He’s property agent to the Hong Kong stars

He’s property agent to the Hong Kong stars


Singaporean’s celebrity clients include Andy Lau and Jackie Chan. He brokered latter’s $11m purchase of Jinriksha Station last month


By Nur Dianah Suhaimi


MOVIE stars do it differently. After just 10 minutes of talking in a piano lounge in Taiwan, Jackie Chan agreed to buy an $8.8 million piece of property in Singapore.


Two days later, the cheque arrived at Mr Simon Kwan’s office in International Plaza here. This was in 1996 when Chan bought The 50s entertainment complex in Tanjong Pagar.


The Hong Kong movie star had not set eyes on his buy. Not even its floor plan.


That is how he usually buys places, said Mr Kwan, who has been handling the actor’s property deals here since 1994.


Jackie Chan’s latest acquisition is the three-storey former Jinriksha Station at 1 Neil Road last month, for which he paid $11 million.


While he has been on the ground floor of the former depot for rickshaw pullers, he has no clue what the upper two floors look like.


Mr Kwan said Chan likes small but beautifully designed buildings because they are like ‘pieces of art’.


Both the 105-year-old Jinriksha Station and the four-storey The 50s complex Chan bought are historic buildings within the Neil Road conservation area.


The movie star also owns a few condominium units in the Orchard Road area, including a three-bedroom unit in The Grangeford condo which will reap $3.4 million in a coming collective sale.


Last October, he opened a 1,500 sq ft cafe at 1 Nassim Road, called Jackie Chan’s Cafe, Coffee And Tea.


Mr Kwan was once an unknown player who joined his family’s small property business, Heng Fatt Properties. His fortunes changed when he was introduced to Chan at a New Year’s Day party in 1994 by the movie star’s manager at the now defunct Studebakers discotheque here.


Since then, he has been included on the social circuit of Hong Kong stars. doing business with the likes of Emil Chau and Andy Lau, as well as with the late Anita Mui and Teresa Teng.


The Hong Kongers have bought more than 10 properties (he says he cannot remember the exact number) from him, the biggest purchase being Chan’s $11 million Jinriksha Station.


Said Mr Kwan: ‘Hong Kong stars have always been interested in buying Singapore property. But they don’t know much about property. So they need someone here whom they can trust to handle their businesses.’


He gets the usual 1 per cent cut from each transaction, he said. During good times, his income can hit $1 million in a month.


Not only does he choose and buy properties for the stars, but he also calls the shots on how much rent the purchased properties should fetch and whether or not renovations are required. On their part, the stars send him their cheques.


He now manages 10 properties for them.


Said Mr Kwan: ‘I treat their properties as though they are my own. So I’m very careful when I make decisions for them.’


His business dealings with them have blossomed into friendship.


Twice, singer Emil Chau flew to Singapore specially to sing at The 50s pub gratis. Mr Kwan owns the pub, located within The 50s entertainment complex, and the space it occupies, which he leased from Chan.


And when Mr Kwan ran into some financial trouble in 2003, Chan waived a month’s rent of $30,000 owed to him.


Said Mr Kwan: ‘Before I knew them, they were my idols. Over the years, I realise that they are down-to-earth and humble people. Now, they have become my close friends.’


Source: Straits Times

How can landlord reclaim house when tenant fails to pay rent?



How can landlord reclaim house when tenant fails to pay rent?


Q MY FRIEND’S three-room terrace house in Singapore was rented out to a divorcee and her daughter. The tenant put down a total deposit of $1,200, consisting of one month’s rental of $1,000 and $200 for utility bills.


The tenant last paid rent in April last year. She owes four months’ rent, or $4,000. Before that, she had been late in making payments for several months. Unpaid bills for utilities add up to about $100.


The landlord has chased the tenant for rental payment since June. At first, the tenant gave many excuses and promises, but they all turned out to be false.


Since late July, the tenant has stopped answering the landlord’s calls to her mobile phone and has also not returned any SMSes. She and her daughter were hardly ever at home.


