Friday, 23 March 2007

Minority Voices Shouting in Frustration

For various reasons, a previous post has been removed on the request of the original poster. I'm including here in its stead, various letters to ST Forum:-

More transparency needed to protect owners' interest in en bloc sales
Straits Times Forum Online - 17 Apr 2007

TIGHTENING the tendering procedures and making the sale process more transparent would help to protect the interest of owners in en bloc sales, majority and minority alike.

The tender process being practised now is nothing more than a sale by negotiation in disguise. Developers hardly ever put in a firm price in their tender as they should; they merely express an interest in negotiating a sale.

A collective sale by negotiation with a developer always works to the disadvantage of the owners. In a properly conducted tender, it is the owners who set the terms. They can take time to work out the collective sale agreement and the detailed tender conditions. The highest bidder above the reserve price gets to buy the property.

In a private treaty negotiation, on the other hand, the bidder gets a chance to set the terms, often without reference to the conditions the owners had agreed for the tender.

Negotiating positions of the owners have to be worked out in open discussion, but the developer can play his cards close to his chest. One side's bottom line is exposed, while the other side's is carefully hidden.

Furthermore, when an offer comes in, owners have very limited time to work out their positions. Pressure can be brought to bear by the developer or the property agents to get terms to their liking. The stress creates dissension among owners, pitting majority against minority, which the developer can use to his advantage.

The reserve price in a tender is meant as the fall-back in case you cannot get more in an open competition. But when a tender is turned into a private sale, the reserve price is misused merely as a gauge to what price the developer, now free from open competition, feels inclined to offer.

This is particularly harmful to the owners in a rising market and when the offer comes in near the end of a long validity period of the CSA.

Public tenders are uniquely suited for en bloc sales. A sale by negotiation lends itself to abuse. It should be made illegal, for the sake of keeping the public peace and protecting the interest of owners.

Regulations should be introduced to require en bloc sales to be done solely by public tender, and, even more importantly, to require that tenders be conducted to the same standard of transparency as those conducted by our public authorities in the sale of land, such as the URA.

Ms Teresa Boon

So unfair that there's little those who oppose en bloc sales can do
Straits Times Forum Online - 14 April 2007 [Comments section contains the original which the letter writer sent to me]

FOR the very same reasons that collective sales are a nightmare for old folks, they are a nightmare for all. Unfortunately, we live in a mercenary society,

Developers looking to top up their land banks and businesses stick to this stand to make money. So do property owners.

But at what price in human terms? We bought our condominium because of its location, with the intention of a happy retirement. Now we worry constantly because we have been served notice that a Pro Tem Committee of five is working with two estate agencies and a leading law firm to present us with their proposals.

Why do we worry? Quite simply, why should we have to move at all? If this madness prevails, where can we find another home to replace this one? We should be given the freedom to choose where we wish to live.

Let interested parties buy up individual units and sell blocks of them to the developers; or let the developers search for and buy units themselves. Why legislate that we must sell our homes?

There is an answer - live in a landed home. But how many can afford - or want - one?

Anne Wong Holloway (Ms)

Collective sales a nightmare for old folks
Straits Times Forum Online - 7 April 2007

I REFER to the letter, 'En bloc sales: more questions that need answers' by Mdm Ong Beng Choo (ST Online Forum, April 3). One important issue that has not surfaced is how collective sales create a great deal of anxiety among old folks who may suddenly find themselves uprooted and relocated to an unfamiliar place despite their objections.

The process of searching for suitable replacement homes and subsequently moving house, especially to a new location, can be demanding and frustrating, especially for elderly folks who may have bought a home for retirement. There are instances where old folks bought a home only to face the prospects of having to move again due to collective sale.

To help folks who bought a home with the intention of retirement, I suggest the Ministry of Law, in reviewing rules on collective sales, in fairness to minority owners, examine how concerns of old folks can be managed to alleviate their anxiety.

The ministry could consider the feasibility of introducing a time bar, say 20 years, before which date collective sale is disallowed unless there is 100 per cent approval. Older folks would than have some peace of mind as to the maximum length of stay in their new home before they proceed to buy.

