Sunday, August 17, 2008

US - Housing Market Woes

Source : The Sunday Times, August 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - AS the US economy appears more than ever linked to the health of the housing market, analysts see no end to falling prices or recovery in the sector before 2009.

After several years of a sizzling boom, housing prices in the United States have fallen for the past year and a half, according to the closely watched S&P/Case-Shiller index. In May, prices fell a record 16 per cent from a year ago.

But for the majority of analysts, the price decline still is not enough to put the sector on the road to recovery.

'Home prices in the US are likely to start to stabilize or touch bottom sometime in the first half of 2009,' former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on Thursday.

But 'prices could continue to drift lower through 2009 and beyond,' he added.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson regularly repeats that the real-estate sector presently is the biggest danger for the US economy.

Mr Paulson in late July warned that foreclosures and the number of existing homes for sale 'are likely to remain substantially elevated this year and next and home prices are likely to decline further on a national basis.' Several factors are at work.

Housing prices, although lower, are still far from reaching pre-boom levels, according to a recent survey by TD Bank Financial Group.

Today's home prices are roughly at mid-2004 levels, while the S&P/Case-Shiller index shows they are still nominally 34 per cent higher than 2002 prices.

'The correction isn't over,' the TD Bank analysts said, adding that prices have further to fall, particularly in 'cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami which saw the largest price gains.'

The inventory of unsold homes on the market is so high - 11 months' supply for existing homes, 10 for new homes - that sellers will have to lower their expectations before the market can return to normal, which analysts generally see as a five-month supply.

'The rising share of foreclosed homes in overall sales bodes negatively for home prices,' said Ethan Harris, chief US economist at Lehman Brothers, who sees prices falling between 25 and 30 per cent in the correction phase of a cycle he sees ending in late 2009.

In fact, the owners of foreclosed homes are often banks, which today hold a sixth of the homes on the market, according to RealtyTrac, a real-estate industry data firm.

The banks have not been shy about disposing of these distressed assets. The Wall Street Journal this week reported on a house in Corona, California, that was sold for US$198,000 9S$182,000) by a subsidiary of Credit Suisse and which was bought for US$450,000 in December 2006.

Another factor weighing on housing prices is the growing difficulty in obtaining a bank loan, and not just for high-risk borrowers.

In the second quarter, 75 per cent of US banks tightened their lending conditions on standard mortgages, home loans to borrowers with good credit histories, the Federal Reserve reported recently.

And the fragile economy's woes - rising unemployment, inflation-eroded purchasing power and financial turmoil - hardly inspire optimism.

'The light at the end of the tunnel is a faint and distant one. Further, the risks to this outlook weigh heavily on the downside, with the main risk being the potential for financial markets to unravel further,' said Ms Celia Chen, director of housing economics at Moody's

'It will be well into 2009 before the market works off all the excesses accumulated during the housing boom,' she said. -- AFP

Too Garish?

Source : The Sunday Times, August 17, 2008

Some residents find the proposed colour schemes for estate's art deco flats too garish or cartoonish

Pink, purple and blue are colours that have made some people see red instead.

'A place that evokes memories of the past doesn't need such loud colours.'
ACCOUNTANT EDWIN LEOW, 38, who moved into the neighbourhood last year

Brighter colours such as pink, purple and blue are among the options to replace the buildings' current images of the colour schemes for pre-war flats. Fifth picture onwards are the choices for post-war flats. Residents must send in their votes by tomorrow. -- PHOTO: TANJONG PAGAR TOWN COUNCIL

A proposed paint job for Tiong Bahru estate's iconic art deco flats has upset some residents, some of whom feel the area will look too loud or cartoonish.

On Aug 8, the Tanjong Pagar Town Council had sent out survey forms to residents of the 57 pre-war and post-war apartment blocks. It sought their vote for an upcoming repainting job.

Among the options: brighter colours like pink, purple and blue in place of the current cream and beige shades of the past decade.

Residents have to send in their votes by tomorrow and the council expects work to begin next month.

