Saturday, September 5, 2009

En bloc fever (or jitters)

THE sprawling Laguna Park condominium estate in Marine Parade, up for en bloc tender at $1.2 billion, is only the second offering in collective sales this year. The first was the smallish Dragon Mansion in Spottiswoode Park Road, asking for $120 million. In all of last year, only seven deals eventuated, for $371 million. Contrast the poverty with boom year 2007, when 111 developments were sold to fetch a pot of $12.4 billion for the mostly satisfied sellers. Many of these cashed-up people are behind the active condo sales of the past two months. Good for them, their living standards are rising.

At the slow rate collective-sale endeavours are emerging and taking into account some property specialists' reservations about whether the present recovery has a solid basis, there seems little likelihood Singaporeans will be consumed again soon by en bloc fever, with all the contrasting connotations it entails. Negative emotions bubbled up in the last frenetic round: a backlash against perceived avarice; loss of rootedness in an inconstant landscape; the angst of elderly residents and those who valued a settled community; the underhand means some professional advisers and sales committees resorted to in rushing deals through.

This is not a criticism of collective sales. They are a democratic means of effecting urban renewal to make Singapore looking always posh. They distribute wealth among people who have little hope of acquiring riches. For planners, the higher-density building created is necessary to house a projected optimal population by mid-century.

What has changed the outlook of the issue is that, first, the Government intervened to exact more accountability of the principals and processes involved so as to better protect minority interests. An amendment gives owners a five-day cooling-off period to reconsider consent, after a sales agreement has been signed. Second, the Court of Appeal's quashing of the Horizon Towers deal demanded of sales committees a higher degree of care and diligence in executing the consent process. This should put the last of the cowboys to flight. Most pointedly, the court said of the Strata Titles Board - which rules on en bloc matters - that it had 'a significant inquisitorial role' beyond sifting through the facts presented when hearing disputes.

Orderly conversion of built-up land to better use is never in dispute as a planning policy. The appeals judges' opinions have served to emphasise the need for care. Now, it is almost certain government land sales will be speeded up to meet building demand. Considering these factors, a collective dash to tear buildings down is unlikely to be repeated to the same old degree.

Source: Straits Times, 5 Sep 2009

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