Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Malls Than Shoppers?

Source : The Sunday Times, March 15, 2009

To outdo the competition, new malls are churning out fresh ideas such as concept dining and eco-friendly themes

Seven new malls will spring up all over Singapore, from Tampines to Orchard Road, this year and next. They will add more than 5 million sq ft of retail space - the equivalent of five VivoCity malls.

Will upcoming 313@Somerset's concept dining at Discovery Walk, with its mix of restaurants, cafes and bars, be a hit? -- PHOTOS: LENDLEASE, ASIAMALLS ANAGEMENT, JACK INVESTMENT, FAR EAST ORGANIZATION, CDL, FAR EAST ORGANIZATION, CDI, MANDARIN GALLERY, ORCHARD TURN DEVELOPMENTS, PARAGON

Singapore's nation of shopaholics would normally rise to the challenge, and then some. But now the call of the mall is muted for many, as the economic slowdown makes shoppers count every penny. The number of tourists has also been falling.

But the new malls are coming up with ways to wow customers. Retailers and developers are wooing shoppers with attractions ranging from brand-name duplex boutiques and new concept stores to rooftop- garden dining and eco-friendly themes.

Over at Tampines 1, which opens next month, there will be a valet service, for example. It will also probably be the first suburban mall to feature double-storey duplexes that will house fashion brands Topman and Esprit, and eateries such as Sushi Tei.

With its $45-million revamp, Paragon is all spruced up with an eye-catching 3-D facade, multiple pop-out glass panels and multi-faceted aluminium panels.

Other upcoming malls outside the Orchard belt are Iluma at Bugis, Marina Sands' Marina Bay Shoppes and City Square Mall at Kitchener Road.

Orchard Road alone will see 1.7 million sq ft of new retail space, according to the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba).

The three 'biggies' opening this year are Ion Orchard at Orchard Turn, Orchard Central and 313@Somerset.

The retail space figure includes Mandarin Gallery at Meritus Mandarin Singapore, now undergoing an expansion.

Each mall is keen to stand out. A spokesman for Mandarin Gallery, for example, says: 'The Gallery has an intimate size and is focused on its core customer base of the affluent and well-travelled.'

She notes that 'the larger malls, spanning 200,000 to 660,000 sq ft, cater to the masses'.

Mid-priced mall Orchard Central near Somerset MRT Station is going big on food when it opens in the middle of the year. It will be the first new mall to be built from scratch in Orchard Road since The Heeren Shops opened in 1996, says Orba.

Twenty-one of the 116 tenants it has so far signed on are food and beverage outlets. Its 24-hour rooftop garden with a street view of Orchard Road will have two eateries including the Nuoc Vietnamese restaurant.

Despite the recession, Mr Ashok Melwani, managing director of Unos, the firm that runs Nuoc, is confident his 'mid- priced menu and good food in an alfresco setting' will appeal to families.

But these malls could open with empty units. Mandarin Gallery, which will open in the last quarter of this year, has secured 70 per cent occupancy.

A spokesman for Orchard Central says the mall is 65 per cent leased. Ion Orchard, which will open by mid-year, declined to reveal details.

Mr Michael Kenderes, development director of Lend Lease Retail, which is building 313@Somerset, says: 'We are facing one of the most challenging retail business environments. But there is still a demand for premium sustainable retail centres that offer a strong return.' 313@Somerset, which opens in November, is more than 65 per cent leased.

Also optimistic is luxury fashion chain Club 21. Its upcoming flagship stores at Ion Orchard include Giorgio Armani and Marc Jacobs, and Marc by Marc Jacobs and Emporio Armani at Mandarin Gallery.

Its spokesman says: 'Our business strategy includes the expansion of fast-growing brands. The prominent streetfront positioning will give us a stronger competitive advantage.'

Depending on location and store unit, says Mr Danny Yeo, deputy managing director of Knight Frank, average monthly retail rental would have held steady or fallen by 5 to 15 per cent compared to six months ago. It now ranges from $15 to $40 psf.

Ms Letty Lee, director of retail services at CB Richard Ellis, says retailers need to develop schemes to attract local dollar, such as absorbing GST and giving out cash vouchers.

One such mall is The Heeren Shops. Marketing director C.S. Low says the mall is running a Eat, Shop N' Save campaign to encourage sales. For every $28 spent, shoppers get a $10 cash voucher.

Despite the weak consumer sentiment, many shoppers are looking forward to the new malls. Graphic designer Sharon Lim-Ho, 32, says: 'With the new malls, I will visit Orchard Road more frequently. But I will spend on items that I need or buy a dress instead of two from a new label.'

