Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Other Minority Voices - From the Today Newspaper

For a few weeks, there were heated debates in the free Today newspaper about the en-bloc sales. I'm reprinting here those written by minority owners, including one that was co-written by me.

Today Newspaper Voices: 4th August 2006
It’s old, but a perfect home with a seaview to retire in
Letter from ROSE TAN

I REFER to the ongoing debate about en­bloc sales. Last Sunday, I finally found the perfect home for my retirement. It has a su­perb seaview and was renovated for about $200,000 only two years ago. The owner has migrated and was willing to part with every­thing that came with the house, and I was very happy to be able to walk into my new home with just my luggage.

While leaving the place after signing the option, I met my new neighbour-to-be. He smiled at me, welcomed me to the estate, and said: “We are going to vote for an en­bloc. You are so lucky.”

I gently told him that I’d bought the apartment after a long search and had no intention to vote in favour of an en-bloc sale. Imagine my shock when he turned hostile and shouted: “One million dollars, you don’t want ah. You are mad or what?”

Then he slammed his door on me.

The apartment may be an old, former HUDC estate. But it has superb sea view from the living room and all three bed­rooms. Why should I give up my right to a perfect retirement home, just because my neighbour who bought his flat 30 years ago wants to cash out?

I know I, too, stand to gain some $300,000 from going en-bloc, but not every­thing can be measured in terms of money. Why must I be forced to side with them or face hostility? My friends told me that if I do not agree to the sale, I will be sub­jecting myself to a lot of pain and trauma. I told her I would not succumb, no matter what happens.

Today Newspaper Voices: 4th August 2006
Don’t let crass materialism win over sentimental value
Letter from IVY SOH

I THINK it is time for the Government to put an end to all en-bloc sales.

I am an elderly homeowner who feels traumatised by the threat of an en­bloc sale by those in my neighbourhood who can only think in terms of dollars and cents.

About a year ago, after living for 40 years in a semi-de­tached bungalow, I fi­nally found my pres­ent apartment to settle in. This had been preceded by much heart-wrench­ing to leave my old house, time and effort spent in house-hunting, the stress and labour of packing and unpacking, the diffi­culty of obtaining bank loans, and so on.

Please sympathise with the plight of the elderly with no home of family or friends to fall back on. As the years go by, there will be more of such elderly folk in Singapore. Must we lose the rights of private home­owners and be bullied into selling against our wishes?

Why should crass materialism win the fight over those who value their homes, their sentimental attachments, the com­fort and ease of familiarity of environment, the convenience of location and so on?

As the fever of en-bloc sales increases, more competition will be created for new abodes. And when a new home is finally lo­cated, what is there to prevent yet anoth­er en-bloc sale arising?

Today Newspaper iSay: 7th August 2006

MY FAMILY and I are unwittingly caught in the maelstrom of collective sale fever, which may force us to leave our home for the sake of lining the pockets of a few filibustering speculators, estate agents and developers.

For in reality, the owner-occupiers of this property will gain nothing more than a temporary financial benefit until the re­ality of relocation becomes apparent.

There is much speculation over my estate’s en-bloc valu­ation. Some have convinced themselves that this property, in its fourth decade, is worth a king’s ransom. Selling it would mean being able to pay for that dreamt-of landed property or freehold apartment, a new car, an extended overseas holiday, even financial security for life.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, after the estate agent has been paid, CPF returned to the respective accounts, money spent on lawyers’ fees, stamp duties, removal costs, rental for an interim property and the price differential on a newer property that probably still requires renovation. And the financial burden of a new mortgage, higher month­ly maintenance fees, the inconvenience of relocation, perhaps separation from family and friends, will soon take their toll. For my age group, it may mean a further mortgage possi­bly on a restricted term, age restrictions on the use of CPF, ad­ditional expense servicing the new loan — if I am lucky enough to find a suitable alternative in this area.

Since the concept of an en-bloc sale was first mooted, the residents of this estate has split into two distinct camps: Those for and those against, the former being more vo­ciferous.

I have seen colleagues and friends ar­guing over those “last few” incorrectly com­pleted voting forms, to garner a sufficient majority to proceed.

I have sat at poorly-attended annual general meetings (AGMs), enduring cat­calls and verbal abuse because I had the temerity to object. I have seen the en-bloc motion defeated at an Emergency General Meeting, only for it to be resubmitted for further consideration a few months later.

I have seen attempts to rewrite resolutions during AGMs, con­trary to the basic tenets and principles of the constitution, to gar­ner sufficient votes to proceed, and the subsequent formation of an en-bloc committee biased towards the sale. Even on the mere premise of a sale, I have seen residents rejecting management committee resolutions for essential maintenance as “unnecessary”.

Ironically, what has never been mooted is a poll of the res­idents to actually see whether most are willing to proceed. It is unfortunate that the law allows collective sales on the basis of an 80-per-cent acceptance. But I do believe that the original in­tention was to allow only true “residents” to make this decision. Unfortunately, many of the sites suitable for an en-bloc pro­posal are being hijacked by speculators, financial institutions and, in some cases, estate agencies themselves — all of which have a vested interest in making a quick profit from their investment.

