Monday, February 25, 2008

Upgrading For HDB Flats Unaffected

Source : TODAY, Monday, February 25, 2008

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said the postponement of up to $3 billion worth of public construction projects would not affect upgrading programmes for Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.

At a community event yesterday, Mr Mah gave the assurance that his ministry would proceed with the Home Improvement and the Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes announced last year for estates such as Yishun and Tampines. Earlier this month, the HDB announced another 58 sites for upgrading.

“We have sufficient budget to be able to continue with our upgrading programmes.” he said.

In his Budget speech on Feb 15, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the Government would be embarking on a transformation of the HDB heartlands by rejuvenating older estates, continuing with upgrading programmes for all estates, as well as building new-generation public housing in places such as Punggol and Dawson.

On the overwhelming demand for new HDB flats in mature estates, Mr Mah said the board was already ramping up its building programme. In its latest bi-monthly sale this month of new flats in mature estates, the HDB received nearly 10,000 applications for 278 four-room and bigger flats. - Channel NewsAsia

Cheated Once, Cheated Twice

Source : The Electric New Paper, 24 February 2008

# Crooked landlord cheats couple of advance rent

# When they rent another flat, same thing happens

LIGHTNING doesn't strike twice.

But try telling that to MrSubbiah Senthil Kumar, 36, and his wife, Malarvizhi V, 29.

Twice in two months, the married couple from India tried to rent a HDB flat.

Both times, they were allegedly cheated.

The couple had paid advance rental - as much as $5,200 - to two different landlords.

But both times, when it was time to move in, they found that their flats had already been rented out to somebody else.

Madam Malarvizhi, a logistics officer, told The New Paper: 'We want to let other people, especially foreigners, know that such things can happen.

'People should know there are unscrupulous landlords out there.'

The couple had been living in a rented three-room flat with their 3-year-old daughter in Woodlands for a year.

Then their landlord died, and they were given a deadline by his family to look for a new place to rent.

Last month, Madam Malarvizhi responded to an online advertisement for a three-room flat in Yishun, which was going for $1,200 a month.

The owner, whom we are not naming for legal reasons, allegedly wanted a month's rent as deposit and another two months' rent in advance.


The couple, who are permanent residents, eventually paid just two months' rent, or $2,400, to the owner as they couldn't afford to pay the full amount.

They signed a tenancy agreement on 9 Jan and were to move into the ninth-floor flat on 16 Jan.

But on the move-in day, the owner's agent allegedly told the couple that he was not ready to move out. The owner said he would do so only on 21 Jan.

They stayed at their old flat at rate of $50 a day.

Madam Malarvizhi said she called the landlord's agent on 21 Jan, but was told to move in the next day.

She said: 'The excuse was that the landlord still has not moved his things out of the flat. So my husband and I went there the next afternoon thinking we could move in.

'But the landlord wasn't there to hand over the flat. His agent was there and said he had the keys to the flat. The agent offered to let us into the flat and stay there.

'We turned down his offer as we didn't know what was going on.'

The next day, when the couple went to the flat again, they found that a Korean family had already moved in. So they left and made a police report.

Mr Kumar and Madam Malarvizhi took The New Paper to the three-room flat on a weekday evening.

Outside the flat, a note was pasted on the wall saying that the flat was rented out by the owner to a named tenant.

Inside was Korean woman and her three children - two primary school boys and a secondary school girl.

Speaking through her children's private tutor, the Korean woman, who refused to give her name, told the Indian couple that they weren't the only ones who were promised the flat.

Another family also showed up to say they were supposed to move into the flat.


The tutor said: 'This family was supposed to live here from 17 Jan.

'But they only moved in six days later as the landlord kept delaying the actual move-in date. He kept asking the family to give him another day.'

She said the Korean family paid seven months' rent to the owner.

The monthly rent was settled at $1,000 as the family was willing to pay so many months in advance.

Even so, the owner had been giving the family problems, the tutor claimed.

He did not move his belongings out of the flat. The owner also kept telling the Korean family that he could come back any time he wanted and they would have to move out.

The tutor said: 'This is the first time the Koreans are in Singapore and the first time they are renting a flat here. It has been quite a bad experience for them so far.'

The owner did not respond to TheNew Paper's attempts to contacthim.

It's not the end of the rental saga for the couple from India, though.

After failing to move into the Yishun flat, the couple looked for another flat and found a four-room flat in Woodlands Street 52.

But the same sorry tale repeated itself. They paid $2,800 - two months' rent - to another landlord on 6 Feb and were to move in on 19 Feb.

But they found out later that the flat had already been rented out to someone else.

Mr Kumar said they have yet to get back any money from the landlords of the two flats.

He had lodged police reports for both cases and will go to court to try and get back his money.

His family is now putting up at a house belonging to a colleague's friend while looking for another place to rent.

And Madam Malarvizhi is hoping that they don't get stung a third time.

'I am not sure what precautions to take after two bad experiences,' she said. 'We don't have any choice but to take the risk. My family needs a place to stay.'


Dispute with landlord? Settle it this way

TENANTS involved in disputes with landlords may approach the Small Claims Tribunal.

The tribunal will first decide whether the case comes under its jurisdiction.

Tenants should also lodge a police report should their landlords not fulfil the terms of the tenancy agreements, such as not letting tenants move into the flat after payment was made.

The subletting of flats or rooms is a private arrangement between the flat owners and subtenants, said the HDB.

A flat owner can let out the whole flat only after getting written approval from the HDB.

Prospective tenants should ask landlords to show them a copy of the letter from HDB before renting.

HDB Reviewing Couple's Appeal For Housing Grant

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 25, 2008

WE REFER to the letter by Ms Li Shan, 'Adopt fairer income criterion for HDB grant' (ST, Feb14).

The Housing Board provides housing loans at concessionary interest rate and the Central Provident Fund housing grant to assist eligible first-time applicants to buy a resale flat from the open market.

To qualify, among other conditions, the applicants should have a household income not exceeding $8,000 per month. This is to ensure an equitable distribution of housing subsidies.

In Ms Li's case, the HDB had earlier exercised flexibility in allowing her and her fiance to apply for the CPF housing grant and the HDB concessionary loan to buy a resale flat, although their household income had slightly exceeded the income ceiling.

Following the earlier in-principle approval, their household income has risen further. Besides the incorporation of the fixed annual bonus into the monthly salary, the monthly basic salary of her fiance has also been increased.

The HDB is currently reviewing their appeal for the concessionary loan and the CPF housing grant.

Ms Li also suggested using the total fixed cash component, which includes all allowances and fixed bonuses on an annual basis, to assess the applicants' income. We will take these into consideration in our regular review of the policies. We thank her for her feedback.

Loh Swee Heng
Deputy Director (Resale)
for Director (Estate Administration & Property)
Housing & Development Board

CapitaLand Full-Year Profit Soars 172.5%

Source : The Business Times, February 23, 2008

CAPITALAND achieved a record performance in 2007, with full-year net profit soaring 172.5 per cent to $2.76 billion, from $1.01 billion the year before.

Revenue increased 20.5 per cent to $3.79 billion, from $3.15 billion in 2006.

The stellar performance was attributed to strong sales of development projects in China and Australia, and the consolidation of revenue from Raffles City Shanghai and One George Street, which became group subsidiaries from Q4 2006 and Q4 2007 respectively.

