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Thread: The Sunday Times talks to families whose lives were changed by a collective sale

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    Default The Sunday Times talks to families whose lives were changed by a collective sale

    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631837.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    For better or for worse

    The Sunday Times talks to families whose lives were changed by a collective sale

    By Jessica Cheam, Housing Correspondent


    It is that time of the property cycle again. Mega collective sale launches worth upwards of $500 million have been making headlines.

    Private property prices have hit historic highs amid a flood of foreign capital into Singapore, healthy developers' balance sheets and low interest rates.

    There is no doubt Singapore's en bloc fever has returned.

    Tulip Garden, for example, was reported to have a reserve price of $650 million, while Pine Grove's was a staggering $1.7 billion.

    As I surveyed the property landscape this time of the year, I was overcome with a sense of deja vu. The conditions today reminded me of the property boom of 2007, in which a total of 116 collective sales generated record investment sales of $13.64 billion.

    During that period, Horizon Towers in Leonie Hill sold for a record $500 million, then other projects smashed record after record: Gillman Heights sold for $548 million, Leedon Heights for $835 million and Farrer Court for $1.34 billion.

    The arguments for collective sales are well known: some estates need urban rejuvenation, especially in land-scarce Singapore where gross plot ratios should be maximised to allow more homes to be built to house a growing population.

    But as Singapore went through its strongest wave of collective sales in its history then, an unprecedented groundswell of dissatisfaction also rose among the residents.

    There were bitter fights in court to halt the sale of Waterfront View, Gillman Heights, Horizon Towers and Tampines Court, to name just a few high-profile cases.

    Some minority owners who refused to sell their homes won their cases after protracted lawsuits and hefty costs, such as at Horizon Towers and Tampines Court.

    But most of the collective sales went ahead.

    Amid the frenzy, there were many national debates surrounding the process and its legislation.

    Many felt the law allowed for ambiguities that disadvantaged residents, especially those not willing to sell. A few MPs also voiced their concerns about whether such sales led to older properties being rejuvenated at a 'personal cost to citizens', with many residents experiencing social and spatial displacement after being forced to move.

    In May last year, the Government passed new rules in Parliament to give greater clarity to the collective sale process.

    Among other improvements, one key change was that after the first failed attempt at a collective sale, subsequent attempts will face more stringent requirements.

    During these conversations, one underlying question that never went away was: How would the en bloc phenomenon - a symbol of Singapore's quest for progress and land efficiency - change the social fabric of society?

    Will older folk be able to cope with a move to a new environment? Will it break up communities and neighbours who have built up friendships over decades? Or will it enable families to enjoy a better quality of life elsewhere?

    As I thought about these questions amid our fresh en bloc boom, I decided it was time to track down some of these families whose lives were changed forever by the upheaval.

    The Sunday Times decided to focus on one estate: Gillman Heights, whose sale was bitterly fought in court for more than two years.

    Lawyers for the minority owners argued that the collective sale law had not been intended to cover HUDC estates. Another point of contention was the calculation of the development's age, which determines if an 80 or a 90 per cent level of consent is needed.

    The Court of Appeal dismissed these points and gave the green light for the 607-unit, 99-year leasehold estate in Alexandra Road to be sold in 2009. It was a landmark case that clarified some ambiguity in the laws surrounding collective sales of former HUDC estates.

    Through the interviews, I saw how some had adapted better than others to their new environment.

    There were those for whom the sale cast a permanent shadow over their lives as they struggled to get used to living in a less-central location. Then there were those who managed to upgrade their homes and settle down with a higher or similar quality of life.

    These are the stories of how people's lives have been changed - and their experience will tell you if the en bloc move has been for better or for worse.

    [email protected]


    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631836.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    Most residents move on


    Not many residents of estates that have been through an en bloc sale go on to buy a new home at the same location.

    At Farrer Court, for example, 266 households, or 40 per cent of the 618-unit development, attended the preview of D'Leedon - the redeveloped project of Farrer Court, which offers 1,715 units.

