Friday, July 13, 2007

The spotlight has fallen on foreign buyers of private homes, after a recent call by Goldman Sachs for a liberalisation of rules

The spotlight has fallen on foreign buyers of private homes, after a recent call by Goldman Sachs for a liberalisation of rules governing their purchase of landed property. LYDIA LIM and SUE-ANN CHIA look at foreign buyers’ impact on the home-owning aspirations of Singaporeans

FOREIGNERS who buy real estate run the gamut from the fabulously wealthy looking for a place to park their money, to rich couples with plans to spend part of their retirement years here, to middle-income professionals in need of a stable roof over their head.

Not all of them have deep pockets, says Australian journalist David Fogarty, 41, who has worked here for 10 years.

He lived in rented apartments for most of that time but finally bought a place in a condominium in the River Valley area last year.

After being asked to vacate two rented homes in fairly quick succession, due to a collective sale and a buyover by a landlord’s daughter, he says he ‘got tired of living in other people’s property’.

‘The decision was based purely on the need for a place to live, not the prospect of making money,’ he tells Insight.

Still, there is concern among young home buyers like lawyer Aaron Kok that foreigners are nudging out Singaporeans to the suburbs for more affordable property.

But even in the suburbs, the 27-year-old feels the heat of the activity in the upper end of the property market. In the past six months, Mr Kok has seen the price of a new two-bedroom condominium he is eyeing in the east soar from $580,000 to over $700,000.

It is now out of his reach.

At the same time, he and his girlfriend do not qualify for a new HDB flat as their combined monthly income exceeds the $8,000 income cap.

‘With Singapore wanting to attract more and more foreigners here, properties in the prime locations will be snapped up and they will start to look at suburban areas. This means Singaporeans will be pushed to the periphery,’ he says.

Demand from foreigners has been on the rise since last year. Their share of private home purchases rose to 27.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year, a peak surpassed only once during the last boom, when the figure hit 32 per cent in the fourth quarter of 1995.

Buyers from traditional markets Indonesia and Malaysia continue to dominate, but demand is coming in strongly from other quarters as well - notably Indian nationals.

Foreign interest in landed homes is also on the rise, with applications to the Singapore Land Authority for permission to buy up 30 per cent last year, from the previous year.

Last week, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew observed that demand for high-end offices and homes has increased with new inflows of financial sector professionals. He warned that rising rents must be kept in check or Singapore will lose its competitiveness.

Given the combination of soaring prices and looming anxiety among some first-time buyers, one view emerging is that it is time to review foreign ownership of residential properties.

Then again, a contrarian argument was put forth a fortnight ago by a property analyst of investment firm Goldman Sachs, in which he urged that rules on foreign buying be eased as it would spur the drive to draw foreign talent.

What is at stake in this nascent debate? Will foreigners lift the property market and the economy to greater heights? Or will more Singaporeans find themselves priced out of parts of their city, the way natives of other big cities found themselves elbowed out to the suburbs because of foreign buying?

No foreign hoarding of land

A CLOSER reading of the Residential Property Act, which regulates foreign buying, reveals that the Government’s concern is less over foreign ownership of homes than their holding and control of land.

Foreigners can buy as many private homes as they wish, but they cannot do the same with land.

The Act states that only permanent residents (PRs) can buy landed property, and they must first seek permission from the Law Ministry. Each PR can buy one landed property and only for his own occupation.

For apartments and condominiums, foreigners cannot, without prior approval of the Law Minister, buy every single unit in a particular development. That is the only way for an individual to gain control of a piece of land governed by strata title.

Apart from that restriction, foreigners are free to own as many units as they wish.

Underlying these rules is a simple matter of scarcity - homes can be built a lot faster than land is made.

Property analysts say the law is designed to prevent ‘land hoarding’ by foreigners. Without it, there is a risk that foreigners could acquire large tracts of land in Singapore and manipulate supply and pricing to their advantage, not to mention obstruct the Government’s urban renewal plans.

One outcome is that in the 30 years since the law was enacted, prices of luxury condominiums have outstripped those of bungalows, as foreigners are largely confined to the former category of homes.

Goldman Sachs analyst Leslie Yee estimates the price gap to be around 35 per cent. In his report, he called for these rules to be relaxed, ‘on the grounds of accelerating Singapore’s drive to attract foreign talent and bulk up its population’.

He argues that such a change will not detract from the national objective of widespread home ownership, as there is a ‘world-class public housing system’ in place to cater to the needs of 80 per cent of Singaporeans.

The Law Ministry responded quickly to say it has no plans to ease the curbs on foreign ownership of landed homes.

Mr Yee’s call was also met with consternation by other property analysts, who said the market is already bubbling and in little need of such a catalyst.

Mr Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy and research at Knight Frank, says any such relaxation would ‘open the floodgates too wide’.

Foreigners bought 249 landed homes last year, 65 per cent more than in 2005, according to an analysis by property firm DTZ Debenham Tie Leung.

Of these, 105 were in prime districts 9, 10 and 11.

Of the 68,402 landed homes here, only 10,526 are in these prime areas.

With many rich foreigners from the region waiting in the wings to snap up landed homes, Mr Mak says an easing of rules will serve mainly to profit property developers.

The big losers will be middle- and upper-middle class Singaporeans who aspire to own landed homes, as they will be ‘priced out’, he warns.

Moving up the property ladder

WITH public housing accounting for 79 per cent of homes here, most Singaporean home buyers are protected from foreign competition.