Fuelled by sales registered in China and Australia, overseas revenue accounted for 76.4 per cent of group revenue, up from 71.2 per cent in 2006. Revenue from China grew 66.3 per cent to $1.1 billion, while revenue from Australia rose 16 per cent to $1.4 billion.

Directors have proposed a total annual dividend of 15 cents a share, comprising eight cents core dividend and seven cents special dividend.

If approved at the group’s annual general meeting in April, this will amount to around $420.9 million in dividends paid.

CapitaLand chief executive officer and president Liew Mun Leong said the group’s business model ‘has enabled us to deliver four consecutive years of record profits since 2004′.

But he said the first six months of 2008 are likely to reflect the dampening effects of the US sub-prime crisis and global credit crunch. However, he believes the market may turn around in the second half of the year.

Last year, CapitaLand sold more than 1,400 homes in Singapore and about 2,000 homes in China.

For 2008, Mr Liew said the group expects to launch between 800-1000 residential units in Singapore. Projects slated for launch include Latitude at Jalan Mutiara and the development at the former Silver Tower site. CapitaLand has a pipeline of of 3,500-4,000 units in Singapore, of which about 20 per cent are in the high-end region, he said.

The group has a pipeline of 35,000 homes in China, where it will launch about 2,000 units this year.

In Vietnam, it intends to launch three projects in Ho Chi Minh City. Over in Thailand, it is looking to launch two projects in Bangkok and Krabi.

On a business segment basis, revenue from residential developments in 2007 was $2.86 billion, up 21.5 per cent year-on-year. Earnings before income tax were $1.07 billion, up 52.6 per cent year-on-year.

CapitaLand’s commercial business unit reported revenue of $241.8 million, up 73.7 per cent year-on-year. Earnings before income tax were $1.96 billion, up 443.8 per cent year-on-year and attributed to fair value gains from investment properties, divestment gains, improvement in operating results as well as the consolidation of Raffles City Shanghai and One George Street.

CapitaLand’s retail unit saw revenue increase 31.3 per cent to $124.2 million year-on-year, with earnings before income tax rising 34.7 per cent to $297.9 million. This was attributed to revenue from Clarke Quay, malls in China and property management fees from the group’s China funds.

CapitaLand’s financial services unit saw assets under management grow $2.6 billion to $15.9 billion, excluding Ascott Residence Trust and Ascott Serviced Residence Fund. Revenue grew 17.7 per cent to $119.2 million and earnings before income tax increased 13.2 to $69.7 million.

The serviced residence unit saw revenue fall 3.9 per cent mainly due to consolidation of Ascott Residence Trust. But earnings before income tax rose 66.5 per cent to $337.2 million.

CapitaLand Profit Leaps To $2.76b On Gains In Key Markets

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 23, 2008

Firm says volume for home sales could ease in the short term, but should pick up again by year-end

PROPERTY giant CapitaLand tips that home prices will increase by 5 per cent to 10 per cent this year, despite the cautious mood that has taken hold in recent months as many buyers stick to the sidelines.

The group, which announced a net profit of $2.76 billion yesterday, added that sales volume could moderate, although prices should hold up.

It said it faces challenging times in the near term due to the United States sub-prime crisis and the global credit crunch it has spawned.

‘In the first half, we will see a bit of headwind,’ president and chief executive Liew Mun Leong said in a results briefing, ‘but by year-end…, the situation in the residential market here will improve.’

Chairman Richard Hu underscored that view.

‘The current weakness in the US housing market and economy and tight credit environment will likely cast a cloudy outlook over the general economic and business conditions for at least the first half of 2008,’ he said.

CapitaLand said its cash reserves of $4.4 billion and low gearing had placed it in a good position to capitalise on opportunities that could arise during this period.

It is well-placed largely because of a net profit of $2.76 billion last year - almost three times the previous year’s $1 billion.

South-east Asia’s largest real estate company said the sparkling numbers were achieved on the back of sterling performances in its key markets of Singapore, China and Australia.

It also benefited from revaluation gains. The surge in prices last year, particularly in the Republic, led to the group recognising revaluation gains of some $1.1 billion from its investment portfolio.

Boosted by a $136.8 million revaluation gain, fourth-quarter earnings hit $674.7 million from $453.5 million a year earlier.

Full-year revenue reached $3.79 billion, up from $3.15 billion year-on-year.

Singapore accounted for 61 per cent of the group’s earnings before interest and tax last year from 51 per cent a year ago.

Earnings per share for the full-year rose to 98.6 cents from a restated 36.6 cents a year ago. Net asset value per share was at $3.54 at the end of last year, up from $2.65 a year earlier.

The group acquired 4.37 million sq ft of land last year, bringing its total pipeline to 5.5 million sq ft of gross floor area.

It sold 1,430 homes worth more than $3 billion in Singapore - making it the largest listed seller here - as well as about 2,000 homes in China.

Unlike some developers, CapitaLand, which has little stock of unsold homes, will not delay its residential launches in Singapore this year. It plans to launch 800 to 1,000 units this year, including 130 units of its high-end condominium Latitude in Jalan Mutiara and 70 units of its luxury condo on the Silver Tower site in Cairnhill in the first half of the year.

Some units in Latitude were sold at a preview last year for $2,494 to $2,829 per sq ft, based on caveats lodged.

Early next year, CapitaLand will launch a 99-year leasehold condo with an estimated 1,500 units on the Farrer Court collective sale site. The firm said yesterday it would be designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid.

Mr Liew said Singapore’s evolution into a global city was behind the surge in property prices, marking this boom out from one in the mid-90s when domestic factors were the driver.

Nevertheless, for this year, residential demand will be driven mainly by steady new household formation and demand from buyers displaced by collective sales, he said.

CapitaLand’s assets under management reached $17.7 billion last year.

More Carrots Likely To Build Green Buildings

Source : The Sunday Times, Feb 24, 2008

Panel looking into further measures. Spiralling costs a challenge and opportunity for builders to go greener

THE Government is looking into further incentives and legislation to ‘green’ more buildings here.

This is integral to Singapore’s sustainable development strategy, which remains a key priority, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said yesterday.

Meanwhile, spiralling construction costs present both a challenge and an opportunity for the building sector to go greener, with alternative methods of construction which are energy- and resource-efficient.

Mr Mah was speaking at an inaugural talk, attended by building sector bigwigs, on green building and corporate social responsibility.

The talk was organised by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA). Its preliminary estimates show that a basic Green Mark building costs about 0.3 per cent to 1 per cent more, with a payback of two to five years.

But the benefits go beyond the savings, over the whole lifespan of the building, Mr Mah said.

Green buildings are generally designed, built and maintained for energy efficiency and are better for human health and the environment.

The BCA Green Mark rates buildings for their environmental performance.

Some Green Mark buildings include the National Library and City Developments’ Oceanfront@Sentosa Cove, both of which have features such as energy-efficient air-conditioners, efficient lighting and extensive greenery to keep the buildings cool.

Mr Mah called on the ‘private, people and public sectors’ to work together.

Several incentives are already in place, and a new inter-ministerial committee - co-chaired by Mr Mah and Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim - is looking into further measures.

Mr Mah said incentives alone will not solve the problem. ‘There is a need for us to take stock and spend some time on this. By the next Budget, I hope to have in place a whole road map.’

Property chiefs such as CapitaLand’s Mr Liew Mun Leong and City Developments’ group general manager Chia Ngiang Hong affirmed yesterday that going into green projects not only saved them money but has also improved their brand names.