    Former owners of Farrer Court homes bought 52 units in D'Leedon at an average price of $1,680 per square foot (psf), said a CapitaLand spokesman.

    For Gillman Heights Condominium (above left), a two-day preview for the redeveloped new project, The Interlace (above right), was held in September 2009 at a CapitaLand office in Shenton Way.

    About 100 households visited the sales office, but a shouting match that involved the police erupted at the preview when residents complained that the units offered were too expensive and the selection was poor.

    One resident also said brochures were not given, and they had to gauge the new condo from an 'amateurish miniature model which was a stark contrast to the sleek, three-dimensional and professionally crafted model displayed at the public launch'.

    CapitaLand countered that the apartments offered made up a full spectrum of unit types. Only four units of The Interlace, a 1,040-unit project, were sold to former owners of Gillman Heights. The prices for the units under this first-phase release ranged from $850 to $1,150 psf.

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631833.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    I had to downgrade to smaller flat with lower quality of life


    Mr Tan in the Housing Board executive flat in Queenstown that he and his family will be moving into next month, nearly four years after the collective sale started. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

    Mr Reginald Tan, 50
    Director, married with one son, 11

    Former home: Gillman Heights, 1,700 sq ft mid-floor unit bought for $545,000 in 1993

    En bloc sale price: $887,000

    Now living in: 1,600 sq ft Housing Board executive flat in Mei Ling Street, bought for about $755,000, including cash premium of $30,000 paid above valuation

    'I moved into Gillman in 1994 and loved the big open spaces of the estate. My son grew up there and it was the first home for my wife and me too, so we have deep sentiments attached to the place. When the collective sale started, we were hesitant. One of us signed the agreement, the other didn't. Initially we thought we could get at least $1 million from the sale, but in the end it was less.

    As the sale dragged on, property prices also increased and we could not afford to buy a similar unit in the area. We also did not want to buy in case the sale fell through.

    In the end, we had to rent an apartment at Leedon Heights when it was time for us to move out, and we have stayed there temporarily for more than a year amid unpacked boxes while looking for our home.

    Finally, we decided to downgrade to a Housing Board resale flat in the Queenstown area - it's central, but definitely does not offer the same quality of life we had at Gillman. The new condo units are also very small in comparison.

    We're finally going to move in next month - almost four years since the en bloc sale started. The past few years have been very disruptive for my family as we moved from one place to another. We have expended a lot of money and effort looking to rent or buy a replacement home, and designing our new home.

    I've had to pay almost $50,000 in rental fees, $30,000 cash over valuation for my Housing Board unit and $70,000 in renovation costs.

    I still keep in touch with some of the old neighbours, and we meet up once in a while for dinner and drinks at someone's home.

    At Leedon Heights, we seldom see any of our neighbours as many units are unoccupied. I would occasionally meet my next-door neighbour in the morning. Sometimes, I have a chat with one of the neighbours there whom I knew at Gillman Heights. The traffic along Farrer Road is also worse than in Alexandra Road (where Gillman was located).

    We weren't looking to make any money, just enough to buy a replacement unit - that was my only wish, but it did not work out that way. Property prices shot up so quickly, and Farrer Court, for example, sold a month after us and managed to get more than twice the price. You can't blame us for feeling shortchanged.

    It would have been fair if we got a one-for-one exchange for our units in the new project, The Interlace. But even at the preview, we were not given choice units to select from.

    I also feel the 80 per cent needed from owners for an en bloc sale should be raised to 90 per cent. There were a lot of people who did not want to move, and we could have upgraded our estate to make it nicer.

    Now, our new home is here. I don't foresee any difficulty integrating in our neighbourhood, just that the blocks are more cramped here and we have less space. But I guess we will get used to it.'

