Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CNA: Yuexiu Property acquires land in China's Guangdong for S$112m

Yuexiu Property acquires land in China's Guangdong for S$112m
By Mok Fei Fei, 938LIVE 29 December 2009 

SINGAPORE: Singapore-listed developer Yuexiu Property said on Tuesday that one of its units has acquired a plot of land in China for 544 million yuan or about S$112 million. 

It said its 95 per cent-owned subsidiary acquired the land in Guangdong's Zhongshan City last week through a public land auction. 

The plot of land has a permissible gross floor area of about 418,000 square metres and a site area of some 167,000 square metres. 

Yuexiu said the land has been approved for residential and commercial use. The area for residential use accounts for 84 per cent and the space for commercial use accounts for 16 per cent of the permissible gross floor area. 

The firm said the acquisition of the Zhongshan site represents an important step towards its strategy of enhancing its real estate business. 

Team Marshe
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CNA: Lum Chang wins Changi Business Park contract

Lum Chang wins Changi Business Park contract
By Yasmine Yahya, Channel NewsAsia 29 December 2009 

SINGAPORE : Construction firm Lum Chang has won the contract to build the third phase of the Changi Business Park. 

The contract worth S$27.5 million was awarded by HSBC Institutional Trust Services, a trustee of Ascendas Reit. 

This is the third Changi Business Park contract that Lum Chang has won. 

For this latest contract, the firm will be constructing an eight-storey office building. 

The work is expected to be completed in 14 months' time. 

This contract brings the total value of Lum Chang's works in progress to over S$800 million.

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CNA: Mandarin Gardens' enbloc sales committee disbands

Mandarin Gardens' enbloc sales committee disbands
By Ryan Huang/Cheow Xinyi, Channel NewsAsia 29 December 2009 

SINGAPORE: One condominium in the east has officially thrown in the towel for an enbloc sale - at least for now. 

The 1080-unit Mandarin Gardens saw the disbanding of its two-year-old collective sales committee last week. 

In a letter to residents, the main reasons cited were unfavourable market conditions and the moving in of new residents, whose views the committee felt should be heard. 

The sales committee had been largely inactive since the beginning of the global financial crisis last year. Some members had also quit due to personal reasons or after selling off their unit. 

Back at the height of the 2007 property boom, Mandarin Gardens was one of the many enbloc hopefuls. 

This follows the similar fate of another sales committee at nearby seafront condominium Bayshore Park. The committee ceased to exist earlier this year after its formation was challenged by some residents. 

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CNA: Housing prices set to rise, but govt committed to affordable homes

Housing prices set to rise, but govt committed to affordable homes
By Joanne Chan, Channel NewsAsia 29 December 2009 

SINGAPORE : It has been a roller coaster ride for the Singapore property market this year, dipping in the first quarter before registering a sharp rebound. 

Market watchers have said housing prices will continue to rise next year, spurred by a recovering economy and the opening of the integrated resorts (IRs). 

The robust turnaround in the property sector was something no one would have predicted. 

Singapore entered the year in the midst of a recession, and the outlook was bleak. 

But as the stock market rallied in March, sentiments improved. 

Market watchers said pent-up demand over the last year and a "herd instinct" led to a buying frenzy. 

Speaking to MediaCorp, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan acknowledged it has been an exceptional period. 

He said: "Nobody, no matter how prescient, no matter how clever, would have been able to predict that this is what is going to happen this year. All of us were caught off-guard... I did not expect the prices to go up. But the point is, are we able to respond to this change. And the answer is yes." 

Fears of a property bubble forming saw the government introducing measures such as removing easy financing schemes to cool the private homes sector. 

The measures included removing the interest absorption scheme and interest only loan to temper the exuberance of the market. 

Public housing supply was also ramped up, to signal that there are enough flats and there is no need to panic. 

Eugene Lim, associate director, ERA Asia Pacific, said: "The market will probably stabilise for now. But I would say that when the IR opens, and when more international investors do come into Singapore, we may expect another run. Especially now, in the recent one, two months, we have noticed a pick up in high-end properties priced above S$2,000 per square foot." 

Although housing prices are set to rise next year, Mr Mah said the government is closely monitoring the situation and will take action, if necessary. For example, Mr Mah said more land will be released to developers if needed. He also promised first-time buyers that HDB will have more Build-To-Order exercises, if there is demand." 

But Mr Mah said calls for the government to artificially dampen prices is not the solution to affordability. 

He said: "The whole question is, do we peg HDB flats to the market, or whether we follow another system. And that other system is what some countries use. 

"In other words, I sell you a flat at fixed price, when you sell the flat, you have to sell it back to me also at a fixed price. In other words, you are not allowed to profit from the flat. There you can keep flat prices fixed." 

Mr Mah said a flat is not just a roof over one's head, but also an asset that will increase with time. 