Mr Liew called for more incentives, such as granting additional gross floor area for a green building.

Meanwhile, Mr Mah said the postponement of up to $3 billion in public projects is expected to ease the industry’s manpower crunch by at least 10 per cent.

A BCA spokesman told The Sunday Times yesterday the projects to be deferred to after next year included student hostels, school upgrading, hawker centres and some minor projects.

How To Claim One’s Rightful Share Of Estate?

Source : The Sunday Times, Feb 24, 2008

Q I AM among the beneficiaries of an estate that is made up of the proceeds from the sale of a property. However, I am facing the problem of getting my rightful share from the executor.

I have a certified true copy of the will but I do not know what my rights are and how to go about claiming my share of the estate.

I was told that the executor has already committed a breach of trust by not distributing my share to me.

Please advise if there is any waiting period before I can take legal action, since I know that the property has been sold and the executor has taken the proceeds.

If there is, how long do I have to wait? What type of legal action should I take and what are the chances of recovering my share?

A An executor has a duty under the law to ensure that the assets in the estate of the deceased are distributed in accordance with the wishes as stated in his will, whose authenticity has been proved in the courts.

In your case, it appears that the deceased’s will has already been proved and that a grant of probate naming the executor has already been obtained. This is typically required before realisation of any assets can take place, such as the sale of the deceased’s property.

Prior to the distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries under the will, the executor also has a duty under the law to pay all the deceased’s debts and the reasonable estate expenses. This may, in certain cases, result in a delay in distribution.

Other factors causing delay include legal complications in administering the assets or being unable to determine the full extent of the estate, which will create difficulties in accounting for the exact amount that each beneficiary ought to receive.

In your case, given that as far as you are aware, the estate of the deceased comprised only of the property’s sale proceeds and that you are one of the named beneficiaries in the estate, it would be prudent of you to ask the executor about the status of the administration of the estate.

You can also, if you wish, ask for an account of the estate, which you are entitled to, as all executors are bound by duty to keep accounts of their management of the estate.

If the executor does not give you an explanation, or gives you one that you find unreasonable, you should seek legal representation in order to make a claim against him for an account of the estate, and subsequently for your share of the estate.

Such a claim will involve court proceedings and may be an expensive and lengthy task in the event that the executor contests your claim.

In such proceedings, you may also ask the court to grant orders to the effect that distribution of the estate (in the absence of any other impediments) be distributed to you within a specified time.

The length of time that has elapsed from the sale of the property will also be a relevant factor.

Navin Lobo
Lawyer, Harry Elias Partnership

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

Government To Proceed With HDB Estate Upgrading

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 24 February 2008

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said the postponement of up to S$3 billion worth of public construction projects will not affect housing estate upgrading programmes.

As for new flats offered in mature estates being many times oversubscribed, Mr Mah said the HDB is already ramping up its building programme.

At a community event on Sunday, the minister also gave the assurance that his ministry will proceed with the Home Improvement and the Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes announced last year for estates like Yishun and Tampines.

Mr Mah said: “We have sufficient Budget to be able to continue with our upgrading programmes. At the same time, of course, HDB will have to look at ways in which it can cut the cost, improve the methods, improve the productivity, make sure we cut down on waste.”

Earlier this month, the HDB had announced a total of 58 sites selected for upgrading.

The minister said the S$3 billion worth of projects to be postponed are projects the various ministries considered to be not very urgent.

The government will, however, proceed with urgent projects like the building of the Youth Olympics Village at the former Warren Golf Course.

On the recent record of more than 10,000 applications received for almost 280 surplus flats in mature estates, Mr Mah said it is not possible for the HDB to build flats on a need basis.

Mr Mah said: “Balloting method is probably the fairest. Administratively the most efficient way to do it. And we have certain criteria. We have certain income ceiling. We have given allocation priority to the first timers. We have given further chances to those who are living near their parents.”

The HDB has said it plans to launch 4,500 flats early this year and its advice for those who urgently need a flat is to consider getting a resale unit in the open market. - CNA/ch

New *Scape Building To Be Ready In Orchard By End Of 2009

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 24 February 2008

Youths will have a new place to hang out in the heart of the city by the end of next year.

The *scape building being built next to Cathay Cineleisure Orchard will be a place where Singapore youths can express themselves.

Minister of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said the building will also be involved in the Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

Dancing, sports and music are just some of the recreational activities that will be available at *scape.

But it will also be a place where 15 to 35 year olds can try out their entrepreneurial skills.

Related Video Link -

The innovative design and rising construction costs have increased the cost of building *scape from S$25 million to S$40 million.

The Tote Board is donating S$10 million to the project.

At the ground-breaking ceremony on Sunday, Dr Balakrishnan said the design is worth the extra money.

And *scape will have role in the Youth Olympic Games 2010.

He said: "It will be a showcase, an icon of youth talent in Singapore. I can imagine bringing the overseas guests to this place and basically letting them have a good time and getting a taste, a flavour of what young Singaporeans are all about."

Dr Balakrishnan said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew asked him two key questions after Singapore won the bid last week.

The first was where will the games be held because Singapore will not have a National Stadium by 2010.

So YOG events will be held in the heartland sports facilities.

And Dr Balakrishnan said these will be upgraded so Singaporeans will also benefit from the world-class facilities.

But he said Mr Lee's second point involves changing software, not hardware.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The second question, or actually the challenge he threw, was that this is a great opportunity. Let's uplift our people, bring ourselves up and truly create a gracious society and let's use the games as an opportunity to test ourselves, to showcase ourselves and to benchmark ourselves."

He added that it is time for Singapore to develop a polite and considerate culture for the country's sake not just because of the YOG.

And that way visitors to the Games will know the warm welcome they receive is genuine and not just for show. - CNA/ch

Application Of 3 Temple Devotees Over Land Acquisition Dismissed

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 25 February 2008

The High Court on Monday dismissed an application by three devotees of the Jing Long Si Temple. The devotees had initiated proceedings to declare that the government's acquisition of the temple site had violated the Constitution.

The three devotees had initiated proceedings on January 16 this year, and the case was heard in chambers on January 29.

The Court said the devotees had no standing to make the application, and even if they did, there was no merit in their arguments that the government had acted unconstitutionally.

The temple, at Lorong How Sun in the Bartley area, had been acquired in January 2003 for redevelopment in conjunction with the Circle MRT Line construction.

The temple site and an adjoining state land are slated for high density residential use.

The sites were scheduled for sale under the Government Land Sales Programme in the second half of this year.

In a statement, the Law Ministry said the government will now resume discussion with the temple's trustees and key committee members to facilitate a move - first to a temporary site, and subsequently to a permanent site.

Both these sites are located in nearby Tai Seng Avenue.

The government will also ensure that a Bodhi tree at the current site is preserved. Tender conditions for the site will ensure the developer takes necessary measures to retain the tree. - CNA/ms

Investment Flows Within ASEAN Not Affected By Sub-Prime Crisis

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 25 February 2008

The sub-prime crisis in the United States has not affected investment flows within ASEAN countries.

Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang who was responding to a question from MP for West Coast GRC Ho Geok Choo, in Parliament on Monday, said feedback from companies show interest within the region remains strong.