We are constantly fed wrong information and rumour, namely, that our east coast location is of such value due to its proximity to the new Integrated Resort, that the revised plot ratio of double the existing one will guarantee huge returns. Or that if we do not all agree to the sale, the Government will surely gazette the land for compulsory purchase.

I was fortunate to gain a seat on the en-bloc committee, pri­marily to represent the interests of those residents who were objecting, confused or undecided. I had to endure a crude at­tempt to co-opt “advisers” comprising mainly of academics, engineers and laypersons with little experience in multimillion -dollar contractual negotiations but who are focused on finding suitable real estate agencies that might be able to speculate on the final remuneration.

I have been questioned by committee members for insist­ing that residents be given details of real estate agents who do not wish to participate on the basis of collective sale suitabili­ty, or difficulties in lease renewal.

There is a long way to go before the en-bloc sale is con­cluded, if such a sale takes place at all. Transactions of adjoin­ing apartments are brisk as prices rise on the expectation of a sale. But, significantly, prices of surrounding estates are also in­creasing. Has this anything to do with the speculation that 750 residents will soon be looking for alternatives in this locality?

We read so much about Singaporeans who emigrate, oth­ers who question the true meaning of being a Singaporean, and comments on instilling in our young a sense of rootedness.

Yet, here I am having to tell my four children who have lived here all their lives, that they will have to leave this neigh­bourhood, as well as friends and close family for the sake of a few dollars. What chance is there for their future?

The rules on en-bloc sales should be changed. Non-residents and obvious speculators should be excluded from the decision­making process. It should be the core residents who make the decision to move, not dollar-motivated speculators who care about neither our community nor the long-term consequences of their dealings.

Today Newspaper Voices: 10 August 2006
Think en-bloc upgrading, not sale
Letter from DAVID HO

I would like to question the law’s rather arbitrary definition of “old estates” being set at 10 years. This sets an estate to have an equivalent lifespan as a car (with its 10-year COE expiry).

A well-maintained estate can easily last in excess of 30 years. Yet, most estates that were sold en-bloc in the past two years averaged 15 years, which not only negates the notion of “freehold” (or even 99-year lease), but is also an environmental waste.

Because of this arbitrary limit, it is not uncommon for estate management com­mittees to wind down repairs, upgrades or maintenance in preparation for an en-bloc sale past the estate’s 10th anniversary.

Furthermore, there is a need to dis­tinguish between upgrading (which occurs mostly for public housing but rarely for pri­vate housing) and redevelopment (which is mostly for private housing) — that is, to va­cate, demolish and develop new estates. I doubt most owners who disagree with en-bloc sales would have problems if their properties were upgraded rather than re­developed. Yet this is not happening, and I must ask why this is the case.

The land-scarce argument in this situ­ation does not hold water simply because only two per cent of land is privately owned. It would make more sense to redevelop (not upgrade) public housing to increase de­velopment intensity. I would imagine such a move would be very unfavourable to HDB owners if they have to move every 10 to 15 years.

I stay in a 14-year-old estate, current­ly undergoing en-bloc along with seven other estates in the vicinity, in all of which I have not seen any major building works in the past four years.

In the en-bloc sales committee (of which many members were in the management committee), 75 per cent are investors who do not reside in the premises and have other concurrent en-bloc sales. To these investors, the notion of home is not set in the estate I stay in, and yet they are given the right to dictate to those who see the place as home.

Current en-bloc regulations do not dis­tinguish between home-owners who are res­ident and those who are not, and this is gross­ly unfair.

The analogy would be investors/non-res­idents as foreigners who are given voting rights to dictate how we as residents (citizens) choose to live in our country, our home.

Mechanisms should be in place to en­courage upgrading of private estates rather than redevelopment; to disempower in­vestors and non-residents from managing an estate — much less attempt to sell what many consider their homes; and to create disincentives for serial en-bloc-ers (such as a capital gains tax for selling a recently­purchased flat).

Today Newspaper Voices: 10th August 2006
Might as well set 30-year leases for all properties
Letter from VALERIE ONG

What is the security of buying into free­hold properties when we cannot stop our beautiful homes from being demolished in the name of en-bloc sales?

If indeed one believes that building projects should be destroyed and rebuilt every so often for the sake of nation-build­ing, then perhaps all properties sold hence­forth should bear only 30-year leases.


Anonymous said...

I would take the million matter what the view from the front, the backdoor view is that of singapore....I would move to where the front and backdoor is guarded by my neighbours and not where it is guarded by fear and apathy.

Dr Minority said...

Thanks for the comment. :)

Hmm, the 'abandon ship' mentality, perhaps? By that logic, and if funds are not sufficient for you to purchase landed property, it would mean that you'd be moving from one part to another part of Singapore every 10-13 years or so. It'd mean going through the hassle of flat-hunting, securing loans, establishing new relations with neighbours, etc. Also, bearing in mind escalating property prises, it'd mean moving further away from central districts, which increases travel time for most. Would the hassle be worth it?

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