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18th August 2014

Top Stories

National Day Rally: The Highlights

Source: Business Times

Singapore Real Estate

More players tussling for property dollar here

Aussie company opens sales office; China firm launches Iskandar project

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] The tussle for Singaporeans' property dollar looks set to intensify with the opening of a sales office here by Australian player Walker Corporation and the initial launch of Princess Cove by Guangzhou-based R&F Properties over the weekend.

Walker Corp, one of Australia's largest private developers, said that the 1,700 square foot office in Liat Towers on Orchard Road would promote its domestic projects and its sole project in Malaysia, Senibong Cove, which it is developing with Iskandar Waterfront Holdings.

Group executive chairman Lang Walker told BT: "The opening of the sales office in Singapore will be very important to our Senibong project and it gives us a foothold in the Singapore market." But the billionaire has no interest in developing homes in Singapore where he thinks the market is mature and "(residential) products are very expensive".

More Singaporeans are snapping up properties across the Causeway, where prices are sometimes one-third of that back home. Going by central bank estimates in May, slightly more than half of real estate investments abroad went into Malaysia last year.

-By Lynette Khoo

Top Aussie developer bullish on Johor region

Melbourne and Sydney markets 'too hot', says Walker chairman

Source: Straits Times / Money

BILLIONAIRE Lang Walker, founder of one of Australia's largest closely held developers, said that home prices in Sydney and Melbourne have climbed too much, and he is turning his focus to his investments in Malaysia.

"Sydney is a little too hot at the moment," Mr Walker, executive chairman of Walker Corp, said in an interview in Singapore this week.

"Melbourne has gone through a period of intense growth and that's plateaued off."

The residential market in Brisbane, in Queensland state, still has some potential, he said.

Dwelling prices in Sydney jumped 14.8 per cent last month from a year earlier, the fastest growth among all Australian state and territory capitals, according to the RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index.

Melbourne prices rose 11 per cent, the second-fastest increase, and Brisbane increased 6.9 per cent.

Mr Walker, with A$12 billion (S$13.9 billion) worth of planned property projects, said he is looking to increase investments in the Johor region in southern Malaysia after putting in about A$2 billion in the Senibong Cove project.

He is in talks for further investments in the city of Johor Baru as he bets that demand from neighbouring Singapore will increase, he said without elaborating.

Residents of Singapore are crossing over to Malaysia's Iskandar region as they seek property, labour and amenities, often at half the cost or less. Economic growth and soaring immigration have strained Singapore's resources, making it one of the world's most expensive places to live in.

With cheaper land plentiful in southern Malaysia, money is pouring across the border.

Singapore has invested at least RM11 billion (S$4.3 billion) in Iskandar Malaysia, a special economic zone in southern Johor established in 2006 that is three times the size of the city.

Walker is converting land, previously used for prawn-breeding farms, into swanky apartments. The project is expected to be valued at about A$7.5 billion along with an adjoining plot it will develop with a Singapore-based company, Mr Walker said.

"It's the leverage off Singapore," he said. "Singapore is very expensive. We can create and produce a product which is similar to what you get here in Singapore or Australia."

Walker Corp made its foray into Asia in 2008 with a RM5.5 billion investment to develop Senibong Cove, a waterfront residential project.

The company is developing Australia's largest commercial project, Collins Square in Melbourne's central business district, valued at about A$2 billion, he said.

The number of unsold homes in Melbourne fell 11.4 per cent last month from a year earlier in an increasingly active market and dipped 8.7 per cent in Sydney. That compares with a national average of a 4.8 per cent decline, according to Sydney-based researcher SQM Research.

In Australia, Walker jointly developed The Wharf at Woolloomooloo, a A$300 million project that involved the refurbishment of a 400m heritage wharf on the fringe of Sydney's central business district. The development includes apartments, a hotel, restaurants and a marina.

-By Bloomberg

New spring coming for Jurong Lake's gardens

Next-generation Science Centre will be jewel in Jurong: PM Lee

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] The Jurong Lake gardens and a new Science Centre will be the focal points of a makeover for the Jurong Lakeside district, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday during his National Day Rally Speech.

