Dive into office pool on the roof

Dive into office pool on the roof


When research consultant Danny Lai wants to take a dip after work, he doesn’t head to the nearest public pool or beach.


Instead Mr Lai, 38, an associate director, takes the lift from his office on the second floor up six levels and steps out directly to his company’s private lap pool.


His company, Acorn Marketing & Research Consultants, at trendy Mohd Sultan Road in the River Valley area, is one of the few offices here with a pool on the premises. Healthy lifestyle product company Osim also has one at its headquarters in Ubi.


Acorn’s pool is part of a 10-storey glass annex attached to its premises of two shophouses – and it is quite a water feature. Part of the 1.2m-deep pool has a glass bottom, so workers all the way from the second floor up can look up and see who is making a splash.


Mr Lai and some of his colleagues enjoy lounging in the 11.5m long by 3.3m wide lap pool after finishing their evening fitness runs around the area. ‘This happens usually once a fortnight,’ he says.


Colleague Ilona Loo, 28, a field manager, comes with her own group and says: ‘We come here for a late night swim after work, as public pools are usually closed by then.’


On whether they feel shy stripping to their swimsuits in front of colleagues, both shrug it off.


‘It doesn’t feel weird,’ says Ms Loo.


The pool, which looks onto the condominiums and offices at River Valley, is open to all 30 employees at Acorn. There are also shower facilities in the toilets for swimmers.


Mr Lai says clients are also invited to bring along their swimsuits and towels when they come for meetings. But no clients have taken up the offer.


‘Perhaps they worry about their bosses asking about their wet hair,’ he chuckles.


The pool costs about $200 a month to maintain. The annex it is in was built in 2005 at a cost of more than $6 million.


It’s at the back of two three-storey conservation shophouses which Acorn bought in 2004 for also more than $6 million.


Of the pool, Mr Kwan Chong Wah, 53, Acorn’s group director, says: ‘It’s something nice to have.’


The frequent flier, who travels around the region, has not had the chance to enjoy it, though.


Acorn’s new office was designed by local firms CP Lee & Partners and Strategic Design International. It previously rented office space in River Valley Road and Stevens Road.


Under conservation rules, the shophouses’ facade had to be kept, but a new annex could be built at the back. Strategic Design International’s principal architect Philip Lee, 48, chose to use lots of glass to allow in plenty of light.


On the glass-bottomed pool, he says: ‘It is a bold idea as this has not been done in an office building before.’


Source: Straits Times

No home to call their own

No home to call their own


In the last nine months, Madam Noor Yusoff, her husband and their three children have moved five times. They stayed in rooms rented from relatives, friends and strangers for one to five months at a time, until they had exhausted all goodwill.


On three occasions, for a month each time, they camped out in the void decks of HDB blocks in Ang Mo Kio and Bedok North Avenue 4. They stayed there till someone complained. Then they moved in with a relative for a while, before moving out again to another void deck.


When The Sunday Times caught up with them two weeks ago, they had set up home in the void deck of Block 98 in Bedok for three nights in a row.


The family had with them five huge cardboard boxes filled with clothes, shoes, diapers, cooking pots, toys and textbooks. A tent housed their two sleeping daughters, aged four and eight, while their one-year-old boy gurgled on his father’s lap.


Their story is typical of many void-deck nomads who have fallen out with relatives and friends.


Both Madam Noor, 36, and her husband, Mr Ain Salbri, 27, were married before. They both owned four-room flats with their former spouses.


Madam Noor and her first husband owned a four-room flat in Woodlands. She used to take home $1,300 as a salesgirl before stopping work to look after their three children aged eight, 10 and 11.


In 2003, tired of paying off her husband’s debts, she filed for divorce and won custody of the children.


In November 2004, Madam Noor married Mr Ain, whom she first met at an MRT station. Together, they lived in the Woodlands flat and had a daughter and, later, a son.


But in 2006, Madam Noor’s former husband appealed for custody of the children. This time, the Syariah Court awarded him custody and ordered that the flat be sold and the proceeds split. But most of the resale value of the flat went into paying off mortgage loans and other debts.