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Straits Times: Re-examine current system of property taxation

Dec 30, 2009 
Re-examine current system of property taxation 

I HAVE repeatedly urged the authorities to re-examine the current system of property taxation, but to no avail. The current system is based on an assessment of what rent a similar property would fetch to determine its annual value.

The authorities maintain a list of properties to be taxed in a valuation list, and most of the properties on the list are reviewed once a year, although the law does not prevent the chief assessor from reviewing them more than once a year. 

A situation can arise in that the annual value of a property is increased when there is a new leasing which achieves a higher rent than the previous one, but if the new leasing is lower than the previous one, the annual value is not adjusted downwards. I urge the authorities again to consider taxing property owners at source on the actual rent received but reserve a right to review the rent later if it is low. 

The current system also suffers from a waste of paper and time. Whenever there is a change in the annual value of a property, a 'statutory notice' is generated to inform the property owner. A 'statutory notice' (together with the re-computation of taxes payable) is given individually to each unit affected in a building with multiple units. Bills for each account are also generated at the end of the year.

With the acceptance of e-mail even in courts, it would be good if the authorities can follow in SingTel's footsteps to give its customers the green option of receiving bills via e-mail. 

Patrick Sio

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Straits Times Forum: Why singles need more help with housing

Dec 30, 2009 
Why singles need more help with housing 

I REFER to last Wednesday's letter, 'HDB clears the air: Singles do get benefits'. How will current HDB 'benefits' help singles get their first affordable flat, when even married couples who benefit from pro-family policies have problems buying an affordable flat due to rising costs?

Prices of resale flats have increased by at least 30 to 100 per cent (depending on flat location and flat size) since 2004, but the grant to singles remains $11,000. Is this stationary amount enough to offset ever-increasing prices? 

Forming a family with parents to get a subsidised new flat is often not an option as many factors restrict this. For example, ageing parents may not be willing to move to a new environment, or a smaller flat. Also, the chance of getting a flat this way is only 5 per cent since 95 per cent of chances go to married couples.

If the subsidy on a new two-room flat included in the selling price is for a family of two, I am sure all singles would be willing to pay $11,000 (the grant they get on a resale flat) on top of the selling price.

Have HDB's pro-family policies really worked in encouraging marriage and having children? Is it not time to re-examine these policies and make changes to ensure that all citizens share the fruits of growth?

Lua Eng Chuan

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Straits Times: Picks of the decade

Dec 30, 2009 
Picks of the decade 

* Speedy surfing 

Internet usage has exploded, with more than 1.7 billion people using the Internet. An estimated 350 million are broadband or high-speed Internet users, allowing for seamless surfing, voice calls over the Internet and fast downloading of music and videos. 

* Google it 

The search engine began in 1996 as a research project, became a household name in the 2000s, and is now the most used of its kind on the Web. Google also offers services such as free-to-user e-mail, online mapping, social networking and video-sharing services. It runs thousands of servers across the world, processing millions of search requests each day.

* Wikipedia 

The free, open-source encyclopaedia has 14 million articles in various languages, written by volunteers all over the world. Launched in 2001, it is the largest and most widely used body of general reference online.

* iPod 

Unveiled in 2001, Apple's portable music player pioneered downloadable music, as well as Web services to supply music and multimedia, paving the way for the touchscreen iPhone and e-books such as the Kindle.

* Digital images 

With digital cameras getting smaller and cheaper while producing ever more detailed images, they have far overtaken film cameras in popularity. Photos and videos can be seen and uploaded immediately, all the better to post them online to share with the world.

* Computers on the run 

Smartphones, basically mobile phones with the brains and brawn of computers, are prized by users on the move. There were more than 450 million mobile Internet users this year, according to global marketing intelligence firm IDC.

* Shopping was never better 

Online shopping and auction sites such as eBay allow people to buy and sell virtually anything worldwide. More than 624 million Internet users will have bought something online this year, spending nearly US$8 trillion (S$11 trillion).

* You're a star 

YouTube, founded in 2005 by friends who wanted to share videos with pals, has transformed into a viral video website with 58 million people posting amateur movie clips. Popular videos receive millions of hits and thousands of comments.

* Going social 

Blogs took the Net by storm, with people from all walks of life contributing news, comments and diaries via their own Web logs. Networking site Facebook, formed five years ago, now has 350 million users worldwide who add friends, send messages and update their profiles on the site. Twitter, a micro-blogging site which restricts messages to 140 characters or fewer, has garnered 40 million followers since it was launched.

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Straits Times: Age of the internet

Dec 30, 2009 
Age of the internet 
The first decade of the new millennium has been one of profound change. In Part Four of our series looking back at the highlights of the past 10 years, The Straits Times looks at how the Web has changed the way we work, play and live
By Chang Ai-Lien, Senior Correspondent 

MOVIE star Will Smith, asked for the best pick-up line he ever had from his legion of female fans, described how a woman once sidled up to him and whispered: 'Any time. Anywhere. Anything.'