Mr Andrew Loh of LG Architects & Associates was hired by the council to come up with several colour schemes. Members of the residents committee then narrowed these down to eight schemes: four for the pre-war and four for the post-war buildings.

All was well, until the survey forms were sent out.

One resident, advertising executive Eugene Yip, 37, who moved there four years ago, said the proposed colours will make the area look 'very cartoonish and kiddy, like a Disneyland'.

'It's good to give the buildings fresh paint, but these colours won't enhance the ambience of Tiong Bahru,' he said. 'I prefer softer colours.'

He and other residents have written to the town council asking for better options. Several spoke of the buildings' legacy.

Accountant Edwin Leow, 38, who moved into the neighbourhood last year, said: 'A place that evokes memories of the past doesn't need such loud colours.'

Fellow resident Terence Yeung, 36, an installation artist, agreed. 'The colours proposed show a poor understanding of conservation. We will lose the authenticity of this area's charm and art deco architectural heritage.'

Built by the then Singapore Improvement Trust in the 1930s, the pre-war buildings formed the first public housing estate in Singapore.

The area, bounded by Seng Poh Road, Outram Road and Tiong Poh Road, was given conservation status in 2003.

An Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesman told The Sunday Times that owners of conserved buildings do not need to consult the URA when repainting is carried out as part of regular maintenance work.

'The exceptions are certain landmarks and categories of buildings where a specific colour scheme is part of the conservation building's architectural value.'

Examples include black and white bungalows and buildings of stone, brick tile and Shanghai Plaster finish, which are all required to keep their original appearance.

Said the spokesman: 'URA has generally given the owners of conservation buildings greater flexibility in the choice of colour because it does not affect the building structure and is easily reversible. However, we do encourage owners to use colours that would enhance the architectural qualities of their heritage buildings.'

Over the past five years, these conserved Tiong Bahru flats have attracted growing numbers of young professionals, including many from the creative industries.

Property agent Alvin Yeo, 37, who lives in one of these flats, estimates that these buyers make up about 20 per cent of the thousand or so households in his neighbourhood.

He felt going ahead with the colour schemes will affect property prices there.

A 1,000 sq ft apartment here currently costs about $550,000 to $600,000, said Mr Yeo, who estimated that garishly coloured facades may dent these prices by around 10 per cent.

'The kinds of people interested in living in these buildings in recent years resist HDB blocks because they find them boring and they want something different,' he said.

'The potential buyers from this niche group will probably just shift their interest to areas like Balestier or Joo Chiat, which still retain their character.'

But not all residents objected to the proposed colours.

Housewife Patricia Yong, 36, who has been living in the estate for 10 years, liked the pale purple option. 'It's more feminine, and it's good to give the place a bit more colour.'

Retiree Michael Tan, 57, who has been living there since 1951, also liked the suggested colours. 'It will make the place look brighter.'

Mr Loy Sai Sai, 56, the senior property manager for Tanjong Pagar Town Council, has been in charge of this estate since 1991.

He said that Mr Loh was briefed on the architectural significance of the estate.

'Colours are very subjective. We just wanted to let the residents have a chance to participate in this process of giving the whole estate a better living environment.

'We are open to suggestions. We will look at the feedback, and if a majority of residents are not in favour of the proposed colours, we will make changes.'

Havens Away From Home

Source : The Sunday Times, Aug 17, 2008

Influx of expats is leading to the transformation of neighbourhoods - and more tasty foreign treats

A Singaporean walking around the Tanjong Rhu area could be forgiven for thinking he is in a foreign country.

Minimarts at condos don't sell just regular rice, they also stock the basmati variety.

Vegetables that most Singaporeans have never heard of, such as Indian Palak (spinach in English) and Mehti (a herb which resembles a bay leaf) are in good supply too, as are lentils and a staggering variety of spices.

At condos like The Sovereign, The Makena and Costa Rhu, about four in 10 residents are Indian nationals, exceeding the number of Singaporeans.

Small wonder, then, that the area is known as 'Little Bombay'.

For Indian nationals in the area, it might as well be their home country.

As Ms Radha Suvarna, 36, a Citibank executive, puts it: 'I can live here as I would in Bombay.'