From May last year, Madam Noor, who is now six months pregnant, Mr Ain and their three children – including her youngest daughter from her first marriage – began their nomadic journey in a series of rented rooms.


According to HDB policy, both were not eligible to rent a flat from the HDB at subsidised rates for 30 months after selling their flats bought from the board with subsidy conditions.


Since then, they have appealed to their MPs, who wrote letters of appeal to the HDB but to no avail. Grassroots leaders were also alerted to offer assistance.


Between the couple, they have more than $50,000 in their Central Provident Fund accounts. Mr Ain earns about $1,000 a month as a bowling alley technician.


But, according to the HDB, he gave them different accounts of the jobs held and had not submitted any income documents to substantiate his claims.


A spokesman noted: ‘In January this year, he claimed that he was unemployed.’


He added: ‘The family have substantial CPF savings and have indicated they would like to explore the option of buying a smaller flat. We are in touch with the family with regard to this option and for verification of their actual household income.’


However, The Sunday Times understands the family cannot afford the cash down payment to buy a three-room resale flat.


Over the past year, they have rented rooms costing between $150 and $500 a month.


Social worker Jermaine Kwek from Trans Family Service Centre, who is handling their case, appealed on their behalf to New Hope Shelter for Displaced Families in April. They were placed on the wait-list as the shelter was full.


‘We exhausted all options to help the family – HDB, schools, community development council and shelters – but could not get them a place to stay,’ she said.


The HDB said that divorcees ought to work out ‘their personal rehousing plan based on the options available’.


These include staying with parents, buying a resale flat or retaining matrimonial flats.


In Madam Noor’s case, the HDB said that due to a dispute with a relative, she moved to the void deck. The board also pointed out that her current husband’s parents live in a three-room flat and his three siblings each have a four-room flat.


‘Those who can afford to help themselves, and those with family to turn to, should not be competing for HDB’s rental flats with truly needy cases.’


In response, Madam Noor said the relatives must be ‘keen to let us stay with them’.


Two weeks ago, Fengshan grassroots leaders and Trans FSC found a place for Madam Noor at New Hope Shelter, after a two-month wait. The family can stay there for at least a month, and are attending courses on budgeting and getting help with housing options.


The HDB is also working with the family to assess the situation.


Source: Straits Times

43,000 rental flats – but they are for the genuinely poor

43,000 rental flats – but they are for the genuinely poor


The Housing Board says it guards its 43,000 rental units judiciously, reserving them for the genuinely poor who need a roof over their heads. In its reply to The Sunday Times, it reiterated this point: ‘HDB rental units are limited and reserved only for families who have no housing options.’


Depending on household income and other factors, rentals are between $26 and $205 a month for a one-room flat; and between $44 and $275 for a two-room unit.


Families whose monthly household incomes are $1,500 or less can apply for rental housing. However, they must wait for 30 months after selling their flats before being eligible for subsidised rental homes.


During this year’s Budget debate in March, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan highlighted cases where applicants who were hoping to take advantage of subsidised rentals drove up demand for rental flats.


Last year, more than half of those who applied for rental units were former home owners who did not owe the HDB any money when they sold their flats.


The HDB advises those planning to sell their flats to first find a place to stay before they proceed with the sale.


It said: ‘HDB has encountered flat owners who sell their flats, then turn to HDB to apply for a subsidised rental flat. Some even harbour the notion that they are more deserving than those already in the queue for a rental flat and demand one immediately.’


The HDB cited the case of a couple who sold a four-room resale flat in February this year and received about $126,000 after paying off their bank loan. They had sold off two other flats before, both at profit as well.


After the latest sale, the couple sought to buy a resale three-room flat valued at $158,000. When it came to paying the 5 per cent cash payment of $7,800, the couple claimed they were unable to pay and appealed to be allowed to pay the amount in instalments.


The request was turned down as the 5 per cent cash payment had to be handed over to the seller if the deal were to go ahead.


The sale fell through and the husband appealed to rent a flat instead, even though the couple’s monthly household income of $2,300 exceeded the income ceiling for HDB flat rental.