"There should be more to Jurong than shopping malls and industries," PM Lee said.

The plan is to make the parks and attractions in the neighbourhood integrated into residents' living spaces. The National Parks Board will seek design ideas in 2015.

"Make it a people's garden," PM Lee said.

More Housing Board flats will be built in the north of the lake, and industrial land around the Pandan Reservoir in the south could be converted to residences as their leases run out over the next 20 to 30 years.

A new Science Centre will be built on the north of the lake near the Chinese Garden MRT station to replace the 37-year-old attraction now standing at the south shore of the lake. The new centre is targeted for completion around 2020.

"It will be the jewel in Jurong," PM Lee said.

To improve traffic in the area, the Ayer-Rajah Expressway could be moved southwards to create more space next to the lake for lakeside housing.

The Jurong Lake District has also been proposed as a possible site for the terminus of the proposed high-speed rail line between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore had earlier considered Jurong East, Tuas West and the city centre as possible locations for the terminus and all three are still up for consideration; PM Lee's speech narrowed the Jurong East option to the Jurong Lake district.

The focus on the lake area of the district comes after the Jurong Gateway neighbourhood around the Jurong East MRT station had already experienced significant growth in the past few years with the opening of a number of malls.

Singapore-listed CapitaMalls Asia operates the Westgate and JCube malls in the Gateway area, while Australia's Lend Lease runs JEM.

But the gardens and parks have not kept up with the shopping centres.

PM Lee recalled that when he visited the Japanese and Chinese gardens in June, they looked the same as when he previously visited 30 years ago.

The number of visitors to those attractions also pale in comparison to other community parks such as the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

"I felt we could do so much more with the gardens," PM Lee added.

Terence Wong, head of research at DMG & Partners, said the speech "puts the area under the spotlight".

"Plans for improvement have been spoken of, but now it makes the details a little more concrete. It puts interest in the western part of Singapore," Mr Wong noted.

He said developers might now take a closer look at the area and be willing to pay more for sites, but prices in the short term are unlikely to change much, especially with improvement projects also expected elsewhere in Singapore.

"Many parts also have catalysts," Mr Wong added. "Whether it's the north and closer ties with Malaysia, Tanjong Pagar with the waterways, or the east ... just about everywhere there's something going on."

-By Kenneth Lim

Lakeside area will get 'people's garden'

Source: Straits Times / Top of The News

RESIDENTS in Jurong can look forward to a more vibrant neighbourhood, starting with an expanded Jurong Lake Gardens that will combine the existing Chinese and Japanese gardens and Jurong Lake Park.

The upcoming "people's garden" will also include a new Science Centre which will be completed around 2020, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

These plans are part of a larger transformation of the Jurong Lake District over the longer term and are about making every corner of Singapore an outstanding environment in which to live, PM Lee said at the National Day Rally.

Last year's rally shone a spotlight on development plans for Changi, Paya Lebar, Tanjong Pagar and Tuas.

This year, it was Jurong's turn.

The district has come a long way from its origins as a swamp decades ago, said Mr Lee. The Jurong Gateway part of the area is now a new commercial region with several institutes and shopping malls.

But the other part of the district, known as Lakeside, houses gardens which look dated and "under-utilised", said Mr Lee, who visited them in June. "I felt we could do much more," he added.

The entire area has potential to be transformed in an ambitious manner, he said. For example, the lake can be reshaped and the gardens merged to "create one beautiful set of gardens in the heartland".

And Jurong Lake Gardens can be a place where community gardeners can create and maintain "show gardens".

The National Parks Board will call for garden design ideas next year, and Mr Lee asked Singaporeans to chip in with suggestions.

The "jewel" of the Lake Gardens will be the new Science Centre, which will be built on the north shore near the Chinese Garden MRT station.

Nearby flats and park connectors, as well as the spruced-up Jurong River, will be integrated with the gardens.