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631834.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    We felt like we had to give up our home against our will


    Mrs Saw Yock Kee, 57
    Insurance agency leader, married with one son, 30, and one daughter, 21

    Former home: Gillman Heights, 2,000 sq ft ground-floor unit bought for about $650,000 in 2000

    En bloc sale price: $870,000

    Now living in: 1,600 sq ft high- floor unit at Lakeholmz condo in Jurong, bought for about $900,000

    'We moved into Gillman Heights in 2000 from a smaller home and loved that it was like living in a landed property. Even though I had to spend $100,000 on renovations, I didn't mind because I had a garden, the estate was quiet, big and very near my office and my children's schools.

    I've always lived in the Telok Blangah area and our family was very comfortable in the convenient location, so when the en bloc sale started, we were aghast and did not want to sell. We loved where we were, and it didn't matter that the estate was a bit old, because it suited us perfectly.

    When the court case finally ended and the sale went through, we really felt like we had lost our home against our will.

    I was hoping that it would fall through so I didn't look for a replacement - but in that time, property prices shot up. When it was time for us to move out, we had to rent a unit in Bukit Timah while I continued the search.

    Because of my age, the banks also did not want to grant us a bank loan so our choices were limited. In the end, we had to move far away from the city centre to Jurong to be able to afford a decent-sized unit. I could have bought an HDB flat in the same area with the sale money, but I thought: Why should I downgrade?

    Our lifestyle has changed drastically since we moved to Jurong last year. I spend a lot more time commuting into town for work, there are more traffic jams, and my children complain that their taxi rides into the city are expensive.

    I have to cook more now too, because it's not as convenient as in the past where shops were around us. I also used to grow many plants in my garden, where my dog would run around. We can't enjoy that any more.

    My mother-in-law, who's in her 80s, suffered the most. She got very disorientated after having to move twice - first to the rental home, and now here - and couldn't remember simple things, like where the toilet was, for a long time.

    She also kept asking us: 'Where's my home?' repeatedly. She has lost touch with the old folk who lived in the Redhill area and used to gather to chit chat in the day. In the past she had friends visiting her, now she doesn't any more.

    I'm not against the idea of an en bloc (sale), since I understand Singapore is a small country. But I wish that more protection was given to minority owners to ensure they don't suffer a (reduced) quality of life when they are forced to move.

    I wish I had the foresight to invest in another place early. By the time we received the funds from the sale, the money was not enough for us to buy a new home in the same location.

    I still keep in touch with a few neighbours.

    Here in my new home, I say 'hi and bye' to my neighbours and that's about it. The condo sometimes organises barbecues and gatherings for National Day, for example, and we make an effort to attend. We're still trying to get used to how different our lives are now.'

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631835.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    I wanted to live there for the rest of my life


    Mr Alan Chow, 67
    Retiree, married with two children

    Former home: Gillman Heights, 1,700 sq ft unit bought for about $300,000 in 1985 when it was first launched for sale.

    En bloc sale price: $870,000

    Now living in: 1,100 sq ft five-room HDB flat in Tiong Bahru bought for more than $600,000

    'I remembered in 1985, when I made the decision to buy a unit at Gillman Heights, I intended to live there for the rest of my life.

    We forged steady friendships with neighbours over this long period of time, and have seen each other through the ups and downs of life.

    Life at Gillman was very peaceful, the grounds were big and exclusive and it was kampung-like: Everyone knew each other. Almost every day, we'd go downstairs and sit in the garden and just chat about life.

    But then we privatised the estate and then the en bloc sale happened.

    My family chose not to sell and was part of the minority group that fought the sale in the courts.

    We had to spend a lot of money and effort and in the end, we still lost our home.

    We decided to downgrade to an HDB resale flat in the same area, as our children are grown, and we wanted to live in a similar location.

    It's not been easy to rebuild our lives, as change is always difficult. Although to be fair, as Singaporeans, we are quite adaptable people. We've got used to life since moving into our HDB flat.

    But we've lost the kinship we felt at Gillman.

    Here in my new estate, there's a larger mix of PRs (permanent residents) and locals. My neighbours are friendly, but we say 'hello', that's all, and don't talk that much. We're less familiar with each other and everyone's not as close.

    We're also in a home that has less space. Location is still convenient, but there are no more condo facilities for us to enjoy, or big spacious grounds. But we'll have to make do.