As at 2006, the total foreign direct investment (FDI) from other ASEAN countries to Singapore stood at over S$10 billion with the top investors being Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Mr Lim added that ASEAN also remains as the top investment region for Singapore companies.

The city-state's key investment countries are Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Singapore companies’ investment in Malaysia and Indonesia, its top two investment destinations within ASEAN, amounted to S$16 and S$15 billion respectively.

Mr Lim said: "The stock of direct investment for Singapore companies into ASEAN stood at S$50 billion as at end 2006, accounting for nearly one quarter of Singapore's total direct investment stock abroad.

“We will continue to encourage companies to invest in ASEAN and draw on the unique strength of each ASEAN nation. Increased intra-ASEAN investments flows are important as they will result in tighter regional integration. That will enhance the overall competitiveness of ASEAN." -CNA/vm

SM Goh Says Singapore Can Cope Even If US Goes Into Recession

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 25 February 2008

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said on Sunday Singapore has got its economic basics right so even in the face of a looming US recession, the country can cope.

And it can also depend on the critical growth in China and India.

He was speaking in an interview with South Korea's Arirang TV in Seoul.

He said Singapore with its good budget, good economy and strong fundamentals can weather a US recession, even though growth may be down by 1 to 2 percentage points.

Mr Goh added that the country has the surpluses to see the people through a very bad patch.

And it has been working with other countries like South Korea to establish more regional trade and investments, for instance through Free Trade Agreements.

On bilateral ties, Mr Goh said Singapore and South Korea can explore how they can synergise.

So for instance, Seoul can use Singapore to export not just to Southeast Asia but also beyond.

And Mr Goh, who was the proponent of the Asia-Middle East Dialogue, said the two countries can also work together with the Arabs to invest in third countries.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Senior Minister also said his personal goal as a senior statesman is to open up new economic space for Singapore.

On how he was able to maintain stability while introducing many changes during his tenure as Prime Minister, he said it was important that leaders and the government are trustworthy.

He explained: "You've got to say what you mean and do what you say."

Mr Goh added that it was also important to "grow the economy" and "share the fruits" with the people, ensuring no one's left behind.

When asked how South Korea could move to ratify its obstacle-laden FTA with the US, Mr Goh shared Singapore's experience.

And this included winning over American Congressmen and business people who were against the bilateral FTA. - CNA/ch

MP Urges Raising Of Income Cap For Subsidised HDB Flats

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 25 February 2008

It is time to raise the income ceiling for first-time buyers of subsidised public housing, says MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher De Souza.

This, he feels, will also help ensure a more equitable distribution of the Budget surplus.

Speaking during the Budget debate, Mr De Souza pointed out that it has been 14 years since the HDB last increased the monthly income ceiling for buyers of new flats, from $7,000 to $8,000.

Yet in the 10 years between 1995 and 2005, he said, data from the General Household Survey showed the proportion of resident households earning $8,000 and above every month had nearly doubled from 10.85 per cent to 19.9 per cent.

And while measures have been taken to help the low-income group meet their housing needs, this was not the case for the middle-income group.

For example, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated in last year's National Day Rally speech that the maximum Additional CPF Housing Grant (AHG) would be enhanced further from $20,000 to $30,000. In addition, the household income ceiling for AHG eligibility would be raised from $3,000 to $4,000. These changes help the low-income group.

Meanwhile, skyrocketing property prices also mean many in the middle income group could no longer afford resale flats or the cheaper leasehold private condominiums.

For example, HDB records show that a 4-room resale flat at Jalan Membina was sold for $590,000 or $609 psf; a 5-room Marine Parade flat was sold for $750,888 or $577 psf; and an executive Mei Ling Street flat was sold for $890,000 or $552 psf.

Mr De Souza said: "The middle-income couple is caught in a difficult position. For example, some of my constituents and peers in my age group say, 'I will accept the promotion in my company but I will decline the raise so as not to breach the income ceiling'. The question to ask is therefore: 'Is it worthwhile turning down the raise?' Unfortunately, many have said 'yes', especially in a private property market which has seen prices skyrocket." - CNA/ir


《联合早报》Feb 25, 2008











马宝山也透露,他将在预算案辩论,中公布“屋契回购计划”(Lease BuyBack Scheme)的详情。"




去年整体私宅租金暴涨41% 义顺区公寓高达73%

《联合早报》Feb 25, 2008

去年,整体私宅租金暴涨了41.2%,创下历年来最高涨幅。不过,一些地区,包括北部的义顺和兀兰、东北部的后港和实龙岗,以及西部的山景道(Hillview Ave)和蔡厝港一带,租金涨幅却超过60%。


例如义顺的胡姬园(Orchid Park),去年11月有一间公寓,以每平方英尺2.09元的租金找到了租户月。一年多前,该共管公寓的单位,租金行情只有每平方英尺1.28元至1.49元。

至于义顺绿宝石(Yishun Emerald)的租金,则从一年前的每平方英尺1.23元飙升至最近的每平方英尺2.44元,涨幅将近100%。










Minimal Look, Maximum Work

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 23, 2008

A minimalist garden may be easy on the eye but can require lots of maintenance

YOU might not realise this, but having a minimalist garden does not usually mean minimal maintenance.

GARDEN OF DELIGHT: Mr Chua's modern take on a traditional tea garden with a pavilion in the centre surrounded by rills of water. -- PHOTOS: KELVIN CHUA

In fact, because of its stark lines and austere nature, even small imperfections such as dead leaves or a small growth of weed catch the eye immediately, thus ruining the garden's immaculate precision.

The result: constant tidying up bordering on obsessive fanaticism or a never- ending source of frustration.

Garden designer Kelvin Chua knows all about this.

In 2006, as part of his final-year project at Unitec, a technology institute in Auckland, he submitted a design for the Ellerslie International Flower Show in New Zealand.

It consisted of three steel cages of planting suspended on steel legs over a black reflecting pool and lit by fluorescent tube lights.

'The plan was clean lines and the illusion of effortless simplicity,' says Mr Chua, who was born in Singapore and moved to New Zealand at the age of five with his family.

'The reality was the lights attracted swarms of insects which were fried by the heat of the lamps and dropped dead into the water.

'So, twice a day, I had to wade into the pool and fish out all the dead bugs with a net.'

Despite the, uh, bugs in the design, his garden went on to win a gold award plus an award for lighting. It also won him a Young Designer of the Year prize.

Now 32, he lectures at Unitec's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

He was in town recently to check out plants and materials ahead of the Singapore Garden Festival in July, where he has been invited to take part in the Fantasy Gardens category.

He describes his personal style as strong lines and angles softened with lush and naturalistic planting.

'A thick and mixed palette of plants also helps hide any gaps or deficiencies once plants pass their prime or during a fallow period,' he says.

'And while many minimalist gardens feature mainly evergreens or foliage plants, which are less subject to seasonal changes, I like using flowering plants because then you get to experience the life of the garden through the seasons instead of seeing the same thing all the time.'

US Recession Could Knock 1-2 Points Off Growth: SM

Source : The Business Times, February 25, 2008

S'pore can depend on growth in China, India to sustain its economy, he says

A US recession could knock 'maybe one or two percentage points' off the growth of small, open economies like Korea or Singapore, but if a country gets the basics right, it can cope, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said during a televised interview while visiting Korea.

'Have a good budget, have a good economy and strong fundamentals,' said Mr Goh. 'If our basics are right, we can cope with it. We have the surpluses to see the people through a very bad patch.'