HDB said: ‘Flat owners should not sell their flats with the expectation of obtaining a subsidised rental flat.


‘If they are not buying another home, they have to make their own alternative housing arrangement before selling their existing flat, with family members as their first line of support.’


Since January last year, all buyers need to obtain an HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE) letter before they can buy a unit. The HLE maps out the loan available to them, the repayment scheme and the monthly instalments.


The HDB advised that families should also factor in the repayment of any outstanding loans on properties they are selling.


Source: Straits Times

Low demand, so fewer govt sites for sale

Low demand, so fewer govt sites for sale


THE Government’s latest half-yearly release of land for sale takes into consideration current low demand, but also anticipates a possible recovery in the medium or long term.


National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said that the Government’s decision to cut back on the number of development sites being released for outright sale in the second half of this year reflected feedback from the market.


‘Demand is currently slow and the market is quiet, so based on feedback we received, we decided to reduce the supply,’ he said on the sidelines of a dialogue in Tampines yesterday.


The Government announced on Thursday that only eight sites would be put up for outright sale in the next six months following poor interest in the 37 sites that have been available since the start of the year.


Of the 11 sites on the confirmed list, five sites have been sold, tenders for three sites have not closed and one site has not been launched. The other two were not sold.


The remaining 26 sites on the reserve list were not released for sale. These sites go on sale only if a developer makes a minimum bid.


For the second half of the year, 13 new sites were added, with 27 carried over from the first six months.


Of this batch of 40, eight are on the confirmed list with the rest on reserve.


Despite the flagging demand at the moment, Mr Mah said: ‘There may be some demand that could be waiting on the sidelines that we do not know about.


‘So we have to make sure that there is enough supply in the medium term.’


And while the Government does not want to put pressure on the market by flooding it with a supply of space in the short term, Mr Mah believed that land on the reserve list would meet requirements in the months ahead.


‘In the medium term, based on Singapore’s projected economic growth, population growth and demand for hotels and offices, we have worked to make sure that there will be enough supply on the reserve list.


‘We want steady and sustainable growth,’ he said.


Source: Straits Times

Willing away flat depends on form of ownership

Willing away flat depends on form of ownership


MY uncle is over 70 years old and married, but he does not have any children. He would like to include his three-room HDB flat in his will.


He and his wife are the lessees of the flat, which is fully paid for by him. His wife has not contributed any money for the flat.


Can he include the flat in his will? Is it true that in the event of his death, his wife will be the sole beneficiary of the flat? Does he need to have his wife’s consent for the will? And does she need to sign it?


A YOUR uncle is able to make a will on the flat, but whether it can be willed away will depend on two factors.


The first is the manner in which your uncle holds the flat with his wife, that is, whether as joint tenants (the usual manner of holding) or as tenants- in-common in defined shares.


The second is the right of survivorship if the flat is held as joint tenants.


If the flat is held as tenants- in-common in defined shares, your uncle can will his specific share away and, upon his death, the will operates to bequeath his share to his specified beneficiary.


If the flat is held as joint tenants with his wife, then the right of survivorship operates. This means that if your aunt dies before your uncle, the whole flat will belong to him and he can will it away.


If your uncle dies before your aunt, his undivided share in the flat will accrue to your aunt wholly, leaving nothing for his will to operate upon. Therefore, a will in these circumstances will not be useful.


You mentioned that the HDB flat is fully paid for by your uncle. Nonetheless, as long as your aunt’s name is included as joint owner of the flat, she has legal and equitable rights to it.


She may have made indirect contributions to it through her years with the family.


In the event of your uncle’s death, his wife will be the sole beneficiary of the flat, if it is held by both of them as joint tenants.


No, your uncle does not require anybody’s consent to make a will or to agree to its contents. However, if his wife desires to make a will that mirrors your uncle’s will (these are called mutual wills), she will have to make one in her own name and sign it. She is not required to sign your uncle’s will.


Do take note also that no beneficiary should sign as a witness of a will.


Lim Choi Ming

Partner, KhattarWong


Advice provided in this column is not meant as a substitute for comprehensive professional advice.


