Buyers of second homes facing bankruptcy



Buyers of second homes facing bankruptcy


SOME of the biggest losers in the real estate slump which has hit the US are not purchasers of mansions they could not afford.


01 June 2008


SOME of the biggest losers in the real estate slump which has hit the US are not purchasers of mansions they could not afford.


They are buyers of second homes – or third ones, reported New York Times.


It is predicted that many of these people will lose their properties in foreclosures and could possibly end up bankrupt under the weight of sizable tax bills and higher interests.


Congress has granted some tax relief to people who lose their primary homes.


But for those who have fallen behind on paying for a getaway condo in Las Vegas, or a retirement home on the Florida coast, there is no such aid.


Bankruptcy lawyers say they are seeing a wave of foreclosures among owners of second homes in such a position.


Take Miss Lilia Garcia and husband, Jesus, who bought their dream house in Linden, California, for US$535,000 ($730,750) two years ago.


The couple financed the new home in part by taking out a bigger loan backed by their previous house in nearby Stockton.


They decided to hang onto the Stockton house and rent it out, believing that it would more than pay for itself and could be sold later to help pay for their two children’s college education.


But the Garcias, who earn about US$65,000 a year, fell behind on their payments after their tenant moved out and the interest rate on their mortgage rose. Their monthly payments on the rental home rose to nearly US$2,700 a month, from less than US$1,000.


Said Miss Garcia, a medical assistant in a doctor’s office: ‘We wanted to make it an investment. I should’ve sold it.’




Inevitably, the Garcias will have to foreclose on their property – they have not paid the mortgages on either house for months and now rent a home.


They also discovered that they could expect a painful tax on the rental house.


Mr J Scott Bovitz, a bankruptcy lawyer in Los Angeles, says the problem is ‘bad’.


‘I’ve seen people not just buying properties to live in; they’re buying properties to become mini-Donald Trumps,’ he added.


Even if the economy improves, borrowers will face the double problem of foreclosure and then taxes, unless home prices begin to climb rapidly.


And no one sees that as likely.


The real estate boom in recent years prompted many to jump into the market. Some even bought multiple properties to sell for a quick profit.


The National Association of Realtors says there are now 7.5 million vacation homes in the US, about 10 per cent of the number of owner-occupied homes.



Source: The New Paper

Chiam fulfils walkway promise made at polls

Chiam fulfils walkway promise made at polls


By Keith Lin


The completion of a covered walkway in Potong Pasir marks the fulfilment of a promise Mr Chiam See Tong made during the 2006 General Election.


Yesterday, the opposition MP ‘opened’ the walkway linking the MRT station to the town centre, amid a colourful confetti shower and rousing lion dance.


Hailing the walkway as proof that the opposition ‘will fulfil whatever we promise’, he told reporters: ‘At the last election, I said I will build this covered linkway and now, this task has been completed. We have done our job.’


The project cost the town council $250,000 and ended a dispute between Mr Chiam and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin from the People’s Action Party (PAP), who lost the contest for the ward in the 2006 polls.


Before the election, Mr Sitoh had installed solar lamps along the path where the walkway is now, after leasing the land from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). When some of the lights were vandalised, he declined to repair them, saying that the land’s lease was due to expire.


Mr Chiam, for his part, said it was illegal for his town council to use its funds for the repairs, as the land was not under its jurisdiction. But later that year, the Singapore Democratic Alliance MP applied for SLA’s permission to build a covered walkway with lights.


When contacted yesterday, Mr Sitoh downplayed the walkway’s completion, saying his political opponent was merely fulfilling a ‘long overdue’ promise. ‘Nonetheless, I am happy for the residents.’


Engineer Ricky Low, 41, who was one of the 30 Potong Pasir residents who went to the event, said he was impressed with Mr Chiam’s ‘ability to get things done even at his age and considering the kind of support he gets’.



Source: Straits Times

The tricky business of tunnelling

The tricky business of tunnelling


LTA says it does rigorous soil and building checks before tunnelling, and underground cables are protected


By Nur Dianah Suhaimi


Rest assured, no stone is left unturned – safety-wise – when tunnels are dug here.


Given the intensive tunnelling activity islandwide, some Singaporeans have expressed concern in the wake of the road cave-in two weeks ago at Cornwall Gardens, in the Holland area.


There is tunnelling work there for the Circle Line MRT. The cave-in disrupted water supply and phone lines to several houses.


Addressing the issue, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) told The Sunday Times that the Cornwall Gardens cave-in had happened because of the loose ground there.


Vibrations from the digging caused some of the soil to shake, leaving a cavity on the surface.


Follow-up action was swift because soil samples had previously been taken and there had been constant monitoring.


The LTA said that extensive investigations are carried out before tunnelling work begins anywhere in Singapore. Tests will determine the kind of soil being dug.