The Internet now oozes the same appeal today.

Its viral spread into everyday life has been the biggest technology change of the decade.

And as online content wormed its way into mainstream communication through mediums such as Google and Twitter, instant gratification became the catchphrase of the day.

The Internet has shaped everything from education and entertainment to media, shopping and politics, but also created a new underbelly of addictions and vices.

* How it happened 

THE century's prospects did not start off looking bright, with companies labouring under the shadow of the Y2K bug which threatened to wreak havoc on technological devices. An estimated US$300 billion was spent to make sure that computers would continue to work. But as midnight chimed on Dec 31, 1999, the millennium bug fizzled out with barely a whimper.

When the bubble burst around that time, it wiped out in one fell swoop an estimated US$5 trillion in the market value of technology companies.

But technology was relentless. Brushing off its shaky start to the millennium, it rode escalating surfing speeds and widespread connectivity, creating new computing devices small enough to fit into your back pocket, and heralding the new age of the Internet.

With Moore's Law still the rule of the day, computing power has continued to double every two years, allowing computers to be smaller, nimbler and cheaper, while having more brain power than ever before.

Compared with its ancestors of 2000, the average computer today is six times faster; even handheld devices have more space than the Y2K desktop did, to store music, movies and photographs.

The crawl of 56kbps (kilobits per second) for dial-up connections has been replaced by dazzling speeds almost 2,000 times faster

(100Mbps), which means that surfing is almost instantaneous, rather than a laborious process where pages take minutes to load against the distinctive tones produced by the dial-up modem (this musical relic can be downloaded online by those who are nostalgic).

Smartphones, the geek's plaything in early 2000, have now gone mainstream with the launch of the iPhone two years ago. Apple's touchscreen product, with its tens of thousands of downloadable applications, has turned the phone into a handheld computer, and made the device popular with the regular Joe.

In Singapore, one of the most wired nations in the world, more than 1.4 million households had broadband Internet access this year. Mobile phone take-up rates stand at 130 per cent here, and more than one-third of the population already own Web- and media-enabled mobile phones.

The number of high-speed surfers continues to balloon with the growing reach of free network Wireless@SG, which delivers free wireless broadband in public spaces such as shopping malls and restaurants.

The nation's multibillion- dollar ultra-fast broadband network is also expected to reach about 60 per cent of households next year. Then, surfers can soon expect speeds of at least 100Mbps and as much as 1Gbps and beyond, allowing movies and 3-D animation videos, for example, to be downloaded in minutes.

What Microsoft chairman Bill Gates predicted in 2001 has proven prescient.

'In the Digital Decade, you'll no longer think of the PC as a tool you use only to carry out specific tasks - it will become something you come to rely on all the time,' he wrote. 

'The power of the PC will be as ubiquitous and reliable as electricity, and vastly more useful than any single device we use today.'

* Applications we cannot live without 

MADAM Rosie Chan, 68, has dozens of photos and videos of her three grandchildren, aged eight, 10 and 14, stored on her mobile phone.

She finds out what they are doing via the social networking site Facebook, and has even started her own blog, mainly as an online diary.

'Once I got used to it, I realised these methods were a great way of keeping in touch with my family and friends, especially in connecting with the younger ones,' said the retired teacher.

The 'Noughties', as the last decade has been called, have allowed people to squeeze thousands of songs, movies, photographs and books into their back pockets. Videos ranging from four-year-old Daisy at her first singing competition to popular movie clips can be broadcast and seen around the world via YouTube, at numbers that make television companies salivate. 

'Battle at Kruger', riveting amateur footage of buffalos fighting to reclaim a young herd member from lions, has been watched by about 50 million people, for example.

Web search and advertising giant Google has become a must-have, with its host of applications ranging from search engine to mail, telephone and satellite imaging applications. It has become so mainstream that 'google' is now considered a legitimate verb.

Real-world activities have also become virtual, allowing you to inspect and buy that coveted Italian car accessory at the click of a button or to vote, from overseas, in an upcoming election.

Of all the goodies that have surfaced over the decade, social networking is considered by many to have had the greatest impact.

With Web tools becoming easier to use over the last few years, blogs have exploded, as have sites such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing millions of people to share hobbies, opinions, personal experiences or random thoughts.

Ten years ago, all this was restricted mainly to e-mail messages, instant messaging and forum chats. Snail mail, telephones, CDs and television sets, for example, were relatively cumbersome and independent entities.

The Internet created a platform to merge and customise such applications, in a fast, cheap and easy manner, and also seemed to fulfil a human desire to reach out and grab the limelight.

Facebook, for example, founded in 2004 by Harvard University undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg as a limited social site for students at his university, now has 350 million users (including one in three people in Singapore) who sign on regularly to give status updates, play games or even 'poke' friends online.

