ITE Pasir Panjang site, which has a GFA of 218,891 sq ft, at Alexandra Road. The site was awarded to master tenant RichZone Properties for $288,999 a month or $1.30 psf per month.

 

Ms Tay said that leasing operations began in Q4 last year. About 40 per cent of the property has been leased out so far. Apart from Foster Wheeler, other tenants include electronics giant LG.

 

Early-bird tenants were also offered rents at about $4 psf per month but potential interest has bolstered rents and Ms Tay said that the asking rent has now gone up to $5-5.50 psf per month.

 

But because of the capital investment involved in undertaking such a large site, Ms Tay notes that there is little ‘immediate profit’ for the master tenant. ‘This is not a yield-type play,’ she said.

 

Hean Nerng Investments, which is in the business of managing properties, has leased the former Gan Eng Seng School at Raeburn Park – with a GFA of 160,000 sq ft – for about $200,000 per month or $1.25 psf per month. It is sub-letting the property at about $5 psf per month and sub-tenants include a government agency.

 

The property is already 60 per cent leased. Refurbishment of the property will be completed by end-February and Hean Nerng expects to have no problem filling it up. Hean Nerng managing director Kelvin Lim noted that his potential tenants are either escaping high CBD rents or looking for space to expand.

 

And CBD rents are expected to continue rising this year. Ms Tay said that asking rents for some prime Raffles Place office space is now as high as $19-20 psf per month, ensuring that at least a few more old state buildings are likely to get a new lease of life.

 

Source: Business Times

Mortgage crisis creates ghost town

Mortgage crisis creates ghost town

 

US neighbourhood’s dream becomes nightmare as lending disaster stirs the perfect storm

 

CLEVELAND (OHIO) – THE streets are empty. Trash rustles down the road past rusted barbecues, abandoned furniture, sagging homes and gardens turned to weed.

 

This is Mount Pleasant, a neighbourhood in south-eastern Cleveland ravaged by the sub-prime mortgage crisis roiling the United States.

 

Faded ‘For Sale’ signs sit in front of deserted houses. The residents are gone, most after being evicted for missing their mortgage payments.

 

A red, white and blue American flag flies over windows and doors that have been boarded up to keep drug dealers away. Thieves have stripped many homes of the plumbing, the doors, the windows, the aluminium siding.

 

Mr Sarah Evans, 60, is one of the last people left on the street. And she is on the verge of losing the two-bedroom house in which she has lived for more than 30 years because she simply cannot afford her monthly payments.

 

It is a complicated story. She refinanced in 2003 but did not realise the document she signed included provisions to radically increase the interest rate. She stopped making payments in 2006 and shows her unpaid bills totalling US$24,000 (S$34,200). Her bank is in the midst of eviction procedures.

 

‘When folks buy a home, they expect to die in it, I guess,’ she said, as she stood outside in the cold. ‘I had my American Dream, but it became a nightmare.’

 

Ms Laura Johnston, 50, said her street – about 10 minutes away by car – was alive two years ago. Today, half the houses are abandoned.

 

‘I’m very upset. I missed my friend, Helen. She disappeared overnight. She did not even say goodbye.’

 

For county treasurer Jim Rokakis, the greed of the banks is to blame for this man-made disaster. ‘All you needed was a pulse to buy a house. Some loans were written with no money down, no proof of buyer’s incomes. Most of those folks were jobless,’ he said in an interview.

 

The Mount Pleasant community, he said, ‘was the perfect storm: poor folks, unemployed and a desire to get a piece of the American Dream’.

 

Source: Straits Times