Thursday, 14 December 2006

Myth #1 - The Value of 'Human Resource'

My wife and I spent the first 25 years of our lives in Singapore. Like most middle-class citizens of this red dot, we grew up in a progressive slew of increasing house sizes, from flats to terrace to semi-d as our parents accumulated financial capital during the industrial/post-industrial era. We then moved to Europe to study and work for the next 20 years. There we were happy in flats, and we seldom moved. We liked stability, familiarity with our surroundings and community. We stayed on the outskirts of a small but sizeable town (one that's been struggling to gain city status but it never quite achieved it). We had two homes. The first was in the town itself, and was a flat in a building over 90 years old, obviously witnessing various world wars. I'm no architect nor do I know the various terms they use, but it has a gothic look I guess (red brick facade), and while it looks 'old', the interior has been refurbished repeatedly over the decades and is very well-maintained. The second was outside of the town, smaller and just over 30 years old, a baby by that country's building-lifespan standard. It too was well-maintained, with modern amenities.

We moved back to Singapore for me to take up a position in one of the universities here. We bought a flat in District 10, near Holland Village, one of our childhood haunts, and thought we could sink our roots here for the next decade or two. The condominium was built in 1989 making it about 15 years old, an ovary by European building-lifespan standards. We renovated the place which took a year (when we were still overseas).

Exactly 6 mths after we moved 'back home', we received news of the enbloc.

They were going to tear down the entire estate (if it sold), and rebuild a new one. One that can house more people, or to be more realistic, make more money for the developers.

Why do this? Developers and the government call this 'urban renewal'. But it points to the first of a number of (urban) myths about Singapore.

MYTH #1:

For years, it has been drummed into Singaporeans by the government, that we have no natural resources. Our human resources are our greatest asset, which is why the heavy expenditure on defence (to protect the citizens from attacks from unknown sources) and education (to protect the citizens from attacks from unknown sources). The people are the most valuable resource in Singapore.

Not true.

Land is the greatest resource.

People? Repopulating Singapore is a matter of either encouraging its citizenry to become baby producing families (done that), or opening the gates for (suitably qualified) foreigners to become citizens (and become baby producing families). Sure our educated classes are not producing the number of babies the government wants (note this applies only to the educated folks), but there's an ambitious drive to recruit foreigners into the country and get them to settle down here.

Land? That's tougher. We can only reclaim so much land and at specific areas of Singapore. Hell will break loose if those estate owners near the coast with their prized seaview suddenly find themselves removed further from the coastline.

And we can't jolly well invade and annex Johore.

LAND more than humans are our greatest asset. And it is this, and its subsequent 'land value', that is the driving impetus for the recent 'en-bloc fever', as developers fight over each other to snap up 'prime land'. Specifically, these are land in District 9, 10, 11 which are near the shopping belt, the consumer heart that is called Orchard Road. Everything real estate around Orchard Road have shot up in land value, and the stellar increase in land prices has trickled down to areas like ours at Holland V, about 5 minutes driving from Orchard.

Which is why people are willing to sell their grandmothers, or at least evict er I mean relocate them, so that they can buy/sell their prized real estate. Doing so can net you the prestige of being called an "overnight millionaire" from dealing with the bullish property market.

So the next time you hear the diatribe about our people being our greatest asset, think about whether selling your grannie is more profitable, or selling your home (especially collectively).

(Not so) Symbolic Violence and Anonymity

En-bloc sales are violent business.

The sale of an estate splits the owners into two camps with no gray areas. The Ayes who want to sell their units, and the Nays who do not want to sell their units. It's a difference of a signature on the dotted line that differentiates you as an Aye or a Nay - only those who wish to sell their units sign on this contract known as the "Collective Sale Agreement" or in true Singaporean acronym, the CSA.

Word very quickly gets around as to who is eager to sell, and who has yet to sign on the CSA. These Nays' lives in the estate can become quite ugly - the Ayes get frustrated as they cannot fathom why some people do not want to make lots of money. If the prerequisite number of signatures required for the sale to go through are not met, the entire sale process collapses (more on this later).

So that's why things get bloody. Nays refuse for various reasons, or they wait in the hope of better profits. Ayes get angry because they want to sell the estate fast. Tempers flare. Angry looks in lifts when Aye meets Nay. People scratching cars. Vandalising property. Neighbourly love dissolves.

That's why I would like to maintain as much anonymity as possible. This Nay has already gotten ugly looks and threats (anonymous of course). Publishing a blog is only going to make things worse, but there is a need to provide an avenue for Nays to read, and voice out, their concerns.

I have also taken to close readings of the Singapore Statutes and the heady wordy legal discourses in CSAs (reading both at the same time will do your head in unless you're a lawyer). So any interpretation of these are my own, and that of a non-legal practitioner. Please consult a professional solicitor for accurate advice, if you need clarification on some of the points I've raised in the blog. The lawyer will have the opportunity to look at the documentations for your collective sale, and can give comprehensive advice for your consideration and/or action.

So here's the disclaimer: The blog's content is SOLELY for general information and internet discussion only, and shall not constitute legal advice for which any readers shall rely on.

Therefore, while my identity remains vague, in true (paraphrased) Dan Brown fashion:-

All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this blog are accurate.

Home is where the heart - not the windfall - is.

Well, after being a blog voyeur, I've finally taken the dive and created my very first blog. Ever.

And it isn't about work, or play. It's about a phenomenon local and unique to Singapore. It's a strictly middle-class phenomenon since it applies largely to owners of private condominiums - individually owned private flats - or private landed properties (ie houses, bungalows, semi-detached, terraces, townhouses).

It's called a Collective Sale or more commonly, Enbloc (or en-bloc). I'll elaborate more on this later, but for now let me state clearly my position, to those who are reading this hoping to get tips on how to make a profit from their properties, or to learn how to mysteriously get rid of the minority owners who are forestalling your enbloc sale. Or Jedi mind control tricks to persuade everyone to sign on the dotted line to sell their homes.

This is not a blog for real estate investors.
None of that here, you hear?

I'm a minority owner, someone who is against the collective sale of the estate I live in. This blog is for those who are suffering as minority owners, who believe that the homes they live in now, the places they have grown attached to, the communities they enjoy being in, people who are now (or will in the near future) undergoing or subjected to the traumatic enbloc sale of their estate.

I hope to talk not just about my feelings and thoughts about enbloc sale (largely negative), but also provide the debates about collective sales. I'll not pretend to give a balanced view; there's plenty out there in the papers about the arguments for selling your home and making a profitable windfall. Instead, I'll try to give a rational argument against such sales. The fact that most rational reasoning goes out the window when it comes to Singaporeans making money makes it hard for me to justify my position of being against, yes, making money. Tons of money.

This is a space for those who believe in the concept of home. Home as a place that is intrinsically more than its financial investment value.

Home as a place where the heart is.