Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cost, Location

When Mr Peter Breitkreutz decided to buy a Housing Board resale flat in July last year, living close to other Australians was hardly uppermost in his mind.

A permanent resident since 2008, all the Brisbane native wanted was a five-room unit on a mid to high floor, lift access on each floor and a flat that was not too old.

‘We were very open to many areas, except the west because we weren’t too familiar with places like Jurong,’ said the 43-year-old who works in the financial industry.

He and his wife, who is from China, viewed properties in Woodlands, Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris before settling for one in Sengkang.

The flat was close to a pre-school in Yio Chu Kang that they could enrol their two-year-old son in.

It was also a five-minute drive to his office in Ang Mo Kio, until he took up a new job in the city recently.

The flat’s valuation was $400,000 but, after negotiations with the seller, the couple knocked back the price to $375,000.

The factors influencing their purchasing decision are not unique, said property agents.

They, as well as other PRs from countries like India, China and Indonesia, confirm that similar considerations are at play behind their resale-flat transactions.

The issue of PRs and resale flats was in the spotlight last week. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said at a dialogue that the Government did not want to see new citizens congregate and would disperse them across HDB estates.

The HDB also disclosed that it was considering introducing a separate ethnic quota for PRs to prevent enclaves from forming in housing estates.

The latest statistics show there are 533,200 PRs. They own around 5 per cent of the nearly 900,000 HDB flats islandwide.

According to property agents, PRs pick a resale flat primarily based on what they can afford.

They also hope for the flat to be close to their workplace, transport options like an MRT station or bus interchange, and facilities such as schools and supermarkets.

Being near others of the same nationality is not a major pull factor, said agents, though certain locations may see a higher concentration of PRs from a specific country, compared with other districts.

PRs from Myanmar, for example, like Jurong West because they work in shipyards, offices and factories in the area.

PropNex agent Abdul Hamid has seen many Indian PRs going for flats near Lorong Ah Soo ‘as there’s an international school for Indians there’.

Proximity to places of worship sometimes matters, with some Indian PRs plumping for units in Race Course Road or Farrer Park, to access temples in Little India.

Filipinos choose areas such as Jurong West, Simei and Bukit Panjang for the relatively cheaper prices.

But PRs from Malaysia and China are scattered islandwide.

ERA agent Joyce Lim said her PR clients ‘don’t really say they want to stay near friends’. It is mainly pricing that influences where they buy, she added.

Deals involving PRs – usually young couples or those with kids – make up 20 to 30 per cent of property agents’ monthly transactions.

They note that PRs with higher incomes pick newer estates like Punggol or Sengkang and those closer to town like Queenstown.

In such areas, they may pay up to $350,000 for a three-room flat and $500,000 for a four-room one.

The less well-off opt for more mature neighbourhoods such as Bukit Batok where a three-room flat may cost $300,000, and a four-room type up to $430,000.

But while certain areas may be preferred, agents said they do not know any specific block that has a high concentration of PRs in general, or those from a specific country.

The fact is that PRs and Singaporeans are subject to the same quotas under the Ethnic Integration Policy, introduced in 1989.

Proportions for the main ethnic groups – Chinese, Malays, and Indians/Others – in each block, and each precinct of around 10 to 12 blocks, are subject to quotas.

Sale of a flat to a buyer from an ethnic group that has reached the block or precinct limit is not allowed.

The aim is to maintain a healthy racial mix in estates.

Dennis Wee Group agent Ivy Eyu said a Chinese customer of hers was unable to buy a five-room flat in Queenstown because the quota had been reached.

PRs from Japan, Myanmar, Europe and Africa fall under the Indians/Others category.

And given the influx of immigrants in recent years, agents like ERA’s Ms Angeline Lim said they have run into a roadblock when representing Indians.

They have been unable to close deals if the quota for a block or precinct has been reached.

Which is why ERA’s senior division director Syed Abdullah Alhamid said: ‘Looking into the policy now is a plus point, but I think it’s also time to up the quota for the Indians/Others group.’

His firm’s marketing director Tan Yam Seng agreed, saying: ‘If the Government wants to do anything about it, they should adjust it to reflect the current ratio of the market population.’

Source: Sunday Times, 31 Jan 2010

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