The Tanjong Rhu and Meyer Road areas are among many in Singapore that are undergoing a vast transformation.

It used to be that there were just three ethnic enclaves in Singapore: Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam.

Now, Little America, Little Australia, Little Japan and a host of others have been added to the list.

As more and more expatriates head here - the number of foreigners here passed the one million mark for the first time last year - they are transforming not just Singapore's economy but its community as well.

As is the case in other countries, the various nationalities setting up home here tend to set up enclaves where their countrymen gather.

In Singapore, education seems to be the determining factor for where they settle.

Property agents told The Sunday Times that clusters tend to come up around international schools.

The Americans, for example, have flocked to Woodlands because it is close to the Singapore American School.

The Japanese tend to live in condos in the West Coast, close to the Singapore Japanese School.

And the Serangoon area is popular with the Australians and the French, with the French and Australian schools nearby.

One in five households at the 310-unit Kensington Park Condominium - a 10-minute walk from Serangoon Gardens - is French, for example.

Once a critical mass of expats is settled in a particular area, food outlets soon follow.

With more and more Koreans flocking to the East Coast, for example, stores selling everything from kimchi to bulgogi have sprung up - there are at least three Korean restaurants in the area near Katong Mall.

For Koreans who prefer to cook their own food, the Seoul Mart, which opened in Parkway Parade last year, stocks provisions such as kimchi, Korean seaweed and Korean instant noodles.

The search for a taste of home has also led to the transformation of neighbourhoods.

Geylang, for example, has perhaps the greatest concentration of Chinese food outlets here.

Mr Du Zhi Qiang, president of the Tian Fu Club, a social networking club for new Chinese immigrants to Singapore, says there are now about 200 food outlets opened by Chinese nationals in the area.

The club's 2,000 members, all professionals, and scores of other Chinese nationals flock to the area for homegrown treats like jiaozi (dumplings) and hot and sour soup.

It is a boon for folk like businessman An Qian Xue, 42, who came to Singapore in 2003 from his native Shanxi in China to enrol his daughter in the Singapore American School and to explore business opportunities.

Now a permanent resident, Mr An remembers the time when he had to fill his suitcases with food whenever he returned from China.

'Now I can travel light because everything is here,' says the businessman, who eats in Geylang at least six times a week.

Indeed, Singaporeans who spoke to The Sunday Times said that, next to their contributions to the economy, the best thing about expats is the authentic food which follows them here.

Authentic pasta, Spanish ham, traditional Korean rice cakes, Chinese jiaozi - they are all out there.

Foreigners are not just setting up physical enclaves, however.

Some nationalities are also dominating certain professions, and marking out gathering places as their own.

Walk into a hospital, for example, and you will more than likely encounter a Filipino nurse.

At Parkway Health, which owns the Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles and East Shore hospitals, 40per cent of the nurses come from countries such as the Philippines, China, Myanmar, India and Malaysia.

And 60per cent of the radiographers are from the Philippines.

Indian and Chinese nationals, meanwhile, are heading for the IT and finance sectors.

At Citibank Singapore, for example, Indian nationals make up 10per cent of the 9,000 employees, even more than Malaysians, who make up 7per cent. Singaporeans make up 70per cent.

In leisure, too, foreigners are making a beeline for certain areas.

Clarke Quay, for example, is the party destination of choice for Indian nationals. Outlets like the Rupee Room offer Indian food at the bar and play the latest Bollywood hits.

It draws huge crowds at the weekend. Almost 80per cent of its customers are Indian professionals, says marketing manager Ketki Madane.

Mr Harish Mallipeddi, 22, who works for an IT start-up,, is quick to pick the Rupee Room as his favourite haunt.

'We can meet Indian girls there,' he says candidly.

The Myanmarese, meanwhile, make Peninsula Plaza their own at the weekend.

Hundreds gather there to stock up on goods for home, read newspapers, and even organise political protests, as happened during the crackdown on Buddhist monks in Myanmar last year.

There is also a library run by a group of about 30 Myanmarese for their fellow citizens, which stocks newspapers and weekly journals from home, and books banned in their own country.

