10 tips to save you money

10 tips to save you money

 

IT is tax time again.

 

By Larry Haverkamp (Doc Money)

mail@…

 

 

25 March 2008

 

IT is tax time again.

 

You have until 15 Apr to file your tax form or until 18 Apr if you e-file.

 

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) expects that 85 per cent of the 1.5 million taxpayers will e-file this year, up from 80 per cent last year.

 

Most employers are in the auto-inclusion scheme. That means you can view your employment income at https://mytax.iras.gov.sg, check that the information is correct, and click ‘submit’ to file your tax return. It’s easy.

 

Here are 10 more tips to help you save money on taxes.

 

Tip 1: You have no tax to pay – if you earned less than $22,000 last year.

 

If you receive a tax form or PIN mailer, however, you are required to submit your tax return to Iras regardless of your income.

 

To check if you need to file a tax return, send an SMS message with your IC number to 91164900 using this format: Filetax S1234567Z.

 

Tip 2: Paying through Giro

 

About 60 per cent of taxpayers pay through Giro.

 

It allows you to make up to 12 months of interest-free instalments, from May 2008 to April 2009.

 

Otherwise, you have to pay within one month of receiving your tax bill.

 

You can download the Giro application form at http://www.iras.gov.sg.

 

Tip 3: Wife Relief

 

If your wife was not working or earned less than $2,000 in 2007, you can claim ‘wife relief’ of $2,000.

 

There is no corresponding ‘husband relief’ in the case of a non-working husband.

 

Tip 4: Qualifying Child Relief

 

QCR is $2,000 per child for the first three children. Either parent may claim the full amount or it may be split between both parents.

 

Tip 5: Working Mother Child Relief

 

For first, second, third and fourth children, the relief is 5, 15, 20 and 25 per cent of a working mother’s wages.

 

Both this and the QCR can be claimed for Singaporean children up to 16 years old, or above age 16 if a full-time student with income less than $2,000 in 2007, excluding scholarships.

 

Tip 6: Parenthood Tax Rebate

 

This is $10,000 for your second child and $20,000 each for your third and fourth children born in 2004 or later. The rebate may be split between the parents in any way they choose.

 

This one is huge since it is a rebate, which you deduct directly from your taxes. It reduces taxes more than a relief, which is subtracted from your income.

 

Tip 7: Parent Relief

 

You can claim parent relief of $5,000 if your parent is staying with you and $3,500 if not.

 

The parent must be 55 years or older, live in Singapore and earned less than $2,000 in 2007. You can claim for up to two parents.

 

Tip 8: Foreign Maid Levy

 

A working mother may claim this relief even if the husband paid the levy. It is twice the amount of levy paid. So the maximum you can claim is $4,440 if you qualify for the concessionary levy of $170 per month with effect from 1 Jul 2007, and $6,720 if you don’t.

 

Tip 9: Grandparent Caregiver Relief

 

Are you a working mother with Singaporean children aged 12 or younger in 2007?

 

Then you can get a relief of $3,000 for one (only one) of your parents or in-laws who help to look after your children. They must be living in Singapore and not working in 2007.

 

Tip 10: One-off 20 per cent rebate

 

As announced in this year’s budget, resident taxpayers will receive a one-off personal tax rebate of 20 per cent, up to a maximum of $2,000.

 

This rebate is automatically included by Iras, so you need not declare it in your tax form.

 

 

——————————————————————————–

 

ADJUSTMENTS

 

If you have e-filed and want to adjust your tax return, you may e-file a second time within 14 days.

 

After that, further adjustments should be e-mailed to Iras at fileadjust@….

 

If you missed out making claims in past years, you may send an e-mail to taxqueries@….

 

You have up to six years to go back and adjust your tax returns.

 

For its part, Iras may go back six years to inspect your tax returns. If fraud is involved, there is no time limit.

 

FOR HELP

 

See http://www.iras.gov.sg or call 1800-2525011.

 

For hands-on help, ask for locations of the five Iras e-filing service centres.