Lim Chong Leong

En bloc sales: More questions that need answers
Straits Times Forum Online - 3 April 2007

NOWADAYS, when I look left, right and centre, there is an estate up for en bloc sale. It is good for older estates to be renewed. But there are a lot of questions that need to be answered or cleared up.

What legal rights are the members of the collective sale committee empowered with? Does the collective body give up all its rights once it has nominated a sale committee?

Can the committee decide on the allocation of the sale proceeds?

Can it decide on the law firm and change lawyers when it wishes?

Should the lawyer who is paid his legal fees with regard to the collective sale be entitled to retain the interests which can be a large sum because the stakeholding sum is so huge and may be for a long period?

Should the members of the sale committee feel that they have been misled by the lawyer or the agent, do they have recourse after they have signed the appointment letters?

And a most pertinent question is: Can the members of the sale committee, the agent and the lawyer or either one party arrange a private agreement with one or a few others to ensure that the sale goes through?

There are more questions than just the ones above.

Is the Strata Titles Board empowered to ensure that the sale is fair to all? If not, then who or which body in Singapore will oversee the actions of all involved and ensure that there is transparency?

There is talk of subsidiary proprietors who have been offered more to ensure that the 80 per cent target is met.

There is also talk that subsidiary proprietors going to arbitration at the Strata Titles Board eventually signed and agreed to the collective sale that they were vehemently opposed to.

Mdm Ong Beng Choo

Forced into collective sale, now must pay $13,000 to agent
Straits Times Forum Online - 2 April 2007

MY NEIGHBOURS have succumbed to the en-bloc fever that seems to be sweeping Singapore at the moment. Having formed a sales committee and obtained the 80 per cent acceptance needed, they put our estate of 34 homes up for sale.

An offer has been received from a developer that exceeds the reserve price and it looks like a sale will go ahead. While my wife and I had no desire to move and hence did not sign the collective sale agreement (CSA), we can understand the logic of the Government facilitating property rules to allow en-bloc sales in land-scarce Singapore. We can also see why our neighbours are tempted by the generous premium that selling by this route will net.

However, as part of the sales process we must now pay the sales agent a commission of more than $13,000 for forcibly selling our home against our wishes. While I have no doubt the agent has been diligent in his duties and done his best to achieve the highest selling price possible, it was not something we asked him to do. In fact, it was contrary to our wishes.

It is adding insult to injury that, not only will we be homeless by the end of the year and need to find a new place to call home, but we must pay for the privilege of being booted from our own home!

While it will be too late to resolve our predicament, perhaps when the Strata Titles Board next reviews the rules of en-bloc sales, agents fees' payable by minority owners is an area that needs to be addressed.

Jonathan Veel

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Monday, 19 March 2007

Minority Owners Wanted

Apologies to all for not updating the blog these past 2 weeks. Been busy with work, although I'm aware of recent proposals to change the enbloc regulations. I'll talk about that in the near future but in the meantime, I'll continue to update the En-bloc List (which has become a source for investors, expats, and minority owners) and more importantly...

I have been approached by a reporter from a local newspaper to obtain contacts for MINORITY OWNERS. They want to do a piece on the plight of minority owners and need our help.

For her own record, the reporter will need your personal details but these can be kept out of the newspaper piece (ie you can be relatively anonymous to the public; but the reporter needs to know her sources). So here's your chance to voice your plight about the enbloc madness that has gripped the country. Interviews can be done via phone or email.

If you are interested, please contact me - - and let's talk first.

When you email me, let me know why you are/were a minority owner first - your situation and plight. I'll compile a list of potential interviewees for the reporter and she can then choose who she wants to interview and subsequently incorporate into her piece. Suffice to say she has done substantial coverage of enbloc sales in Singapore, but largely from the point of view of the success stories. Since then, there's been an increasing sense of helplessness, anger, frustration, by minority owners that she has been alerted to, and would now like to do a piece on.

Let's not let that opportunity disappear. For those who have been evicted from their homes, who felt that they have lost their individual rights to their homes, who have been bullied and threatened into signing their homes away, etc, please.. contact me. There must be THOUSANDS of people who have disagreed with their development's enblocs by now, and have no recourse but to accept their fate.

Give the public your voices.