As foreigners set up their own neighbourhoods and go about carving out a space in Singapore, however, a downside to the sheer numbers moving here is beginning to reveal itself.

Sociologists say most relate to xenophobic fears among Singaporeans - that foreigners will take away jobs and scholarships and drive up property prices, for instance.

Others point to increasing friction as Singaporeans and foreigners live and work more closely, and fight a losing battle to paper over differences in social habits and lifestyle.

Much has been made of the differences between Indian Singaporeans and Indian expatriates, and Dr Leong Chan Hoong, head of the psychology programme at SIM University, sees the same thing happening between Chinese nationals and their local cousins.

Of the flow of expats, Dr Leong says: 'It is unrealistic to think that we can, in a few years or so, ameliorate the tension and antagonism experienced by Singaporeans.'

Asked how Singapore will evolve, he says that it depends on how well foreigners integrate with locals in the Lion City.

Expats, however, do not see a problem.

Mr An, the China native turned Singapore PR, says: 'I have come to love Singapore. The workers are good and don't make trouble for you, the tax rate is lower and people are helpful.

'Now when I go back to China, I feel out of place sometimes.'

Mah Bow Tan Says Home Upgrading Works Will Be Affordable For All

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 16 August 2008

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan has given the assurance that no household will be left out of the benefits of basic home improvement works.

Mr Mah, who is also MP for Tampines GRC, was speaking at the launch of an upgrading project at a Tampines precinct.

Under the scheme - known as the Home Improvement Programme - introduced last year, basic repairs are fully funded by the government, while residents pay for other non-essential works.

And although rising costs have been a concern for many, Mr Mah said the bill will remain affordable for all. And the Housing and Development Board has schemes in place to provide low-income residents with financial assistance. - CNA/ms

Farrer Park Mediplex To Be Ready By 2010

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 16 August 2008

A medical complex - comprising a hospital, specialist suites and a hotel - will be built in Singapore by October 2010.

Its aim is to grab a chunk of the burgeoning multi-billion dollar market for medical travel in Asia.

The 19-storey Farrer Park Mediplex will comprise a hospital, specialist suites and a hotel.

It is believed the first of its kind in Asia, and the company behind it expects to be a strong contender in the market for medical travellers - with about half of its patients coming from overseas.

Dr Djeng Shih Kien, chairman, Singapore HealthPartners, said: "(These will include) patients who are on dialysis. They can stay in the hotel, have their dialysis, and use Singapore as a base and travel to the surrounding nations."

Singapore HealthPartners hopes to attract some 400 specialists covering a range of fields.

Related Videos :-

But ultimately, it wants to establish a reputation in cardiology and oncology - boosted by state-of-the-art facilities.

It believes it is also satisfying a growing need of doctors for more space.

Dr Djeng explained: "There is a huge demand for medical space. There are so many doctors who cannot get a medical suite to practice. If you look at (the situation) now, all the medical suites at (rival group) Parkway, there are three or four doctors sharing one suite. So there's definitely a need for a new hospital, new suites, just to make us catch up with neighbouring countries."

The nearby Farrer Park and Little India train stations will take patients into the city centre within five minutes.

Dr Djeng Shih Kien

The entire complex is expected to cost about S$350 million, and given rising construction costs, Singapore HealthPartners said it is prepared to pay about 10 to 15 per cent more, just to get the project completed on time.

Medical tourism in Asia is worth an estimated S$106 billion, and many say the pie is big enough for all.

And with its integrated facilities, Singapore HealthPartners is confident it has got the edge over other private healthcare providers in the region. - CNA/ms

Soilbuild Group Books 2% Rise In H1 Earnings To S$29.3m

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 14 August 2008

Mainboard-listed Soilbuild Group Holdings has posted a 2 per cent increase in first-half earnings to a record S$29.3 million.

For the six months ended June, revenue for the company rose by 166 per cent on-year to S$119.7 million.

The growth was boosted by contributions from its five residential developments, including maiden income from Leonie Parc View and The Centrio.

Rental income from its business space properties also contributed to its earnings.