 

Source: The New Paper

 

Singapore’s inflation hits 6.5% in Feb

Singapore‘s inflation hits 6.5% in Feb

 

By LYNETTE KHOO

 

(SINGAPORE) The Consumer price index (CPI) rose 6.5 per cent in February from a year earlier – just shy of the 25-year high of 6.6 per cent reported in January – as the cost of housing, food, transport and communication increased, data released yesterday by the Department of Statistics (DOS) shows.

 

This prompted the Ministry of Trade and Industry to issue a second statement in two months saying that underlying inflation remains stable, as indicated by the three-month moving average (3MMA) CPI, which grew 0.8 per cent month- on-month in February.

 

It noted that 3MMA, which picked up in the middle of 2007, has stayed around 0.8 per cent since then.

 

‘The underlying inflation momentum is expected to decline during the course of the year,’ it said.

 

The ministry issued a similar statement in January when the CPI surged to a 25-year high.

 

Led by more expensive accommodation and electricity tariffs, the cost of housing jumped 8.8 per cent in February from a year earlier.

 

Food prices rose 6.7 per cent on the back of higher prices for cooked food, milk products, fresh poultry, fruit and bread.

 

Higher petrol prices, taxi fares and car prices drove costs of transport and communication by 7.6 per cent year on year.

 

On a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI rose 0.2 per cent in February from January. For the first two months of this year, the CPI increased 6.6 per cent from a year earlier.

 

Economists note that while an upside risk to the CPI remains, an expected easing in the second half of this year will allow the index to fall within the government’s official forecast of 4.5-5.5 per cent. Hence, monetary tightening by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in April is unlikely, they say.

 

‘Clearly, the downside risk to growth is probably greater now,’ said Citi economist Kit Wei Zheng. ‘With policy makers being aware of that, I think further tightening is not the way to go.’

 

Mr Kit said he expects the CPI to stay above 6 per cent in the first half of this year before moderating to around 4 per cent in the second half when the effect of the two percentage point hike in goods and services tax wanes and the high base of comparison for commodity prices in the second-half 2007 kicks in.

 

‘While the year-on-year figure looks rather daunting, exaggerated by the low base a year ago, we can take comfort that the rate of growth is stable or slowing,’ added CIMB-GK regional economist Song Seng Wun.

 

CIMB-GK is keeping its full-year CPI forecast the same as the government’s estimated range, while Citi recently raised its projection from 5 per cent to 5.4 per cent.

 

Across different income groups, the top 20 per cent of households have felt the most heat from the higher inflation climate, according to DOS’s household survey.

 

The CPI for the top 20 per cent income group rose more sharply, from 0.4 per cent in 2006 to 2.3 per cent in 2007 on the back of higher costs of holiday travel, car and petrol, which have relatively larger weightings in this group than the lower-income groups.

 

This compares with a 2 per cent year-on-year increase in the CPI for the lowest 20 per cent income group and middle income group, from 1.8 per cent and 1.1 per cent in 2006.

 

For the whole of last year, the inflation rate for general households – the central 90 per cent of households by expenditure – was 2.1 per cent compared with one per cent for 2006, as the cost of food, holiday travel, accommodation (rented and owner-occupied), university tuition fees, taxi fares and petrol rose. The CPI rise also reflected a one-off increase in GST in July last year.

 

Source: Business Times

Hotel room crunch? Stay in HDB, suggests NUS Biz team

Hotel room crunch? Stay in HDB, suggests NUS Biz team

 

Winning team in the Lee Kuan Yew Biz Plan gets US$20,000

 

THREE university freshmen believe they have the answer to help relieve the hotel room crunch.

 

The trio, from the National University of Singapore’s Business School, have come up with a plan to have travellers – especially the budget-conscious and those visiting long-term – stay in HDB flats instead of hotels.

 

The flats, which would offer services similar to bed and breakfasts overseas, would cost about $40 a night – and allow tourists to experience the ‘uniquely Singaporean way of life and culture’, according to team member Liew Foo Kin, 23.

 

‘We will target housewives and retirees who may have spare rooms for rent,’ he said. ‘This can help with the current hotel room shortage as well as give tourists a chance to see how Singaporeans live.’