Freelance writer Thomas Yeo, 42, joined Facebook in 2007 as a means of keeping in touch with friends.

What he did not expect, two years later, was to have 1,000 friends on the site, including some childhood buddies he had lost touch with, and strangers whom he randomly agreed to accept as friends.

'It's a great communication tool, though it's rather indulgent to think that everyone is interested in reading about your current status, such as whether you had a big meal or are working over the weekend,' he said.

'But I'm as guilty as anyone of making inane comments.'

Meanwhile, new kid on the block Twitter has been making inroads.

Mashable, one of the world's largest blogs focusing on social media, said Twitter and its emergence as a mainstream platform for communication made it the technology of 2009.

There are now about 40 million people using the microblogging service, where users can post updates of up to 140 characters.

Mr Tan Tarn How, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), who researches cultural and media policy, said that while the Internet had yet to fulfil its potential in areas such as politics - in bringing democracy to authoritarian societies - its contribution had been immense.

'The Internet has transformed how we live, work and play. Imagine what life would be like if tomorrow we were deprived of e-mail, sites like YouTube or tools like Google Search.'

* The dark side 

AVAILABLE, accessible information ripe for the picking is not always a good thing.

Just as companies, organisations and charities use social networking to advertise and promote causes, hackers and con men have been quick on the uptake - using spam and worms or launching phishing attacks on millions of users to trick them into revealing their user names and passwords.

A common ploy by hackers, for example, is to send Facebook messages to a victim's list of friends, claiming the person is stranded overseas and asking for money to bail him out.

The porn industry, frequently a far-sighted and early adopter of new technologies, has also pushed adult entertainment increasingly into the mainstream via the Internet.

In the workplace, employees have been caught red-handed when their Facebook accounts showed photos of them out having fun when they were supposed to be at home on sick leave.

Even when staff are at work, Internet surfing is costing companies money.

A survey of 1,460 office workers in Britain earlier this year found that half of them visited social networking sites during office hours, spending an average of 40 minutes a week, posting sensitive information, and costing £1.38 billion (S$3.1 billion) in lost work hours.

Then there are the many humiliated people who have had compromising photos or information of themselves posted online, or others who were victims of online sexual harassment or cyber-bullying.

In one of the most notorious of such cases in 2006, 13-year-old American Megan Meier killed herself after being taunted online. Her friend's mother had created a fake persona of a male teenager online to torment her, because she thought Megan was gossiping about her daughter.

Spending too much time on such sites can also be damaging, leading to addiction problems and anti-social behaviour, said psychologists, who are already seeing such numbers picking up.

Undergraduate Chris Wong, 20, who admits to spending more than four hours a day surfing and playing computer games, admits how the Internet can be isolating.

'We have countless online friends but fewer real ones. We have so many activities in cyberspace but spend even more time alone. The Internet has brought people closer, and pulled them further apart, than ever before.'

It will be difficult to predict what will happen over the next 10 years, say the experts, although the IPS' Mr Tan says that, barring another unpredictable revolution like the Internet, computing speeds will be even faster.

'Imagine downloading a whole movie in a minute or so. Access will also become even more mobile, so that even more of what you get on your PC will be available on handheld gadgets like phones.'

Companies are also looking at areas such as how best to track eye movements so as to assess search efficiency, online advertisements and navigation, or how to search images based on visual characteristics instead of text tags.

But, added Mr Tan, not everything should go virtual.

'There will still be wet markets, New Year countdowns in Orchard Road, beer with our best buddies at a kopitiam.

'Some things are just not right when done the new way.'

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Straits Times: IT-savvy Yew Tee stays in the loop

Dec 30, 2009 
IT-savvy Yew Tee stays in the loop 
Facebook, Twitter, blogs are ways in which residents can be updated on ministerial visit
By Ang Yiying 

RESIDENTS of Yew Tee who cannot be present when a minister visits their community next month will be able to follow the proceedings through live feeds on Facebook and Twitter. 

A team of about 10 roving 'reporters' comprising grassroots volunteers and Republic Polytechnic students will be on the ground when Minister for Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam drops in on this corner of Hong Kah GRC on Jan 17. 

Madam Priscilla Chew, 49, will be among those who will take photos and videos and post short comments about the visit in real time; others will make blog posts during an hour-long dialogue with the minister.

Hong Kah GRC Member of Parliament Yeo Cheow Tong told reporters yesterday about the use of new media: 'While we've done a pretty good job of reaching out, it adds an additional dimension to our outreach.'

He noted that this channel of communication was appropriate, given that residents in this neighbourhood around Choa Chu Kang North 5, 6 and 7 are mostly young and Internet-savvy.

Early this year, grassroots groups set up the Facebook group Friends of Yew Tee, which now has about 1,600 members.

Mr Yeo said he gets three to four messages daily from residents asking for help through the Facebook group or e-mail.