Mr Lee added that the upcoming Jurong Region Line and Cross-Island Line, together with the improved North-South and East-West MRT lines, will improve traffic in the region.

In the longer term, the Ayer Rajah Expressway could be shifted to create more space for lakeside housing, making it as pleasant as living near Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park or Punggol Waterway.

The terminus for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail may even come to Jurong.

Said Mr Lee: "We're discussing with the Malaysians. We haven't settled this yet, but if we get the High Speed Rail terminus in the Jurong Lake District, then that will make Jurong a truly exciting gateway to Singapore."

-By Charissa Yong

Jurong Lake Gardens on the cards

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to merge the Japanese Garden, Chinese Garden and Jurong Lake Park into the Jurong Lake Gardens, which could become a "people's garden" to rival parks like the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. 

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: A new Jurong Lake Gardens, a revamped Science Centre, and possibly the terminus for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail - major updates for Jurong announced at Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 17). 

Jurong has been dramatically transformed from a swamp area into an industrial town over the years. The most notable upgrade was the Jurong Lake District in 2008, which consists of a commercial district and a lakeside. At the National Day Rally, Mr Lee says a more ambitious transformation is planned to revitalise the area.

Nearby tourist attractions like the Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden will be merged with the Jurong Lake Park to form a giant attraction called Jurong Lake Gardens.

(Image: NUS)

Mr Lee said authorities plan to bring community gardeners from all over Singapore to create and look after show gardens in the Jurong Lake Gardens. They will "make it a people's garden. Bigger than Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, perhaps even better than Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park."

But it's the new Science Centre that the Prime Minister says will be the "jewel" in the Lake Gardens' crown. To be completed around 2020, the centre will be located near the Chinese Garden MRT station. This will allow the Centre to extend into Jurong Lake Gardens, and integrate with the living environment, thereby raising possibilities of an entirely new concept for the centre.

(Image: URA)

Other than linking the gardens to the park connector network and Jurong River, there are plans to build more housing and integrate them into the Lake District. In the longer-term, Prime Minister Lee says this may mean shifting the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) southwards to create more space next to the lake.

Mr Lee said there is also a possibility that the planned Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail may come to Jurong. "I've agreed with PM Najib to build a high-speed rail between Singapore and KL. I've told PM Najib that in Singapore - why don't we site the terminus in the Jurong Lake District? We are discussing it with the Malaysians, we have not settled it yet, but if we get the high-speed rail terminus in the Jurong Lake District, then that will make Jurong truly an exciting gateway to Singapore."

To address Singapore's traffic issues, Mr Lee said improvements will be seen within the next two years by increasing capacity of the existing North-South and East-West lines. The additions of the Jurong Region Line and Cross-Island Line will also help.

- CNA/ly

New office to tackle estate matters

It will coordinate various agencies' roles in estate maintenance

Source: Straits Times / Top of The News

THE longstanding problem of frustrated residents being given the runaround between different agencies over estate maintenance may soon be a thing of the past.

A Municipal Services Office will be set up to get different public agencies to work more closely together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The office will help serve residents in a more seamless way, especially when responsibilities are split across public bodies, he said in his National Day Rally speech. It is part of making Singapore an "outstanding city" that is planned and run well, Mr Lee


Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu will oversee the new office, which will be under the Ministry of National Development (MND). She will work with MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

The office will coordinate multiple agencies, such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), PUB, National Environment Agency (NEA) and the National Parks Board. More details will be given out later.

The move to plug the gaps between agencies comes as residents lament that complaints and requests can bounce between several agencies instead of being quickly resolved.

Some progress has been made on this front, "but we have not arrived", said Mr Lee.

He cited the experience of South West District mayor Low Yen Ling, who had to call and meet several agencies in order to find out why a walkway in Bukit Gombak had been left dirty for some time.

She found out that a fishball stick had been left at the walkway for more than a day because different parts of the walkway were managed by different agencies. NEA managed the slope to the left of the walkway, while NParks took charge of the park connector in the middle, and LTA was responsible for the pavement on the right.