Only foreigners who are PR can buy HDB homes, but only on the resale market.

However, the top 20 per cent of families are not eligible to buy new HDB flats as their monthly household income exceeds the $8,000 ceiling.

They will be in the market for private homes and may find themselves up against foreigners with deeper pockets.

It was concern for this group that led to the Government’s first clampdown on what it termed ‘land speculation’ by foreign buyers in 1973.

It said then that if it did not step in, young middle-income earners such as engineers, teachers, junior executives and officers in the police and armed forces, who were not eligible to buy HDB flats, would find ’suitable housing beyond their means altogether’.

Thirty years on, this remains a concern, with a booming economy causing the tide of foreign interest in Singapore real estate to rise again.

Foreigners accounted for 27 per cent of all private property deals in the first quarter of this year. But for top-end luxury apartments, their share has now risen to around 60 per cent.

Ms Tay Huey Ying, director of research and consultancy at Colliers International, estimates that 70 per cent of these foreign purchases are for investment and 30 per cent for living in.

The impact of such strong foreign demand on prices bears watching, she says.

‘Although the high-end and luxury tier is most attractive to foreigners at this time, the very strong foreign demand has led to a spate of collective sales at this end.

‘This creates a supply crunch at this tier. Demand then filters down to the lower tiers, causing prices to go up,’ she adds.

Such a cascading effect is apparent in the latest Urban Redevelopment Authority flash estimates, which show that in the second quarter, home price increases spread beyond the high end to other parts of the market, including mass-market private condos and the HDB resale market.

Mr Charles Chong, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on National Development, says there could be a political cost if more Singaporeans find themselves priced out of mass-market properties.

But he stresses that the rise in prices affects both Singaporeans and foreigners alike, as both groups include those in need of a home.

‘With rising prices, people need to put the blame somewhere and foreigners are a convenient place to park the blame,’ he says.

If the current surge in demand were to result in a short-term dearth of homes, property regulations may need to be tweaked, he adds.

But Professor Ong Seow Eng, deputy head of research at the National University of Singapore department of real estate, cautions against restrictions that may be seen as anti-foreigner.

‘I do not think it is appropriate for a government policy to protect local ownership, not if we truly want to become an international hub of choice,’’ he says.

‘Foreign ownership is a vote of confidence in Singapore,’ he adds.

Concurring, Mr Mak says he finds the current rules on foreign ownership ‘quite balanced’.

Unlike landed property, there is less need to restrict foreign buying of condominiums since supply is flexible, he argues, with government planners able to raise the plot ratio of land parcels should the need arise.

Property analysts also question the appropriateness of singling out foreigners for blame, given that the speculative activity of Singaporeans contributes to the price spiral as well.

Calming fears of S’porean buyers

THE Government has been at pains to reassure Singaporean buyers on two counts.

First, it has said that supply of new private homes is more than enough to meet demand.

This is unlike the situation in cities such as London, where a real estate boom coupled with a huge shortfall in housing supply has resulted in many locals being priced out of parts of the city.

London and Hong Kong also have no restrictions on foreign buying of real estate, whereas Middle Eastern states tend towards the other extreme, banning such purchases apart from exceptional cases. Singapore’s laws are in between these two extremes.

Second, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said two weeks ago that rapid price escalation is still confined to the luxury tier whereas prices of HDB resale flats are appreciating at a sustainable rate, in line with economic growth.

Even young home buyers like businessman Tan Sin Yat, 32, acknowledge that there are still affordable private homes to be had.

‘But you may have to look harder,’ he says.

The consensus appears to be that there is no urgent need to change existing rules on home purchases by foreigners, for now.

But the situation remains one that bears watching lest a speculative bubble builds up through a combination of local and foreign investor activity.

AS SINGAPORE draws more foreigners to work and invest here, how concerned are you at the impact this might have on property prices?

What do you think can be done to help Singaporeans and foreigners in search of affordable housing?

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

Young Singaporeans like businessman Tan Sin Yat, 32, accept an influx of foreign home buyers as part and parcel of life in an open, globalised economy

Young Singaporeans like businessman Tan Sin Yat, 32, accept an influx of foreign home buyers as part and parcel of life in an open, globalised economy.

But they also know it will have an impact on their chances to move up the property ladder.

‘With more foreigners buying private property, it also means that Singaporeans, especially young professionals, will find it more difficult to get that dream condo in a good location as prices are going up faster than incomes,’ he says.

The share of private home purchases by foreigners rose to 27 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

But for luxury developments in the Marina Bay and Orchard areas, their share has now soared to around 60 per cent.

Property analysts say the surge in demand and price increases at the top end filters down to mass market condominiums, where it has an impact on middle-income Singaporeans looking to buy their first home or upgrade.

This is of concern to Mr Charles Chong, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on National Development.

He says if demand cannot be met by supply in the short-term, some tweaking of existing property regulations may be needed.

While first-time home buyers may wish for more restrictions on foreign buying, an investment bank has recently called for a liberalisation of rules on landed property for foreigners, saying this would help draw more talent here.

What, then, is the right balance to strike for a global-city in the making like Singapore?

Insight reports.

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

Sept 11, 1973: The Government imposes curbs on foreign ownership of residential properties and land zoned for residential development, to curb specula

Sept 11, 1973: The Government imposes curbs on foreign ownership of residential properties and land zoned for residential development, to curb speculation.

