May 21, 2008

Seletar's colonial houses in demand as bulldozers roll in

Rentals have soared for the 131 units that will remain even after area's development as aerospace hub

By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent

TRANQUIL ABODE: Residents have so far been paying under $3,000 for such homes. -- ST PHOTO: FRANCIS ONG

WHEN it was a verdant oasis of calm and tranquillity, not many people wanted to live in the former Seletar airbase.

But now that the bulldozers have rolled in to turn the area into Singapore's key aerospace hub, monthly rentals for the colonial houses sitting on streets with quaintly English names have shot through the roof.

In some cases, they have just about doubled.

Never mind that the din and dust will be a fixture until 2018, when the 300ha Seletar Aerospace Park - including the existing airport and runway - is ready.

The higher rents reflect the current market conditions, said a spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), in response to queries from The Straits Times.

Of the 378 Seletar houses, 204 will be retained, and 174 demolished. Of those to be left standing, 131 will be retained as homes, and the remaining 73 redeveloped for non-residential use - for example, to house aerospace training schools and food and beverage outlets.

Two-year leases for the properties have all either expired or will expire soon.

Those living in the units to be demolished or redeveloped must move out by year-end.

If their leases expire before then, these residents have the option to extend them for these last few months - but they will have to pay between 16 and 33 per cent more in rent.

The SLA spokesman said: 'For each of such renewals, the rental rates will have to be revised to reflect market rates, as advised by professional valuers.'

Islandwide, rental rates jumped 69 per cent between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of this year, she noted.

Rental hikes for the units unaffected by the development are a lot steeper - more than 100 per cent in some cases, residents said.

The SLA did not provide data on this, but said the increases were 'still lower than the bids which we have received for the units'.

As and when leases have expired for units whose residents have opted against renewing them, the properties have been put up for public bidding.

In one such case, a two-storey terrace house recently attracted a bid of $5,000 - more than three times the recommended rent of $1,500 set by the SLA, its spokesman said.

Seletar residents, some of whom have lived there for more than 20 years, paying under $3,000 for a house with a garden, have been taking the impending changes in their stride.

But they are sorry to leave behind what they admit is a great deal.

Ms Edith Kraayeveld, 39, an airline marketing and sales manager and mother of two preschool children, pays $2,650 a month for her three-bedroom house with a garden.

She said: 'Yes, we realise we have been incredibly lucky all these years. But it is not quite our fault that nobody wanted to live here. We just managed to find the deal and saw the opportunity.'

She and her husband, the managing director of a sports company, have to move by year-end, after 14 years there.

She said: 'It is a great community of people who live here and everyone is so upset about leaving. I have two golden retrievers and two young children who have grown up amid the lush greenery and fruit trees.

'If need be, we will move across the Causeway after moving out of Seletar.'

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