Further, Singapore will be able to depend on Chinese and Indian growth to sustain its economy, he said.

'Without China growing or without India growing, I think we will be very badly hit. But because we have prepared ourselves for this, we can now seek some comfort in the growth of China and India', said Mr Goh.

Korea, which will see its newest President-elect Lee Myung Bak take office next week, should set itself the goal of being an open economy, in order to compete, he said.

Asked whether the incoming government might succeed in pushing through an Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Korea and the US, Mr Goh - who helped negotiate the Singapore-US FTA in 2003 - said the key is to reach out to stakeholders who might be affected.

In Korea's case, the agricultural sector would be very much against the FTA, he said. 'You have to reach out to them to tell them that maybe they may suffer some loss of income through competition, but there are other ways to help them.'

Further, 'you've got to reach out to the wider economic community to tell them that the benefits to the whole economy outweigh the losses in some areas', he said. Another issue would be American concern over exports of Korean automotives to the US.

'If you can solve the beef and automotive problems, I think you can get the Congressmen in the US and the National Assembly members here to support the FTA. It is very important for Korea to have an open market in the US, where the tariffs would be much lower than they are now for your exports,' said Mr Goh.

As for Korea-Singapore relations, Korean investors could use Singapore as a springboard not only for South-east Asia, but also to the Middle East or Europe; conversely, Singapore firms could use Korea as a launch pad to the US, China and Japan, said Mr Goh.

'We can be your port in South-east Asia and you can use our port for transhipment. If Korea has an open skies policy, you can be the hub for North-east Asia. We have an open skies policy. We can be a hub for Korea, if Korean Airlines flies to Singapore and beyond. These are possibilities,' he said.

Another potential area for cooperation is joint-investment in third countries, like in the Middle East, while on the flipside, Koreans and Singaporeans could work together with the Arabs to invest in Korea or elsewhere, he said.

No Arguing About It, US Recession Is 'Already Here'

Source : The Business Times, February 25, 2008

It'll be over by end of 2008 but initial recovery mild, says Lehman strategist

The United States recession is already here, though some economists still argue about it, said Jack Malvey, Lehman Brothers chief global fixed income strategist. But it's really not that bad, and certainly not the end of the world.

The good news is that the credit recession of 2007-2008 will be resolved by the end of this year.

The bad news? The recovery will be mild, at least initially, said New York-based Mr Malvey who was in town last week.

Since 1945, recessions have occurred about every five years and averaged 9-10 months, said Mr Malvey.

In the US, what began as the sub-prime crisis last June - and which has now spread to other sectors of the economy - has created widespread negative sentiment.

And the popular media has capitalised on this, said Mr Malvey who met with reporters last Friday.

Since the beginning of 2008, he noted, some of the programmes on cable TV have included specials on the Black Death of 1346-1348 and its possible re-occurrence, the fate of the Earth once all humans are gone, the catastrophic effect of a mega-methane eruption from the floor of the Pacific Ocean and life-ending gamma rays from the detonation of a nearby supernova.

The US recession will over by end-2008, with slow recovery next year and clear blue skies in 2010, said Mr Malvey.

'I think that the US recession will be over (by end-2008) to the degree that actually we have found to be in recession. Fiscal stimulus puts money in the hands of consumers in the third quarter, monetary policy will have been accommodative for a year as of September 18, 2008,' he said.

The US Federal Reserve started to cut interest rates last September in response to the credit freeze and, more recently, the United States Congress has approved a US$152 billion stimulus plan to rescue the ailing US economy.

'The uncertainties of certain aspects of this credit recession will be resolved, we'll know the fate of the monolines (insurers) for example, CDOs (collateralised debt obligations) write-offs will mercifully have petered out, so I think a lot of elements will contribute to a resurrection in terms of the US economy,' said Mr Malvey.

But it will be a slow recovery, U-shaped rather than V-shaped, he said.

'2009 will be ... a slow growth, slowly healing US economy. So (we'll be) out of technical recession possibly before the end of this year .... moving into a sort of extended healing process.

'It's probably 2010 before we have clear blue skies again in the US and because these things move in different velocities around the world, maybe some regional economies start their recessions, slow down a little later and may heal a little later, maybe they're still in recovery mode in 2010,' he said.

He was most optimistic about Asia where he said the average growth will exceed that of the US, Europe and Latin America.

Japan is the most at risk, being the Asian economy closest to the US, according to Mr Malvey. He said that Japan has 40 per cent risk of succumbing to recession at the end of 2008.

'Other parts of Asia, we do not see high risk of succumbing to outright recession in the course of this year and next,' he said.

'Condo-Flipping' Woes - Bought Last Year, Stuck This Year

Source : The Sunday Times, Feb 24, 2008

Speculators paying the price of market cooldown as offers slow to a trickle

BUSINESSMAN Alan Lim is a seasoned property investor, so he knows the value of not losing his nerve in testing times like now.

Last year, when the property market was scorching hot, he picked up a new condominium unit at Lumiere off Shenton Way for about $1.3 million, and another at The Inspira off Mohamed Sultan Road for more than $1.4 million.

He intended to 'flip' or resell them for a quick profit.

Property agents flocked to him with eager would-be buyers. But he rejected them all in anticipation that prices would keep soaring.

Now, the offers have slowed to a trickle and the prices buyers are willing to pay are falling, falling.

But he claims to be not too worried.

'Of course, when the market was hot last year, everybody called me. This year, there are still agents calling, there are still offers but they are lower,' said Mr Lim, who is in his 40s and lives with his accountant wife and three kids in a Clementi Park condo which he bought nine years ago.

He looks at property in the same light as the stock market: 'If you have holding power, you're all right. I think I can hold.'

While Mr Lim may be able to wait out the market cooldown, other would-be 'flippers' are not so lucky.

Agents say a rash of people who bought condos at the height of the property fever last year with the intention of offloading them for fat returns are now having trouble doing so.

Many are meeting an icy response in today's fast-cooling market where collective sales have come to a standstill, new project launches are being delayed and once-ubiquitous record prices are few and far between.

A detached house in Kembangan, for instance, has been on the market for more than two months with no takers even though it is going for $2.5 million - well below the market price of $2.8 million to $2.9 million, said Mr Eric Cheng, executive director of HSR property group.

'If you look at newspaper ads now, sellers are giving more commissions to agents because they want to dispose of their house quickly. Price may not be their greatest concern,' he said.

A major property firm, which declined to be named in the interests of its clients, also said home-buying interest has dwindled in recent months.

'According to our agents, the sub-sale market has been very quiet, in line with the cautious mood of the general market,' said a company spokesman.

This has led to owners 'not asking for sky-high prices. They're more realistic and more willing to negotiate', he added.

Sub-sales are when a person buys an uncompleted home and then sells it again before it is built, without ever living in it. They are often used to measure speculation, or 'flipping' in the property market.

'Flipping' is not a new phenomenon, having been around for as long as there were profits to be made in buying and reselling homes.

In fact, there has been much less speculative behaviour in this property boom than during the last peak in the 1990s, said industry players.

'Those who have tried flipping before and were burned when the market crashed, either in the mid-1990s or the early 2000s, tended to be a bit more cautious this time round,' said Mr Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at property consultancy Knight Frank.

He added that most would-be flippers are well-heeled as they have to be able to pay for the property - usually high-end condos - in the first place.