With immediate effect, foreigners wishing to buy such real estate have to first obtain written permission.

Explaining the move, the Government said in a statement that it has ‘observed with great concern the recent steep rise of property values, particularly of residential and vacant lands’.

‘Unless dampened, middle-income groups, who are not eligible for Housing and Development Board flats, will find suitable housing beyond their means,’ the Government added.

October 1976: Enactment of the Residential Property Act, under which foreigners can buy private apartments in buildings of six levels or more, or flats in condominiums where ownership is by strata title.

Only permanent residents (PRs) can apply to the Law Minister to buy landed property.

August 1989: Rules on public housing are eased to allow PRs to buy resale HDB and HUDC flats. But they have to get clearance from two authorities: the HDB and the Law Ministry.

September 1991: Rules are liberalised to allow foreigners to buy HUDC flats built under phases one and two.

The requirement for PRs buying HDB resale flats to seek approval from the Law Ministry is removed. Thereafter, they need permission only from the HDB.

October 2003: Rules on foreign ownership are eased for Sentosa Cove, to allow foreigners who are not PRs to buy landed homes and land parcels.

They still need permission from the Government, but a fast-track process slashes the approval time in stages from weeks to just two days.

July 2005: Foreigners are allowed to buy apartments in developments of fewer than six levels, without the need for government approval.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said the changes are to encourage foreigners to invest in property, to ‘complement our efforts to attract and anchor foreign talent in Singapore’.

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

I refer to the letter, ‘HDB resale: Sellers’ market or agents’? (ST, July 7), and concur with the writer that you can sell a property without an agent

I refer to the letter, ‘HDB resale: Sellers’ market or agents’? (ST, July 7), and concur with the writer that you can sell a property without an agent and, therefore, save on commission.

However, to succeed, the seller needs to be competent in real estate marketing, legal, financial aspects, and other knowledge and skills.

This is important because you need to negotiate with increasingly sophisticated buyers. You need to outperform competitors, use latest technologies and stay ahead of the fast changing market.

To achieve the best results, you need to be constantly updated on market conditions, including past data and reliable projections. You need to review and compare similar houses that are currently in the market, especially those that have been sold or not sold in the past six months.

In a technology-driven market, you must use technologies that will provide you with powerful, timely, and accurate information to make better-informed decisions. These expensive tools are absolutely necessary and you need to go through proper training and guidance to use them correctly to enhance the results.

It is important to manage the marketing process correctly. This includes organising the marketing campaign, handling phone calls, qualifying buyers, conducting viewings, organising open houses, negotiating prices, completing the paperwork and closing the sale.

You must be prepared to respond to every phone call, including prank calls and calls from competitors, property sightseers and nasty buyers. In addition, you may have to conduct viewings of your house without advance notice and at your inconvenience.

Negotiation is a sophisticated skill that will contribute to the success of your sale. To do so, you need to suppress your emotions to prevent conflicts, handle unreasonable criticisms and respond to buyers’ whims and fancies.

You must protect yourself against unscrupulous buyers. You need to also protect yourself, your loved ones and personal belongings as you will be serving many strangers in your house.

From the above information, you can see that saving on agents’ commission may not cover the expenses needed to market your house successfully. In addition, you need to invest a lot of time, energy and effort. By taking yourself away from your work and other endeavours, you will also incur unnecessary opportunity costs.

That’s why you need an agent - not just an ordinary agent - you need a professional and competent specialist, equipped with the best tools and working as a part of the largest team in the industry to serve you and lead you to success.

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

The current property boom is unlikely to hurt the risk ratings of Singapore’s banks, according to leading ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service.

The current property boom is unlikely to hurt the risk ratings of Singapore’s banks, according to leading ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service.

Banks are ‘not getting too involved in the property market’, Ms Deborah Schuler, a Moody’s senior vice-president, said.

She told reporters that banks in Singapore typically ‘finance only the largest developers… who have the resources to have staying power in a downturn and complete buildings’.

Banks have also been more cautious about the developers they have on their books since the last market peak in 1996, she said.

She added that banks take on mortgages that ‘tend to be very low risk’.

The biggest concern ‘would be in mortgages as interest rates in the region rise’, she said.

So far, however, ‘liquidity in the system’ has been good, Ms Schuler said.

Singapore’s banking sector won high ratings from Moody’s, while its outlook is also stable because of the strong balance sheets and improved risk management of banks.

Moody’s maintained stable or stable-to-positive outlooks for the 16 banking systems it rates in the Asia-Pacific.

Among the South-east Asian banking systems rated by Moody’s, those of Vietnam and Indonesia received positive outlooks.

The report highlighted certain potential problems that could affect the banking sector in Asia, including rising energy prices and the risk that Asia’s business cycle may reach its peak in a year or two.

In a separate report, Moody’s maintained the highest possible credit rating for the Singapore Government. The outlook for it is also stable.

This was attributed to the continued fiscal strength of the public sector and strong external balance of payments.

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

Three adjacent homes - one of them unoccupied - could fetch a staggering $400 million if they all went on sale.

Three adjacent homes - one of them unoccupied - could fetch a staggering $400 million if they all went on sale.

But these are anything but ordinary homes. They are the last three bungalow plots at a prime location smack in the heart of the Orchard Road district.

The spotlight has swung to the three bungalows - surrounded by condominiums and malls - after one of them, at 11 Claymore Road, was put up for sale at $115million amid a booming property market.

