Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tampines Court Collective Sale In Peril

Source : The Straits Times, July 12, 2008

STB rules not to bring forward Aug 7 hearing, which must take place before deal is signed by July 25 deadline

THE sales committee at Tampines Court looks to have shot itself in the foot after a ruling by the Strata Titles Board (STB) yesterday almost certainly killed off its estate's $405 million collective sale.

CRUCIAL: With no extension, the Tampines Court sale agreement will likely lapse on July 25. -- PHOTO: WWW.CHANKOKHONG.COM.SG

It delayed seeking mandatory STB approval for the deal and is now caught in a deadline trap of its own making.

The key date is July 25, that is when the estate's sales committee must complete the deal. However, that looks impossible now after yesterday's STB decision.

The board ruled that it would not bring forward an Aug 7 hearing set to allow testimony from witnesses that have yet to be called.

The STB had pencilled in the date after listening to sale objectors on June 16 to 18 and 'taking into account the availability of all parties and the board', it said.

Until that Aug 7 hearing is conducted, the sale cannot be signed and sealed.

The Straits Times understands that the sales committee wanted a date change as the buyers - Frasers Centrepoint and Far East Organization - will not extend the completion deadline.

With no extension, the sale agreement will likely lapse on July 25. This means the developers can walk away from a deal that looks far less compelling now than last July, given souring homebuyer sentiment and escalating construction costs.

However, this might be a blessing in disguise for some owners at the estate. The deal was inked just before the property boom at prices around $430 per sq ft (psf), but private homes in Tampines now go from $550 to $700 psf.

The deadline crunch seems to be of the sales committee's own making.

The conditions of the sales agreement were met on July 25 last year but the committee delayed applying for the standard STB approval until Jan 7.

The committee told the STB that it wanted to await the outcome of legal challenges over the contentious Gillman Heights sale.

The committee argued that if the Gillman Heights sale was halted over issues of majority consent, it would have made a Tampines Court application futile.

In the Gillman Heights case, minority owners appealed all the way to the High Court, claiming that collective sale rules did not apply to former Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) estates.

Tampines Court is also a former HUDC estate so any ruling could have killed its own collective sale.

But Justice Choo Han Teck ruled last month that a privatised HUDC estate can be sold collectively if the requisite conditions are met.

While that also cleared the way for the Tampines Court sale, it left the sales committee with little time to tie up loose ends, including objections by minority owners.

The STB registrar had some sympathy yesterday for the committee's argument about why it delayed applying for sale approval.

But he pointed out that a sale agreement has a deadline and, by waiting for the High Court ruling, the committtee took the risk that it would not have enough time to get a ruling from the board before the expiry date.

'This is a calculated risk, whose consequences they will have to bear,' he said.

'The board should not be pressured to accommodate a deadline set by the applicants and the buyer.'

A lawyer acting for the minority owners told The Straits Times that he did not want to comment on the outcome.

The one lifeline for the majority owners would be if the buyers extend the deadline but that also looks a lost cause.

Far East Organization and Frasers Centrepoint told The Straits Times last night that they are ready to complete the deal, but 'the onus was upon the vendors to secure the STB order within the agreed timeframe, which is about 16 months from the date of the agreement'.

Savills director of marketing and business development Ku Swee Yong said since the deal was inked last July, construction costs have escalated a lot faster than mass market property prices.

'The project, unsurprisingly, has become less attractive,' he said.

Tampines Court is a sizeable 702,162 sq ft site with 560 units. It could be redeveloped into a new condominium with around 1,580 units averaging 1,300 sq ft.

Key proceedings

March 25, 2007: Tampines Court's sales committee enters a sale and purchase agreement with Far East Organization and Frasers Centrepoint.

July 25, 2007: The conditions of the sales agreement are fulfilled.

Jan 7: The sales committee applies to the Strata Titles Board (STB) for sale approval and the minority owners then file their objections.

June 16 to 18: The STB hears the objections and sets the next hearing for Aug 7.

June 30: The sales committee applies to bring the Aug 7 hearing forward to before the sale's July 25 expiry date.

July 11: STB dismisses the sales committee's request.

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