Currently, Soilbuild has a pipeline of about 3.7 million square feet of business space under development.

Going forward, Soilbuild is looking at strengthening its capital base and expand its business space portfolio.

It is proposing to raise S$60 million through a rights-cum-warrant issue to existing shareholders.

This will be on a 1-for-10 rights basis, with an issue price of 75 Singapore cents per rights share, with three free warrants.

The four-year warrants have an exercise price of 75 cents. - CNA/ms

July Boost For Private Home Sales

Source : TODAY, Weekend, August 16, 2008

But sector’s outlook still cloudy on slower growth

DEVELOPERS sold 897 private homes out of the 1,322 launched last month, the highest number since last August, according to monthly data released on Friday by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). This represents a 68-per-cent take-up rate.

While the sales were a modest increase from June, when 1,069 units were launched and 801 sold, there was little to suggest that the property sector would see a sustained pick-up in the coming months. The take up rate then was 75 per cent. The rise was also not as significant compared to the surge in June from May, when launches and sales more than doubled.

Most of last month’s transactions came from projects outside the core central region, such as Livia in Pasir Ris, Clover by the Park in Bishan and Kovan Residences, that catered to mid-range to mass-market home buyers.

Livia, which was priced at an average of $671 per square foot, accounted for a large chunk of the sales in July, with 301 units in the Pasir Ris Grove condominium sold. Prospective buyers were still largely holding out, as developers launched many more residential units for sale than they were able to sell, said Mr Nicholas Mak, consultancy and research director of property firm Knight Frank.

“The stock of unsold homes in the developers’ inventory will gradually increase,” said Mr Mak.

The outlook for the property sector is likely to stay cloudy due to worries that the limping United States economy would lead to slowing growth here. Just last week, the Government cut its forecast for Singapore’s growth rate to 4 to 5 per cent from its earlier forecast of 4 to 6 per cent.

“Since the end of July, there has been a slowdown in launch activity and take-up momentum due to more dismal news of the US sub-prime debacle being released,” said Mr Li Hiaw Ho, executive director of CBRE Research.

There may also be fewer launches and sales this month as superstitious buyers generally avoid buying a home during the Hungry Ghost Month, which lasts from Aug 1 to Aug 30 this year.

There are concerns that rising interest rates may weigh on property market sentiment. With the Singapore dollar heading into its fourth week of decline, the reduced expectations for currency strength should see the Singapore interbank offered rate (Sibor) start to rise. Housing loans in Singapore are typically pegged to Sibor.

But analysts said that with interest rates at the current low levels — Sibor at slightly more than 1 per cent — a gradual rise would not affect the behaviour of prospective home buyers, especially with banks keen on pricing their mortgages competitively to maintain or increase their market share.

“Property transactions are long-term investments and most investors hold on to their property for about five to seven years,” said Mr Donald Han, the managing director of property consultancy Cushman and Wakefield.

“Most owner-occupiers are more affected by fundamentals than anything else,” he added, saying that speculators are more affected by changes in interest rates.

Home Sales Up For Third Month In A Row

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 16 August 2008

New home sales rose for the third month in a row in July. However, the pace of growth slowed significantly, with developers launching more homes than they could sell.

According to latest figures released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), buyers picked up some 900 new private homes last month, 12 per cent more than in June. This comes after new home sales almost doubled between May and June.

But developers launched about 250 more units for sale in July than in June. This meant that more units were launched than sold in July.

Still, property consultants said July's performance could be close to as good as it gets this year. Last month's sales were boosted by mass-market condominium projects, with two large-scale launches accounting for almost half the whole month's figures.

City Developments "Livia" in Pasir Ris sold 301 apartments at S$671 per square foot. "Clover by the Park" in Bishan sold 100 units at an average S$753 per square foot.

While mass-market homes are seen to have the highest potential for sales for the rest of the year, analysts said this may be compromised by the lack of large development launches.

Nicholas Mak, Knight Frank's director, said: "Going forward, we're going to see a shortage of such big projects in the pipeline for the remainder of this year.

