Demand for single office units still going strong in quiet market

Demand for single office units still going strong in quiet market

 

Investors turn more cautious, but small firms still interested in strata-titled offices

 

By Fiona Chan

 

ALL has turned quiet on the housing front, but some other segments of the property market appear to have escaped that fate.

 

Still going strong in particular are sales of single office units in larger commercial buildings. Known as strata-titled offices, these properties recorded active demand in the fourth quarter last year, even as home sales were taking a breather.

 

A healthy 13 transactions of strata offices occurred between October and December, up from only five in the previous quarter, according to data from CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).

 

Most of the properties were in the city area – Suntec City, Tong Building in Orchard Road, Springleaf Tower in Anson Road – and changed hands at well above $2,000 per sq ft (psf), CBRE said.

 

Altogether, $750.8 million worth of strata offices were sold in the fourth quarter, bringing the total for last year to $1.7 billion – more than four times the figure for 2006.

 

Prices also rose solidly throughout the year. At Suntec City Tower 1, a favourite strata-office location, unit prices climbed about 50 per cent from just above $1,500 psf in January to almost $2,400 psf in December – the highest level in two years.

 

The steady take-up of single units is due largely to the wider boom in Singapore‘s office market. A shortage of offices, even as expanding businesses push up demand for space, has boosted prices and rents across the board, drawing much interest from investors, said CBRE’s executive director of investment properties, Mr Jeremy Lake.

 

But in recent months, even investor demand for offices has slowed as the United States sub-prime mortgage problems spread and sentiment in the market grew more cautious.

 

This has hit sales of entire office buildings, but strata offices have been less affected, said Mr Shaun Poh, a senior director of investment advisory services and auctions at DTZ Debenham Tie Leung.

 

He attributes this to the smaller businesses that are the other main source of demand for single office units. These businesses plan to occupy the space themselves rather than lease it out for rental income.

 

‘Smaller units, of the $1 million to $3 million variety, are more digestible for some buyers,’ he said. ‘They appeal to end-users who are moving from renting to buying now that rents have risen so fast.’

 

DTZ is marketing a floor of offices at Peninsula Plaza near the City Hall area, consisting of six strata units with a total floor area of about 8,500 sq ft. The units are tenanted at about $4 psf, but rents in the building have moved up to between $7 and $8 psf, said Mr Poh.

 

The indicative price for the floor is $17.5 million, or about $2,050 psf. At this price, with a projected $7.50 psf rental, the net yield works out to about 4 per cent, he added.

 

Since the property went on the market earlier this week, DTZ has received ‘more than 10 enquiries’, Mr Poh said.

 

‘Some are investors looking to buy the whole floor, but we’ve also seen interest from end-users in electronics or shipping firms who are interested in buying just one or two units.’

 

In general, however, experts feel that strata-office sales might not be as strong in the first quarter of this year as last year.

 

Colliers International has not yet sold any strata offices at auction this year, after selling one a month between October and December. In December, a 3,003 sq ft unit was sold at United House, for a healthy $2,497 psf.

 

But Mr Poh said that, while sales might slow, prices are unlikely to fall any time soon.

 

‘Prices have not gone up, but neither have they come down,’ he said.

 

‘If they can be maintained in such an environment, and if things get a bit more optimistic, prices could even go up 10 to 20 per cent over the next year.’

 

Source: Straits Times

Who inherits flat depends on type of home co-ownership

Who inherits flat depends on type of home co-ownership

 

Q I HAVE a Housing Board (HDB) flat that I had applied for together with my father before my marriage. Should anything happen to me, will the flat go to my wife or my father, who is a co-owner of the flat?

 

My wife has her own income but ever since we got married, she has not contributed a single cent to the household. I feel she does not deserve to get anything should I suffer any mishap.

 

What can I do to protect my assets from her? I want my father to at least have the bigger share of my assets, including the flat.

 

 

A IT IS important to first ascertain how the HDB flat is co-owned by your father and you. Co-ownership can be in the form of a joint tenancy or a tenancy in common.

 

Joint tenancy basically means the owners own the whole flat together. Tenancy in common would mean that each owner has a stipulated share in the said flat, for example, you might own 70 per cent while your father owns 30 per cent.

 

In the case of a joint tenancy, upon the death of one owner, the other, surviving joint owners will retain the flat in their own names. This is the right of survivorship.

 

Joint tenants cannot will their share in the flat. If they do so, the will becomes ineffective.