 

With fellow budding entrepreneurs Chua Wen Ling and Chia Xiao Feng, both 20, Mr Liew is confident that his team’s plan – called ‘Be My Guest’ – can make it all the way to the finals of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan competition.

 

The biennial competition, organised by Singapore Management University, aims to promote entrepreneurship. Students from any university, college or polytechnic worldwide are eligible to compete.

 

At a mentoring session hosted by HSBC yesterday morning, 19 industry leaders, including Sat Pal Khattar, chairman of Khattar Holdings, and Philip Ng, chief executive of Far East Organisation, were on hand to advise and critique projects.

 

Each leader was allotted two teams and given their business plans to read in advance. Each team was then given 20 minutes to discuss its plan and receive feedback.

 

Contestant Ms Chua said the session was a welcome chance to to get advice from a tourism industry veteran – Banyan Tree Holding’s group managing director Ariel Vera.

 

‘He suggested charging a seasonal, fluctuating rate, and to standardise amenities such as linen, towels and the breakfast provided so as to maintain a minimum level of quality,’ she said.

 

Mr Vera said: ‘Their plan could succeed – but they have to look at their expected returns on their investment. Perhaps they could have a tie-up with the Singapore Tourism Board to leverage on its brand name, maybe in the form of certification. That would help the students a lot.’

 

Other nifty ideas from the 43 shortlisted local teams include a device to allow credit card holders to set their own transaction limits, and a suitcase with a built-in weighing device to let travellers know exactly how much they are carrying to avoid excess baggage charges.

 

The winning team – to be announced in July – stands to pocket US$20,000 in prize money. The best Singapore team will also get to tap on a $100,000 youth enterprise fund set up by HSBC to invest in its business.

 

Source: Business Times

HDB imposes checklists on resale flats

HDB imposes checklists on resale flats

 

By UMA SHANKARI

 

THE Housing and Development Board will introduce mandatory checklists for housing agents handling resale flat transactions from May 1 – a move welcomed by industry players.

 

The checklists cover key policies and procedures that housing agents will need to advise resale flat buyers and sellers on before they commit to a transaction, HDB said yesterday.

 

‘This is part of HDB’s ongoing efforts to ensure that buyers and sellers are aware of the relevant HDB purchase and financing policies when buying/selling an HDB flat,’ it said.

 

The move comes after a new scam involving HDB flats surfaced recently. Under the scam, a seller and buyer together report a falsely low sale price to HDB.

 

The buyer then pays the difference between the actual and declared price to the seller in cash, which means the seller has more cash in hand – rather than having any leftover money go back into his CPF account. To sweeten the deal, the seller usually gives the buyer a discount on the market value of the flat.

 

Under HDB’s new initiative, housing agents will have to submit a completed resale checklist to HDB with a resale application. Resale applications that do not comply with this requirement will be rejected and there will be ‘serious penalties’ for false declarations.

 

Housing agents engaged by both sellers and buyers will have to go through a resale checklist with clients before an option to purchase (OTP) is granted or exercised.

 

Buyers and sellers who do not engage the services of housing agents need not submit a checklist.

 

PropNex, which says it has more than 40 per cent of the public housing resale market, welcomed HDB’s move.

 

Public housing has many policies and financing requirements that many may not be familiar with, said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail.

 

Most buyers tend not to read the important notes attached to OTP, he said.

 

The new resale checklist for housing agents engaged by buyers, for example, will ensure that buyers are aware of their rights as well as of financing matters. It will also highlight to them the fact that any form of cashback arrangement, such as over or under declaration, is punishable by law.

 

Similarly, the checklist for sellers’ housing agents will ensure prospective sellers understand the various eligibility rules.

 

Mr Ismail said that while many agents already educate potential buyers and sellers, some may not, leaving them in the dark.

 

‘This initiative should lead to greater transparency for buyers and sellers, and ensure a consistently high level of professionalism amongst the agents,’ he said.

 

Source: Business Times

Home, retail, office rental growth to ease

Home, retail, office rental growth to ease

 

Housing rentals to rise 5-15% year-on-year in 2008: Knight Frank

 

By UMA SHANKARI

 

PRIVATE housing rents are expected to grow at a slower pace this year than last year, Knight Frank said in a report yesterday.