"We'll still see launches, just smaller in size, and there won't be this 'wow' factor or excitement that we saw in the previous month. As a result, the sale volume is likely to remain steady or decline in the next few months."

Analysts said transactions are likely to be spread over different project segments, compared to recent months where most attention has been on the suburban segment.

Knight Frank expects an even spread of 30 to 40 per cent sales from each of the sectors.

While a substantial amount of projects launched in July were in the mid-tier range, sales failed to keep pace.

The high-end segment showed continued weakness. No units priced S$4,000 per square foot or more were sold. However, prices in that segment are unlikely to come down anytime soon.

Colin Tan, head of research & consultancy at Chesterton, said: "I think developers who are in this segment are in healthy financial position to hold on. So if prices were to come down, it will take some time but not in immediate future."

The highest sale price in July was achieved by a unit from The Hamilton Scotts. It was sold at S$3,676 per square foot. - CNA/938LIVE/ir

Home Sales Up; Pace Slowing

Source : The Straits Times, August 16, 2008

Prices slip in July though sales up for 3rd straight month; high-end hard hit

NEW home sales rose last month for the third month in a row, but the pace of growth braked sharply and the prices of sold homes slipped.

Developers sold 897 new private homes in July, 12 per cent more than in June and the highest number since last August, according to data released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority yesterday.

Close to nine out of every 10 homes sold last month were suburban units that cost $1,000 per sq ft (psf) or less. No homes were sold above $4,000 psf for the second consecutive month.

This trend is likely to continue, property consultants said, as persistent caution in the high-end market is causing developers to delay expensive launches.

Even then, developers continued to launch more units across the board than they were able to sell last month, adding to the inventory of unsold homes, observed Mr Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.

Consultants also predicted that the pattern of rising sales will be reversed this month.

Launches and transactions will probably fall thanks to the perceived unlucky 'Hungry Ghost' period, while market sentiment is expected to remain negative amid more dismal global economic news coming out of the United States and Europe.

Already, last month's sales growth was a far cry from the 77 per cent jump in sales between May and June, consultants said.

Last month's figures were boosted by sales from four large-scale suburban projects that together accounted for almost two-thirds of the whole month's deals. Livia in Pasir Ris saw 301 apartments taken up, at a median price of $671 psf. Of these, four crossed the $750 psf mark, but the rest were well within the $500 to $750 psf range.

Clover by the Park in Bishan sold 100 units at a median price of $753 psf, down slightly from the median $765 psf it had fetched in June.

And Kovan Residences in Kovan Road sold 87 units at a median price of $882 psf - just below its $887 psf in June - while Beacon Heights in St Michael's Road sold 61 units at a median price of $865 psf.

In the mid-tier segment, Parc Sophia in Dhoby Ghaut was the best performer, selling 25 units at a median price of $1,503 psf.

CapitaLand's Wharf Residences near Robertson Quay sold 23 units at a median price of $1,506.

Generally, prices have come under pressure from the gloom in the market and are starting to dip, consultants said.

The lowest transacted price in the suburban region fell 23 per cent last month from June, while the lowest price in the central region fell 7 per cent, noted Dr Chua Yang Liang, Jones Lang LaSalle's head of South-east Asia research.

He said buyers of suburban projects are probably comfortable with paying $650 to $850 psf right now, while those looking for well-located city-fringe homes have budgets of $850 to $1,000 psf.

Sales were dismal in the high-end segment, with only eight units - less than 1 per cent of total sales - transacted above $3,000 psf. At the height of the property fever in July last year, 217 units fetched more than $3,000 psf, accounting for more than 15 per cent of the total units sold then.

But there are still some buyers willing to pay a premium for prime projects, said Mr Li Hiaw Ho, executive director of CB Richard Ellis Research.

He noted that five units were sold at The Hamilton Scotts in Scotts Road, for between $3,000 and $3,676 psf.

Ghost Month Sneaks Up On Slow Market

Source : The Business Times, August 16, 2008

Home sales volume in July down 35% year-on-year, but does better month-on-month with 12% rise

One year after the onslaught of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis, the Singapore property market is still looking weak. And property consultants are expecting sales to slow further, exacerbated by the start of the Chinese Hungry Ghost Month.