In late July, the landlord locked the front and back gates of the house with extra padlocks but did not enter the house. The tenant’s possessions are still in the house. The tenant did not attempt to enter the house or contact the landlord.


The landlord made a police report that the tenant owed money and could not be contacted. The landlord’s primary goal is to reclaim the house and rent it to someone else. The money owed is secondary.


A notice containing details of the amount owed and of the police report that had been made was posted on the front door of the house. The same notice was circulated to neighbours.


The tenant’s furnishings were bought from a furniture company on instalment.


My questions are:


a) Does the landlord have the right to lock up the front and back gates of the house without entering the house?


b) What are the landlord’s liabilities if he enters the house and then sells the tenant’s possessions to reclaim part of the money owed?


c) What are the landlord’s liabilities if he enters the house, takes photos of the interior of the house with all the tenant’s possessions, for documentation purposes, and then moves the possessions into a storage room?


After that, can the landlord rent out the house to another tenant but keep the storage room for his own use in order to store the previous tenant’s possessions?


d) If the tenant makes a police report that the landlord entered the house and took her possessions, can the police arrest the landlord?


e) Can the furniture company make a claim against the landlord for selling the furnishings that are still being paid for by instalment?


f) What is the best method to evict the tenant in my friend’s case?



A WHEN a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may of course sue the tenant for the arrears of rent, just as he could with any other debt due and owing.


The action must be brought within six years of the date that the arrears became due.


However, the landlord has two other specific remedies, namely, distress under the Distress Act and forfeiture of the lease.


Distress is an ancient remedy that is quite similar to seizure and sale – that is, the tenant’s goods are seized and sold, and the rent owing must not exceed 12 months of the tenancy.


Such an action may be brought if the tenant is still in occupation or has his goods or belongings on the property. The procedure starts with the filing of a writ of distress that is addressed to the sheriff. The sheriff will seize the goods, and make an inventory and a valuation. He will also give the tenant a notice of the seizure, informing him of the rent owed and that the goods seized will be sold at a stated place and time.


Such a notice may be pasted in a conspicuous place on the premises. The tenant has five days to pay up from the date of notice or to apply to court for an order to stop the sale.


On the tenant’s application, the court may order that the goods be released unconditionally, direct that an issue be tried and so suspend the writ, or hold that the goods may be sold.


Of course, if no application is made, the goods will be sold and the proceeds applied first to pay the sheriff’s costs and then to satisfy the outstanding rent. The balance, if any, would be returned to the tenant.


Certain items cannot be distrained, such as things in actual use in the hands of the tenant, tools and implements, and his necessary clothes and bedding for himself and his family.


Only movable items may be seized, so fixtures are excluded. It is also common for most hire-purchase companies to expressly provide in the hire-purchase agreement that the hiring shall automatically terminate if the hirer’s landlord takes any steps to levy distress. Therefore, such goods cannot be seized and, if seized, would be released by the court.


Where the tenant has abandoned the premises and there is insufficient property for distress, then if (a) the rent is not less than 75 per cent of the annual value of the property and (b) the rent has been in arrears for at least two months, the landlord may apply to court to enter and take possession of the premises.


The sheriff will paste a notice informing the tenant that possession will be given to the landlord unless the tenant applies within 10 days, or the court orders otherwise, on the application of the tenant or some other interested party.


If the distress action is brought after bankruptcy proceedings have started against the tenant, then only three months of arrears of rent are recoverable against him. The landlord may also file a proof of debt with the Official Assignee against the bankrupt tenant, just as he could with any other unsecured creditor.


The landlord may also apply for forfeiture of the lease, which would effectively bring the lease to an end. This is usually an action for possession, and a well-drafted agreement will usually contain a clause for re-entry in the event of the tenant’s failure to pay rent.


However, the tenant may apply to court before judgment for relief from forfeiture by paying into court all the arrears of rent and costs, in which case the tenant would be able to continue with the lease and not have to enter into a new lease.