Assuming all three plots were sold at that level - although the indications are that at least one is not up for sale - they could fetch almost $400 million and be redeveloped into a luxury condominium, consultants said.

On Monday, Credo Real Estate put 11 Claymore Road up for sale at $2,815 per sq ft of potential gross floor area, inclusive of a development charge of $26.67 million. It is currently rented to Pat’s Schoolhouse childcare centre.

A British pre-school chain, Modern Montessori International Group, leases one of the other bungalows at 15 Claymore Road.

The third bungalow, at 9 Claymore Road, is believed to be vacant, though recently renovation work has been started on it.

It is the biggest of the three plots and could fetch $151.5 million, if there is a buyer at the asking price of its neighbouring plot.

Next to 15 Claymore Road is The Tate Residences, which is being developed. One of the condominiums at the rear, The Ardmore, was recently acquired for $262 million or a record $2,338 psf of potential gross floor area.

The owners of two of the bungalow plots declined to comment, while the owner of the third plot was not contactable.

According to a search done by The Straits Times, the freehold plots are all registered under Chinese names, two of which are believed to be family-owned businesses. The other is an individual.

Kok Kim Chuan Co owns 11, Claymore Road. A company search showed that it was registered in 1970. Then, it was described as being a real estate agent. It also handled the retail sale of motor vehicles except motorcycles, and was into chartered bus and excursion bus services.

Mr Karamjit Singh, the managing director of Credo Real Estate, which is handling the sale of 11 Claymore Road, said the Kok family did not wish to comment.

The founder of Pat’s Schoolhouse, Mrs Patricia Koh, said the childcare centre has been leasing the Claymore Road property for the past six to seven years. Prior to that, it was used as a family residence.

At the start of the lease, she dealt with the late Mr Kok Kim Chuan and now deals with his son.

Teo Soo Chuan Realty, registered in July 1985 as a holding company, owns 15 Claymore Road. It is believed to be a family business of Mr Teo Soo Chuan, who did not wish to comment.

When asked, Mr Singh said the owners of 15 Claymore Road said they have no intention of selling.

Mr Teo is a director of Ngee Ann Development, Singapore Clan Foundation and The Singapore Sugar Traders Association, among others.

He once held directorships at a host of companies and organisations, including Singapura Finance from 1981 to 2002.

From 1965 to 1988, he had been the managing director of See Hoy Chan Singapore, founded by his father. He became a director when the company became See Hoy Chan (1988), a rice-trader.

Modern Montessori International is believed to have occupied 15 Claymore Road for nearly six years. Another childcare centre occupied the site previously.

The third plot - 9 Claymore Road - is owned by a Singaporean, Mr Tan Kheng Chuan. He was appointed a manager and existing owner of the since-deregistered Hiap Ann Sago Factory in August 1940, and then a manager and owner of Hiap Ann in 1946.

A childcare teacher at Pat’s Schoolhouse said the 9 Claymore Road property is vacant, though someone pops by once in a while to collect the mail.

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

SuperBowl Holdings is selling two plots of land for more than twice the price it paid for them a year ago, with the sharp run-up in property prices.

SuperBowl Holdings is selling two plots of land for more than twice the price it paid for them a year ago, with the sharp run-up in property prices.

The owner and operator of recreational facilities including bowling centres and games arcades has agreed to sell two Balestier Road sites for $39.8 million.

It will book a gain of $21.2 million from the sale as the properties were bought for $17.75 million last year.

The two plots have been earmarked for the development of a 168-room hotel, comprising an 11-storey tower block on a two-storey podium block with a basement carpark and a swimming pool.

SuperBowl managing director Teo Ho Beng said: ‘Given the current property boom, the sale of these two properties is commercially beneficial and would result in a substantial gain for the group.’

The deal will boost SuperBowl’s financial results this year in terms of net tangible assets and earnings per share.

The sale proceeds can be used for future working capital, as well as acquiring land for hotel development.

The group owns commercial space at Orchard Towers, Orchard Plaza, SuperBowl Jurong, Parklane Shopping Mall, Balestier Point and Bukit Timah Plaza.

SuperBowl shares have had a super run this year, with gains of 281 per cent.

They closed up 2.5 cents at 49.5 cents yesterday.

Source: The Straits Times, 14 July 2007

For those who need a new place to live after their properties have been sold en bloc, there are three options available.

For those who need a new place to live after their properties have been sold en bloc, there are three options available.

First, they could choose to rent. With rising sale prices, it may be better to wait until supply increases — when a large number of properties are completed in 2009 or later — before making a purchase.

Second, they could buy another property with the cash from the sale.

The third option would be to buy a property immediately using a term loan from a bank. A purchase now rather than later would enable the owner to beat any further rise in sale prices.

In a surprising twist, however, banks have given a resounding “No!” to the third option.


The case for buying soon is compelling.

“Overall prices of private residential properties rose 4.8 per cent in the first quarter (this year)”, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the flash estimate for the second quarter showed prices rising 7.9 per cent.

If property prices rose about 12.7 per cent so far this year and they’re expected to rise by 20 per cent year-end, then prices could rise another 7.3 per cent during the remainder of the year.

If an en bloc sale brings $1.5 million and the owner wants to use the full amount to buy a new property, then he would need to pay over $100,000 more if he waits until the end of the year. Buying now could save him a tremendous amount.