According to developer sales figures from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), new home sales fell about 35 per cent in July to 897 units on a year- on-year basis. This is also sharper than the 30 per cent year-on-year fall in June.

However, on a month- on-month basis, the July volume increased 12 per cent, largely attributed to the 1,322 new home units launched in the month - the highest since August 2007, when 1,885 units were launched.

The number of units launched in July was also 1.4 per cent higher compared to a year ago and about 20 per cent higher compared to the previous month.

But Knight Frank director of research and development Nicholas Mak notes that the ratio of new home sales to newly launched units increased to 1:1.47 compared to 1:0.9 a year ago and 1:1.33 in the previous month. He said: 'As a result, the stock of unsold homes in the developers' inventory will gradually increase.'

That the 897 new homes sold in July exceed the 10-year monthly average of about 680 units should bode well for the market. But Mr Mak says the ratio of new home sales to newly launched units suggests that take-up is not that healthy. 'It's like whether you choose to judge someone's health by his blood pressure or his temperature,' he added.

At end-December 2007, there were about 4,000 units of new homes ready for sale that had not been launched. This increased to more than 6,500 units in March and about 7,000 at end-July.

Still, Mr Mak points out that the healthy sales volume for July does suggest that 'there is underlying demand from owner-occupiers'.

This demand came for the Outside Central Region (OCR). Knight Frank notes that the 636 units launched in the OCR accounted for 48.1 per cent of launches in July.

The Core Central Region (CCR), in comparison, saw launches fall 40.7 per cent month-on-month and accounted for 9.9 per cent of all launches in the month.

Jones Lang LaSalle local director and head of research (South East Asia) Chua Yang Liang believes that looking at the islandwide take-up may not be an accurate reflection of the market.

Looking at the lowest price band of reported monthly median prices - 'because it is more reflective of the underlying market sentiment' - Dr Chua noted that in July, the CCR and OCR registered declines of 7 per cent and 23 per cent respectively (excluding projects with single transactions).

Dr Chua said the Rest of Central Region (RCR) appeared stable, registering a marginal increase of 2 per cent month-on-month in July to $560 per square foot.

The major launches in OCR include Livia, which sold at a median price of $671 psf while Kovan Residences sold at a median price of $882 psf. 'We reckon the price of $650-$850 psf is what the market is comfortable with at this point,' added Dr Chua.

CB Richard Ellis Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho reckons prices are still holding in some areas. 'In suburban areas such as Serangoon, Sengkang and Jurong, prices are observed to be holding at $800-$950 psf at The Florentine, Kovan Residences, Woodsville 28, $700-$800 psf at The Quartz, and $800-$900 psf at The Lakeshore,' he added.

Mr Li also noted that five units in The Hamilton Scotts transacted at $3,000-$3,676 psf and seven units in Nassim Park Residences were done at $2,600-$3,650 psf. Mr Li said: 'This shows that there are people who are willing to pay a premium for projects in very good locations and/or with strong attributes.'

Savills Singapore director of marketing and business development Ku Swee Yong believes that developers are also likely to continue with a 'wait and see' strategy regarding launches. 'Every month that a developer waits, there are new buyers entering the market,' he said.

Mr Ku was pleasantly surprised by the take-up in July too. He said: 'I think developers launching a total of between 1,000 and 1,500 units per month is sustainable.'

The Ball Is In His Courtyard

Source : The Straits Times, August 16, 2008

Michael Ngu's home has all his favourite features, because he built it himself

Architect Michael Ngu is known for designing high-end condominiums such as Scotts 28 in Scotts Road, Cuscaden Residences in Cuscaden Road and the Cosmopolitan in Kim Seng Road.

Flanked by creepers and plants, the 8m-tall water feature in the courtyard not only cools the home, but also provides a soothing ambience to it.-- STEPHANIE YEOW/THE STRAITS TIMES

But when it comes to private homes, the president and chief executive officer of local firm Architects 61 has done only one - his own.