Mr Johnny Lim, among the grassroots volunteers who set up the Facebook group, said: 'Facebook is one of the most 'in' things at the moment and it's more effective than blogging.'

The owner of an IT training company added that it is a good way of informing residents about neighbourhood events and collecting feedback.

Residents will also use the Facebook group to post questions to the minister, he added.

During the meeting with reporters, Mr Yeo and grassroots volunteers also gave an update on efforts to integrate immigrants settled in Yew Tee.

The Zone 9 Residents' Committee, for example, holds free conversational English classes weekly in a void deck; new citizens and permanent residents from China teach the Chinese classics to Singaporeans through a reading club.

The minister's visit will give new immigrants from Cambodia, Vietnam and China an opening to showcase their traditional hometown cuisines.

Mr Yeo said such new residents make up about 5 per cent of participants at grassroots events.

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Straits Times: Mortgage giants' shares rise on govt aid moves

Dec 30, 2009 
Mortgage giants' shares rise on govt aid moves 

LOS ANGELES: Money from speculators poured into shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Monday, the first day of trading after the Obama administration in effect gave the mortgage giants blank cheques of federal support. 

But exactly how the United States government's move will pay off for their shareholders ought to puzzle most investors. 

The stock market's reaction mystified banking analyst Bert Ely. 'They're not going to get anything back,' he said of investors who have long-term faith in the two companies' shares. 

Of course, 'long term' for most people trading these two stocks probably means an hour or so. 

Freddie's shares jumped 34 US cents, or 27 per cent, to US$1.60; Fannie's stock gained 22 US cents, or 21 per cent, to US$1.27. Trading volumes for both were the highest since late October. 

The day's action was reminiscent of the speculative frenzy that erupted last summer, when the two companies' shares nearly quadrupled from the end of July to Aug 28. 

Then, Freddie's stock rocketed from 62 US cents to US$2.40; Fannie's shares soared from 58 US cents to US$2.04. 

On Christmas Eve, the Treasury announced that it was removing previously set limits on federal financial aid for the companies, which were seized by the US government in September last year amid mounting mortgage losses. 

The restrictions had capped aid at US$200 billion (S$280 billion) for each company. Freddie has so far tapped US$51 billion, and Fannie has used US$60 billion. 

The administration said it was removing the caps to 'leave no uncertainty about the Treasury's commitment to supporting these firms as they continue to play a vital role in the housing market during this current crisis'. 

But whatever additional federal money flows into Fannie and Freddie would almost certainly come at the expense of shareholders' remaining stake. 

The government now owns 80 per cent of both companies. The administration will announce its long-term strategy for Fannie and Freddie in February. 

The companies' losses could continue to balloon if, as some analysts suspect, the White House were to seek to use the companies to support new mortgage-forgivenes s programmes that would help struggling homeowners. 

Mr Ely noted another reason to doubt the stocks have any real value: The pay packages the Treasury announced last Thursday for the companies' CEOs consisted exclusively of cash compensation, with no shares offered. 

In contrast, the Treasury has required top executives of other large-scale recipients of federal aid to accept pay packages made up largely of stock and relatively little cash. 

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Straits Times: From 'deep winter' to a 'hot summer'

Dec 30, 2009 
From 'deep winter' to a 'hot summer' 
The fast and furious pick-up in the Singapore private homes market around the middle of the year caught everyone by surprise. Wasn't there supposed to be a recession? Joyce Teo looks at what happened during the year.

IT WAS the rally that should never have happened. The world was in recession, credit was being crunched, investors across the board were in a state of near panic, yet no one seemed to have told real estate buyers.

After a tentative few months early in the year, property found its feet and staged the sort of upswing normally associated with economic booms, not near-busts. 

Indeed, this year saw a recovery of Singapore's residential market, said Frasers Centrepoint chief executive Lim Ee Seng.

'We expected 2009 to be a very bad year for us but it turned out to be a good year,' said EL Development managing director Lim Yew Soon.

Jones Lang LaSalle's head of research for South-east Asia, Dr Chua Yang Liang, agreed: 'It's been a remarkable year - with transaction and pricing outperforming expectations, driven by latent demand, low interest rates and primed by lower pricing.' 

Sales and prices of new private homes picked up significantly from April, a turnaround from the first quarter when sellers were cutting prices just to offload their homes.

As the private homes market swung quickly from despondency at the start of the year to 'unwarranted enthusiasm' in the middle, this year turned out to be a 'record-breaking' one, said DTZ head of South-east Asia research Chua Chor Hoon.

Record quarterly and monthly highs were achieved for launches and sales of new private homes while some new launches outside the city area sold at record prices, said Ms Chua. 

Centro Residences in Ang Mo Kio, for instance, sold for more than $1,100 per sq ft (psf) - a suburban record.

Resale landed homes in prime districts also hit record prices while resale mass market home prices rebounded within two quarters to reach 2007 peak levels, Ms Chua added.