The best way to make an immediate purchase would be to obtain a 12- to 18-month term loan from a bank, as many property-rich, cash-poor owners simply do not have the money to pay for the new property before receiving proceeds of the en bloc sale.

A term loan would seem to be a great opportunity for banks as well, since they could make loans with relatively little risk. The banks’ answer, though, is clearly and collectively “No”.

In a recent case, an owner of a property sold en bloc asked four banks for a one-year term loan. Two local banks and two foreign banks said they could only make a term loan for a maximum of six months, and most said they would not even be able to make a term loan at all until every aspect of the sale was confirmed.

One foreign bank said they couldn’t even consider the request. The other banks offered to consider a standard mortgage loan for the new property purchase — assuming, of course, that the owner had enough money to make monthly payments for both the existing loan on the property sold en bloc and the loan for the new property.

In the example above, the collective sale price of $2.4 million, current property loan of $500,000 and the owner’s request for a term loan for the full amount of a new $2-million property, means the bank would just be loaning about 52 per cent of the $3.9-million net value of the total collateral.

In rejecting the request for a term loan, banks said that there was always a chance that the Strata Titles Board (STB) could reject the application for approval, or something else could derail the collective sale. Yes, the risk is there — but it seems quite low.


While en bloc sales vary, the overall process seems relatively similar in most cases. Once the required percentage of owners agree, the property is offered for sale. If there is a sufficiently high offer, the property is sold and owners are informed. If 100 per cent of the owners agree, the sale proceeds. If 100 per cent do not agree, then the STB must approve the sale. If not all owners sign but none object to the sale, the approval can be completed within three more months. If one or more owners object, then STB approval could take about six more months.

After STB approval, it still takes about another three months for owners to receive the money, and then they’re given some time to move out. This means that it could easily take six to nine months for owners to be paid.

There is always a risk that STB could reject the application for approval of the sale. This rejection is possible if any owner would receive less money than what they had paid for the property.

However, the STB has so far approved all but one sale. So, the actual risk seems quite low.


When asked why a term loan could not be approved, most bankers gave the standard response of “bank policy”. Mid-level bank staff were not aware of any Monetary Authority of Singapore restrictions on longer term loans.

Yet every bank had exactly the same policy of not making term loans for more than six months, and every bank had the same response for rejecting a request.

The banks seem to face an opportunity cost from this policy, and the cost to owners of properties sold en bloc is also high.

While banks and regulatory authorities do need to be prudent lenders, the old maxim seems more true than ever — if you don’t need a loan it’s easy to get one, and when you do need money, it’s extremely difficult to get a loan.

Source: Weekend Today, 14 July 2007

As the property market boom here gathers steam, developers are raising funds for new projects through more innovative means

As the property market boom here gathers steam, developers are raising funds for new projects through more innovative means, some of which pass on the risk to the wider capital markets.

The burden of financing such projects has fallen more heavily on the developers’ shoulders with the growing popularity of deferred payment schemes.

When buyers pay only a fraction of the property’s price upfront, it is left to the construction companies and developers to fund the land purchase and building costs before the money starts rolling in.

Instead of knocking on a bank’s door the old-fashioned way, analysts say that developers find themselves increasingly encouraged to issue bonds, for example.

‘The only reason why they would not rely on a bank is because the terms are much cheaper in issuing these,’ said David Lum at the Daiwa Institute of Research.

Kenneth Ng at CIMB said developers have been able to borrow much more cheaply from the capital markets compared to two or three years ago, ‘because there’s been more liquidity in the market.’

Large developers in particular have been able to obtain highly favourable borrowing terms because they now have ‘a lot of alternative avenues’ to raise funds, including spinning off properties into Reits and listing them, he added.

The use of convertible bonds, which give buyers the option to exchange their bonds for shares in the issuing company, have enabled even the smaller developers such as Soilbuild Group to borrow at interest rates as low as one per cent a year.

The embedded stock option - which is especially valuable in a bull market when investors expect share prices to rise further - means that firms can offer such bonds at lower interest rates than ordinary bonds.

Soilbuild said earlier this week that it would issue up to $60 million worth of convertible bonds.

Other developers have raised far bigger sums recently, also through the sale of convertible bonds. CapitaLand raised $1 billion in May, while GuocoLand sold $690 million worth of convertible bonds in April.

The latest data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on the corporate debt market here showed that property-related Sing-dollar debt issues doubled to $4 billion last year from $2 billion in 2005.

In a report published last month, Citi economist Chua Hak Bin estimated that the average debt to equity ratio at Singapore property developers with a market capitalisation of more than $1 billion rose to 61 per cent in the first quarter, from 50 per cent a year earlier.

With homebuyers paying only 10-20 per cent of a property’s price upfront in some cases, Dr Chua pointed out: ‘Developers, rather than households, are bearing the financing burden of the current property boom phase,’ he wrote.

Large developers such as CapitaLand and Keppel Land have also raised funds by selling securities backed by the future payments of homebuyers at specific projects.

Most recently, CapitaLand and Lippo Group raised some US$342 million selling floating-rate bonds linked to the Metropolitan and Scotts HighPark condominiums.

Investors in such asset-backed securities supply upfront working capital for the developer in exchange for regular interest payments, and they bear the risk of losing money if homebuyers in the underlying projects default on their payments.

Unlike bonds issued directly by a developer, investors in these securities have no claim on the developer’s remaining assets.

CIMB’s Mr Ng said developers selling asset-backed securities linked to specific projects could be trying to manage their own risk exposure.