 

In the case of tenants in common, the share of the deceased owner will not go to the surviving owner but will instead be inherited by the estate of the former.

 

If you and your father own the flat as joint tenants, then should you die before your father, your share will go automatically to your father and he will become the absolute owner of the flat. Your wife will not get any share.

 

Similarly, if your father dies before you, you will become the absolute owner.

 

Should you die later on, your estate will inherit the flat. If you have made a will, the flat will be inherited by the person to whom you have willed it.

 

If you die without a will, your flat will go to your estate under the laws of intestacy. In other words, your wife and children, if any, will inherit the said flat, in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act Cap 146.

 

If you do not want your wife to inherit the flat, you can make a will stating whom you want the property to be inherited by, if your father dies before you.

 

If your father and you own the flat as tenants in common, you can make a will to state who is to inherit your share of the flat, should you die.

 

If you die without a will, then your share of the flat will go to your estate under the laws of intestacy, that is, your wife and children, if any, would inherit the said share of the flat, in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act Cap 146.

 

Sharanjit Kaur

Partner

Khattarwong

 

Source: Straits Times

Debtors compound the issue

Debtors compound the issue

 

MP CHRISTOPHER de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) suggested in Parliament on Feb 28 that those who borrowed money from loan sharks to gamble and those who provided false addresses should also be punished.

 

Because of such false addresses, innocent people ended up being harassed and their flats vandalised by loan sharks’ thugs, he added.

 

Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee said in response that the proposal would be studied seriously.

 

He added that those who borrowed to feed vices such as gambling were ‘part of the problem’ and should not be ‘treated as victims’.

 

Currently, only the loan sharks are punished.

 

Mr de Souza later told The Sunday Times that his proposal sought to deter people from turning to loan sharks, who levy exorbitant interest rates.

 

On fears that a law punishing illegal borrowing would prevent borrowers who were pursued by loan sharks from coming forward, he said that a number of such borrowers had resorted to giving false addresses. Those who did so would not seek help from the police in the first place.

 

Prof Ho later told The Sunday Times that criminalising borrowing could drive the problem underground and stop borrowers from seeking police assistance.

 

But, he added: ‘Often, borrowers and their reckless conduct are part of the loan-sharking problem.

 

‘Through their irresponsible borrowing habits, they put themselves, their neighbourhoods and their families at risk.’

 

He added that the profiles of borrowers and their habits must first be studied to strike a balance when stamping the loan-shark problem out.

 

Source: Straits Times

Illegal loans: Punish the borrowers too?

Illegal loans: Punish the borrowers too?

 

Loan sharks, illegal borrowers and counsellors say MP’s idea could have unintended outcomes

 

By Mavis Toh

 

LOAN sharks – denizens of a murky underworld – are said to lure, then stalk, people who turn to them for illegal loans.

 

When caught in the law’s trawl net, these ‘Ah Longs’ can be fined and even jailed.

 

But now, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza wants borrowers who use the illegal loans to gamble punished too, as well as those who give false addresses.

 

The authorities say they are looking into the MP’s suggestion.

 

Many illegal debtors resort to giving false addresses, leading to another social problem: Innocent people end up being harassed and their flats vandalised by the loan sharks.

 

Are there unintended outcomes if a law to criminalise illegal borrowing to feed the gambling vice is enacted? The Sunday Times spoke to four ‘Ah Longs’ and 10 people who have borrowed money at high interest rates for their perspectives. Counsellors were interviewed too.

 

Currently, only loan sharks are punished. First-time ‘Ah Longs’ face fines from $20,000 to $200,000 as well as a jail term of up to two years or both. Recalcitrant loan sharks face the same range of fines and a compulsory jail term of up to five years.

 

Debtors said that if such a law were passed, they would not be prepared to report the loan sharks to the police.They were also afraid that the loan sharks would harass them even more severely, knowing that they would not dare turn to the police.

 

One man, who gave his name as Mr S. Koh, admitted that he had borrowed $2,000 from a loan shark to feed his gambling addiction. Because he could not make repayments on time, his debt snowballed to $10,000 in January this year.

 

Then, the loan shark sent thugs to splash paint on the front door of his Woodlands flat. They also left their signature – ‘O$P$’ (‘owe money, pay money’) – along his corridor. The gangsters threatened to harm his wife and teenage son should he flee Singapore.

 

Worried for his family’s safety, the 56-year-old hawker turned to the police who advised him to set up a closed-circuit TV system. The loan sharks have since stopped targeting his house.