Alternatively, some younger buyers may pool their money to target the mid-tier market, where properties cost less than $3 million each.

But one thing most flippers had in common now was that they probably did not expect the quick turnaround in the market, said Mr Mak.

'Seven, eight months ago, no one knew that the United States sub-prime mortgage crisis would have such a great effect. Nobody expected the sentiment in the property market to cool so suddenly.'

But the spokesman for the major property firm noted that while transaction volumes have slowed, home prices are not exactly plunging.

'At this point in time, we have not noticed any sub-sales done below the original sale price. Sellers are still making some margins though they may be lower than they expected,' he said.

This is because most sellers seem unwilling to let go of their property below a certain price level. One agent is marketing a two-bedroom unit at Viz@Holland near Holland Village for $1.03 million, or $1,260 per sq ft (psf). This is below the bank's valuation which she said is between $1,300 and $1,500 psf.

'Last year, the owner had an offer for $1,240 psf but he didn't take it. Now he's willing to settle for $1,200 psf, but not lower,' she said.

Soon, however, more sellers may find themselves squeezed for cash. Several projects, including The Sail @ Marina Bay and One Amber in Marine Parade, are scheduled to be completed soon, at which point buyers will have to cough up large payments for the homes.

Signs of strain have already appeared.

Three of the top five projects with the most sub-sales recorded slight dips in the median prices of such deals last month, according to consultancy CB Richard Ellis. These are Icon in Tanjong Pagar, Citylights in Lavender and One Amber.

'Most sellers still think the market will pick up so it's all about holding power now,' said HSR's Mr Cheng. 'But a minority over-committed thanks to deferred payment schemes, and the lump sums are due soon, so they are in a hurry to sell.'

Deferred payment plans allowed buyers to put an upfront deposit for an uncompleted home and then delay the bulk of payments until the property was built, which could be up to a few years later.

Such schemes were exploited by speculators who would resell the property before completion without needing to fork out the bulk of payments. But the schemes were removed in October last year precisely to discourage speculation.

Those who bought under these plans could now have trouble reselling the homes as deferred payment may no longer be available for their would-be buyers.

On the bright side, this could present buying opportunities for home seekers, Mr Cheng said.

'If the owners are desperate, they may ask for $700,000 but accept 10 per cent less. Some of these condos would be worth considering for buyers.'

Anxious seller

AN INDONESIAN home buyer is sitting on three brand-new condominiums he bought in Singapore last year for almost $3 million in all.

He is eager to sell one - a two-bedroom unit at Parbury Hill in Upper East Coast - and use the cash to hold on to the other two until the market picks up again, his property agent told The Sunday Times.

'Price-wise, he doesn't mind losing some money because he's holding three properties at one go,' the agent said. He asked not to be named to protect his client's identity.

But he revealed that the buyer, who works in the plastics industry, is 'not one of those super-rich Indonesians'.

'He is just speculating,' the agent said, adding that the man was 'enticed into purchasing the properties because of the property fever'.

The buyer had successfully 'flipped' a few others previously and found himself drawn to the easy profits of a 'few hundred thousand dollars'. But he ended up 'committing more than he expected'.

He is now willing to let go of the Upper East Coast condo at $670,000, about 5 per cent below its estimated market value.

Even then, response has been 'very slow' since advertisements for the recently completed property were placed a few weeks ago.

'It hasn't been on the market very long, but he's getting kan cheong (Cantonese for anxious),' the agent said.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian still has to make payments for his other two condos here: a studio at Tribeca in Kim Seng Road and a two-bedroom unit at 2RVG in River Valley.

The two cost him more than $2 million when he bought them in the middle of last year, at the time the property boom reached fever pitch. He also booked a unit at One Rochester in Buona Vista but let the option lapse, which means he did not end up actually buying the unit and forfeited his deposit.

The situation is not hopeless however, his agent said. Even if he sells the East Coast condo below market value, he will probably still make a profit on it and if the market does pick up, he stands to make an even bigger profit on the other two downtown properties.

Where To Find HDB Resale Flats For Less Than $200,000

Source : The Sunday Times, Feb 24, 2008

Choices are limited to three- and four-roomers in outlying areas like Yishun and Jurong West

DEMAND for new Housing Board (HDB) flats has been overwhelming even though their prices have been increasing in line with those of resale flats.

Those who want to move into a flat almost immediately but do not want to spend more than $200,000 will, understandably, find their choices fairly limited in today's market.

For one, five-room flats are out of the question. In addition, four-room flats for that price can be found only in certain outlying areas.

Choices for three-roomers are much more varied, but even then, flats in a few locations - such as the central area, Marine Parade and Bukit Timah - are mostly priced out of reach.

In order to facilitate a quick deal, homebuyers will also need to have at least $20,000 to $25,000 handy for the cash-over-valuation sum, which has to be paid in cold, hard cash, say property agents.

Look at outlying areas

THE median resale prices for a four-room flat in various HDB towns are all above $200,000.

And in the coveted district of Marine Parade, a four-room flat costs at least a whopping $310,000, based on caveats lodged with the HDB.

Mr Eugene Lim, the assistant vice-president of ERA Realty Network, said four-room resale flats which cost below $220,000 can be found in Bedok Reservoir, Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang, Hougang, Jurong West, Woodlands and Yishun.

A search on the HDB website shows that four-room flats priced at $200,000 and below can be found only in far-flung towns such as Woodlands and Yishun.

A 94 sq m unit in Marsiling Drive was approved for sale this month at $178,000. The block is about 28 years old.

Newer flats in the same area are going for a bit more. A five-year-old Marsiling Drive flat on a high floor went for $198,000 recently.

But when it comes to rentals, a four-room flat in Woodlands can fetch a median rental rate of $1,440 a month, not far from the monthly median rent of $1,500 in Ang Mo Kio.

Generally, if buyers try harder, there are keen sellers out there who are not asking for the moon.

Mr Siaw Ah Seng, 39, told The Sunday Times that he bought a low-floor, four-room flat in Yishun late last year for $188,000.

The price included a cash-over-valuation amount of $7,000, which is reasonable, given that the median cash-over-valuation amount for four-room flats in Yishun is $18,000.

The printing firm supervisor said he found the seller through a friend after he had gone to check out several flats in Yishun.

'The rest were asking for $20,000 to $30,000. Where do I find that kind of money?' he said. His flat is about a 10-minute walk from the Yishun MRT Station.

In Sengkang, the sellers of a four-room flat are asking for just $5,000 cash above valuation.

'It's a divorce case, so they want to sell it off quickly,' said Mr Eric Cheng, the executive director of HSR property group. 'The flat is on the second floor, not near the MRT station and not well-renovated.'

If you do not mind a three-room flat, you will have more choices.

The fourth-quarter median resale prices for three-room flats range from $161,300 to $300,000.

In Ang Mo Kio, approved resales of three-room flats this month were priced as low as $162,000, while a 65 sq m three-room flat on a high floor in Marsiling Lane in Woodlands went for $163,000.

In Tampines Avenue 4, a 67 sq m three-room flat on a low floor was approved for sale this month at $185,000.

But certain locations such as the central area, Holland Close and Marine Parade will still be beyond the reach of those with a $200,000 to $220,000 budget.

If smaller flats are not an issue, there are two-room flats in areas such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Clementi, Pasir Ris and Toa Payoh. These are priced below $200,000 but are limited in number.