This is important because Singapore’s geology varies. In Bukit Timah, the ground is tough granite, which is difficult to bore through.


In Kallang, however, the marine clay ground can be as soft as toothpaste.


The soil samples indicate what precautions to take and which machine to use.


But it is mixed ground – the kind that is neither here nor there – that poses a big challenge, since it is a combination of soft soil and hard rock, said Mr Ow Chun Nam, director of Circle Line 4.


The area around Cornwall Gardens has this mixed soil.


Apart from soil checks, the LTA will check buildings located 500m from the tunnelling work. The buildings’ structures and their foundations are analysed.


The LTA also digs trenches in the ground to locate underground utility pipes and telecommunications cables. These need to be protected, especially to avert accidental ruptures.


Tunnelling itself is done using tunnel boring machines.


In the process, extremely strong ring-like structures are put in to secure the ground. These rings form the underground tunnels that MRT trains now pass through.


Mr Paul Fok, group director for engineering at the LTA, gave an idea of their strength: ‘They are almost impossible to destroy, even if an earthquake were to happen.’


He expects more tunnelling works in future. ‘Singapore can be like Swiss cheese. Right now, our underground is nothing compared to Tokyo, Hong Kong or New York, which have many railway tunnels running underground. ‘


Swiss cheese is a type of cheese that is riddled with holes.


Given land scarcity, future roads may have to be partially or wholly underground, the LTA’s masterplan has said.


Professor Yong Kwet Yew, a civil engineering academic at the National University of Singapore, said this prospect left more space above ground for residential and commercial areas.


‘It makes sense to put transportation underground. It also makes our ground surface aesthetically pleasing,’ he said.



Source: Straits Times

Ridge and famous

Ridge and famous


Visitors are flocking to the Southern Ridges, a series of hill trails linking Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge parks, to take in the beautiful scenery


By Tay Suan Chiang


Move over, Singapore Flyer. The latest view to a thrill in Singapore is the Southern Ridges, a 9km series of hill trails with West Coast Park and HarbourFront MRT station at either end.


The final pieces of this ridge-to-ridge ramble through Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge parks fell into place last month with the opening of two pedestrian bridges – the Alexandra Arch and the Henderson Waves – and an elevated 1.3km walkway called the Forest Walk.


The links are the completion of a two-year, $25.5-million project by the Urban Redevelopment Authority that is part of a wider scheme where one day nature lovers will be able to do a circuit of the whole island.


Since the opening of the new links three weekends ago, Singaporeans have been flocking to explore the delights of the Southern Ridges.


Couples getting married, joggers, retirees, families with kids and shutterbugs are among those LifeStyle spotted taking in the sights, where once just nearby residents ventured for a short, quiet stroll.


The most popular destination is the distinctive wave-shaped, steel-and-timber Henderson Waves, a pedestrian bridge spanning 274m across Henderson Road and which links Telok Blangah Hill Park to Mount Faber. At a height of 36m, it is Singapore’s highest pedestrian bridge.


Polytechnic lecturer Low Hann Ming, 38, was there with his family of nine one Saturday morning.


‘We live opposite and can see the bridge from our flat so we decided to check it out,’ he says, adding that the bridge is beautiful and the views are amazing.


With the school holidays now on, housewife Tan Tiong Gek, 61, took her two grandsons to Henderson Waves.


‘The kids love it here as they can run around and the view is fantastic,’ says the Bukit Merah View resident. ‘We’ve taken more than 20 photographs already.’


The bridge’s wave-like design is by British architects IJP Corporation and Singapore’s RSP Architects Planners and Engineers, which won the bid to design it in a competition.


The bridge has seven undulating, curved ribs that rise over and under the bridge deck. The ribs form alcoves, providing visitors with shelter and seats within.


‘The ribs make a dramatic backdrop,’ says wedding photographer Ng Lam, 42, who took newlyweds Stella Lim and Wilson Ooi there to take pictures.


‘It’s a new location for wedding photography, otherwise it will be the usual spots such as Sentosa or Botanic Gardens,’ says Mr Ng.


Another popular spot among visitors is the newly opened HortPark which boasts themed gardens.


The Southern Ridges offer breathtaking views of the Telok Blangah area, and also provide an up-close-and- personal experience of nature as the trails cut through lush greenery.


Walk through the forested areas and you can hear cricket calls and birds chirping. Monkeys have also been spotted, especially at the new elevated walkway heading to Alexandra Arch, designed by local company Look Architects.


The 80m-long Arch goes across Alexandra Road to the meandering walkway that eventually leads to Telok Blangah Hill Park.


One fan of the ridges is housewife Mary Lim, 44. The Bukit Merah resident often goes there for her thrice-weekly walks.


‘It has got a lot more crowded now, but it’s good that more Singaporeans are discovering such beautiful spots,’ she says.