Opening doors

Where: 10 Tampines Central 1, next to Tampines MRT Station
What: Trendy suburban mall with international brands, such as Uniqlo - dubbed the Japanese Giordano - French boutique Promod, Spanish apparel store Springfield and Australian accessory store Diva, opening in the heartland for the first time
Expect: Five spectacular double-storey duplexes housing fashion brands such as Topshop and Esprit, as well as eateries such as Sushi Tei, F.I.S.H by Fish & Co and Thai Express Bistro
Opens: Next month

Where: Opposite Bugis Junction
What: A six-storey mall, touted as the Urban Entertainment Centre, marrying arts, entertainment and cultural activities
Expect: An open space on the rooftop for performances, plus an eight-hall cinema on the fifth floor with 1,400 seats
Opens: In the coming months

Where: 181 Orchard Road, near Somerset MRT Station
Concept: Singapore's first 'vertical mall' at 12 storeys, with super-long escalators whisking pedestrians from street level to the different floors
Expect: Stylish dining at eateries located in sheltered verandahs on the second, fourth, seventh and eighth levels. Take in Orchard Road from the 24-hour rooftop garden
Opens: Middle of this year

Where: 1 Orchard Turn, above Orchard MRT Station
What: Swanky mall that will house luxury fashion brands
Expect: Italian fashion labels Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Giorgio Armani and Dsquared2, plus French jewellery brand Korloff and art gallery Opera Gallery. Six duplexes on the street-front and three inside with brands such as Zara, Uniqlo, Topshop and Topman
Opens: Middle of the year

Where: Above Somerset MRT Station
What: Boutique mall offering mid-range fashion, plus food and beverage outlets
Expect: New concepts from Cold Storage and foodcourt chain Food Republic. One of the dining zones, Discovery Walk, will have a mix of cafes and bars
Opens: November

Where: Kitchener Road, near Farrer Park MRT Station
What: Touted as Singapore's first eco-friendly mall with eco-restrooms that save water and electricity Expect: Dedicated checkout lanes for shoppers with reusable bags at supermarket chain FairPrice. Sales staff at Best Denki who can advise on energy-efficient appliances. A corner in Metro for organic merchandise
Opens: Fourth quarter of this year

Where: Meritus Mandarin Singapore hotel in Orchard Road
What: A revamped luxury mall with standalone concept stores such as Swiss watchmaker Bell & Ross, French luggage brand Delsey, Ben Wu boutique and French jeweller Mauboussin
Expect: Five double-storey duplexes housing labels such as Emporio Armani and Montblanc. New brands include Milan-based apparel brand Henry Cotton's, British eco shoe label Terra Plana, high-end Swiss watchmaker FP Journe and Y3, a street-chic collection by Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto
Opens: Fourth quarter of this year

TOP Chance To Pick Up Condo Bargains

Source : The Sunday Times, March 15, 2009

Buyers now have more choices as launches return to the market. There is also no lack of supply in the secondary market, where more projects - including several big ones - will obtain temporary occupation permits (TOPs) by the end of this year.

Speculators who bought units at The Sail may want to sell them now. -- LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

The sellers of projects yet to obtain TOP are often short-term investors, and in this present climate some may offer real bargains if they have an urgent need to offload their properties, experts said.

A project's TOP date is when those who had bought on deferred payment will have to pay for the bulk of the purchase price.

The deferred payment scheme was seen as encouraging speculation as buyers could profit by reselling their homes before the TOP date without much capital outlay. It was scrapped in late 2007.

'Most times, those who bought on deferred payment are usually the investors,' said Mr Colin Tan, Chesterton Suntec International's head of research and consultancy.

Although not many bargains have surfaced, more could come, experts said. The 104 caveats lodged in the first two months of this year - for projects that have yet to obtain TOP - showed prices are coming down, but only gradually, said Mr Tan, citing Urban Redevelopment Authority data.

Of the 104 deals, 24 were for City Square Residences at $664 per sq ft (psf) to $911 psf, compared with its starting price of $560 psf in 2005. Another 20 deals were done at The Centris at between $427 psf and $639 psf, compared with its 2006 launch price of $550 psf.

Singapore bankers are reluctant to repossess properties when property prices have not fallen steeply, Mr Tan said. 'As Singapore is still not in 'deep recession' - although we are moving towards it - these investors are able to rent out their properties and collect rent,' he said. 'So long as banks are receiving some kind of payment, they are not willing to force the issue.'

Mr Tan said he foresees a gradual decline in property prices for the next three to four months. The shrinking rental market may have a greater impact on the market thereafter, he added. 'For those waiting for 'bargains', you'll have to be patient and wait a little longer,' he advised. 'At the moment, while the rental market is declining, it is still some 15 to 20 per cent higher than before the run-up in the market.'

A property expert, who declined to be named, said: 'Buyers may want to look at projects where there is a great deal of speculative element, such as Marina Bay Residences and The Sail, where many people went in blindly. Some of them may now want to let go of their units.'

So far this year, two high-floor Marina Bay Residences units were sold in January at $1,528 psf and $1,638 psf, while two units at The Coast at Sentosa Cove were sold last month at $1,250 psf and $1,500 psf.