What's ahead

ERA'S Mr Lim has this advice for buyers: 'If you are in urgent need and cannot wait, buy what you can afford. Do not overstretch.

'Waiting does not mean that prices will go down, as the demand for HDB flats is still very strong.'

Property consultants have said that the mass market segment of Singapore's property market will do well this year, notwithstanding the general weak market sentiment, as demand remains strong.

Last year, HDB resale prices climbed 17.5 per cent, the highest growth in a decade.

The good news for those who have yet to buy a flat is that sellers have become more realistic these days as there is less competition among buyers, said Mr Cheng.

'We see that the cash-over-valuation sums have come down slightly in the past two months,' he said.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan recently said HDB resale prices were stabilising.

The HDB Resale Price Index, he said, grew by only 1 per cent last month, and HDB prices are expected to grow at a more moderate pace this year.

Mr Mah also said the proportion of resale transactions with a positive cash over valuation, as well as the median cash over valuation, dipped marginally last month.

Generally, about 25 per cent of total deals in recent months were concluded with a cash-over-valuation sum of $10,000 and below.

If They Could, They'd Throw Out The Air-Con

Source : The Sunday Times, Feb 24, 2008

In this new series on leaders in building design, the founding directors of award-winning Woha Architects reveal their passion - designing energy-efficient buildings suited to the climate - as well as peeve, the demolition of buildings worth conserving

LAST year, Woha picked up the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture for its residential tower, 1 Moulmein Rise. A key feature of the project was its 'monsoon windows' - bay windows with a special horizontal opening that lets the breeze in but keeps the rain out.


Recently, Woha won a silver award from global skyscraper database provider Emporis for its private residential project Newton Suites. This 36-storey tower, which is playfully described as a 'furry caterpillar', features overhanging meshes that shelter every window from the tropical sun, and side walls covered with foliage.

Q What sets you apart from other firms?

A Mr Richard Hassell, 41: We study a client's requirements, the economy, the construction industry and other factors, and come up with a strategy that incorporates all these.

We manage to make everyone happy rather than be very single-minded about pushing something. We think we can do very good design without being a prima donna.

Mr Wong Mun Summ, 45: We also tend to give our clients something more than what they envisage.

Q The one innovation that you are most known for is the monsoon window. Was that something you offered to your client over and above his requirements?

A Hassell: Yes. We knew developers wanted bay windows but bay windows are terribly unsuitable for this climate. Rather than being nicely shaded and under an overhang, bay windows stick out so they gather lots of heat.

Wong: Bay windows are floor areas that developers can sell but which they are not charged for, so they welcome them. We embraced the idea of maximising the saleable area for the developer but in a way that would make the facade interesting.

Hassell: Also, we turned something that's a bit of an environmental disaster into an environmental asset.

Q If there is one thing you could take away from high-rise apartments in Singapore as they are now, what would that be?

A Hassell: The aspect that they are not being designed for the climate. There are a lot of glassy boxes with no overhangs, and apartments that rely totally on air-conditioning for comfort.

I think Housing Board flats are at least designed with the idea that they can be used without air-conditioning. But that is not the case for the private-sector ones.

Wong: Even HDB flats are not really designed to maximise natural ventilation.

Flats built by the HDB's predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust, had timber louvre windows that went all the way to the floor. That actually helps with natural ventilation. We don't see that anymore.

Hassell: But I think it's something that will change because there's now such interest in sustainable design. It means that an apartment in Singapore should be designed very differently from one in Australia, for instance, because the two countries have completely different climates.

This refocusing on climate and low energy usage actually means the world should become a more differentiated place, that a tropical city would look completely different from a temperate city. And that's actually a good thing.

Q What would you like to see more of?

A Hassell: I'm a bit wary of saying that things should go in a certain direction. It's healthiest that things are going in many different directions and you're always surprised and delighted to find something different.

Wong: We would like to see buildings last longer. Recently, there have been many collective sales that led to buildings being torn down. We personally think it is very wasteful. Buildings were designed to last 100 to 200 years.

Hassell: The buildings being torn down are actually some of the best buildings in their generation. There are many bad buildings in Singapore you could pull down if you needed more space.

Q How do you decide what is good or bad?

A Wong: Most good buildings have won some award along the way. The Golden Mile Complex is one building I hope I will never see torn down. It's unique in the world. The People's Park Complex was a really innovative shopping centre in its heyday. It was designed to be naturally ventilated - it's such a pity it's now air-conditioned.

Hassell: Conservation is a sensitive issue because people tend to make a lot of money from collective sales.

Wong: There's such a thing as transferring plot ratio. This is used as a device for conservation in other countries. Maybe that's something we should think about.

Hassell: In return for conserving your building and freezing your development at one level, you can sell your excess development potential to your next-door neighbour, so the average density of built-up space in the area would remain the same.

And once you take that financial sting out of conservation and you conserve, say, a place like Golden Mile, you will find that all sorts of people who love design will move into it.

But it does need public support. If you want to attract people to this city, you need excellent buildings from all eras - from the 1970s and 1980s.

Q Are there any global trends in architecture that you are exploring?

A Sustainability has been a hot topic in architecture for quite a long time. What's interesting now that a lot of countries are legislating for sustainability, is that there are a lot more products and equipment allowing you to create much more energy-efficient buildings.

A building, really, is the interface between you and the climate. The availability of cheap energy since the 1970s fuel crisis put people to sleep on the whole issue of trying to design for the climate.

In design school, we learnt about overhangs, cross-ventilation and insulation, but it was as if people suddenly got amnesia because you could just crank up your air-conditioner.

It was exciting that you could do amazing glass boxes - very exaggerated solutions to problems - but the iconic buildings that have no regard for the climate have had their day. It's no longer acceptable to just make an interesting lump and stuff real estate inside it.

Q What's next for Woha?

A Hassell: We hope we are in a virtuous circle where, as we do projects well, we get offered more interesting and exciting projects and more chances to be creative and innovative.

Wong: I'm personally very excited about the direction in which Singapore is moving, and I think Singapore has the potential to become one of the best cities in the world.

We still have a long way to go but we are quite happy to be a part of it. Maybe 100 and 200 years from now, Singapore will be talked about in the same way people talk about Paris and New long as we don't tear the good buildings down.


Winning ideas


WOHA IS WELL KNOWN for its design of 1 Moulmein Rise, which features 'monsoon windows' - bay windows with a special horizontal opening that lets the breeze in but keeps the rain out.

WOHA'S NEWTON SUITES PROJECT is playfully described as a 'furry caterpillar' as it features overhanging meshes that shelter every window from the tropical sun, and side walls covered with foliage.

Well-designed buildings

THE GOLDEN MILE COMPLEX is one unique building that the Woha architects think is worth conserving. Singapore needs excellent buildings from different eras if it hopes to attract more people, they say.

IT'S A PITY that the People's Park Complex is now air-conditioned, because it was designed to be naturally ventilated, say the Woha architects, who describe the building as a 'really innovative shopping centre in its heyday'.

This is the first of a four-part weekly series

Newly- Weds Dominate Queue For Flats

Source : The Sunday Times, Feb 24, 2008

They form majority of the 10,240 applicants vying for 278 HDB units in mature estates in latest sale exercise

TEACHER Suziyanti Jepto, 29, and her graphic designer husband Lewis Leong, 30, are in a hurry to buy a new HDB flat in a mature estate. But the odds are heavily against them.