    Is our life better now?

    I'd say we did not feel like we got a fair deal, as most of us have had to downgrade our homes. For those who are younger, they are better equipped to buy new homes with similar attributes. For people like us who have already retired, it's not really an option.

    There's a group of 20 to 30 of us, old neighbours, who have dispersed all over the island in our new homes.

    We do regularly meet, about once a month, for coffee. We no longer hang out at the coffee shops in the vicinity of Gillman Heights. Sometimes we meet at the McDonald's at West Coast to chat about everything, just like in the old days.'

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631831.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    Sale created economic value, but at what cost?


    Mr Pillay, who now lives at the Carabelle condo in West Coast, says his two sons miss their old Gillman Heights home. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

    Mr Harish Pillay, 51
    IT consultant, married with two sons, 11 and 13

    Former home: Gillman Heights, 1,800 sq ft mid-floor unit bought for about $430,000 in 1992

    En bloc sale price: $870,000

    Now living in: 2,200 sq ft penthouse at Carabelle condo in West Coast, bought for more than $1 million

    'I've always been a West Coast person as I grew up in this area, so when Gillman Heights was sold, I knew my next home had to be in this location. But the money from the sale was not enough for us to buy an equivalent unit in the same area so I moved further away to Carabelle.

    Gillman Heights was quiet, spacious and in a convenient location with many buses. My two sons were born when we lived there.

    We made some very good friends, who were our neighbours, and we regularly met for potluck in the estate whenever it was the festive season, such as Chinese New Year or Hari Raya.

    I was a neutral party when the en bloc sale process kicked off, and did not sign the collective sale agreement. But when my wife and I heard it was in the works, we immediately went looking and paid a deposit on a home at Varsity Park in Clementi.

    We were not very happy about the way the sale was carried out, and how a month later, Farrer Court sold for a million dollars more for each unit. But we knew the sale was going to happen, so we had to be prepared.

    We moved to Varsity Park in 2008, but realised it was too cramped and not big enough for our boys, who were growing up. So we went back to the market to hunt for another place, and finally settled on a penthouse unit at Carabelle, which we moved into last year.

    We could afford it because we had bought Varsity Park early and the gains from selling that helped us fund the next home.

    Here, there is the roar of the Ayer Rajah Expressway that we have to contend with, and fewer buses. But we still have condo facilities and a nice home that's spacious.

    As we have just moved in, we haven't made that many new friends. We don't see our neighbours as often as we did in Gillman where it was easier to meet neighbours because of its open-air carpark.

    We know a few of our neighbours in our block, but the ties are not as good as in Gillman.

    Sure, the en bloc created economic value, but at what cost? It destroyed perfectly good buildings. My family would have been happy to continue living at Gillman. Maybe we could have done some upgrading work to the estate.

    My boys were excited to move into a new place, but they often mention that they want to return to Gillman. After all, it's a place that holds fond memories for us.'

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631832.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    No regrets, despite dear memories of Gillman


    Mr Robert Wiener, who was the Gillman Heights sales committee chairman, now lives on landed property in Pasir Ris. -- ST PHOTO: SAMUEL HE

    Mr Robert Wiener, 57
    Co-owns a security business and has three children, aged 19 to 27

    Former home: Gillman Heights, 1,900 sq ft upper-floor unit bought for more than $600,000 in 1996

    En bloc sale price: $900,000

    Now living in: 3,660 sq ft landed house in Pasir Ris, bought for more than $1 million

    'Gillman Heights holds dear memories for me as I lived there for 12 years and my children spent their formative years growing up in the estate.

    When the en bloc fever started a few years ago, we decided to try selling the estate as many of us felt that it was getting run down and its lease was decreasing year by year, making it a depreciating asset.

    I was the sales committee chairman. We got the majority vote needed and sold it for $548 million to CapitaLand which, at that time, was more than what each unit could have sold for on the open market. I firmly believed we were realising the value of our assets.