That home is a two-storey plus attic semi-detached house in Tanjong Katong built 10 years ago, which he and his family still live in today.

This section of the living room is where guests mingle, and it looks out to the courtyard and dining room (background).

The 52-year-old describes it as 'not outlandish, but real and practical'. It incorporates features you would normally find only in a commercial building - as befits a commercial architect - along with some distinctly personal touches.

One such personal quirk includes having a living room with a glass floor through which Mr Ngu, from the comfort of his sofa, watches koi fish in a pond.

'I would have liked to add another window (in the dining room) but couldn't because the maid's room is behind
Architect Michael Ngu on the dining room which, despite looking out onto the courtyard, tends to be dim

On the other hand, he has done away with curtains in the home, the way that commercial buildings also do not have them. Roller blinds are used instead to keep out the sun.

The five bedrooms have bay windows which look out onto the neighbourhood - an idea he says he took from the design of Scotts 28, which has the same feature and was completed in 1998.

A lounger by the side of the master bedroom lets the owner, architect Michael Ngu, take in the view of the green courtyard while bay windows look out onto the surrounds of the house.

The Kuching-born, Singapore permanent resident lives there with his homemaker wife Mei and their three daughters, aged 13 to 25.

Although the home is 10 years old, it does not look dated. The family keeps up with times by simply updating the furnishings instead of changing the structure.

A sunken bathtub in the master bedroom allows the user to climb in and out more easily than a conventional one that rests on the floor.

Building the home involved tearing down an old house on the site and constructing the new one from scratch for $650,000 inclusive of fittings, which he says was a big amount even then.

There was just one 'hitch' in the design process: His wife dislikes big spaces. 'But I'm a modern architect and I like bigger spaces,' he says.

Koi pond is indoors

Visitors will note that the result is a compromise. The 3,200 sq ft home is spacious, yet has intimate spaces.

For example, the living room is split into two areas: A bigger one just by the entrance of the home allows guests to mingle. Slightly off to this, left and up a few steps is a smaller, cosier living area.

While most owners have endless wishlists of what they want in their home, there were just two features Mr Ngu had to have: a courtyard and a koi pond.

While the 3,200 sq ft home is built mostly of wood, the staircase leading to its five bedrooms is a modern glass and steel one, a style usually found in commercial buildings.

He says he likes how some old homes have a courtyard and incorporated one in his that is the central attraction, separating the dining and living rooms.

A 8m-tall water feature stands on one side, flanked by creepers and plants that are lovingly cared for by his wife.

'The 'waterfall' not only cools the air, but the sound of water is relaxing too,' he says.

He designed the bedrooms on the second floor and attic to look into the courtyard. A piece of glass covers its top to keep out the rain, but this has been designed to allow hot air to escape, keeping the home ventilated.

As for the koi pond, most owners would site theirs outdoors in the garden but not Mr Ngu.

He says he seldom goes outdoors, so he built his pond indoors. Part of it is under a small section of the home, where the smaller living area is, with its distinctive glass viewing floor.

To give the house a more homely touch, he used timber throughout. 'Timber is seldom used in commercial residential projects,' he notes.

He adds that the wood is no ordinary wood but 'selangan batu', a type of heavy hardwood that was brought in from his late father's timberyard in Kuching. His second brother, Stephen, 53, now runs the company.

Ten containers of timber were shipped in. 'This timber is dense, doesn't shrink much and is good for both outdoors and indoors,' he explains.

While he loves his home, there are still some niggling complaints for this perfectionist: for example, the dining room.

Although the room looks out onto the courtyard, it tends to be dim. 'I would have liked to add another window but couldn't because the maid's room is behind,' he explains.

The family is very attached to the house, especially youngest daughter Francesca, 13. She once told Mr Ngu that if they ever had to move, the house should be torn down so no one else could live in it.

'I told her she cannot be so selfish,' he says with a laugh. The family, who moved to Singapore 18 years ago, are staying put.

'I would have liked to add another window (in the dining room) but couldn't because the maid's room is behind'

Architect Michael Ngu on the dining room which, despite looking out onto the courtyard, tends to be dim