Even after judgment for possession, the tenant is still entitled to relief if he pays up the judgment sum with costs within four weeks of the judgment. The law is not explicit about whether relief is still available to the tenant where the landlord has entered into possession peaceably and changed the locks. While the court might still be able to grant relief, it would, however, take into account the lapse of time as it would not be fair to the landlord if the tenant were to appear out of the blue and pay the arrears to reclaim the lease. The tenant’s significantly long absence could well be read as an implied surrender of the lease.


In your friend’s case, it appears that he has entered into possession peaceably and that has effectively brought the lease to an end.


However, your friend should be mindful of the tenant’s right to apply for relief. The tenant’s right to relief is extinguished only if your friend issued and served proceedings for possession, obtained judgment and then entered the premises on the strength of that judgment.


As for the tenant’s goods, it is prudent and best to apply for a court order as the tenant might make all sorts of allegations that his property had not been properly valued or had been sold at an undervalued price.


The police usually treat disputes between landlord and tenant as a commercial matter.


Amolat Singh


Amolat & Partners


Source: Straits Times

Are condo-like HDB flats good value?

Are condo-like HDB flats good value?


They might come with fancy trappings but can’t be bought and sold freely like private condos


By Fiona Chan


THE high-end HDB flats launched yesterday at Boon Keng are the talk of the town.


Styled to look like private condominiums, the flats in City View @ Boon Keng will boast timber flooring and large bay windows, as well as built-in wardrobes and kitchen cabinets.


These more luxurious HDB flats, built under the Design, Build and Sell Scheme, are being snapped up by homebuyers. Even before the project’s launch, more than 1,000 inquiries had been made. But these trappings come at a price: The 714 flats in the project will be offered for an average price of $520 per sq ft (psf).


While this makes them significantly cheaper than actual condos in the area, the prices are a cut above those for regular HDB flats. City View’s three-room flats will go for between $349,000 and $394,000 – about double what similar flats in the vicinity cost.


The five-room flats will range from $536,000 to $727,000, which also makes them far pricier than nearby flats. The average price of a five-room flat in Boon Keng is about $450,000, said Mr Nicholas Mak, the director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.


As a result, even as would-be buyers form long queues for City View, property experts are divided as to whether the project is really worth its heftier price tag.


The main point of contention is what City View, and projects like it, should be compared to as a baseline: HDB flats, executive condos or private condos.


City View is only the second public housing project to be built by a private developer – in this case, Hoi Hup Sunway. The first, The Premiere @ Tampines, is being built by Sim Lian Land.


Property agents believe City View should be compared to condos. They highlight the premium finishings and central location, and the fact that the flats are much cheaper than condos in the area. ‘The furnishings, design and layout are comparable to those of private properties,’ said Mr Mohamed Ismail, the chief executive of property agency PropNex.


‘I think the price is worth it, especially if you’re talking about a three- or four-room flat for $300,000-plus in such a location.’


He noted that a three-room flat in the Rochor area that is over 30 years old can command $80,000 to $100,000 over valuation.


He added: ‘In eight years, City View will still be half the cost of private property and I’m very sure it will be able to find buyers. It will be a golden investment then.’


HSR Property Group, which is marketing City View, pointed to the strong demand for the project even before its launch.


‘The resale value will be there because consumers will pay for the convenience and rarity,’ said Ms Kellie Liew, a project director at HSR. ‘When you look at private condos, you can’t get this price.’


In contrast, property consultants said City View flats were more readily comparable to other types of HDB flats than to condos. They lack the security and amenities provided in condos and cannot be resold to foreigners, said Mr Ku Swee Yong, the director of marketing and business development at Savills Singapore.


‘The project is more expensive than HDB, but you still have HDB rules and HDB guidelines for ownership,’ said one consultant who asked not to be named. ‘The better location doesn’t justify the higher price tag – it’s supposed to be public housing!’ City View flats are sold under the same rules that apply to new HDB flats. Buyers qualify only if they fall under an approved family nucleus scheme, among other things.


Mr Mak noted that the flats cannot be resold for the first five years. ‘This sort of thing tends to be a consumer item – you buy, you use, and if you make money from it, you’re lucky,’ he said.