 

But if Mr Koh could be prosecuted too, he said that he ‘wouldn’t dare report to the police even if the loan sharks threaten to kill my family’. He added: ‘But I won’t stop borrowing from them. They are the only ones I can turn to when I need money.’

 

Volunteers and counsellors The Sunday Times spoke to felt criminalising borrowing would only drive the loan-shark problem further underground.

 

Volunteers like Mr Wong – a church member who asked that his full name not be revealed – help borrowers ‘negotiate’ less onerous terms from their loan sharks.

 

Mr Wong, 53, said the families of borrowers would suffer should the law be passed. It would be the ‘Ah Longs’ who would ‘win’.

 

‘While the borrowers take a break in prison, it is their families who have to face the loan sharks’ harassment,’ he said.

 

Echoing Mr Wong, one loan shark, who gave his name only as Ah Hock, 35, welcomed such a move.

 

‘This would be good news for us. If the police arrest those who borrow, they won’t dare to report us when we harass them,’ he said in Mandarin.

 

Another loan shark, known only as Ah Tan, 63, said it is common practice for ‘bad borrowers’ to report them to the police, in a bid to escape their debts.

 

‘These days, at least four out of 10 borrowers would report us to the police,’ he said. ‘They have no intention to pay us back.’

 

When sales executive J. Chee, 43, could not repay his $7,500 debt in January last year, he decided to ‘trap’ his loan shark.

 

He kept a lookout for the ‘Ah Long’ near the lift lobby and dialled 999 when the young man started scribbling ‘O$P$’, together with his address, at different floors of his Ang Mo Kio block of flats. The police arrived and nabbed the loan shark, who was jailed. He has not heard from the loan shark since.

 

‘By the time he gets out of jail, I’ll have moved house,’ Mr Chee said. ‘I’m safe now.’

 

However, a loan shark who called himself ‘Tim’ said only ‘small time loan sharks’ can be entrapped. With syndicates, he said, if one loan shark is caught, another would step in to ‘handle his accounts’. He also said those who make police reports would be harassed ‘doubly hard’.

 

‘If last time we put one lock on their door, now we’ll put two,’ he said in Mandarin. ‘We’ll also throw faeces at their door.’

 

Most debtors insisted they were forced to go to the police because they could not pay the high interest rates of up to 20 per cent levied by the ‘Ah Longs’. Even friends of debtors can get dragged in.

 

A coffee shop assistant, who called himself Mr Choo, knew of a friend who fled the country. Three loan sharks came knocking on his door instead. As his friend’s guarantor, Mr Choo, 35, tried to settle the original $1,500 debt. But they demanded that he pay up $6,000. ‘There was no negotiation. So I reported them to the police,’ he said.

 

There were 9,762 harassment and unlicensed moneylending cases reported last year, up from 8,568 in 2005, with 10,221 such cases in 2006. Arrests were also up. Last year, the police arrested 392 people for unlicensed moneylending and harassment, up from 294 in 2006 and 265 in 2005.

 

About half the reported loan-shark harassment cases involved innocent families.

 

In the case of Mr H. S. Pang, when loan sharks could not locate a friend of his, they targeted him instead, splashing paint on his premises thrice and vandalising the corridor outside his flat.

 

The 53-year-old odd-job labourer said the harassment took a toll on his family and felt that the police should set harsher penalties for loan sharks instead of punishing borrowers.

 

Mr Samuel Ng, executive consultant of Marine Parade Family Service Centre, said that criminalising borrowing could lead to other problems such as theft. He said:’If we go radical and catch borrowers, it will just push them underground and start a wildfire.’

 

But former borrower K. S. Lim, 44, said that merely punishing the loan sharks would not eradicate the two-sided problem.

 

‘If you just catch the ‘supply’, the ‘demand’ will still look for other loan sharks to borrow from,’ said the cabby. ‘The borrowers are at fault too.’

 

Additional reporting by Samantha Eng

 

Source: Straits Times

Landscape design isn’t just about sticking in plants

Landscape design isn’t just about sticking in plants

 

A good landscape is one the user enjoys, says award-winning landscape architect Henry Steed

 

By Fiona Chan

 

BRITISH-BORN Henry Steed is one of Singapore‘s best-known landscape architects.

 

The multiple-award-winning director of ICN Design International was the brains behind the landscapes at condominiums such as Four Seasons and Ardmore Park in Orchard Road, The Imperial in River Valley and Glentrees in Mount Sinai, which is much celebrated for its verdant grace.