Architecture buffs will enjoy visiting two historical buildings, including Alkaff Mansion at Telok Blangah Hill. The now-abandoned mansion was built in the 1920s by Yemeni businessman Syed Abdul Rahman Alkaff as a family retreat.


The other historical building is the Danish Seamen’s Church, near Mount Faber Park, formerly a private residence. Built in 1909, the Victorian house has many fine details, such as a corner circular tower and unique star-shape holes in cornices.


The area is not just attracting nearby residents.


Last weekend, LifeStyle bumped into secretary Yvonne Soh, 34, who came all the way from Woodlands with a group of friends to check it out. The first-time visitors started their walk at Harbourfront and planned to walk to Kent Ridge Park. The trip takes 21/2 hours.


‘It’s an easy and relaxing walk and also something new to see for all of us,’ she says.





Getting There


It’s advisable to take a bus to the Southern Ridges’ scenic spots or else you will have to back-track to get your car.


Best time to go: early in the morning or evening when it’s cooler.




Henderson Waves: Buses 131, 145, 176 or 648; alight at bus stop along Henderson Road, take staircase up to Mount Faber Park.


If you are driving, head towards Henderson Road. There are 56 parking lots at the Telok Blangah Hill carpark. Or drive up to Mount Faber where there are 17 lots at carpark D, a short distance from Henderson Waves.




Mount Faber Park: Bus 409 goes from Seah Im Bus Interchange to Mount Faber Park, but it operates only from 9am to 11.30pm on weekends. If driving, go up Mount Faber Road. Parking is available at Mount Faber Park.


Forest Walk: Buses 51, 61, 93, 97, 100, 166 or 963; alight at bus stop along Alexandra Road at junction of Hyderabad Road. If driving, parking is available at HortPark or Telok Blangah Hill Park.


HortPark: Buses 51, 61, 93, 97, 100, 166 or 963 stop at Alexandra Road and it’s a short walk to HortPark. Parking is also available at HortPark.


Canopy Walk: By bus, alight at Alexandra Road and it is a 25-minute walk to the Canopy Walk via HortPark. If driving, there are carparks in Vigilante Drive and Pepys Road.



What to take along


Camera: Henderson Waves is the hot spot for taking scenic photos.


Water: A must as it can get hot even during the early morning and evening.


Cap, sunglasses, towel: Stay cool and protect your eyes from the sun’s rays. A towel is handy for wiping off perspiration.


Footwear: Wear comfortable shoes for walking.





Other Nature Walks


Chek Jawa


Where: Pulau Ubin


What: The Chek Jawa wetlands have one of Singapore’s richest ecosystems, where sandy shores, rocky beaches, seagrass lagoons, coral rubble, mangroves and coastal forests can all be seen in a 100ha area.


New amenities include a 1.1km boardwalk, a 20m viewing tower and a visitor centre with a viewing jetty.


Open: 8.30am to 6pm daily. Entry is free.


Getting there: At the Ubin jetty, hire a van or rent a bicycle from the main village. Or walk – it takes about 40 minutes.




Bukit Timah Nature Reserve


Where: Hindhede Drive


What: The 163ha reserve retains one of the largest tracts of primary rainforest left in Singapore, with over 840 types of flowering plants. It’s also home to over 500 species of animals. And it’s the location of Singapore’s highest hill, Bukit Timah Hill, which is 163m high.


Open: All hours. Entry is free.


Getting there: From Upper Bukit Timah Road, turn into Hindhede Drive.




HSBC TreeTop Walk


Where: MacRitchie Reservoir


What: This 250m-long suspension bridge connects two highest points in the reservoir area – Bukit Pierce and Bukit Kalang. Its highest point off the ground is 25m, offering a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy.


Open: Tuesdays to Fridays, 9am to 5pm; weekends and public holidays, 8.30am to 5pm. Closed on Mondays. Entry is free.


Getting there: From MacRitchie Reservoir Park via its nature trail, or from Venus Drive, off Upper Thomson Road.




Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve


Where: 301 Neo Tiew Crescent


What: A 130ha wetland nature reserve. See mangroves, flora and fauna such as mudskippers and crabs.


From September to March, migratory shorebirds such as plovers and sandpipers stop by.


Open: Mondays to Fridays, 7.30am to 7pm; weekends and public holidays, 7am to 7pm. Free entry except on weekends, public holidays and school holidays, where admission fees are $1 per adult and 50 cents per child, student and senior citizen.


Getting there: SMRT Bus 925 from Kranji MRT station. Alight at Kranji Reservoir carpark for a 15-minute walk to the reserve.