Dr Minority -
ps. I'll leave this post on the front page for a week. Then I'll resume my posts.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Financial Loss Couple Goes to Court

Two pieces of news - Mr Yeo Loo Keng and his wife Cheryl Lim are bringing their financial loss case to the High Court. Good for them and I wish them all the best in their fight. I can only hope that the High Court is able to see the inherent contradiction between the legal definition of financial loss - as one that embodies individual rights - and the 'landmark ruling' by STB which states that CPF losses could not be counted as such since (I believe) it is within the realm of individual rights, along with renovations and interests.

Here's the relevant section from the Straits Times 2 Mar 2007. Following this is another letter to the Today paper dated 28 Feb 2007 by Henry Lim.

Couple go to High Court in last bid to stop sale
Straits Times
2 Mar 2007

The couple's lawyer, Mr Leong Yung Chang of Veritas Law Corporation, said the main thrust of the appeal would be that loss of CPF money should be considered a deductible expense.
He also confirmed this will be the first time the High Court will hear such a case.
Although we face the risk of losing, we feel the public needs to know the High Court's position and if it ratifies STB's ruling,' said Mr Yeo.
He also said he felt the laws on collective sales, passed in the 1990s, have 'swung the pendulum too far against the interests of minority members'.
There's a general feeling of a need for greater protection for people like my client who are forced to suffer a loss,' said Mr Leong.
For the collective sale to be approved, the reserve price has to be met and 80 per cent of Waterfront View's owners have to agree.
Madam Valerie Ong, a 45-year-old housewife whose estate is currently in the process of a collective sale, told The Straits Times that she sympathised with the couple's position. She said she believes a policy review' of collective sales is overdue, especially with the huge increase in such sales in the last few years.
Waterfront View's sales committee member Kevin Tan said he was surprised at the couple's decision, but was prepared to fight all the way'.
If he wants to up the ante, we have no choice but to respond.'
Another resident, Mr David Govinden, said residents would definitely be upset that the couple are taking the matter further, as we thought the chapter was over'.
Mr Yeo said he had no intention of causing inconvenience to residents but was acting within his rights.
I don't want to regret not appealing. This is the final step we can take,' he said.

Senior citizens look forward to peaceful retirement, not financial gain from en-bloc sales
Letter from Henry Lim
Today - 28 Feb 2007

Handsome profits are the chief reason for en-bloc property sales having gained so much popularity. In the early days, en-bloc sales were confined mainly to old developments, with developers also taking the opportunity to build up their land banks. Over recent years, however, the main motivation has become the huge monetary gain from such sales, regardless of the age of the development.

We have also seen attempts by homeowners going to court to stop such sales for personal reasons but without success, the argument being that the current law does not allow for personal reasons to override majority concerns. The en bloc fever has, unfortunately, caused some uneasiness among senior citizens who have hoped to live out their retirement years in their present homes and who view relocation as unnecessary and disturbing. Some senior citizens have downgraded to small private apartments for practical reasons. It is thus very upsetting if they find themselves having to relocate years later. My wife and I are among these. We recently moved to a small but comfortable apartment, hoping to live out our retirement without having to move again. Alas, we have just heard that our development is considering an en-bloc sale. We are very upset and anxious about what the future holds for us. I am sure many other senior citizens also harbour such anxieties, and look forward not to financial gain but to a peaceful retirement.

In this respect, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has taken the lead with its Selective Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) whereby new apartments are built to relocate affected HDB owners before any redevelopment starts. It has made the relocation process more acceptable and convenient, especially to older folks.

For private developments, I would like to suggest that a time bar be imposed before a development can be sold en bloc. Taking into consideration the needs of senior citizens and need for re-development of old properties, it would be reasonable to allow en-bloc sale if the building is more than 30 years old from date of completion.

This advance notice would allow all owners to plan for their future accommodation, whether they intend to buy for short, medium or long term. If a person is over 50 and looking for a home to stay in till his last days, he should then consider buying a new property which will at least give some certainty that en-bloc sale will not take place for the next 30 years.

I strongly feel that the authorities should review current rules governing en-bloc sale, to give due weightage to the concerns of senior citizens, while at the same time not stifle future redevelopment.