‘My guess is that there’s a bigger than normal percentage of investment property buyers for these projects, so they’re trying to junk off the risk from their own books.’

Under MAS rules, the sale of such securities is usually restricted to institutions or ’sophisticated’ investors only. Since most are privately placed, the buyers are not known, but are believed to include foreign hedge funds keen to gain exposure to the local property sector.

Even so, in the event of a market crash resulting in widespread defaults by homebuyers - a big if for now, say analysts - these investors are likely to be caught out.

Daiwa’s Mr Lum said: ‘Like the sub-prime situation in the US - they’re supposed to be sophisticated, but some of them got wiped out like that. It’s always this risk.’

He added: ‘Unlike property cycles in the past in which it’s the banks that end up with the NPLs (non-performing loans), this time around, it’s probably these security holders that would end up taking the hit.’

Source: The Business Times, 13 July 2007

Four 99-year leasehold bungalow plots have been launched at Sentosa Cove

Four 99-year leasehold bungalow plots have been launched at Sentosa Cove, after which Sentosa Cove Pte Ltd (SCPL) will be left with just the final 20 individual bungalow plots in the upscale housing district.

The scarcity value is expected by some market watchers to increase the prices fetched for the latest four plots, which are being offered for sale through expression of interest.

Three of the four latest plots face the waterway, and Credo Real Estate managing director Karamjit Singh reckoned these could fetch $1,100 to $1,200 per square foot (psf) of land area, well above the highest price of $960 psf achieved for a waterway-fronting bungalow plot so far this year. ‘These plots are at the corners of a stretch of bungalow sites, which means they offer a wider span of water views,’ MrSingh said.

The fourth plot, with a land area of 9,400 sq ft facing Tanjong Golf Course, could fetch about $1,000 psf, again higher than the $910 psf top bid achieved for a fairway-facing bungalow plot on Sentosa Cove, he said.

SCPL, master developer of the waterfront housing district emerging on Sentosa island, said the top price achieved for a seafront bungalow site in the area was $1,473 psf.

The bungalow sites on Sentosa Cove have a particular scarcity value not just because there are very few of them but because buyers are particularly reluctant to sell on the secondary market, Mr Singh said. ‘Many of those who’ve bought these sites are high net worth investors who buy, build and keep,’ he reckoned.

The three waterway-

facing plots launched by SCPL will permit their new owners the luxury of mooring their private yachts in their backyards. The sites range in land areas from 9,348 sq ft to 11,515 sq ft and have plot ratios (ratio of maximum potential gross floor area to land area) of 0.77. The sole fairway-facing plot has a slightly higher plot ratio of 0.8. All four plots can be developed into two-storey bungalows with attic and basement.

The expressions of interest for the four plots close on July 25. The award will be based solely on price. Besides individual bungalow plots, there is still Pearl Island, which can be redeveloped into 19 bungalows and which will be relaunched in later this year after the man-made island failed to fetch a high-

enough price in a tender that closed last November. The island would be targeted mainly at developers, unlike the individual bungalow plots which provide buyers with the opportunities to build their dream homes on their new parcels of land.

The other remaining plots at Sentosa Cove available to developers include one for terrace houses, which is slated for launch soon. Two condominium plots are still available - the Beachfront Collection, which has been launched and whose tender closes on July 24, and a plot known as C-13, which will be launched before the end of the year.

SCPL has already sold land for about 1,955 homes on Sentosa Cove comprising 358 landed homes (terraced houses and bungalows) and about 1,597 condo units. These make up about 80 per cent of the total of 2,500 homes planned for Sentosa Cove.

Source: The Business Times, 13 July 2007

Soilbuild Group Holdings has bought Ruby Plaza on Balestier Road for $69 million

Soilbuild Group Holdings has bought Ruby Plaza on Balestier Road for $69 million through a collective sale, the developer said yesterday.

The price for the 39,500 sq ft freehold plot of land works out to $582 per square foot (psf) per plot ratio. The site has a 3.0 plot ratio, giving it a maximum gross floor area (GFA) of 118,500 sq ft. There is no development charge payable.

The site can be developed into a 36-storey commercial and residential development, said Soilbuild. The maximum allowable space for commercial use is 40 per cent of the total GFA, which works out to 47,400 sq ft.

Soilbuild also said that it intends to apply for an adjoining plot of state land of around 1,600 sq ft, which would take the total land size to about 41,100 sq ft.

The site is along the main thoroughfare of Balestier Road, in an area that has been growing in popularity among overseas investors and home owners, said Soilbuild.

‘The acquisition of the commercial and residential development site is in line with our strategy of developing land sites in prime, central locations close to amenities,’ said Low Soon Sim, Soilbuild’s executive director. The group recently launched Montebleu, also in the same area, which is now fully sold.

The acquisition will be funded by internal resources and bank borrowings, Soilbuild said. The purchase is not expected to have any material financial impact on the consolidated net tangible assets per share and consolidated earnings per share of the company for the current financial year ending December 31, 2007.

The deal was brokered by RealtorHub Real Estate. The property firm originally marketed the Ruby Plaza together with the adjoining Balestier Towers, but decided to go ahead with Ruby Plaza’s sale after owners holding at least 80 per cent of share value in the property decided to sell - while the same consensus couldn’t be reached for Balestier Towers. The latter will be sold separately later.