Source: Straits Times

It’s cool to sip outside

It’s cool to sip outside


Singapore‘s weather is hot, but alfresco cafes are hotter, with at least 20 of them in Orchard Road


By Frankie Chee


It’s getting pretty crowded on the sidewalks of Orchard Road, and it has nothing to do with Great Singapore Sale shoppers or pamphlet-distributi ng touts but chairs and coffee.


Yet another outdoor cafe, The Coffee Connoisseur (TCC), is set to open – bringing the number of such outlets between Forum The Shopping Mall and Plaza Singapura to 23.


TCC’s cafe is opening this month at International Building.


Already, from classy IndoChine to popular coffee chains and even the budget McCafe, there’s no lack of places to sit and watch the world go by with a flat white – or long black for that matter – in hand.


While pavement cafes are common in Europe, it might seem strange that hot and steamy Singapore has its (coffee) cup running over with them. You’d think it would be more pleasant to people-watch from the coolness of an air-conditioned outlet.


But many in Singapore’s cafe society would agree with the likes of bank executive Akshay Prasad, 36, who was spotted at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlet at Paragon Shopping Centre. He said: ‘I prefer the outdoors as I enjoy the scenery. I’m sick and tired of air-conditioning. ‘


Alfresco outlets are bustling with tourists and locals ranging from students to middle-age office professionals.


Most joints are WiFi-enabled so you see people working or surfing on their laptops, while others sit around chatting, reading or just people-watching.


Naturally, coffee shop players are lapping up the fact that as Singaporean cafe patrons become increasingly sophisticated, they are showing a taste for the great outdoors.


Mr James Donald, managing director of KJ Coffees, which owns the local franchise for Gloria Jean’s, says: ‘Sidewalk cafes do work well in Singapore even though the weather is quite hot and at times very wet.


‘About 30 to 40 per cent of our guests sit outside and soak up the atmosphere, versus those who sit inside.’


Gloria Jean’s has a sidewalk cafe at Orchard Cineleisure.


Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf general manager Michael de Jong adds: ‘Alfresco areas allow our customers to enjoy the sights and sounds of Orchard Road, sitting under a fan-cooled canopy and sipping their favourite beverage.’


He adds: ‘To see and be seen is a lifestyle experience that our customers enjoy.’


But being able to gulp and gawk is a relatively new pleasure. It was only in 1996 that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) gave the green light for Outdoor Refreshment Area licences, which enabled operators to use outside spaces for seating.


To provide such seating, operators have to pay higher rent for the space, as well as apply for a licence from the URA or the Singapore Land Authority. This rent usually goes to the landlord owning the outdoor space. If it’s a public area, that would be the relevant public authority.


With so many cafes on the scene, why aren’t shoppers tripping over seats then? Well, the URA has guidelines on what’s allowed, such as the size of the area, the layout and how far it can extend onto the pavement.


Not that such considerations enter the heads of cafe lovers spoilt for choice when it comes to sitting down for a spot of sunny Singapore coffee culture.







Where to go alfresco




Best coffee: Gloria Jean’s


01-K1 Orchard Cineleisure


Gloria Jean’s reputation for brewing a good cuppa was proven right after LifeStyle tasted the coffees offered at the various cafes. Its long black was the most aromatic, and at $3.80 a cup, it was reasonably priced.


The blasting mist-fans here may make you feel as if you are in a tropical rainforest, but they do up the comfort level, especially on a hot, stuffy afternoon.




Best place to surf the Web: Spinelli


01-09 The Heeren


Surf for free and in comfort at Spinelli, which provides free Wireless@sg. Although many other places offer the same service, the comfortable chairs and easy ambience make it a winner.


Greenery and the breezy surrounds make this the spot to open up the laptop for the latest YouTube video.




Best place for chats: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf


01-45/46 Forum The Shopping Mall


Isolated from the crowds in Orchard Road while remaining close enough, you can see who’s wearing what without being checked out yourself. An ideal spot to sip and gossip.




Best place to be seen: IndoChine Wisma Atria


01-23A, 24A and K3 Wisma Atria


If you are looking for somewhere cool, the classy IndoChine fits the bill. With its music spilling onto the walkway and calming water features, it never fails to turn the heads of passers-by, which means you’ll get plenty of attention in your seat.




Coolest joints: Outdoors Cafe and Bar; Gloria Jean’s


180 Orchard Road, Peranakan Place; 01-K1 Orchard Cineleisure


No, we don’t mean chill-out zone, but as in the fact that these outlets are completely sheltered so you don’t need to wear sunblock to have a coffee.


Outdoors Cafe keeps things cool with ceiling fans. Gloria Jean’s uses mist-fans – though if you sit for too long here, the spray effect can cause you to look a bit drippy.




Hottest joint: Burger King


09-01 Liat Towers


Girls always want to look hot, but they sure don’t want to be hot.