Back in late 2006, Marina Bay Residences was sold out in three days at an average apartment price of $1,850 psf or up to more than $2,700 psf, while The Coast initially sold for $1,500 psf on average.

This year, the bigger projects that are expected to obtain TOP include The Centris in Jurong West and Casa Merah in Tanah Merah.

In the Amber Road area where many new developments were launched in the past few years, One Amber will obtain TOP by year end. It will join two recently completed big condos, The Esta and The Sea View, and a few others under construction.

In Balestier, UOL Group said it expects the 180-unit Pavilion 11 in Minbu Road to obtain TOP in the second half of the year.

The 53-unit The Centrio in Irrawaddy Road - launched in May 2007 at $1,025 psf - is also expected to do so by the end of the year.

A nearby project, the 151-unit Montebleu, launched in March 2007 at $980 psf, will obtain TOP early next year. At the same time, there are new launches in Balestier, including The Mezzo and Domus.

In the prime area, Hiap Hoe expects to obtain TOP for its 46-unit Cuscaden Royale by the end of the year or early next year.

'TOP projects are much sought after by owner-occupiers because buyers can move in immediately into a brand-new property,' said Ms Kellie Liew, executive director of projects at HSR property group.

Prices in quite a few of these projects, such as Southbank, have dropped a fair bit, she said.

Southbank in North Bridge Road will obtain TOP next year. So will The Riverine by the Park nearby.

Savills Residential director Phylicia Ang said the secondary market will have bargains but they may not be easy to spot. Those with little time to spare may find new launches a better bet, she said.

Small Flats, Big Sellers

Source : The Sunday Times, March 15, 2009

Demand for smaller space leads developers to downsize units to as tiny as 300-plus sq ft

What do you call a space which can fit four hawker stalls?

In the case of a new property development called Kembangan Suites, the space is called a one-bedroom apartment.

It is all of 344 sq ft.

Crowds flocked to a preview of condominium Domus on Friday. Its smallest units are 474 sq ft. -- ST PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

But small is now big. On just the first day of a preview last week, the developer sold out 60 units of mostly one- and two-bedders ranging in size from 344 sq ft to 581 sq ft.

The smallest units were going for about $300,000.

Industry sources said demand is coming from local and foreign singles, young couples as well as cost-conscious buyers and investors.

Before that, Alexis @ Alexandra sold all its 293 units, including 114 one-bedders (366 sq ft to 527 sq ft), with prices from $450,000.

Other new launches like Mount Sophia Suites in Sophia Road, Nova 88 in Bhamo Road and Zenith in Zion Road are offering studio apartments or one-bedders from 366 sq ft to 484 sq ft.

Crowds flocked to a preview on Friday of new condominium Domus in Irrawaddy Road. The smallest units there - one-bedders at 474 sq ft each - were going for more than $400,000.

Its developer, Lakeview Investments, said those were the most popular and all units released in the first phase had been sold.

'It's the size of a hotel room,' veteran designer Jay Ang said of the new 300-something sq ft homes.

'You have space only to sleep and eat. There's definitely no place to entertain,' noted the specialist in space planning and storage space customising.

But while there are no rules on how small apartments can go, designers and architects have to make concessions for standard dimensions, like how wide a door is, how long a bed is or how deep a wardrobe is.

Developers have quickly cottoned on to this demand for small spaces. Several have rejigged or are considering tweaking their designs and making space for smaller units.

Sing Holdings' project The Laurels in Cairnhill Road will go from its original 150 units of mostly three- and four-bedders to 290 units that include more one- and two-bedroom units.

UOL Group may also resize the units of its Green Meadows project in Upper Thomson to attract more cost-conscious buyers.

Alexis' developer, ECPrime, had done the same before the project's launch.

City Developments said studio apartments in centrally located projects had always been popular because of the lure of city-living.

Studio apartments comprised almost 40 per cent of the offerings at its downtown project, The Sail @ Marina Bay, which was completed last year.

Carving up space for more units is one way a developer can achieve higher dollar per square foot value, said Mr Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank.

'Developers manage to sell such small units because they make it affordable in absolute terms,' he said.

But, property pundits said, when apartments continue to shrink and prices per square feet remain high, home-seekers may go back to buying HDB flats and those looking to rent may decide to go for HDB rooms instead.

The size of private one-bedroom units has halved from 10 years ago.

HDB flats have downsized too, from about 1,130 sq ft for a four-room in 1987 to 970 sq ft now.

Still, Singapore homes have not shrunk to the proportions of those in Hong Kong and Tokyo, where apartments can be as tiny as 140 sq ft.

That is not to say that all buyers are happy with the slimming effect.

Finance executive Audrey Yap, 35, who is shopping for a bachelorette pad, said: 'I can't afford the bigger apartments but the studio apartments are ridiculously small and claustrophobic. I think I may have to settle for a resale HDB flat.'