Saturday, November 28, 2009

Resorts World househunt reaches into HDB heartland

Property consultants say Sentosa IR is scouting for rental flats for some of its foreign staff

VISITORS to the Universal Studios theme park in Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) will soon be able to live out adventures seen in various movies. There will be zones based on films such as Madagascar, Shrek and Jurassic Park, to bring thrill-seekers to a make-believe world far away from home.

For some employees at RWS, being away from home will also be a new adventure. The integrated resort will be hiring a considerable number of foreigners, and it is said to be searching for hundreds of HDB flats to help them settle in. C&H Realty managing director Albert Lu said that RWS is looking for HDB flats to rent, and approached his firm a few months ago to find out about the rental market. RWS did not share many details then, but the number of flats is ‘in the hundreds’, he told BT.

Another property market insider who declined to be named also said that RWS has been ‘aggressively looking for flats to rent’, and is probably in need of ‘a few hundred’ units.

So far, there is no official statement on the number of foreigners that RWS could hire. Overall, it will employ about 10,000 people when it opens next year. RWS spokesman Robin Goh told BT that it remains committed in recruiting Singaporeans and Singapore permanent residents.

A media report in June noted that RWS had hired 600 workers, of whom 80 per cent are locals. Assuming that the local-foreign ratio stays constant, its headcount from abroad could reach 2,000.

Going by HDB rules, one- or two-room flats can each be rented out to at most four people; three-room flats to at most six people; and four-roomers or bigger flats to at most nine people. Assuming that RWS hires 2,000 foreigners and all of them rent four-room flats, it would need to find at least about 220 units.

Mr Goh said that RWS started looking for ’suitable accommodation’ for foreign staff early this year, with help from a ‘reputable service provider’. He did not specify the types and number of housing involved.

‘To help reduce their stress and anxiety of relocating overseas, we assist our foreign team members in addressing one of their basic needs – accommodation,’ he said. ‘We make sure that they settle down comfortably as well as enjoy working and living in Singapore.’ And it is important for RWS to keep its employees happy because that could enhance their work performance and in turn, visitors’ experience at the integrated resort, he said.

Mr Goh added that RWS considered several factors in choosing accommodation, including the place’s accessibility and proximity to amenities such as convenience stores. ‘The locations we have chosen facilitate good interaction between the local community and foreign talent,’ he added. BT understands that units at Tiong Bahru and Toa Payoh have been found.

C&H Realty’s Mr Lu said that he believes that RWS would want flats in areas near Sentosa, such as Telok Blangah. But he pointed out that the supply of rental flats in such central locations is tight, and RWS might have to broaden its search to estates near MRT stations.

Rents of HDB flats in the central region rose between the second and third quarter of the year. For instance, the median sub-letting rent for a four-room flat in the area increased from about $2,000 to $2,200.

HDB’s website shows that up to the third quarter of this year, the agency has granted 11,235 sub-letting approvals. The bulk of these – 3,978 or 35 per cent – were for three-room flats. Another 3,593 approvals were for four-room flats.

Also, looking across all towns and flat types, median sub-letting rents have remained relatively steady from the first to third quarter.

Dennis Wee Group director Chris Koh observed that the HDB rental market is ‘more stabilised’ compared with the period when collective sales were rife and many displaced residents were looking for lodging. His firm has seen more rental enquiries direct from foreigners working with RWS.

Marina Bay Sands, the other integrated resort due to open next year, has not engaged property agents to look for accommodation for its foreign staff. ‘Housing arrangements will take into account the needs of the prospective foreign employees,’ said a spokeswoman. ‘At this time, Marina Bay Sands is giving priority to attracting and selecting Singaporeans and permanent residents for our job opportunities.’

Source: Business Times, 28 Nov 2009

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