Sep 3, 2009 Thursday

Cluster homes aren't as large as buyers think

THE current property boom may highlight a hidden fact about cluster homes that escapes the attention of many buyers and which agents and developers do not highlight.

The area sold for cluster landed property is very different from that used in condominiums. In condominiums, if you buy 1,500 sq ft, you get 1,500 sq ft. In cluster landed property, if you buy, for example, 5,000 sq ft of built-up area, you will not get 5,000 sq ft because the 5,000 sq ft includes a lot of 'void area' or 'air space' which is unusable.

Such air space can comprise as much as 20 per cent of the total area.

Many agents are either genuinely ignorant of this or will not tell buyers unless they are asked.

The problem arises from the 'box up' method of calculating floor space. A cluster landed property is typically built upwards with four or five levels (including basement and attic). In the box up method, developers take the largest floor area and multiply it by the number of levels, including one for the roof.

However, the floor area of each level is not the same. The basement is the largest area and this includes carpark space.

As one moves higher, the floor area typically becomes smaller and smaller. The difference between the quoted floor area and the actual floor area is known as 'void area' or 'air space'.

It is not easy to tell the amount of air space from a marketing brochure, unless you actually measure the area of each floor. One quick and dirty way I learnt is to ask for the share value of the unit. For single-use residential development, the guideline is five share values for 50 sq m of gross floor area and below. Every subsequent 50 sq m is one share value.

For example, an agent may tell you a unit has 465 sq m (5,000 sq ft) of built-up area and the share value is 11. The air space will be about 115 sq m (1,238 sq ft).

Bear in mind there is no standard or official definition of built-up or build-in area, and agents and developers are very liberal with such terms. The authorities use gross floor area (which has a strict definition) only for their purposes.

Another intriguing fact is that the bigger the unit in a cluster development, the bigger the air space. If you compare the interior area of a terrace unit with that of a detached or semi-detached unit in the same development, they are actually very similar in size. The difference is mainly in the carpark space and air space.

Leonard Ng