Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Other Minority Voices - From the Straits Times

If readers think I'm alone in this madness, here are some Straits Times Forum postings from owners who are suffering from this en-bloc fever, and wish it was otherwise. No analysis, just letting their words speak their pain.

Straits Times Forum: 11th March 2006
Hit by en bloc
sale fever? Not this sad home owner
By Marie Tan (Mdm)

I REFER to the report, 'En bloc fever grips home owners' (ST, March 8). Sales of entire property developments or estates are indeed the rage now.

Many an owner of apartment dwellings, whether in small developments or in larger but older estates, is eager to band together with fellow owners to sell the entire property as collective sales fetch an estimated 30-50 per cent more than what individual apartments would fetch on the open market.

An entire development can be put up for collective sale when 80 per cent (90 per cent for developments less than 10 years old) of the home owners agree.

Yet not everyone within the majority may have been willing to sell, to begin with. Often, it is a few prime-movers, who have much personal interest at stake, who drive the process. They work hard at every turn, in overt or covert ways, to convince other individuals so that the mandatory figure can be reached. At times, the not-so-overt ways employed is questionable.

Collective-sale efforts generate a lot of awkwardness and tension, if not outright divisiveness and animosity among neighbours, what with the second-guessing and suspicion - which side are you on?

But should we not ask the question: are we wasting resources with all this selling and buying of large-scale properties?

Another issue to consider is the notion of 'home'. In all the excitement and rush - even panic - to launch collective-sale bids, the clear message that comes across is that the value of a 'home' is largely the monetary returns it can yield. Never mind that a home is a sanctuary for one to touch base with self and family, a retreat after a long and often hard day at work or at school.

Perhaps not every home owner attaches the same value to the property he owns. Some may own multiple properties so the secondary ones are dispensable.

But for other home owners, the property they live in is where many significant life events have taken place - marriages begun, children raised, values taught and learnt, routines established and habits formed. For this group of home owners, a collective-sale effort is both pressurising and unnerving.

There are rounds and rounds of talks, reasoning, negotiation. Sometimes there will be misunderstandings and, at times, intrigues. These all create undue pressure and an unpleasant atmosphere.

What is also unnerving is that the home that is a sanctuary can never be viewed in the same way again because a huge question mark hangs over its continued existence.

I am one such home owner, caught unwittingly in others' feverish pursuit of the en bloc sale of our property.

Perhaps I attach too much emotion to my earthly home. It is not a fancy or swanky apartment by any standard but it is a cosy nest, a nice-enough space for my family to live in and enjoy amid lots of clutter and chatter.

It is a place which I am proud to call my home, its value to me is far more than the amount that the agent keen to market my development promises me.

Unfortunately, today I find it hard to enjoy the real value of my home when others insist on putting a monetary value to it.

Perhaps it is time to have a reality check on en bloc sales.

Straits Times Forum: 3rd April 2006
En bloc sale deprives some people of the homes they love dearly
By Dr Rosemary Khoo Ghim Choo

When we buy a house, we expect to live in it for as long as we want. No one can sell our house for us without our permission.

So I thought when my husband and I bought our modest apartment 30 years ago. We could have moved out and cashed in on the property boom of the 1980s and 1990s, but we never did because we loved our apartment with its airy layout and glorious sea view.

My husband is no more but memories of happy times abound, reinforced by neighbours who knew us as a couple when he was alive, creating a wealth beyond measure.

Now my treasured space may be taken away from me, sold without my permission through an en bloc sale.

At a recent rowdy AGM, the lure of the en bloc carrot even persuaded the majority to put off repainting and urgent repairs to the flats.

Many of the original, now elderly, residents could only look on helplessly as resolutions were passed to appoint an estate agent, thus beginning the en bloc process all over again even though the motion was defeated barely weeks ago.

Never mind if the Ministry of Finance owns the land on which the apartments are built, never mind if there is no strata title.

Something is very wrong indeed when other people can sell our abode without our permission, when "serial en blocers" can buy up units and then press for an en bloc sale; when a resolution can be revived just weeks after it was defeated; and when the peace of the residents is disrupted and buildings are allowed to go into disrepair, all because of the lure of riches which may never materialise.

Meanwhile, the residents live in limbo unable to decide on renovation work in their own apartments.

I urge the relevant authorities to take a closer look at the whole en bloc sale process if we value the harmony of life in these private residential estates.

Straits Times Forum: 7th September 2006
Address concerns of the elderly in estates going for sale en bloc
By Chong Oi Peng (Miss)

WHEN apartment owners in my estate received an open invitation to volunteer as members of the pro tem sale committee for selling the estate en bloc, I took it up as I felt my interest and those of my friends should be represented.

However, I was told that unless a person is for the sale of the estate, he cannot sit on the committee. This would mean that only people who are pro-sale can dictate what can or cannot be done during the process.

The views of the rest need not be considered regardless of the fact that they are also owners of apartments in the estate and had paid the same maintenance fees for the estate's upkeep for many years.

The authorities should look into how the concerns of the elderly and retirees living in such estates can be addressed.

For the young and mobile, moving from one estate to another is no big deal, but for the old, the infirm and the retirees, just the thought of moving is traumatic.

Such exercises should be confined to estates that are really beyond repair or those which need to make way for redevelopment.

Straits Times News: 26th March 2006 [Not a Forum post, but an interesting one nevertheless]
En Block; For some residents, there is more to home than just the windfall from a collective sale, even if that means blocking their neighbours' bid to sell
By Sarah Ng, Straits Times

THESE days, 72-year-old Madam Mavis Lee postpones her morning walk until her neighbours have left for work, so that she does not have to worry whether they will interrogate her, or just ignore her completely.