* The four seasons

'ONE of the hot topics this year was climate change, and if you apply that to the property market, it went through the four seasons for the first time ever,' said Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng.

The market is now in a 'mild winter' state, after a hectic year with an unusually hot summer, he said. 

It started the year in deep winter - with only 108 new homes sold in January - the worst monthly sale figure on record. The mood was clearly grim.

Then came spring and sales quickly started to rise in February, easily pushing past the 1,000-unit mark to reach 1,332 units. March was similarly positive at 1,220 units.

By the time summer rolled around, market sentiment had improved tremendously. 

Despite the heat, buyers were queueing outside showflats, eagerly awaiting their turn to pick a mass market unit. 

Showflats of newly released projects aimed at HDB upgraders were packed to the brim on preview days with investors, singles, couples and families - often with grandparents in tow. 

With affordability a key issue, developers turned to producing smaller and smaller units to satisfy those looking for an 'affordable' total outlay; never mind that the psf price may be high.

EL Development' s Mr Lim said: 'Developers had to react to the market very fast. We were lucky to switch to small units for Illuminaire fast. Otherwise, we won't be able to sell it out and at the price we achieved.'

Sales of new homes kept rising each month, culminating in a monthly record of 2,772 units in July. 

'We were supposed to be in a recession. The Government was talking about job losses which hit the lower-income group,' said Knight Frank managing director, residential services Peter Ow.

'Given the bleak outlook at that point, the momentum was surprising. It shows that you can never underestimate the purchasing power of the upgraders.'

Considering that the 2006-07 boom was led by the high-end segment with foreigners buying up a storm, many doubted the 'bottom-up' recovery was for real.

But it kept going strong amid concerns that a property bubble might be developing. 

* Government made its move

THAT prompted the Government to step in with anti-speculative measures in September. 

It took away the interest absorption scheme, which allows buyers to defer payment until the project is completed, and said it will push out more supply. 

An Urban Redevelopment Authority sample survey of recently launched projects showed that the average take-up rate of the interest absorption scheme was about 20 per cent to 25 per cent. 

Property experts said at the time that the measures were minor and meant to get buyers to think twice about committing. 

The Government continued to warn of the possibility of the market overheating. What followed seemed to suggest the measures had worked to some degree.

Signs of speculation disappeared, launches slowed and buyers were no longer rushing into new showflats to check out the latest launch and commit their cash. 

Sales of new private homes slipped to 600 units last month, the second-lowest monthly sales this year.

But Jones Lang LaSalle's Dr Chua feels the market will not see the full effect of the measures until early next year as activity traditionally winds down towards Christmas. 

Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Nicholas Mak believes there is a slowdown because developers have more or less run out of mass market projects while the high-end segment has yet to take off.

* Looking ahead 

EXPERTS say the slowdown - what DTZ's Ms Chua describes as a 'quieter and more rational mode' - is a good thing.

It is a precursor to next year's trend when the market is generally expected to revert to normal in terms of sales and upward price movements.

The bet is on a pick-up in the high-end segment as it has yet to push near previous peaks, experts say. With the opening of the two integrated resorts, more foreigners are expected to enter the Singapore market. 

Dr Chua believes the high-end segment is likely to outperform the mass market on two levels.

Firstly, buyers of high-end homes are not so dependent on interest rates, which have been one of the key drivers in the mass market. 

'I reckon there is an upside to the currently low interest rates as we go into the second half of 2010 and that is likely to keep mass market activity in check,' he said.

'Secondly, regional economies have been performing better than expected and we can expect some of the higher-income foreigners to return to the Singapore market by the second to third quarter of 2010.'

Dr Chua does not expect a buying surge but more moderate growth. 

'I would describe the period since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the later half of 2008 as that of a landscape of rolling hills. And now as we ascend, no one can really see what lies behind the knoll,' he said.

Team Marshe
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Straits Times: 103-year lease on freehold land

Dec 30, 2009 
103-year lease on freehold land 
Units will fetch lower prices but developer will retain interest in the site
By Joyce Teo 

FLATS at Far East Organization' s new project are being sold with a 103-year lease even though the project in Katong sits on freehold land.

The rare step means Far East will have to settle for lower prices for the units, but it will retain an interest in the site and reap further benefits when the neighbourhood is further transformed.

Sales at the 408-unit The Shore Residences, which is opposite Katong Shopping Centre, start on Friday, New Year's Day, but previews in recent weeks have already reaped contracts.

Far East's executive director and chief operating officer of property sales, Mr Chia Boon Kuah, pointed out that the project sits on land with huge redevelopment potential. 

'The area has transformed and the pace of transformation is speeding up.'

An MRT station has been earmarked for nearby Marine Parade. There is also the Parkway Parade shopping centre, plenty of eating places in the area and the yet-to-be revamped Katong Mall.