This Burger King outlet manages to get its patrons flustered and sweaty because its concrete outdoor tables are under direct sunlight. Some have umbrellas but they aren’t of much use. Many patrons end up sizzling hot, just like their patties.




Best food joint: Santa Fe All-American Tex-Mex Grill


B-02-03 Orchard Point


This Mexican eatery deserves mention as it offers a more interesting variety of fare than the usual cakes and sandwiches at most sidewalk cafes, and the quality is good.


The turkey quesadillas ($14.95) – thin turkey tortillas with sour cream – and the fajita grill (half pound for $26.65, full pound for $41.65), in which you wrap beef or chicken slices with a choice of garnishings, are both tasty.




Best place to meet women: Spinelli


01-09 The Heeren


Women aged between 18 and 25 often gather here for a chat or even to play card games with friends.




Best place to meet men: Starbucks


01-01A Liat Towers


One of the oldest outdoor joints in Orchard Road, this place still teems with hip teenagers. There’s also the lunch-time crowd of men who work nearby.


It’s hard to explain why guys hang out here, but maybe being next to a Burger King, which dishes out great-tasting greasy burgers, makes them feel at ease.




Best places to people-watch: Cosmo-the Bistro; NYDC


01-K2 Wisma Atria; 01-K3/K4 The Heeren


When it comes to people-watching, you need two things: lots of foot traffic and an unhindered view.


Cosmo, near the exit of busy Orchard MRT station, offers both. Its totally open-air concept is great for keeping an eye on passers-by.


NYDC is a voyeur’s dream, thanks to its strategic location which looks out to people crossing at the nearby traffic junction and walking out of The Heeren.



Source: Straits Times

Surf’s up

Surf’s up


Four new water and sports centres will open along Siloso Beach on Sentosa next year


By Cara Van Miriah


Sentosa may not be known as a surfing destination. Beach parties, yes. Waves, no.


But next year, fun-seekers can gear up and surf on the barrelling waves at a new wavepool attraction near Cafe del Mar bar at Siloso Beach on the western shoreline of Sentosa.


The $15-million pool is set to thrill beachgoers with its artificial waves programmed to reach as high as 3m.


The 7,650 sq m open-air attraction, which will incorporate restaurants and retail shops specialising in boardsport gear, is expected to be completed by next June.


This is one of four new attractions that will sprout along the 1.5km Siloso Beach next year ahead of the Resorts World at Sentosa integrated resort which is due to open in early 2010.


The new attractions are part of Sentosa’s efforts to diversify its lifestyle offerings along its bustling 3.2km-long beach, which includes Siloso beach, Tanjong Beach and Palawan Beach.


The fun isle, connected to Singapore by road and a train service from HarbourFront, currently has seven beach bars, including KM8 at Tanjong Beach. It also has five visitor attractions, such as Animal & Bird Encounters at Palawan Beach and Songs of the Sea, a multimedia show, at Siloso Beach.


Two of the upcoming attractions are expected to be completed by next March, including the Azzura Hydro Sports Centre, now under construction.


Spanning 1,870 sq m on two levels, the lifestyle complex near outdoor event hall Emerald Pavilion will have boating and watersports, such as wakeboarding and banana boat rides.


Facilities will include a health bar and cafe, and an outdoor spa and gym.


Sentosa Leisure Group (SLG), which is the overall operator of Sentosa, and co-investor of Azzura and the wavepool attractions, says there are also plans to include a fleet of charter boats at Azzura.


Mr Goh Lye Whatt, SLG’s director (property, planning & development) , tells LifeStyle: ‘The new wave of developments will bring the beach culture to a new level. Beachgoers can look forward to a different experience at these attractions. ‘


The other attraction due for completion by March is the $3-million Zipline & High Rope Course. The group would only reveal that it will be operated by a foreign investor.


The treetop attraction will start its 400m course atop Mount Imbiah, working its way down to Siloso Beach.


Packed with obstacles and mid-air challenges, participants will climb rope bridges and balance on swinging logs and cargo nets at different heights of between 3m and 9m high.


About five minutes away at the Beach Station, adrenaline junkies can suit up and ‘skydive’ from 17m up at iFly Singapore, the city’s first indoor skydiving simulator, by next June.


It will be built by SkyVenture Singapore, a franchise of American-based wind tunnel manufacturer SkyVenture, at a cost of $16 million.


A half-hour experience, which includes a flight briefing, will cost $40, while admission charges to the wavepool and Zipline & High Rope Course attractions are still in the planning stage.


When all these are completed, there will be 18 attractions on Sentosa, including bars, with half along the beach area.


Last year, Sentosa saw a record 6.1 million visitors, a 7.9 per cent increase over 2006. Of these, 3.8 million were beachgoers, up from 3.4 million visitors in 2006.


The slashing of the admission fee to Sentosa in 2002 from $6 per person to $2 has no doubt played a part.