She is neither a criminal nor a bad neighbour, just one of several home owners in her Adam Road estate who rejected a collective sale proposal. And many of her neighbours are upset about it.

'They used to smile and said 'hello' when we met, but now they just stare right through me. Sometimes, they would ask why I'm so stubborn and what's the point of holding on. It's very stressful,' said Madam Lee.

With the promise of windfall sales sparking a new wave of 'en bloc' fever, stories like hers are being played out across the island.

Housewife Marie Tan, for example, loved her apartment in Bukit Timah so much that she wrote to The Straits Times Forum page earlier this month, lamenting that collective sale bids often create tension in her estate between those who agree to sell and those who do not.

Like Madam Lee, 35-year-old Madam Tan does not want to sell. She has lived in her freehold three-bedroom apartment with her husband and three children for eight years.

'Those who wanted to sell have been civilised enough to not do anything negative to those who didn't, but the whole community is split and there is a certain tension in the air,' she said. 'You belong either to the yes or no group. There's a lot of second-guessing and awkwardness.'

In fact, all five home owners The Sunday Times spoke to asked for their estates not to be named to avoid bad blood with their neighbours.

For an entire development to be put up for collective sale, 80 per cent of home owners must agree. If the estate is less than 10 years old, that number is increased to 90 per cent.

It is not difficult to see why there has been a renewed surge in collective sale proposals in the past year, after a downturn in 2000.

Earlier this month, the freehold Eng Lok Mansion in Napier Road was sold en bloc and each of the 64 owners there will receive $2.16 million, about twice the market value.

Last weekend, Paterson Tower was sold for $266 million, with the owners of each apartment to receive $3.7 million.

Owners of apartments in collective sales typically pocket between 30 and 50 per cent more than what their properties are worth individually on the open market.

The buyers are usually developers, who tear down the existing properties and replace them with new estates with more units and communal facilities like swimming pools.

But to the five home owners interviewed, the notion of home is more important than the prospect of pocketing up to $900,000 for an apartment that may have cost $500,000.

Madam Tan said: 'It is our first home after marriage, a place where I became wife and then mother to my three children. Their first steps and their first words all happened in this humble but cosy nest.'

Madam Lee, a widow, is afraid of having to start afresh. 'I can't imagine moving to a new estate at my age. I'll have to find out things like where to buy groceries and what bus to take to visit my grandchildren,' she said.

Said businessman H.C. Lim, 43, who lives in East Coast with his family of five: 'My apartment is more than a home. It is from my late parents and it reminds me of their love.'

Sentimental ties play a big part in residents' decisions to reject collective sales, said Mr Jeremy Lake, executive director, investment properties, at property consultant CB Richard Ellis. The property's location and the fear of not being able to find a comparable home in the area are other important factors, he said. Of course, Mr Lim, Madam Tan and Madam Lee would have no choice but to move if 80 per cent of the owners agreed to the sale of their estates.

According to Mr Karamjit Singh, executive director of collective sale specialist Credo Real Estate, there are several grounds for objection - like if the process to sell the estate en bloc was not carried out according to guidelines or the collective sale proceeds were not enough to pay off existing housing loans - but sentimental attachment is not one of them.

For now, home owners opposing collective sales can only hope neighbours see beyond the dollars and cents of their property.

Said Madam Lee: 'Part of a person's identity is tied to the neighbourhood he lives in. How I wish the rest could see that.'

'It is our first home after marriage, a place where I became wife and then mother to my three children. Their first steps and their first words all happened in this humble but cosy nest.' -- HOUSEWIFE MARIE TAN on why her private apartment is not for sale


Anonymous said...

After combing the internet for en- bloc advice, I was happy to come across your informative and well written blog. My home in Tampines Court is nearing the 80% mark (3 signatories to go, I believe) and everything you say in your article about tactics is mirrored exactly here. The MC is 100% Sc and they swept to power at the last AGM cowboy style; guns blazing. I expect there will be an EOGM soon, at which I will rise and voice my all too lonely objections to the inevitable.
Isn't it all so unethical.

Dr Minority said...

Many thanks, anonymous, for your comment. It's for people like you that the blog was created, and unfortunately, you're almost at the tail end of the enbloc process for the advice on the blog to be most effective. Nevertheless, you have hit the ethical issue of who should constitute the sales committee. Write to your MP or even the Forum section, bring this up. After all, if the law allows for 'good faith' to be an aspect that mediates the en-bloc sale process, surely ethical issues come into play, and must be considered, in the context of 'good faith'.
May you find peace in your new home. Take photos of the old one before it gets torn down, yeah?

Anonymous said...

Well, they made the 80.2% mark and sold off Tampines Court at the reserved price. But there is a twist. I'm sure you are familiar with the jargon of en-bloc; Alpha sum etc. My SC have added a new word.. they call it the Beta sum. I call it the alpha-slush fund. They declared that the buyer (Far East Organization) had met the reserved price and had, as a matter of good will, given an extra 10 million dollars on the side to do with as the SC pleased. How generous of them! As the alpha sum is not enough to cover all the losses, I believe they hived the 10 mil off the 'unoffical' price and so circumvent the 1% legal limit that each Omega owner (another new term) contributes to the Alpha sum. Clever boys for sure but perhaps this quasi-legal move will be their undoing. I am mad as hell and will definitely be an objector at the STB hearing.

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