The fishball stick had fallen on the roadside to the right, which was cleaned every two days.

The issue was eventually resolved, but the experience had been "frustrating and difficult" for the mayor.

"Can you imagine if you're an ordinary citizen trying to solve such a problem and running around the different agencies? It's not the way we should be operating and we have to do better," said Mr Lee.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Zainudin Nordin, who is a former mayor and a former town council chairman, told The Straits Times that town councils are responsible for managing common areas in Housing Board estates.

"There are parts inside housing estates that don't fall under the ambit of the town council.

"People don't realise but roads, drains, bus stops are... not part of the town council's responsibility," he said.

He welcomed the setting up of a central office, which he saw as a "cockpit" from which to ensure that nothing falls through the gaps.

-By Charissa Yong

Experts optimistic about take-up rate of buyback scheme

The take-up rate for the Enhanced Lease Buyback Scheme has been low so far, but analysts said this could change.

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: Property analysts have welcomed the extension of the Enhanced Lease Buyback Scheme to four-room flats, noting that the option to unlock value from their dearest asset would now be available to close to 60 per cent of the population.

The take-up rate for the scheme has been low so far, but analysts said this could change.

Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said the move would allow more to spend their golden years in a place they are settled in.

“If they downsize (to a smaller flat), that means they have to re-adjust to a new place,” he added.

Mr Chris Koh, director of Chris International, said: “We are now reaching out to a larger group, which will definitely increase the take-up rate.”

He also felt there was no need to extend the scheme to owners of five-room or bigger flats. “They can always downgrade. They also have more rooms to lease out for additional income,” he said.


Lease Buyback Scheme extended to 4-room flats

The Housing and Development Board will extend the Lease Buyback Scheme to 4-room flats. This will enable more Singaporeans to monetize their assets and derive a steady stream of income for their retirement needs.

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore

SINGAPORE: "Last year, I was your real estate agent. This year, the real estate market is no good, I have upgraded myself, I have become a financial planner," quipped Prime Minister Lee as he spoke on retirement adequacy for Singaporeans in his National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 17).

Mr Lee says Singapore has good schemes to provide assurance in retirement - namely through the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and home ownership. CPF members set aside the Minimum Sum when they turn 55 years old, and it will offer a regular stream of income for them after they turn 65. The payout will go on for as long as they live. The Minimum Sum for those who turn 55 this year is S$155,000. Mr Lee explained that the amount is "far from excessive".

CPF members can count their homes in the Minimum Sum, meaning they need to set aside just half of it in cash, which works out to S$77,500. Mr Lee conducted a poll of the audience at the Rally using an example of a fictitious couple Mr and Mrs Tan.

"I ask Mr Tan - how much do you think you will need in retirement every month?" Mr Lee said. "What do you think? S$3,000 per month? That's about two-thirds what he is getting now. S$2,000 per month - less than half what he is getting now? Or S$1,000 per month?" 

The majority picked S$2,000 a month. Mr Lee said this means the Tans will need S$250,000 for their retirement needs - which is more than the Minimum Sum. And if Mr and Mrs Tan pledged their home, the amount of S$77,500 kept in their CPF account would only give them S$600 a month. They would then need to find other sources of income to plug the shortfall.

Mr Lee said there are options to achieve this, including continuing to work, getting support from their children, tapping on savings or getting money of out their house.

For example, he could rent out a room for S$700 a month, or move in with his children and rent out the entire flat for S$2,500 a month.

"The third thing you could do is to 'right-size': sell this flat and buy a smaller flat. Let's say you buy a studio apartment, you move into the studio apartment and then in the process, you can enjoy a silver housing bonus from the Government which is S$20,000. We can do the sums, you get quite a lot of money - S$210,000, plus S$800 per month," explained Mr Lee.

Another option is the Lease Buyback Scheme, which will be extended to 4-room flats. In Mr Tan's case - if he sells the remaining lease of 35 years to HDB - he will receive a lump sum of S$27,500 in cash, plus S$900 per month.