The price of $69 million is 11.7 per cent higher than the reserve price of $61.8 million. Owners of the 36 apartments walked away with between $1.0-$1.2 million a unit, while owners of the 89 shop units took home between $273,000-$654,000 each.

Soilbuild’s shares closed one cent down at $1.80 yesterday.

Source: The Business Times, 13 July 2007

Big-gun property companies are not having it all their own way any more

Big-gun property companies are not having it all their own way any more, with a growing band of johnny-come-latelies grabbing a slice of the booming redevelopment market.

In fact, so feverish has the residential property market become that even companies in other sectors are trying their hand at buying old buildings and redeveloping them into luxury homes.

Besides the entry of engineering-based United Engineers and builders Straits Construction and Chip Eng Seng, another ambitious entrant is TEE International, a Sesdaq-listed company with a market capitalisation of around $54.3 million.a

Singapore-based TEE, or Trans Equatorial Engineering, has been in electrical and mechanical engineering services since 1980. Its chief executive is Mr Phua Chian Kin.

Since the start of this year, TEE has been acquiring a string of freehold terrace houses and apartments - including in the upmarket Cairnhill district and Bukit Timah’s exclusive Sixth Avenue - with plans to develop luxury ’boutique’ homes.

TEE announced its biggest buy yesterday - a collective deal for the 32-unit Merlin Mansion at East Coast Road for $25.5 million. TEE, together with joint venture partner Tenpage, has received 100 per cent acceptance from the 32 units’ owners, who stand to reap about $800,000 on average each.

The site has the potential for ‘52 units of boutique designer apartments with amenities such as a lap pool, children’s pool, playground and others’, TEE said in a statement last night.

TEE started quietly buying small properties in the Thomson and Toa Payoh areas in January and in May, set up a wholly owned property development subsidiary, TEE Development.

Acquisitions have picked up since the unit was formed, with a number of terrace houses at Cairnhill Circle among its purchases.

One of these homes - No.47 - sold for $7.7 million while No.51 fetched $5.5 million.

‘The company intends to redevelop the properties into a block of boutique luxurious apartments’, it said.

Last month, TEE made a collective purchase of units at Rambai Road, also in the East Coast area, for $3.5 million.

Two days ago, it snapped up a freehold property on Sixth Avenue for $2.22 million.

It is not the only small developer eyeing the upscale residential market.

In March, Sing Holdings, a company then worth $97 million, paid $361 million for Hillcourt Apartments, also in the Cairnhill area, in a collective deal. That worked out to $1,542 per sq ft per plot ratio.

Source: The Straits Times, 13 July 2007

The Government may have raised the ante for the property sector with a string of warnings

The Government may have raised the ante for the property sector with a string of warnings, but analysts don’t expect official measures to follow any time soon to cool investor fervour.

A sense the Government remains sanguine about the market, and the impending supply of homes over the next year or so, are reasons the property sector has yet to feel the heat, they said.

Describing recent Government comments as “unprecedented” action to instill a note of caution into the booming market, JPMorgan said in a report this week that “whilst we believe the Government will continue to back up its cautionary statements with supply-side initiatives, we do not expect any official action to curtail demand.”

“The Government can step in whenever they want to. They still see the market as okay, and they believe that it can take care of itself,” said Mr Eugene Lim, assistant vice-president of ERA Singapore.

Since the middle of last month, comments to be cautious in view of a possible market correction, and supply to come have hit the headlines.

On Saturday, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew weighed in, with a warning to keep property prices below Hong Kong’s or lose competitiveness.

Singapore property prices have been climbing in the past two years, with recent purchases especially those in the high-end raising eyebrows. The Marq in the Orchard area sold at an average $4,137psf for the 21 apartments sold of its phase at end-June.

Would the Government step in, just as it did in the mid-1990s when it introduced various measures, including the introduction of a capital gains tax, to curb demand?

Some elements that drove the market then — wealth created by en bloc sales, a rising stock market — are also present in today’s property sector.

But JPMorgan noted that “in the short term, there appears to be a supply crunch of available-to-occupy units … further up the pipeline are 57,908 units under construction or planning, of which 4,403 units were added in the 1Q07.”

Expecting the supply-side to normalise in 12-18 months, the United States-based bank said “most of this inventory would only be brought on-line over the next year or two for completion post-2010, with 16,797 private residential properties due in 2009.”

The figures also do not include supply from the Government land sale programme and en-bloc sales.

“Given that at least 7,500 units are not included in the development pipeline in our estimation, we think the jump in the change of the number of units in the development pipeline is yet to come,” the bank said.

While mass-market housing prices are still below mid-1990s prices, the luxury and upper-mid property prices are above their mid-1990s levels, JPMorgan estimates show, suggesting Singapore’s luxury market “are no longer such an apparent relative bargain as they were two or three years ago, especially in contrast to Hong Kong and some major cities around the world.”

Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Chesterton International, thinks that if the mass market enters its own bull run, pricing buyers out of the market, the Government could make a move.

There is some evidence of that happening: Prices of some suburban properties are soaring on collective sale rumours.

Transaction caveats on URA’s website show a 1,636- sq-ft apartment at mid-priced Fernwood Towers in Marine Parade sold for $1.35 million last month, versus $770,000 for a similar apartment in September.

“They can base some preventive measures that are dependent on the quarterly price index. For properties in the suburban areas, the Government can release additional supply if that price index increases by, let’s say 5 per cent, in a single quarter,” said Mr Tan.