For sales manager Mohamed Faizal, 35, the new attractions will give him more reason to visit Sentosa and its beaches.


Enthuses the father of one: ‘There will be more to do and see for the whole family, especially for children. Besides cycling and swimming, my son will be able to surf at the new wavepool.’




Thrills at Siloso Beach


Azzura Hydro Sports Centre


What: Multi-level entertainment, dining and water sports facility


Where: Near Emerald Pavilion


Thrill: Banana boat rides, wakeboarding and more


Chill: Spa, cafe and health bar


Suitable for: Families


Completion: By next March




Zipline & High Rope Course


What: A treetop adventure rope course


Where: From atop Mount Imbiah to Siloso Beach


Thrill: Obstacles at three different heights up to 9m


Chill: Check out interesting flora and fauna at Mount Imbiah


Suitable for: Families


Completion: By next March




Wave Surfing


What: Simulated waves


Where: Near Cafe del Mar


Thrill: Surf 3m waves


Chill: Restaurants and retail outlets


Suitable for: Adults, and children with a minimum height of 1.2m


Completion: By next June




iFly Singapore


What: Simulated skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel


Where: Near Beach Station


Thrill: Flying height of 17m (five storeys) overlooking South China Sea


Chill: Cafes and retail outlets


Suitable for: Adults and children from three years old


Opens: By next June


Source: Sentosa Leisure Group



Source: Straits Times

New homes set to raise level of city centre buzz

New homes set to raise level of city centre buzz 


With office units in short supply, condos make a good option for investors: Analysts

By Jessica Cheam 


Singapore‘s city centre is set to get bigger and bolder in the next decade, with the injection of around 23,000 homes that promise to take the buzz to another level.

And if Singapore’s urban planners have their way, more office buildings will sprout at Marina Bay, along with mixed-use developments in the Beach Road and Ophir-Rochor areas – bringing people closer to their jobs.


All this will come to pass while hotels and lifestyle hot spots in Little India and the Singapore River surroundings ensure that the city teems with activity.


And even if you need a quick getaway from the city’s frenzy, green open spaces such as the upcoming Gardens by the Bay and Esplanade Park are all within walking distance.


This vision for Singapore’s 1,650ha central area was unveiled by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) last week as part of its latest masterplan, which outlines Singapore’s land use over the medium term.


With all these grand plans and more, is it time for investors to hunt within the city for a good buy?


Property experts say this depends on the location of the property, the timing and how quickly URA’s blueprint materialises in the next few years.


Let us start with the Central Business District (CBD).


Office space investments are limited, although there are some strata-titled commercial units available, such as those at The Arcade in Raffles Place and International Plaza in Tanjong Pagar.


However, there is only a small pool to shop from, and units in good locations could be beyond the reach of the average investor. Units at The Arcade, for example, changed hands at around $5,000 per sq ft (psf) at the end of last year.


Knight Frank director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said there are ‘very few good strata-titled office spaces in the city’. A more obvious choice would be to shop for homes.


With the government’s latest strategy to repopulate the city centre and bring people closer to their jobs, investors can rest assured that this pool will only get bigger.


Some projects that have already been launched include The Sail@Marina Bay and Marina Bay Residences. Further inland, One Shenton Way and Scotts Square also offer units in the heart of the city.


The latest URA data shows Marina Bay properties transacting at around $2,100 psf. This is a slight dip from the peak prices seen in the property boom last year.


At Scotts Square in Scotts Road, units are being sold at an average price of $3,700 psf this year, down about 8 per cent from $4,000 psf in last year’s fourth quarter.


At One Shenton Way, the latest sale went at $2,069 psf in January.


Prices might be falling at some condos now, but as these homes were launched at just below or around the $1,000 psf level, the question remains whether the upside is limited if one buys now, say some market watchers.


It is possible that prices might drop further, given the current cooling of the market, but Mr Mak added that owners are unlikely to let go of units if they would incur a loss.


Savills Singapore’s director of business development and marketing, Mr Ku Swee Yong, said that sellers are more likely to negotiate now given the current market sentiment.


For investors holding out for drastic price drops, he said it is unlikely that home prices in the city will drop as much as 30 per cent, as recent bank reports have predicted.


‘Current market conditions do not support that. At the most, we will see a 5 to 10 per cent decrease for top-end luxury homes.’


Mr Ku said that even at the $2,000 psf level, city homes can command rental yields of about 4 per cent as they are attractive properties to rent, catering to the international expatriate community.


At DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, senior director of research Chua Chor Hoon agreed.


‘City centre homes fetch pretty good rentals and therefore give good yields…URA’s data shows that rentals for condos such as Icon were in the range of $6.50 to $7.50 psf a month,’ she said.