 

The property consultancy firm expects a year-on-year rise of 5-15 per cent in 2008 – after a massive 40 per cent year-on-year increase in 2007.

 

Knight Frank’s estimates are based on the resistance of tenants and companies to even higher rents, and the limited availability of places at foreign schools for children of expatriates.

 

‘Due to the fact that foreign schools are full and there are long waiting lists faced by children of foreign families who relocated here, housing demand from new foreign family tenants is projected to decrease,’ Knight Frank said.

 

‘On top of this, foreign tenants as well as corporate HR (departments) have readjusted housing allowances this year, which constricts rental demand according to their budgets.’

 

Despite this, a demand-supply imbalance could still result in rental rises until a supply of new units is felt significantly from 2009.

 

About 8,400 new private homes will be completed this year. But the number will expand dramatically in the three years from 2009 to 2011, with an estimated 16,000 to 17,000 units completed each year.

 

This could put downward pressure on rents, Knight Frank said.

 

The same holds true for the retail sector. Knight Frank predicts that landlords could face stronger resistance from retailers to rising rents in the later part of 2008 as more space comes on stream.

 

‘Rents are forecast to maintain at their current level only until early 2008,’ it said. ‘Faced with a larger supply in the pipeline in the second half of 2008, island-wide prime retail rents are projected to appreciate by a relatively modest 5-10 per cent for entire 2008, compared to 22.1 per cent growth in 2007.’

 

Knight Frank also said growth in office rents and capital values in 2008 and 2009 will likely to be more moderate than in 2007. Office rents are forecast to rise 10-20 per cent year on year, while capital values are expected to increase 10-15 per cent year on year.

 

Source: Business Times

Don’t know what to do during the current property lull?

Don’t know what to do during the current property lull?

 

PROPERTY EXPERTS GIVE SOME TIPS

 

·  Seven tips for buying a second home

 

Did you know, for example, that an HDB flat near an MRT station will give you a higher rental yield than most private properties?

 

·  The importance of being earnest when going en bloc

 

A major en bloc sales agent discusses the impact of the new legislation on collective sales introduced last year on warring owners.

 

·  Are you overpaying for your home loan?

 

Is the deferred payment period on the condo unit you bought a little while ago expiring soon? Read an independent mortgage broker’s advice before you go shopping for that home loan.

 

·  Aim for a landed home

 

So you’ve missed out buying a condo last year? Not to worry. Landed homes may become more appealing this year as they have yet to see the sharp price appreciation experienced by their non-landed counterparts.

 

Source: Business Times

Singapore inflation stays at 26-year high

Singapore inflation stays at 26-year high

 

Prices jump 6.5%, driven by higher food, transport and housing costs

 

By Bryan Lee

 

CONSUMER prices surged 6.5 per cent last month from a year ago, continuing a rate of increase not seen in 26 years.

 

Food, transport and housing costs were again the main drivers as a confluence of external and internal factors kept last month’s inflation at just a shade off January’s 6.6 per cent.

 

The figure – released by the Department of Statistics yesterday – was broadly within market expectations. A Bloomberg News poll of 17 economists tipped a rate of 6.8 per cent.

 

Experts said rising prices will persuade the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to keep its policy of allowing the local currency to strengthen, to help fight off higher prices of imported goods.

 

But there is less consensus as to whether the central bank will get more aggressive when it holds its scheduled review next month. Any tightening of monetary policy will hurt an already slowing economy.

 

‘February’s consumer price index moderated a touch but still stayed elevated,’ said Goldman Sachs economists Mark Tan and Michael Buchanan, who expect inflation to peak at around 7 per cent in the first half of the year.

 

Prices of meat and poultry, cooking oils and dairy products clocked double-digit gains, while rice, cereal and fruit cost almost 10 per cent more than they did last year.

 

High oil prices also made themselves felt in electricity bills and at petrol pumps.

 

Indeed, transport costs jumped 9.6 per cent, boosted also by higher taxi fares and car prices.

