Tuesday, September 9, 2008

You've Got A Home... But Does Your Car?

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2008

Carparks at newer condos smaller; some even have fewer lots than units

HOME owners looking to buy a condominium within the next few years may soon find themselves in a squeeze when it comes to parking their cars at home.

A Straits Times survey of 26 condominiums launched or built after 2005 showed carparks are getting smaller, with some even falling below a government standard of at least one lot per unit.

About 50 per cent of the condominiums surveyed will have just one lot for each unit - plus not more than 5 per cent of extra lots - when completed.

The situation is more pronounced in the city. At least three new developments - The Sail @ Marina Bay, Marina Bay Residences and Icon in Tanjong Pagar - have between 20 per cent and 40 per cent fewer lots than units.

In comparison, a survey of about 10 condos built between 1980 and 2000 showed they were more generous, with over 50 per cent of them giving at least 15 per cent more leeway for lots.

For instance, Kembangan's Windy Heights, which was completed around 1978, has 274 lots to its 202 units - about 36 per cent more lots than units.

In comparison, The Sail @ Marina Bay will have 700 lots for its 1,111 units - but only because it has 'direct access to MRT stations, Raffles Place and is within walking distance to many workplaces and amenities', said a spokesman for the developer CDL.

The upcoming Dakota Residences in Mountbatten, when completed in 2010, will have one lot for each of the 348 units while The Reflections at Keppel Bay, when ready in 2013, will have about 1,200 lots for its 1,129 apartments - just 6 per cent more lots than units.

While many of these condos have not yet been completed, and the problem has not quite set in, there have been a few rumblings.

For instance, a handful of retailers at the mostly sold Icon - a retail-cum-residential development - said a few customers have complained how hard it can be to find a lot during the peak hours of lunchtime and 5pm to 8pm.

Investor Hengky Oeni, 54, who has bought a unit at The Sail @ Marina Bay, believes visitors may face problems finding a spot at certain times if forced to park outside at nearby office buildings. 'On weekdays when employees are around, parking spaces in these buildings will be difficult to find and expensive.'

Real-estate firm Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak pointed out that home owners-to-be would not feel the effects now.

'But once they move in, for instance when they throw a house-warming party, they will realise there may not be enough parking lots,' he said.

During festive seasons such as Chinese New Year, visitors who take up spaces meant for residents may cause spats in the estate too, he said.

Management consultant Ong Tee Jin, 46, complained he often had to park in HDB estates and walk over when visiting friends in some of the new developments, 'because their carparks are so crowded'.

'Some of my friends regretted buying these condos after they found out about the parking problems,' he said.

He also said condo owners who can afford these homes are likely to have more than one car.

Reasons for the downward trend vary: Some say it is the sheer cost of land and construction, and the smaller plots of land for sale these days.

Also, basement carparks, while ideal solutions for narrow land plots, cost three times as much as above-ground carparks to construct, said Mr Mak.

Assistant Professor Erwin Viray from the National University of Singapore's architecture faculty told The Straits Times that the authorities or developers may want to 'encourage a green urban lifestyle, where people...live healthy lives by walking and using public transport'.

He described how the well-off in cities such as Manhattan and Tokyo often ditch their cars to walk, and have 'created a sort of healthy trend'. 'It could be a sign of things to come in Singapore,' he said.

A rule change in 2005 meant that developers no longer have to provide as many parking spots, if the condo falls in the Central Business District or is near an MRT station. But it is largely still up to developers to decide what works for them.

Mr Mak said: 'People usually take parking for granted. When choosing a condo to buy...parking is one essential that often gets neglected.'

The exception is usually super deluxe condos, which sell for about $3,000 or more per sq ft. For example, the upcoming Boulevard Vue will provide up to four lots for each penthouse unit.


Some malls make the most of their carparks

SEVERAL shopping malls have been converting parts of their carparks to other uses over the past few years as well.

For instance, about one-quarter of the lots in Hougang Mall and the White Sands Mall in Pasir Ris were converted to retail use in 2006 and last year respectively.

This retail space on basement one of Hougang Mall was carved out of about one-quarter of the mall's carpark lots. -- ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

The spaces became shops and facilities, such as travellators, nursing rooms and children's play areas, after the authorities relaxed lot rules for commercial buildings near MRT stations, said Ms Stephanie Ho, deputy general manager of AsiaMalls Management, the buildings' management.

Under the Land Transport Authority's old parking provision standards, malls must have one car space per 200 to 400 sq m of gross floor area, depending on which zone it is in.

In 2005, the rule was relaxed so malls in the Central Business District or near MRT stations can go below this requirement by up to 20 per cent.

Ms Ho said this move had increased shopper traffic, and made 'more efficient use of the carpark', with the number of cars using a lot per day increasing by up to 70 per cent in some cases.

In 2000, Parkway Parade in Marine Parade also converted about 100 lots to 'leasable space', its spokesman said.

At Raffles City, a large chunk of what used to be the Basement 1 carpark was converted into shops such as pharmacies, eateries and lifestyle shops.

However, it replaced the lots by carving them out of unutilised space in Basement 2 and 3, its spokesman said.

A spokesman for carpark management company Elite Parking said: 'The income from carpark space versus shops or offices is too great a difference.

'Most building owners will take up the chance to gear up income.'

However, if a mall cannot pull in the crowd, the number of parking spaces available does not matter, said carpark management company Metro Parking's managing director Tyrone Lopez.

He said he believed the reduction of parking lots in buildings was not happening on a large scale as yet.

'Reducing supply of parking lots fits in with the overall government transportation policy,' he said. Reducing the supply of lots will 'in the long run reduce the volume of traffic in a given area'.

Mr Nicholas Mak from Knight Frank said most building owners would weigh the cost of business disruption from the conversion against the possible additional revenue to see if it makes business sense.

He added that this trend would unlikely affect office buildings, because carparks in offices with their 'low ceilings, no view, poor air' make for 'very undesirable space'.


Enough HDB parking? 465,000 cars, 697,500 lots

THERE are no hard and fast rules that govern parking lot numbers in HDB estates, unlike private estates.

The Housing and Development Board, in response to Straits Times queries, said it would consider two factors: the type of flat and the number of flats built in the precinct.

Public housing is not covered under the Land Transport Authority's parking provision standards, which say residential units should generally have one lot each.

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