Source: Straits Times

Buyers bidding up prices of shophouses

Buyers bidding up prices of shophouses 

While sales have slumped this year after a strong run, units costing over $5m are attracting strong demand


SHOPHOUSES have been a popular choice for investors, as well as occupiers who sought to avoid the hefty office- rent increases that were so rampant last year.


But after a spectacular year, shophouse sales have sunk this year due to the cautious mood in the property market.


Nevertheless, new figures released by CBRE Research show that more buyers are snapping up shophouses that cost more than $5 million each.


So far this year, $98.58 million worth of properties have changed hands, compared with just above $1 billion worth for the whole of last year.


And since January, deals for shophouses worth more than $5 million each have reached 86 per cent of total sales, or $83.75 million, compared with 64 per cent of total sales or $694 million last year.


‘Investors and business owners still see shophouse units as an alternative to alleviate the current supply crunch in the office market,’ said CBRE Research’s executive director, Mr Li Hiaw Ho.


In the past two years, demand for shophouses has shot up, raising the value of such properties, he said.


For instance, in January this year, a European fund paid $6.88 million for four shophouses in Club Street.


The seller had bought them for $3.6 million in May last year.


But not all sellers can make such gains. A lot still depends on location.



Popular with smaller set-ups


Shophouses located near or within the Central Business District (CBD) are highly sought-after as they are usually located near MRT stations, said CBRE Research.


Last month, a fairly small 1,171 sq ft shophouse in Boat Quay was sold for a hefty $5.25 million. Earlier this month, a 1,455 sq ft shophouse in Bukit Pasoh Road went for $6.2 million.


There are cheaper options.


In Tanjong Katong Road, a few shophouses spread over 8,697 sq ft were sold for $8.2 million in March, according to CBRE data.


These same units were previously transacted in July last year for $7.72 million.


‘Shophouses tend to attract smaller set-ups, mainly because the shophouses are usually small,’ said Mr Li.


‘Some hedge funds and investment-related companies also find the units unique, similar to the townhouses which you can find in London,’ he added.


Tenants for shophouses in prime locations, such as Amoy Street and Telok Ayer Street, are mostly hedge funds, law firms, architectural firms, interior designing firms and art design schools such as Sotheby’s Art School, said CBRE Research.



Attractive rental yields


Rental yields for shophouses typically range from 4 to 6 per cent, above the usual residential ones of 3 to 4 per cent, said Colliers International’s deputy managing director for agency & business services, Ms Grace Ng.


For owner-occupiers, shophouses may make good investments as they could be paying less in mortgage payments every month compared to monthly rent in a prime office building, property consultants said.


Still, asking rents for shophouses in prime locations have jumped by at least 40 per cent or more in the past year, said Mr Li.


Current rates in the CBD such as Telok Ayer Street are as high as $8 per sq ft (psf) to $8.50 psf a month, up from $5 psf to $6 psf a month a year ago.


This compares with current average rents of around $16 psf for prime office building space.


‘Even with rising values and rents, shophouses are still attractive to tenants because of the current office supply crunch,’ said Mr Li.


For investors, shophouses may prove to be a better investment than a strata office unit, which gives a typical yield of 4 to 4.5 per cent, he said.


Colliers International is marketing a two-storey corner shophouse in Peck Seah Street, off Tanjong Pagar Road, at an indicative price of $6.1 million. At this price, the buyer of the tenanted property will get a rental yield of 5 per cent.


CBRE is selling a four-storey shophouse in Tanjong Pagar Road. The two existing tenants are paying rents of between $3 psf and $4 psf a month, which give a rental yield of 3.5 per cent.


But the leases will end next year, it said. Whoever buys the property – the asking price is $9 million – can ask for rents of at least $5 or $6 psf, which would give a yield of around 5 per cent.





For owner-occupiers, shophouses may make good investments, as they could be paying less in mortgage payments every month compared to monthly rent in a prime office building,


Rental yields, ranging typically from 4 to 6 per cent, are often higher than for residential and office units, say property consultants.


Source: Straits Times