 

Housing costs surged the most at 8.8 per cent. But this was mostly a pass-on effect from January’s one-off revision in annual home values.

 

Health-care costs rose 7.4 per cent from higher hospitalisation fees and medical consultation charges – and also as Chinese herbs became costlier.

 

Standard Chartered Bank economist Alvin Liew said sustained increases in this area are of concern, especially as the population gets older.

 

He noted that the sector is especially dependent on foreign nurses. Competition for these workers and the rising currencies of their home countries may be driving up wage costs in Singapore.

 

The statistics department also highlighted foreign maid salaries, holidays, cable subscriptions and cigarettes as other significant sources of inflation.

 

The Trade and Industry Ministry issued an accompanying statement yesterday, saying the ‘underlying momentum in inflation remained stable’. It expects this to decline ‘during the year’ and is retaining its forecast of 4.5 to 5.5 per cent for annual inflation.

 

Still, Mr Tan and Mr Buchanan believe the MAS will move next month to allow for a faster appreciation of the Singapore dollar.

 

‘Slowing growth is an obstacle…but in our view, the easing in fiscal settings revealed in the 2008 Budget and low interest rates will provide a buffer to growth,’ they said.

 

But Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng reckons the MAS will stay put as growth concerns take precedence.

 

He raised his full-year inflation forecast to 5.4 per cent, ahead of the latest data. But he also slashed his economic growth estimate to 4.7 per cent, from 5.2 per cent, citing worsening United States conditions.

 

Source: Straits Times

Checklist of must-dos for HDB resale flats

Checklist of must-dos for HDB resale flats

 

Housing agents will soon have to walk buyers and sellers through the rules before a deal

 

By Joyce Teo

 

THE process of buying a resale HDB flat will soon become more stringent before a deal can be struck.

 

Buyers and sellers will have to sit down with the housing agent and go through a checklist that details all the dos and don’ts, financial ins and outs, and other rules that are involved in a sale.

 

The aim is to ensure everyone in the process knows what he is getting into, what his obligations are and that dodgy behaviour like under-declaring prices is illegal.

 

‘It would also prevent situations whereby the resale transaction has to be cancelled or delayed due to miscommunication and ignorance about policies,’ said an HDB spokesman yesterday.

 

Last year, about 2.5 per cent of resale applications registered, or about 750 cases, ended up being cancelled.

 

This may not seem substantial but it shows that there could be potential buyers and sellers who need more help.

 

Indeed, the HDB said yesterday that it started preparing the checklist last year, a process that included consultations with industry bodies such as the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA). It also had public feedback suggesting that agents should highlight certain points to their clients.

 

ERA Realty Network’s assistant vice-president, Mr Eugene Lim, agreed that there was a knowledge gap: ‘A lot of buyers and sellers are quite ignorant of the whole sale process.’

 

The mandatory checklist will kick in on May 1. Sellers will be taken through the list before they grant an Option to Purchase to a buyer.

 

An agent will advise them on their eligibility to sell and the need for accurate data on things such as price, and ensure that they understand what the Option to Purchase entails.

 

They might not realise, for example, that once they grant a buyer an option to purchase, they cannot revoke the offer within a 14-day period.

 

Agents will explain the checklist to buyers before they exercise the option to purchase, such as making sure they can service the loan.

 

Buyers intending to take out an HDB loan, for instance, must ensure they meet loan eligibility conditions and obtain an HDB loan eligibility letter.

 

Although the new checklist is not in response to the recent ‘magic dollars’ scam involving sellers reporting falsely low prices, PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said it will help curb the practice. It will force agents to tell buyers and sellers that false price declarations and other scams are crimes.

 

Housing agents already have to declare that the sale price is the true one, which means they would be aware that the scams are illegal, said ERA’s Mr Lim.

 

Buyers or sellers who make false declarations also face fines and/or jail time.

 

Agents said problems arise when buyers and sellers deal with inexperienced agents unfamiliar with HDB policies and rules.

 

‘More than half of the agents here are already practising what is in the checklist,’ said Mr Ismail, who is also IEA’s first vice-president.