 

Mr Steed, who first came to Singapore in 1982, also helped design the central park in one-north at Biopolis, the Safti Military Institute and the Southern Island Lazarus Beach Park.

 

Now 60 years old, he is currently working on his ‘biggest and most complicated project ever’ – Resorts World at Sentosa.

 

Q Mention landscape design and most people think it involves putting a few plants around a building. Is that really what it’s all about?

 

A When I first came to Singapore, I remember sitting in on a meeting at which the architect was talking about his work, and I said something – being a foreigner, I didn’t know any better – about site planning. I said, couldn’t we do it another way?

 

He turned around and said: ‘You’re the landscape architect. Why are you asking me this question? You’re just here to stick the plants in after we’ve finished.’

 

I can’t remember if I said anything rude in reply. But it was like that in the early 1980s: Nobody knew what we did. If we came in at all, we tended to decorate.

 

Back then, people thought of a condo as a building with a bit of landscape around it. Even now, if you look at the older condos, they have a swimming pool stuck in one corner and we used to think that was quite cool.

 

Now, things have moved on; Singapore as a whole has become more sophisticated. The market value of landscapes in residential projects has shot up since the late 1990s. Now, you can’t sell a condo without a good garden.

 

Q So what exactly do you do?

 

A There are two parts to landscape design. The first is what we call ‘hard landscape’, which is paving, walls, steps, water features, lakes – yes, we build lakes – lighting, rocks and so on. Then we have ‘soft landscape’, which is the planting and soil.

 

The hard landscape usually comes first. We have to think about a carpark, the drainage, mechanical services, fire engine access…There are a hundred and one things to solve before you even get to the decorative part.

 

We’ve done gardens, parks, city landscaping. But the main food of landscape architects in Singapore has long been condos. We used to call it our bread and butter in the old days, when it was just cosmetic treatments.

 

Now, it’s not just bread and butter – it’s quite serious. The work we do has grown in scale and proportion. Landscape designs are much more integrated into the buildings and have become more important in actually marketing the properties.

 

But we don’t just design to sell a property; we design for people to live in it. You’re expecting people to live a whole chunk of their lives in one property. So in Glentrees, for instance, we wanted people to be able to look out the window every day and say, I really like this place. That’s what people will pay money for.

 

Q And where do the plants come in?

 

A The planting is the paint that goes on the picture. After we’ve figured everything else out, we want it to look delicious and green and soft and shady. We use plants to create effects, separate space, create space, add shading and add colour.

 

Plants are one of the fundamentals of our trade. We make it a point to know soil conditions, insects, fungus, how fast plants grow, how much they spread.

 

We have a motto in the office: ‘planting for success’. If there’s any doubt that a plant will be successful, we don’t plant it.

 

Q In your opinion, what makes a good landscape?

 

A To me, a good landscape is something that your user enjoys. If you design and build a park, do people like it? Are the kids running around, are people sunbathing on the grass, are lovers strolling under the trees?

 

If you go and ask them if they like the place and they say, yes, it’s a great place, then that’s a good design.

 

Q How do you go about creating a landscape design?

 

A Really the first thing you do is you get out your boots and walk around the site, because you should never design anything unless you understand the site. You need to know the soil conditions, drainage, old waste areas, existing trees around the site.

 

We actually start two processes simultaneously: conceiving the design and solving technical problems. We don’t do things on our own; there’s a whole team of professionals in there – architects, engineers, environmental specialists or even marine engineers – depending on the project.

 

This is what we call site planning. By understanding a site, you can see what the site best offers you. For instance, we worked on a highway in Hong Kong in very steep country, where it was very difficult to put this road through. And the engineers, they put the road right through a valley.

 

Then we took a look at it and we said, if you take it over to the side to the valley, we can keep the river and the woodlands, and we don’t have to do so much cutting. Bit by bit, by massaging it, we ended up with a beautiful road that hardly did any damage to the valley. Yet, the run of the road, for the driver, is very good.

 

We try to find an optimum solution. The task isn’t just taking a road from A to B; it’s about making a beautiful road from A to B.

 

Q Which do you consider your most challenging project to date?

 

A The most satisfying large project I’ve ever done is the Safti Military Institute. First of all, it was big: 80ha of land. But also, it was very much starting with the big picture and working through to the details.

