Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Perks For Less Popular Features

Source : The Sunday Times, July 13 2008

New guidelines could discourage condo developers from including planter boxes and bay windows

Buyers of most new developments have been paying for bay windows and planter boxes even if they have no use for such building features.

But soon, they may no longer have to do so as a recent change in government guidelines is expected to discourage developers from building such features.

Homebuyers will soon no longer need to pay for features they do not want, such as bay windows and planter boxes. New URA guidelines require developers to include the provisions as part of gross floor area, and to pay for them. -- ST FILE PHOTOS

Last week, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said it will include planter boxes and bay windows in the calculation of the gross floor area (GFA) of residential developments. This means that developers will have to pay for these boxes and windows. They have been happily providing these features as these are 'bonus' space that they can sell.

'It makes economic sense to utilise the exemption,' said a local developer. 'Whether we continue to build bay windows and/or planter boxes will depend very much on the design of the building.'

Consumers benefit in that they will be paying for only liveable space, market watchers say.

Few owners interested in gardening

The URA had encouraged developers to build planter boxes so as to give visual relief to Singapore's high-density living environment. However, feedback and its investigations have revealed extensive unauthorised conversions of planter boxes for use as balcony space or an extension of the living room.

'Such conversion will result in additional GFA for which the end-user will need to meet onerous requirements such as seeking consent from the management corporation and paying further development charge, if applicable,' the URA said.

It has also received feedback that flat owners are unhappy that they are not allowed to convert the planter boxes to other uses since they had paid for the space when they bought their flat.

'From a practical point of view, most homebuyers do not make use of planters,' said ERA Asia Pacific's assistant vice-president, Mr Eugene Lim. Bay windows, however, do help to make the room look bigger than it really is. They also let in more light, he said.

Bay windows bring light and also heat

Indeed, bay windows are supposed to help encourage energy-efficient building design and sustainability. They were originally not counted as part of the GFA because they were viewed as raised window ledges.

But the relaxation of the height of the bay window ledge has made it a usable internal space that is no different from the rest of the floor space, said the URA.

Also, the URA found that there are more new buildings that are virtually wrapped around by bay windows. The extensive use of bay windows leads to higher heat transfer into buildings and increases the need for air-conditioning to cool the buildings, it said.

It noted: 'Often, the provision of bay windows is intended mainly to increase the saleable strata space.'

Typically, planter boxes and bay windows take up about 5 per cent of a unit's saleable space, although it can be a bigger portion in some developments. This information is often not divulged to buyers.

The motivation is there to increase the proportion of such space vis-a-vis the GFA or what used to be called liveable floor area, said Chesterton International's head of research and consultancy, Mr Colin Tan. 'That is why we see new units sold today have larger balconies, lots of bay windows and planter areas and super-sized air-con ledges.'

The URA said it will now leave it to developers and building owners to decide if they wish to continue to provide bay windows and planter boxes. Non-residential developments such as hotels and offices are not affected by the revised guidelines.

They take effect from Oct 7 and will affect new development applications received on or after the date.

When deciding between a new unit and one with planter boxes and bay windows, a buyer may perceive the latter to be worth less than the former, assuming they are of the same size, said Mr Tan.

'A consumer will view a unit with full GFA of 1,300 sq ft as being worth more than a 1,300 sq ft unit with 1,150 sq ft of GFA and 150 sq ft of non-GFA area, although both will be listed as having the same strata area of 1,300 sq ft.'

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