    Unfortunately, the market shot up so quickly after that and many were upset that we sold at that price. I wasn't happy either. It was an emotional period for all of us.

    If the market had gone the other way - down, instead of up - we (the sales committee) would have been heroes instead.

    I totally understand why some residents were so upset as they had lived there for more than two decades and had spouses die there, or children born there, and the memories attached to the place were so strong. It's a traumatic experience.

    But we did have a majority who wanted to sell and who later became unhappy because it wasn't the price they wanted.

    It became untenable for everyone to go on living there because hostility grew and people just weren't friendly any more.

    It was sad to leave the West Coast area, where I had lived all my life. But I'm enjoying the same quality of life at Pasir Ris, though it's so much farther from the city centre.

    It's like comparing chalk and cheese. Here, the beach is nearby. I can take my dog for walks in the parks and I can invite my friends for a barbecue in my own backyard.

    Of course, there is a fundamental change in my lifestyle as I'm so much farther from everything. I now have to plan what to buy at the supermarket in advance, whereas in Gillman, we had gourmet supermarkets within walking distance. Here, I can't get the right meat or herbs and it's a long drive for me to get to my golf courses.

    The other change is that I had to go into debt to finance this home. It's also more expensive to live in a house than in a condo, where common expenses are shared. So I've had to cut back a little, but still, I have no regrets.

    I don't keep in touch with the old neighbours, but I believe if you are good friends you'll make a point to meet up anyway, whether you are neighbours or not.'

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    hey stalingrad, go and make friends with your new neighbour. you said that en-bloc is such a sad thing and these pple are unable to have close ties with neighbours where they move to. go and make this family feel at home.

    Quote Originally Posted by mr funny
    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_631831.html

    Feb 6, 2011

    Sale created economic value, but at what cost?


    Mr Pillay, who now lives at the Carabelle condo in West Coast, says his two sons miss their old Gillman Heights home. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

    Mr Harish Pillay, 51
    IT consultant, married with two sons, 11 and 13

    Former home: Gillman Heights, 1,800 sq ft mid-floor unit bought for about $430,000 in 1992

    En bloc sale price: $870,000

    Now living in: 2,200 sq ft penthouse at Carabelle condo in West Coast, bought for more than $1 million

    'I've always been a West Coast person as I grew up in this area, so when Gillman Heights was sold, I knew my next home had to be in this location. But the money from the sale was not enough for us to buy an equivalent unit in the same area so I moved further away to Carabelle.

    Gillman Heights was quiet, spacious and in a convenient location with many buses. My two sons were born when we lived there.

    We made some very good friends, who were our neighbours, and we regularly met for potluck in the estate whenever it was the festive season, such as Chinese New Year or Hari Raya.

    I was a neutral party when the en bloc sale process kicked off, and did not sign the collective sale agreement. But when my wife and I heard it was in the works, we immediately went looking and paid a deposit on a home at Varsity Park in Clementi.

    We were not very happy about the way the sale was carried out, and how a month later, Farrer Court sold for a million dollars more for each unit. But we knew the sale was going to happen, so we had to be prepared.

    We moved to Varsity Park in 2008, but realised it was too cramped and not big enough for our boys, who were growing up. So we went back to the market to hunt for another place, and finally settled on a penthouse unit at Carabelle, which we moved into last year.

    We could afford it because we had bought Varsity Park early and the gains from selling that helped us fund the next home.

    Here, there is the roar of the Ayer Rajah Expressway that we have to contend with, and fewer buses. But we still have condo facilities and a nice home that's spacious.

    As we have just moved in, we haven't made that many new friends. We don't see our neighbours as often as we did in Gillman where it was easier to meet neighbours because of its open-air carpark.

    We know a few of our neighbours in our block, but the ties are not as good as in Gillman.

    Sure, the en bloc created economic value, but at what cost? It destroyed perfectly good buildings. My family would have been happy to continue living at Gillman. Maybe we could have done some upgrading work to the estate.

    My boys were excited to move into a new place, but they often mention that they want to return to Gillman. After all, it's a place that holds fond memories for us.'

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