Their application is among a record 10,240 received for 278 four-room, five-room and executive flats in mature estates such as Toa Payoh, Bukit Merah and Geylang. They were put up for sale earlier this month.

The HDB's bi-monthly sale of surplus flats in mature estates attracts not only newlyweds and would-be newlyweds needing a matrimonial home, but also families seeking bigger homes and retirees and downgraders looking for smaller units.

The Sunday Times understands that most of the applicants are newlyweds.

The bi-monthly sales exercise was introduced a year ago. In another sale last December, more than 5,000 applications streamed in for 316 flats in Hougang, Punggol and Sengkang.

This is the fourth application in 11/2 years for Ms Suziyanti and her husband, who married in 2006 and live with his parents in a five-room flat in Bedok.

She is now five months pregnant and feels a greater urgency to own her own home.

Explaining the overwhelming number of applicants, the HDB said that the number of surplus flats has dwindled from 17,500 in 2002 to fewer than 2,000 now.

Surplus flats are those which have been built but not yet taken up. Flats which were booked but returned to the HDB for various reasons also fall into this category.

Most of the 278 surplus flats in the latest exercise are almost complete, so applicants will not have to wait three to four years for them, which is the standard period for the HDB's build-to-order flats.

The HDB is already stepping up its building programme and plans to launch 4,500 flats early this year.

Speaking to reporters at a Building and Construction Authority event yesterday, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said that demand was high because the 278 flats were in very desirable locations and very reasonably priced.

The HDB's advice to those who need a place immediately is to consider getting a resale unit in the open market. Its figures showed that one out of four resale flats sold last month was priced no higher than $10,000 above valuation.

This includes flats in popular mature estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Bedok.

Downgraders among the many applicants

AMONG the 10,240 applicants in the recent HDB sales exercise are downgraders like assistant credit manager Peter Wee, 55.

He lives in a five-room flat in Kim Keat Avenue with his wife Dora, 54, and son Aaron, 15. His daughter moved out last year after she got married.

'There are only three of us now and there's no need for so much space,' he said.

Mr Wee is hoping to move into a four-room flat in Toa Payoh. When the balloting results came out last Thursday, he was given quite a low queue number of 280.

'I'm only two numbers away so I think my chances are quite good,' he said.

Chen Meiyue

'I didn't expect so many people to apply'

ASSISTANT manager Samuel Tan, 26, applied for an HDB flat a day after he proposed to his girlfriend, occupational therapist Suren Wong, 26, earlier this month.

Last Thursday, the first-time applicant was shocked to find he was vying with 10,239 others for the 278 flats in HDB's latest sale of surplus flats in mature estates.

'I didn't expect so many people to apply because the flats are quite expensive,' he said.

Four-room flats cost $141,000 to $398,000; five-room ones, $218,000 to $532,000; and executive units, $333,000 to $470,000.

'At this rate, we might just have to buy a resale flat,' he said.

Nur Dianah Suhaimi

Freehold May Not Be Forever

Source : TODAY, Weekend, February 23, 2008

So when will freehold condo prices fall to match those of leasehold?

FREEHOLD condominium ownership is no longer forever in Singapore, yet the myth of freehold property being held in perpetuity and resultant higher pricing linger on.

While it may seem like Singaporeans will have a hard time letting the myth go, it may only be a matter of time until logic overcomes emotion and premiums for freehold condos drop.

Freehold has long been the preferred property choice in Singapore for almost anyone who can afford it, whether it is a house or a condominium.

The marketing pitch is that the "ownership of freehold property lasts generations", as SGHousing puts it, and the legal concept is that "an owner will have the full ownership of the land and the property in perpetuity", as CKS Property Consultants has said.

Ownership forever certainly does command a premium. The difference in price between 99-year leasehold properties and freehold properties is about 20-25 per cent, according to CKS, and it can be as much as 40 per cent or more. And, traditionally, why wouldn't freehold cost more? If you are looking out for the interests of future generations, then the best way to assure their well-being is to pay more for freehold property.

Leasehold is different because "unlike freehold property, you cannot bequeath it to your descendants when the lease is up" as one writer in an online forum puts it.

As Singapore developed, most freehold property owners have also gained even greater confidence that their property will not be taken away.

In days of yore, the Government readily exercised its rights under the Land Acquisition Act to convert kampungs and plantations into Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates and roads. As the amount of privately owned land diminished, so has the frequency of the Government acquiring freehold property for other development. Bequeathing freehold property to the next generation then seemed more certain.

The reasons for paying more for freehold go deep, and the difference may result more from emotional and cultural ties than anything else. Whether it is the ancestral village, the ancestral home or the old family homestead, families have long been linked their family home by strong emotional cords.

Freehold property for condos or houses may be the Singapore equivalent of the ancestral home, so it has retained an aura of being held in perpetuity — perhaps made even stronger by the contrast with the more prevalent leasehold property in Singapore.

Since the owner has had a right to keep it forever and pass it on to the children, it feels like freehold should indeed command a premium.

It has also become more apparent that the premium attached to freehold is not just based on economics. With banks making loans for properties with shorter leases remaining, and with some leases being extended, even more of the differences used to justify higher prices for freehold property may have disappeared.

And if the issue were just financial, so that parents wanted to pass on profits from an en bloc sale to their children, then it also should not matter whether the property was leasehold or freehold as long as it was sold for a gain.

In reality, though, freehold has changed and it is no longer forever. If 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the owners agree to sell a condominium, even if it is freehold, then the other owners that planned to pass the property on to their heirs will see their dreams vanish.

The changing rules for condo ownership have thus negated much of the difference between freehold and leasehold. A freehold condo that the owner intended to bequeath to the next generation can literally be swept from under their feet, just as would happen with the sale of leasehold property or the end of a 99-year lease.

But if the legal changes on condo sales have erased the reasons for paying a premium, since it is increasingly unlikely that one will own a freehold condo in perpetuity, then why haven't the mindset and the differential in pricing changed along with market practices?

One reason may be that the shift has been so sudden and so subtle that pricing does not reflect the change. Most owners may not really have reflected upon the idea that freehold is actually more like leasehold and they have not changed their traditional mindset.

The idea that freehold property lasts forever and should cost more has become so embedded in our psyche that the concept of freehold being virtually the same as leasehold has not changed, even though freehold property is being sold when some owners want to hang on.

Another reason could be that since freehold property costs more and is perceived as more prestigious, owners and developers and property agents all have a vested interest in maintaining the myth of the superiority of freehold property to maintain premium pricing.

Who would want to point out the obvious and see the value of their property or their commission drop?

On reflection, though, more owners are likely to begin to realise that freehold has become much more like leasehold.

And since the prevalence of 99-year leases means that most are likely to be extended or renewed anyway so that Singaporeans can continue to live here, long-term ownership of 99-year leasehold HDB flats or condos seems as likely to continue as ownership of freehold.

When, then, will the reality of market forces cause prices for freehold condos to begin dropping to leasehold levels? When the realisation that freehold is not really freehold strikes home, what will the price decline be for such properties?

It remains to be seen when a change will occur, but look out for a drop in freehold prices as buyers finally realise that freehold, 999-year and 99-year condos really are not all that different. All may be equally likely or unlikely to stay in the family for perpetuity.

Richard Hartung - The writer is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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《联合早报》Feb 23, 2008





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