‘If you buy direct from HDB at a subsidised rate, it’s a better investment as there’s more room for capital appreciation. But if you buy the flat at a high price to begin with, the upside is limited.’


Even owners of executive condos – which have condo facilities and can be resold to foreigners after 10 years – are finding it difficult to make a profit on their homes, added Mr Mak.


Source: Straits Times

1,100 apply for condo-like HDB flats on Day 1

1,100 apply for condo-like HDB flats on Day 1


8,000 pack Boon Keng showflat; the 714 units will be sold only via online ballot


By Tan Hui Yee


ABOUT 1,100 people had applied for 714 condominium-like flats in Boon Keng by 6pm yesterday on Day One of the application period.


Around 8,000 people packed the showflat, with some showing up as early as an hour before the 9am opening time. And this in spite of it not making a difference to their chances of getting a unit as the flats will be sold through an online ballot.


The development, called the City View @ Boon Keng, is the second public housing project to be built and sold by private developers.


The units cost between $349,000 and $727,000 and will come with built-in wardrobes, timber flooring, wall-to-wall balconies and air-conditioning. But they do not have more expensive common facilities such as swimming pools.


First in line for viewing was Mr Xue Xiao Dong, 40, who turned up with his wife and son at the showflat at 8am – one hour before it opened.


The engineer had applied for a standard Housing Board flat in Telok Blangah last year but was unsuccessful.


He said: ‘I know it’s a ballot. But still, I hope that if I come early, I will stand a higher chance.’


Home-seeker Mr V.S. Nathan, 37, came prepared with the necessary documents to apply for a flat on the spot.


‘It seems nice,’ said the manager of a trading company. ‘My initial budget was about $500,000 for a five-room flat, but I may have to buy a four-room flat now.’


The project, which comprises 72 three-room flats, 168 four-room flats and 474 five-room flats, can be bought only by families earning no more than $8,000 a month.


Given that the first lot of such units in Tampines – 616 units developed by Sim Lian Land – attracted almost 6,000 applications in October 2006, the Boon Keng flats were expected to be hot property from the start.


Developer Hoi Hup Sunway and its marketing agent HSR were prepared for the crowd: A large white marquee with seating for 300 acted as the holding area for potential buyers outside the showflat, while families and individuals who entered the showflat were guided by agents.


The spokesman for Hoi Hup Sunway, Mr Wong Chee Herng, said buyers felt the prices were high but liked the flats anyway.


‘We didn’t foresee that so many applications would come in so soon,’ he said.


The results did not surprise property agency chiefs such as Mr Eugene Lim, assistant vice-president of ERA Singapore, who said the project’s proximity to Boon Keng MRT station, the ‘commanding views’ from its 40-storey blocks and its location on the city fringe added up to an attractive product.


Another 2,500 such condo-like flats are being planned for Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Toa Payoh, Simei and Bedok in the coming months.


Applications for the Boon Keng flats can be made only online at http://www.hoihup.com and close on Jan 16.


Source: Straits Times

Use independent body? Lawyers back idea but raise concerns



Use independent body? Lawyers back idea but raise concerns


By Selina Lum


LAWYERS gave the thumbs up to the news that the Chief Justice is considering a scheme to bar lawyers from receiving money from their clients.


But they also say that such a scheme, which would possibly entail the money being parked with an independent body, may lead to an increase in time and costs incurred for those buying and selling property.


This raises the question: Will clients be willing to pay administrative fees and experience bureaucratic delays in order to protect their money from the one or two bad apples in the barrel?


Sole proprietor Vijay Kumar said he was in favour of the money being held by an independent body. ‘There have been all these changes – tightening the rules, having more signatories – but the problem has never gone away.’


Mr Rajan Menon, senior partner at law firm KhattarWong, is also all for protecting clients’ money. ‘We must develop a system where the client is fully protected, so that no errant lawyer will have the chance to help himself to the money,’ he said.


Lawyers point out that a similar stakeholding scheme is already in place.


Buyers of buildings under construction have to park 5 per cent of the purchase price with the Singapore Academy of Law.