Mr Chia also referred to the 'bigger picture' - Marina Bay, which will be only a 10-minute drive away. 

While Far East cannot realise the full potential of the site now, by retaining the freehold title it will have the chance to participate eventually, he said. 

Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng told The Straits Times: 'Far East is a privately owned firm, so this move does allow the family to hold on to the site for the benefit of their future generations. ' 

Selling a lease term instead of the entire freehold tenure is relatively rare, although Far East has done it before. 

It launched two cluster housing projects - Cabana and The Greenwood - on freehold land with 103-year leases.

The 119-unit Cabana is in Sunrise Terrace, near Yio Chu Kang MRT station, while the 54-unit The Greenwood is in Greenwood Avenue.

The 99-year leasehold Spring Grove condo, which sits on the former Grange Road residence of the American ambassador, is a similar case.

The United States government bought the land in 1950 on a freehold lease but sold it on a 99-year lease to City Developments in 1991. The plot reverts to the US government at the end of this century. 

Not many developers are keen on the strategy for the simple reason that 99 years is a long wait and they would not be around to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, say property experts. 

Far East could charge more for The Shore if it were sold as a freehold project but it is giving that premium up in exchange for the reversionary interest in the land, experts say.

Another expert said: 'There'll be en-bloc sale potential if the market is good but the trump card is held by Far East, instead of the Government.'

Far East can either grant a lease top-up, buy back the land, sell the freehold tenure or not act.

'When the owners want to do a collective sale in two or three decades' time, they will have to refer to the holder of the freehold title, which is Far East,' said Ngee Ann Polytechnic real estate lecturer Nicholas Mak. 

'A lot will then depend on the top-up premium that Far East will ask for.'

The project's en-bloc potential is not an issue at the moment. Far East said it has sold 'more than 70 units' since it started previews about two weeks ago. 

Most sales have been one-bedders from 592 to 732 sq ft and priced from $658,000 or $1,100 per sq ft (psf).

Prices for two-bedders, which are on higher floors, start from $1.1 million or $1,180 psf. The project also has three- and four-bedroom units. Prices will rise about 2 per cent at Friday's launch.

Mr Chia said the demand for the one- and two-bedders may be due to a lack of smaller flats in the area, as well as the rejuvenation of the Katong neighbourhood.

Far East bought the former Rose Garden site, which is where The Shore is, in 2006 for $169.8 million, or $423 psf of potential gross floor area.

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400

CNA: 9,865 applications received for 1,718 BTO flats in Dawson

9,865 applications received for 1,718 BTO flats in Dawson
By Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid, Channel NewsAsia 28 December 2009 

SINGAPORE: Home-buyers, who have applied for the Build-to-Order (BTO) flats at the popular Dawson estate in Queenstown, are seeing stiff competition. 

Applications ended on Monday and the 1718 premium flats are six-times oversubscribed. 

SkyVille@Dawson and Skyterrace@Dawson are public flats with premium finishes and designs. The projects comprise studio apartments as well as three-, four- and five-room flats. 

9,865 people have applied for 1718 units. 

Five-room flats, which cost over half a million Singapore dollars, have proved the most popular. Some 200 units are on offer, but over 2000 applicants are vying for them. 

Four-room flats are also in high demand. Some 1,100 flats are on offer, but over 6,000 applications have been received. 

One analyst said demand could be fuelled by the "sandwich class" who don't mind paying a bit more for public housing. 

Nicholas Mak, real estate lecturer, Ngee Ann Polytechnic said: "They may wish to buy private properties but because of the escalating prices of entry-level private properties, these people may be looking to buy more premium type of HDB flats." 

Paired units which are being put on offer for the first time, are also proving to be a draw. More than 300 applicants are going head-to-head for some 70 units on offer. 

Applicants will know the outcome and their queue number in February 2010. 

All is not lost for unsuccessful applicants. HDB said flat buyers can look forward to more BTO projects next year. In fact, it said it is prepared to launch at least one BTO project every month, if there is sustained demand for new flats. 

Two other BTO projects were launched along with the Dawson projects in Bukit Panjang and Sembawang. Applications for these two projects also ended on Monday. 

As of 2pm on Monday, Montreal Dale in Sembawang had received 1,377 applications for 424 flats, while Segar Grover at Bukit Panjang received 1,341 applications for 528 flats. 

About 70 per cent of applicants are first time flat-buyers. The rest have bought subsidised flats in the past. 

In total, HDB received close to 13,000 applications for the four BTO projects. 

1,300 BTO flats will be put on offer in Choa Chu Kang and Hougang in January 2010. 

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400

Straits Times: Property deals pick up

Dec 29, 2009 
Property deals pick up 
By Dickson Li 

THINGS are looking up in the property investment sector, according to DTZ Research.