The Lease Buyback Scheme currently covers 3-room flats and below. Mr Lee says that extending it to 4-room flats will cover more than half of all flat owners in Singapore. 

- CNA/ly

Views, Reviews & Forum

Tweak property rules to achieve two aims

Source: Straits Times / Forum Letters

DESPITE a growing number of calls from property players for the Government to dismantle anti-speculative measures in the property market ("Too soon to ease property curbs, says Khaw"; Aug 5), such measures should remain for good.

Over the years, policies to drive foreign investment and government land sales have encouraged speculation in private property.

As a result, both locals and foreigners entered the market and pushed up prices.

Singaporeans tend to buy property to generate income. This may work if the economy is doing well, but in a global economic downturn like the 1997 Asian financial crisis, many will suffer irreversible damage.

Singaporeans are the most important stakeholders in our property sector, and their needs are the same as the Government's. So the better we manage our land, the better it is for Singapore.

A land-scarce country like Singapore could do without foreign speculation.

We have to look at tried and tested policies worldwide to discourage such speculation, and also divert domestic capital from property to value-creating activities such as entrepreneurship.

For example, foreigners in Australia can resell properties only to locals. And in Germany, there are strong laws governing tenancy so that land and property owners cannot arbitrarily be pricemakers.

If we can change the rules of the game to discourage foreign speculation and divert local capital away from property investments, it would be far better than implementing reactive policies that are supposed to be removed when the market goes down.

-By Ed Cheong Tuck Kuan

Review curbs at fixed intervals

Source: Straits Times / Forum Letters

RECENT requests for the removal of some property cooling measures have prompted the Government to state that the measures will stay for now ("Too soon to ease property curbs, says Khaw"; Aug 5).

The problem is that we do not have a fixed review date for these measures.

I suggest that a committee comprising all stakeholders review the measures at fixed periods each year - say, every first week of each quarter. This is similar to how the United States Federal Reserve reviews interest rates.

Such fixed reviews will provide some certainty to the market, so stakeholders need not keep requesting a review of the cooling measures.

-By Jason See Kum Weng

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

Data shows slowing M'sia property market

Most states record drops in transactions for the different sub-segments

Source: Business Times / Malaysia

[KUALA LUMPUR] The National Property Information Centre (Napic), in its first-quarter numbers for this year, has confirmed reports that the market is consolidating with transactions slowing down, The Star has reported.

Although the findings are six months backdated, the government agency's figures, which includes both primary and secondary sales, are about as accurate as one can get about the state of the sector, down to how many transactions being done.

Most states recorded overall drops in the number of property transactions for the different sub-segments, namely, residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, development land and others. The trend of decrease is definitively evident, the report said.

Siders Sittampalam, president of the Association of Valuers, Property Managers, Estate Agents and Property Consultants in the Private Sector, told the daily that he was not surprised by the latest property data. "It confirms what I said, that the Malaysian property market is consolidating. It is not a slump which is characterised by oversupply and declining prices."

-From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

One more Chinese developer wants a slice of Iskandar

Weiye also hopes to expand into S'pore, says group chairman

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] Another Chinese property developer is looking at developing homes in Malaysia's Iskandar, unfazed by recent negative publicity surrounding some Chinese projects there and a potential avalanche of residential supply in the special economic zone in Johor Bahru.

Iskandar is likely the first overseas stop for Henan-based Weiye Holdings, followed by Singapore, in the next six months - on top of the group's expansion plans within China, according to Zhang Wei, group chairman of the Singapore-listed company.

"We are entering talks for potential cooperation in projects in Malaysia and Singapore," the Mandarin-speaking Mr Zhang said in a recent interview. "Our next steps would be to look at emerging markets in Asia where there is healthy growth in the property market such as Myanmar."

Weiye builds residential and commercial projects in Henan province and Hainan island. As at end-March, it has completed 13 projects with a total net saleable floor area (NSFA) of about 955,688 square metres. It has another six properties under development with a combined NSFA of about 627,038 sqm.

-By Lynette Khoo