The money is released to the developer only after the 12-month defects liability period.


Mr Mark Chua, conveyancing partner at Tito Isaac & Co, said it may make legal sense for the academy to hold the money. But from an economic standpoint, this may not be perfect.


He said that legal clients have to realise that efficiency may be compromised. There will be many procedures to undertake and more forms will have to be filled.


While lawyers can act to release the money almost immediately, an independent body may need some lead time.


Mr Chua pointed out that if the cheques came in late – something which would then result in late completion – there would be a question of who would have to bear the penalty.


It remains to be seen how such a system will work out.


He said: ‘In theory, it’s a good thing.’


Mr Menon believed that the money should be kept in banks and administered by the Law Society, a kind of conveyancing transaction settlement system.


He acknowledged that this may increase costs, which would be needed to fund the running of such a system. Nevertheless, he said it would also be possible that the interest earned could offset the costs.


‘Who’s going to pay? Because of the misdemeanours of one or two lawyers, are we going to change the system of more than 100 years?


‘There are no easy answers,’ he said.


Whatever the scheme, it will have to be studied very carefully, said Mr Vijay, in order to ensure that it does not create a new set of problems.


Mr Chua said: ‘At the end of the day, you can put in as many systems as you want. If a person is determined to take the money, he will find a way of doing it.’


Source: Straits Times

CJ considers stricter rules for lawyers

CJ considers stricter rules for lawyers


By Selina Lum


TIGHTER rules have already been put in place, but it seems there are still ways for a lawyer to make off with clients’ money.


Now, the Chief Justice is wondering if lawyers should be barred from holding clients’ money altogether.


He has appointed Judge of Appeal V. K. Rajah to head a committee to study whether such a system is feasible and desirable.


CJ Chan Sek Keong made the announcement at the opening of the legal year yesterday, attended by judges, lawyers, legal officers and other members of the legal community.


Six new Senior Counsel were appointed at the ceremony, and new Law Society president Michael Hwang made his debut speech.


As is customary, the CJ gave a report card of the work of the courts in the past year and announced new initiatives, such as a website for lawyers to keep up to date with legal developments.


Without naming names, CJ Chan referred to the case of rogue lawyer Zulkifli Amin, who went missing in November. He apparently skipped town for the Philippines after siphoning some $6 million of his clients’ money.


Last year, the Law Society tightened the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules, which govern how lawyers handle clients’ money, as a better check against embezzlement.


This change followed from at least eight cases where lawyers ran off with millions. One of them, David Rasif, swiped $12 million and is now missing.


‘But the latest incident shows that these measures cannot prevent desperate or crooked lawyers from helping themselves to clients’ monies,’ the CJ said.


Mr Zulkifli is the first errant lawyer since the new rules came into force to protect clients’ money. Among the rules: two signatures are needed to withdraw sums higher than $30,000.


Investigations are ongoing, but according to sources, Mr Zulkifli may have forged the second signature or perpetuated some fraud.


Yesterday, CJ Chan said: ‘We need to face reality and come up with a workable scheme to protect clients’ monies.’


While the obvious solution was to prohibit lawyers from receiving clients’ money, this would ‘change radically a conveyancing system which has been in place for more than a hundred years’, he acknowledged.


It may also affect the efficiency of the property market, a concern lawyers interviewed also raised.


Justice Rajah’s working party, which will comprise representatives of all stakeholders in the property market, will study the ramifications of such a change, he said.


It has been given three to five months to study the problem and make its recommendations.


Lawyers interviewed yesterday were in favour of such a system, saying it will probably involve an independent body holding or administering the money.


Speaking to reporters, Senior Counsel Hwang said he did not think the Chief Justice is thinking about a total ban because there have not been any problems with lawyers who hold clients’ money in non-property transactions.


‘You can’t abolish this thing overnight. If we abolish the holding of clients’ money, we will probably be the only country in the common law world to do so,’ he said.


‘Whatever system you have, you can’t stop outright, deliberate, malicious embezzlement. All you can do is try and make it more difficult.’


Source: Straits Times