It reports a hike in both the number and size of property investment deals with a value of at least $5 million over the past year. DTZ noted that in the fourth quarter alone, the number of transactions across residential, government and private sales jumped to 38 from 14 for the same period last year.

Its data excludes transactions involving residential property which cannot be redeveloped into more than one unit.

Larger deals dominated investments in the last quarter.

Transactions valued above $100 million - of which there were eight in the fourth quarter - accounted for 77 per cent of total transaction value. This marked a 48 per cent improvement on the third quarter, and a sharp turnaround from the first half of the year when no such deals were registered.

DTZ's Head of South-east Asia Research Chua Chor Hoon puts the rally down to a return of developers to the property market.

'We now see a change in the profile of buyers - from smaller to bigger... Developers have been actively bidding in the Government's land sales programme,' she said.

The residential sector took 56 per cent of investment sales in the October to December period. This accounted for $14.6 billion worth of deals, representing half of the year's total transaction value.

The retail sector followed closely behind, taking 16 per cent of the year's transaction value.

DTZ said that activity in the office market remained muted.

'Sellers don't want to sell low, and buyers don't want to buy high... Also, many foreigners still are not looking at our market,' Ms Chua said. She expects the residential sector to continue to dominate the investment scene.

'Much activity will come from the government land sales programme, which has eight sites on the confirmed list to be released for tender,' she added.

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400

Straits Times: New BTO flats to come after Dawson rush

Dec 29, 2009 
New BTO flats to come after Dawson rush 
More flats in Choa Chu Kang, Hougang will be launched in a week's time
By Esther Teo 

THE scramble for the Dawson HDB build-to-order (BTO) flats came to an end yesterday with some flats more than 11 times subscribed.

The two-week application window resulted in a flood of applications for five-room flats, which attracted 2,090 applications for the 176 available. There were 11.9 applications for each available unit.

But home seekers need not be discouraged by the daunting odds as the Housing Board yesterday announced that it will offer a fresh batch of BTO flats for sale next Tuesday.

Buyers can look forward to another 1,300 BTO flats in Choa Chu Kang and Hougang, the board said in a statement yesterday. 'HDB will continue to launch more BTO projects in 2010 if there is sustained demand for new flats.' 

At Dawson, 6,015 applications were received for the 1,102 available four-room flats and 806 applications for the 270 three-room flats. 

Demand for studio apartments outstripped supply by a factor of 10.7, with 429 applications for just 40 units.

Buyer interest was slightly less intense for paired units under the multi-generational scheme, with 379 applications for the 65 such flats available.

First-time buyers, who formed 70 per cent of all applicants, will be given priority. Ninety-five per cent of the flats, including those offered in Bukit Panjang and Sembawang, will be set aside for them.

Systems analyst Victoria Chew, 26, who applied for a four-room paired unit in Dawson, said she will look for a resale flat while waiting for her queue position to be announced in February. 

Ms May Lee, 23, who also applied for a paired flat, was similarly unfazed by the high number of applications.

'There's no point worrying. When another good BTO project comes along, we can always apply again,' she said.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic real estate lecturer Nicholas Mak said that the centrally located Dawson flats are likely to make good long-term investments as they can be rented out once owners have adequately satisfied HDB's rental criteria.

Elsewhere, this month's two other BTO projects - Segar Grove in Bukit Panjang and Montreal Dale in Sembawang - attracted widespread interest as well.

There were 1,116 applications for Segar Grove's 196 four-room flats, while Montreal Dale's 152 four-room flats drew 1,085 applications. The two-room flats were, on average, 52 per cent subscribed.

The final update on number of applications received will be posted on sg at 2pm today.

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400

Business Times: Taiwan property market may improve: survey

December 29, 2009
Taiwan property market may improve: survey

(TAIPEI) Two out of five Taiwanese companies expect the island's property market to improve in the first quarter as the economy recovers, twice as many as those forecasting a decline, the government said.

Of the 141 companies surveyed between Nov 12 and Dec 7, 41 per cent said the real-estate market will improve, the interior ministry's Architecture and Building Research Institute said in a statement yesterday. Twenty per cent of companies said they expected a deterioration.

The real-estate market is bolstered by record-low interest rates and signs Taiwan's economy is emerging from a recession. Central bank governor Perng Fai-nan said last week the monetary authority will monitor property-price inflation closely. 

Home prices may be under 'huge pressure' to decline because of oversupply, the government said in yesterday's statement.

'People need to be careful while being optimistic about the property market' as about 12 per cent to 15 per cent of Taiwan's residential units are vacant, noted Chang Chin-oh, director of the Taiwan Real Estate Research Centre at the National Chengchi University, which produced the survey. He spoke at a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

The central bank has left borrowing costs unchanged at their past four quarterly meetings to help pull the economy out of recession. The island's gross domestic product (GDP) shrank the least in a year in the three months ended September, and may expand 4.39 per cent next year, according to the Cabinet's statistics bureau. 

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400