Mr Ku added that investors who are in for the long haul might find that their investments will pay off in the next five to 10 years, especially after the Marina Bay integrated resort opens and the city gets busier.


Other homes to consider include those at Robertson Quay and Tanjong Pagar.


The condos include Robertson Blue, RiverGate and Watermark at Robertson Quay; at Tanjong Pagar, there are the Pinnacle @ Duxton and Icon. Units at these projects have changed hands for $1,400 to $1,600 psf in the last three months.


The other option for investors is to wait for further government land sales, for more new homes to be developed, said Mr Mak. These developments would probably be in the Marina Bay area, he added, unless URA allows city properties to be converted into mixed-use projects.


Around Beach Road and the Ophir-Rochor area – touted as the northern gateway to the city – investment opportunities are more diverse.


There is a good mix of shophouses and strata-titled commercial and residential units on the market for the average investor.


The 101, Premier Centre and The Plaza, for example, are all strata-titled properties with a mix of commercial and residential units. At The Plaza, transacted apartment prices have gone up 28 per cent, rising from $600 psf in June last year to $900 psf currently.


Commercial units in this area have generally stayed at the $1,500 psf price level this year, though transaction volumes have fallen since last year, said Mr Ku.


Over at Tanjong Pagar, shophouses are also a staple of the district. These properties are usually more affordable, added Mr Mak, although he warned that they are more sensitive to market downturns.


If plans for a revamped Kallang Riverside and Paya Lebar Central go ahead, the city centre will also benefit from the buzz added by these new, nearby commercial hubs.


How soon investors will see price movements in city investments will depend on the pace of development. Market watchers agree it is still too early to see the price effects from URA’s masterplan.


‘Prices are peakish now, so one should consider the investment time horizon and yield before making a purchase,’ said Ms Chua.





Promising outlook


For property investors who are in for the long haul, they might find that their investments will pay off in the next five to 10 years, especially after the Marina Bay integrated resort opens and the city gets busier, says

Mr Ku Swee Yong, Savills’ director of business development and marketing.











Market watchers point out that while prices of many city centre residential properties have come down since last year’s peak, the upside may be limited as many of these homes were launched at much lower prices.


On the other hand, apartments at The Plaza, a development in the Beach Road and Ophir-Rochor area with a mix of commercial and residential units, have actually enjoyed price increases since last year.


Source: Straits Times

On the market

On the market 


Serenity Park, Tamarind Road, freehold


What it is: A two-bedroom apartment


Price: $679,000, or $617 per sq ft (psf). The maintenance fee is $250 a month.


This 1,100 sq ft unit comes with a maid’s room and a balcony.


The apartment is in a quiet area off Yio Chu Kang Road, surrounded by landed homes.


Inquiries: Germaine Ng, 9632-9369








Castle Green, Yio Chu Kang Road, 99-year leasehold


What it is: A three-bedroom apartment


Price: $730,000, or $483 psf. The maintenance fee is $267 a month.


Completed in 1997, this condo is a five-minute walk to the Yio Chu Kang MRT station.


It has an area of 1,511 sq ft and comes with a maid’s room. It is currently tenanted.


Inquiries: Linus Lee, 9683-5004








Pinevale, Tampines Street 73, 99-year leasehold


What it is: A three-bedroom apartment


Price: $730,000, or $595 psf. The maintenance fee is $240 a month.


This ground-floor unit is 1,647 sq ft in size and comes with a maid’s room and built-in wardrobes.


It was completed in 1998 and is currently vacant. The Tampines MRT station is four bus stops away.


Inquiries: Aaron Hong, 9431-5357








Hillington Green, Hillview Avenue, 999-year leasehold


What it is: A three-bedroom apartment


Price: $1.07 million, or $789 psf. The maintenance fee is $350 a month.


Located on the fifth floor, this 1,356 sq ft unit is about five years old and has had a $30,000 renovation. It comes with a private lift lobby.


Inquiries: Darren Goh, 9106-5661



Next Week: HDB flats in Bishan


Source: Straits Times

Cornwall Gardens: Road repairs still on

Cornwall Gardens: Road repairs still on


Road repairs, including stabilisation work, are still going on at Cornwall Gardens, following a cave-in there on May 24.

The cave-in created a 7m by 8m hole that was 3m deep. No one was injured that morning but water supply for four homes was disrupted.


The Sperling family, whose doorstep was where the cave-in occurred, also had their Internet and cable connections interrupted.


Currently, cement is being pumped into the ground to fortify it, said Mr Chris Knight Hasell, the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) project manager for the Circle Line Stage 4.


This process, known as grouting, will take another week or so. Only one of the two lanes of Cornwall Gardens is accessible now.


Grouting also helps to stabilise the ground as tunnelling work for the Circle Line’s Holland Village Station continues, Mr Hasell added.


For now, LTA is concentrating on repairing and stabilising the road.