 

We did really comprehensive site planning and we kept so many trees on that site, it’s unbelievable. It took about six years altogether. We kept 70 per cent of the original woodland.

 

Q And which project has been your most enjoyable?

 

A I think what I’ve enjoyed most is this series of projects I did on Sentosa. They have now become one single project, called Imbiah Lookout. We’re reconstructing the whole nature trail environment.

 

It’s fun because it’s a light-hearted sort of subject. We’re building landscapes for people: shady walkways, fountains, nice decorations and very juicy planting. I even drew the designs for the sculptures to be used there.

 

We actually started working there in 1988. We did all the practical things – the geology, the drainage – and built it, and then years later, like 20 years later, it’s being used for the flower festival.

 

And you go down there on Chinese New Year and you see 50,000 people walking around and you think: ‘That’s it. That’s what it’s supposed to be used for.’

 

Source: Straits Times

Making a comeback with a Splash

Making a comeback with a Splash

 

By CHEAH UI-HOON

 

BIG Splash, the much-loved water park in the 80s, might have dismantled its water slides, but the area has been given a new lease of life.

 

In place of water-based fun, the renamed park – Playground@Big Splash – now has more food and beverage outlets, along with children-friendly offerings and new recreational facilities.

 

Open in time to catch the school holiday crowd, so far, eateries like 1TwentySix has made quite a splash with the young, urban crowd with its alfresco gastrobar concept.

 

Besides that, there are new concepts like Indian Times, managed by the Kinara Group, which is offering fine-dining Indian cuisine, but also with tables that can be transformed into on-site barbeque pits so diners can grill their own kebabs.

 

Flowing from there, the majority of the eating outlets are more mid-priced with fast-food giants like KFC and Carl’s Jr, which is offering its first drive-through in Asia-Pacific. Mingles serves its trademark sausages and New Zealand ice-cream; OldTown White Coffee, a Malaysian chain, opens its first outlet in Singapore, in partnership with actors Jack Neo and Mark Lee. Then for a quick coffee, it’s Starbucks.

 

Being so near the sea, seafood is expected. There’s Seafood Man, baking supplies store Phoon Huat & Co’s venture into retail with breaded and battered seafood; and 25-year-old Seafood International has gone through an extreme makeover – as the anchor tenant for Playground@Big Splash.

 

The 18,000-sq ft restaurant still offers diners the novelty of ‘shopping’ for their own live seafood and having it cooked in the style of their choice. For Japanese, Sushi Tei has opened its second biggest outlet on the island, while The Vista Bistro has a selection of easy-to-eat American fare.

 

Families with young children, however, will enjoy most of the other facilities like Frisk ‘n’ Romp, a kid’s playclub and LilliPutt, a themed indoor mini golf course. For exercise buffs, which is the main draw of East Coast Park, there’s the new Kangoo Jumps concept store and also high-end Trek bicycles for rent.

 

Source Business Times

Creative cheats

Creative cheats

 

SOME Singaporeans are creative – or is crafty a more apt word? – when it comes to cheating the system. The latest scam uncovered involves sellers of Housing Board flats who collude with their buyers to declare a falsely low sale price to the HDB, so that the sellers can pocket extra cash. A buyer pays the seller the difference between the actual and the declared price in cash, and in return he gets a discount on the market value of the flat. It is win-win for both parties, as well as the property agent who is often the instigator of the scheme. But the deal is illegal because the seller is indirectly siphoning off money in advance from his CPF account. Conviction can bring fines of up to $5,000 or jail of up to three years. But this is not the first time that HDB transactions have been manipulated for extraneous private gain. There was the ‘cash-back’ scheme that came to light in 2001, in which buyer, seller and agent over-declared the agreed price of a flat. The purpose was to obtain a bigger loan from a bank or the HDB. The extra cash was distributed among the conspirators. These deals were stopped only when the HDB changed the rules to allow only an HDB-appointed valuer to value a flat. At least one agent was convicted and fined.

 

The new scam is not easy to detect. Reviewing transacted prices that are unusually much lower than the market profile for a specific period and a specific location is one way. But getting the evidence that will stand up in court won’t be easy. The HDB nevertheless has to be thorough in its surveillance. The chief culprit in such cases is often the real estate agent who initiates the scam and drafts the letter of undertaking binding the buyer to pay the seller cash. Obviously, there’s no honour among thieves. When the deal is done, the document is destroyed. If any party deserves to be punished the most severely, it is the agent.

 

Source: Straits Times