 

‘It is expected of any good agent. But in this industry, a lot of them come and go, especially in a good market. And …there are many policies involved.’

 

There are around 30,000 agents in Singapore and the industry is largely unregulated.

 

Mr Darrell Chua, 32, who bought a resale flat last year, welcomes the checklist: ‘It will help those who are not familiar with HDB rules but, hopefully, lazy agents won’t turn it into some routine list that they tick off without really checking.’

 

Agents will have to submit the completed checklist to HDB together with the resale application. Applications that do not meet the new requirement will be rejected.

 

The checklist is also available in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Agents will have to indicate what language they used to explain the information.

 

Source: Straits Times

3,500 vied for 714 condo-like flats in Boon Keng, but only 460 sold

3,500 vied for 714 condo-like flats in Boon Keng, but only 460 sold

 

By Fiona Chan

 

THOUSANDS of applications poured in for a condo-like Housing Board project in January – but as of last week, less than two-thirds of the flats had been taken up.

 

About a third of the 714 units – or about 250 units – in City View @ Boon Keng remained unsold, said HSR Property Group, which is marketing the project.

 

These flats will be offered to the public, probably via walk-in selection.

 

The number of leftover units came as a surprise to market watchers, given that 3,500 applicants had vied for them.

 

This works out to five would-be buyers for each flat at City View, the second public housing project to be built by a private developer.

 

It boasts condo-like features such as timber floors, built-in wardrobes and air-conditioning.

 

All the applicants were given a chance to book the flats they wanted, said HSR project director Kellie Liew.

 

The selection process stretched over 20 days and ended last Thursday, with more than 3,000 potential deals falling through.

 

Developer Hoi Hup Sunway sold about 460 units, including six of the top-priced five-room units at $727,000 each, said Ms Liew.

 

But she added that some buyers backed out of their purchases due to the weakening property market, while others did not meet the required criteria to buy the flats.

 

‘We’ve been having a series of not-too-positive news about the market, so that could have affected the sentiment of the buyers,’ she said.

 

‘Also, some applicants were over-qualified, with combined monthly incomes of more than $8,000, so they were not eligible for the flats.’

 

Hoi Hup declined to comment.

 

Market watchers suggested that the relatively high prices for the City View units could also have proved a deterrent at crunch time.

 

The three-room flats were priced between $349,000 and $394,000, double the price tag of similar flats in the vicinity.

 

Five-room flats went for up to $727,000, which experts said was close to condominium prices.

 

‘Some people may have jumped on the bandwagon because of the hype, but when it was time to pick up a unit, they felt it was actually too expensive,’ said Mr Mohamed Ismail, chief executive of property agency PropNex.

 

‘In today’s market, there are many 99-year leasehold properties with full condo facilities that are going for less than $600 per sq ft, so some buyers may have thought twice.’

 

But Mr Chris Koh, director of Dennis Wee Properties, believes the remaining units could be snapped up quickly.

 

‘Fundamentals are still strong,’ he said. ‘We don’t see property prices sliding at all.’

 

He added that the situation could mirror that of The Premiere @ Tampines, the first developer-built public housing project.

 

The Premiere drew almost 6,000 applications for its 616 units when it was launched in 2006, but fewer than 500 units were sold when the booking process was over.

 

When the remaining flats were released to the public, long queues formed and would not disperse despite a downpour.

 

Source: Straits Times

Winds of change bypass Boat Quay

Winds of change bypass Boat Quay

 

By Tessa Wong

 

THESE should be happier times at Boat Quay.

 

Tourism is booming, eating and drinking under the stars is more popular than ever, and a multimillion-dollar revamp of the Singapore River was announced by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) last month.

 

For Boat Quay tenants, however, the outlook is as uncertain as it ever was, and a combination of higher rents and rising labour and material costs has several of them complaining that they are barely keeping their heads above, well, water.

 

The last few years have seen the area slowly drifting towards irrelevance, especially with the livelier scene at the recently revamped Clarke Quay and, beyond that, the easy riverfront culture at Robertson Quay.

 

It was not always like this.