When The Sunday Times visited the Sperling family at their home yesterday, they reported a crack in their driveway leading to the construction site. The LTA did a check and does not think it is new.


The Sperling family stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel for two nights after the road cave-in blocked driving access to their house.


Source: Straits Times

En bloc sales bring out the worst in Singaporeans

En bloc sales bring out the worst in Singaporeans 

By Jessica Cheam 


After a most spectacular year for the en bloc market last year, sales activity has finally frizzled out and for most parties involved, it is a welcome time-out. While property agents may lament the slowdown, one group of home-owners can heave a sigh of relief, as the threat of being forced to sell their homes retreats into oblivion.

Well, for most, anyway.


The recent debacle at the annual general meetings of two of the most iconic condominiums on the East Coast – Bayshore Park and Mandarin Gardens – proves that while the market has gone dead, en bloc woes have not, and will not, go away.


Some points of contention that arose at the meetings were the use of proxy votes to influence decisions, and conflicts of interest arising over the roles of management councils and sales committees.


In the course of my job, I have covered my fair share of en bloc deals, and as a non-partisan observer of proceedings, I have come to one conclusion about the ‘uniquely Singapore’ phenomenon that is the en bloc.


It is ugly. And it brings out the worst in Singaporeans.


Recent developments have also highlighted weaknesses in the law regarding collective sales and a private property owner’s rights. This is despite the tightening of en bloc rules that kicked in last October, which ensure, among other things, that sales committees are properly elected, and collective sales agreements witnessed by lawyers.


This has no doubt cooled the en bloc fever which gripped the nation last year, with a total of 116 collective sales generating record investment sales of $13.64billion.


But some glaring flaws in the en bloc process remain. They include the distribution of sale proceeds, the role of the management council versus the sales committee, and the use of proxy votes at annual and extraordinary meetings.


Let me elaborate.


Firstly, owners should be compensated according to their flat attributes – height, cost of renovation, view.


I have found that pro-en bloc types usually own low-floor units, with average furnishings and view. Anti-en bloc types, by contrast, typically own beautifully renovated top-floor units with stunning views – it is no wonder that these owners want more compensation or refuse to sell, according to how much they have invested in their homes.


Current laws favour the average owner, who receives a pay-out equal to that of his top-floor neighbour, which is obviously unfair and has been the root of many conflicts and arguments.


The Strata Titles Board (STB) has also previously ruled that renovations, along with interest, are not a ‘deductible expense’, which means your renovations count for nothing in a collective sale.


To create a level playing field, provision should be made so that owners get fair value for their homes, perhaps by a government-appointed independent valuer.


Secondly, the management council and sales committee should be kept separate by law, since the role of the former is to maintain the upkeep of the estate, while the other’s role is to sell it.


Current laws allow a sales committee member to be on the management council as well, but this has caused unhappiness at many estates – not just at Bayshore and Mandarin – where suspicion breeds among residents towards those who carry both positions.


On the issue of proxy votes, it is theoretically democratic. But it also allows decisions to be skewed one way, because residents who want certain things changed will attend meetings and get proxies from similar-minded neighbours to achieve the results they desire.


Meetings currently require only 30per cent of the total share value held by residents of an estate to attend, which enables decisions to be made without majority consent.


This should be looked at. One solution could be to raise the minimum requirement of residents present to 80per cent, or instead to do away with proxy votes altogether so that voting cannot be manipulated – perhaps via an online or e-mail voting system.


My advice in the meantime?


Don’t buy into a strata-titled property if you do not want to be forced to sell your home. Current laws do not ensure you will be able to live in your condominium unit until your dying days – even though, in my opinion, you should be able to.


Most countries in the world allow this basic right, why can’t we?


Perhaps the lawmakers could take some of these issues into consideration when compiling the next set of refinements.


Beyond the economic value of urban rejuvenation or boosting shareholder value for property developers, the en bloc phenomenon has ripped apart the moral fibres and harmony of our society.


Is this a cost our society is willing to pay?


On the one hand, I can sympathise with those who want to sell: they may be approaching retirement, or perhaps have plans to move away, and want to get the best price.


But there are people who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars beautifying their homes to be their retirement nests, plus those who value the environment they live in beyond any amount of realisable value.


Do the former have the right to determine if the latter lose their homes? Owners still have a choice to sell their homes on the open market.


In terms of ‘specuvestors’ who swoop in to snap up units in the hope of making a quick collective sale buck, their motivation is even more inexcusable. It is okay to want to make money, but do it without hurting someone else.


It’s not just Singaporeans who become embroiled in controversial sales, but also foreigners and permanent residents.


I just hope that my estate never has to go through this nightmare. It is sure to do permanent damage to relationships which have taken years to build up, but which take only a sale notice to destroy.


Source: Straits Times