 

When Boat Quay opened in 1993, it was the first grand riverfront attraction, and Singaporeans and tourists flocked there to eat and sip beer and wine by the river.

 

The good times lasted for a few years – and then its glossy sheen began to fade.

 

First came the violence. Underage drinking, coupled with loose gangs making a beeline for the area, led to numerous fights.

 

At one stage, police took the unprecedented step of setting up a mobile police post there on Friday and Saturday nights to deter the aggressive types.

 

But when the fights died down, dimly lit bars offering ‘special massage’ services started sprouting up along Circular Road. Litter and rats also became persistent problems.

 

All these issues have dimmed Boat Quay’s star, despite its potential from being located close to the swanky financial district where banks, law firms and other upscale offices promise a steady stream of free-spending patrons.

 

Now, bad is getting worse, with an entrenched touting problem and high turnover aggravated by rising rents – some tenants say rentals have jumped by between 30 and 50 per cent in the last two years.

 

Tenants estimate the turnover rate is about 30 per cent and, according to Mr Colin MacDonald, president of the Boat Quay Business Association, at least 10 restaurants and nightspots have closed in the last two years due to high rents.

 

High turnover aside, Boat Quay struggles with its out-of-whack tenant mix: There are no fewer than 12 seafood restaurants and eight outlets dishing out Indian food among the 37 waterfront restaurants.

 

Customers say the lack of choice is a turn-off.

 

As a result of the cut-throat competition from newcomers who want to turn a quick buck and leave before customers wise up to their lack of quality, Boat Quay stalwarts have been suffering.

 

Mr Sukhbir Singh, who has been operating the Maharajah restaurant for 15 years, said: ‘I’ve had friends who had to give up one, even two restaurants lately (because of the hikes). The landlords have no problem because there’s always a huge waiting list of people who want to take up the spaces.’

 

How did the area get to be this way?

 

Many now say it comes down to the fact that this is a place with numerous landlords, who range from individuals to large companies such as United Overseas Bank and the Hong Leong Group.

 

Ironically, Boat Quay’s fragmented ownership was hailed initially for allowing the area to grow spontaneously.

 

But having many owners, unlike Clarke Quay which is owned by one major landlord, Capitaland, has made it difficult to effect concerted measures to revamp the area.

 

Apart from a small group of tenants driving Boat Quay’s business association, most stakeholders have preferred to concentrate on their own businesses, instead of committing money and time to improve the area.

 

‘The different landlords and tenants all have their own priorities. Getting people to come together is such a big challenge,’ lamented Mr Andrew Koh, general manager of Boat Quay fixture Harry’s Bar.

 

Recently, the association rallied for one last push: a business improvement district study, undertaken by the association and supported by the STB and Spring Singapore.

 

The study, done in two parts over four years, examined how business partnerships succeeded in areas such as Times Square in New York and the downtown area of Tampa, Florida.

 

At the end of the study last June, the association proposed setting up an office and hiring professionals to come up with a single cohesive identity and marketing strategy for Boat Quay.

 

This would cost money – $20,000 to be exact – but the question was, who would pay?

 

To get around the problem of a lack of contributions from businesses and landlords, the association hoped for government funding and corporate sponsorship for the plan.

 

But the plan failed to take off.

 

Mr MacDonald said the STB had told the association, which is made up of only tenants, that due to the perceived lack of tangible landlord support, it could not support the plan.

 

Ms Carrie Kwik, the STB‘s covering director for cluster development (events and entertainment), said that the board would consider supporting them ‘if the Boat Quay stakeholders can form a group representing the complete buy-in from both property and business owners, and demonstrate their capabilities to work together’.

 

She added: ‘The STB‘s stand is to support an entity that is sustainable. Thus, we stressed the importance of having the property owners in the collective group.’

 

Mr Donald Han, managing director of property consultants Cushman and Wakefield, felt that while the Government was right in its hands-off approach of letting market forces shape the area, it was a pity that the plan was not pushed through.

 

Said Mr Han: ‘I think those were steps in the right direction and it was worth a shot. If the stakeholders could have got their act together, it would have been great.’

 

Source: Straits Times