If potential buyers are convinced a steady stream of homes are coming to the market, “this would keep prices steady”, said Mr Tan.

Source: Today, 13 July 2007

I am renting out my apartment for the first time and am not very sure exactly what the agent’s job involves and what services I am actually paying for

I am renting out my apartment for the first time and am not very sure exactly what the agent’s job involves and what services I am actually paying for.

Firstly, I understand that the tenant does not have to pay any commission if his monthly rental is above $2,500, with the landlord instead having to pay the full commission to the agent. I would like to know why there isn’t a cap on such commission to protect the landlord’s interests.

For a two-year lease, the market practice has typically been to pay one month’s rent in commission. This doesn’t seem logical to me — why should we pay an agent say, $2,600 or $10,000 or more (depending on the monthly rent amount) when the amount of work the agent does is exactly the same?

Secondly, when there are two agents involved in the transaction, the commission is shared by both. However, when there is only one agent representing the tenant, the landlord still has to pay that same amount of commission. Is this justifiable just for that bit of extra work handled by one person instead of two?

This doesn’t make sense for me as a landlord — I don’t have an agent, yet I have to spend money to place advertisements in the media, answer calls about enquiries and schedule viewing appointments.

It is worse when the agent is “pro-tenant” and protects his or her client’s interests when actually being paid by the landlord.

Lastly, why do we need to pay the agents the full commission again when we renew the tenancy with the same tenant, when the amount of work involved the next time round is a fraction of the original workload? Do we have to continue paying the full commission every time we renew the contract? Why, and what are we paying for?

With the current increase in transactions in the rental property market, could the relevant authorities provide some advice and guidelines on this?

Letter from Jocelyn Koh

Source: Today. 13 July 2007

Time to regulate property agents

I refer to the letter, ‘Time to regulate property agents’ (ST, July 11), by Mr Teo Cheng Peow.

Mr Teo’s rhetoric of unscrupulous and greedy estate agents who do not act in the interests of their clients is laudable and one can’t agree with him more on the necessity for improved regulation of estate agents in Singapore.

Certainly the boom in the property market has also brought with it the bane of opportunistic agents who are drawn only by the lucrative commissions that can be earned as a result of the property price hikes.

However, Mr Teo’s letter also brought a sense of disquiet if all his views expressed were left unchallenged.

Firstly, it is simplistic generalisation that agents who do not co-broke and those who earn commission from both parties (seller and buyer) are greedy. If an agent is able to fetch a bona-fide deal for his client without having to work with another agent, is such conduct unbecoming?

Perhaps the best judge is not co-brokerage or the absence of it; rather, it is the satisfaction of the client. It is also not unethical to collect commission from both seller and buyer provided this is made known to the parties.

Mr Teo would definitely be aware that neither the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA) nor Singapore Accredited Estate Agencies (SAEA) prohibits their members from the collection of commission from seller and buyer but that double commission be declared.

Secondly, while improved regulation of estate agents is beneficial, excessive regulation may hamper true commerce and can be structurally oppressive for any profession to thrive.

The problem of commission does not dissipate with a fixed scale of fees. Fixing professional fees means remote or no room for negotiation. It may not be always equitable to pay the recommended scale. It can also take away the sovereign right of consumers to ascertain reasonable remuneration for service providers who exceed their expectations.

In this regard, IEA has a recommended scale of professional fees which the body is apt to add in its document posted on the website ( that ‘this scale of professional fee/commission is not intended to restrict or interfere with any private arrangements which agents/agencies may have with their clients’ (clause 1.3). In fact, the document is so well-crafted that it goes on to clarify in clause 1.4.2 that ‘agencies and their clients and agencies among themselves shall document/communicate at the outset, their agreement on commission, costs and disbursements’.

These clauses presuppose that agent’s commission is a matter that can be negotiated between consenting parties and that the agreed commission take precedence over the scale of recommended fees as the latter is not intended to restrict or interfere with such private arrangements. Besides, other costs and disbursements can also be separately negotiated from commission. Are these workings of free enterprise foreign and/or untenable to Mr Teo?

Moreover, IEA is not the only body representing estate agents in Singapore. A visit to its website (by clicking About Us) will show that it is a body representing estate agents and not ‘the industry’s association’ as Mr Teo claimed using the definite article.

Perhaps Mr Teo could visit the websites of SAEA and the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) as well if he has not done so.

Not all estate agents are members of IEA and the nature of membership in IEA is individual and not corporate, that is, agency. Thus, Mr Teo’s remark of regret about the online letter, ‘IEA not the only body regulating estate agents in Singapore’ (Online forum, June 23), is misleading.

The large property agency Mr Teo alluded to could very well be abiding by the rules of the association it belongs to.

In reality, no buyer or seller is at the mercy of any real estate agent. Using an agent is a matter of personal choice and the fact that agents receive more commission relatively speaking in a boom market is hardly a yardstick of their professionalism.

Dr Tan Tee Khoon

Source: The Straits Times, 13 July 2007

The chance to own an upscale home in Sentosa Cove is fast drawing to a close.

The chance to own an upscale home in Sentosa Cove is fast drawing to a close.

Today marks the sale launch of four bungalow plots on the luxurious waterfront district. As they are among the final few batches of land parcels left for the master developer to sell later this year, prices may set fresh records, analysts said.

Since Sentosa Cove Pte Ltd (SCPL) started in late 2003 to sell parts of the residential enclave that is open to foreign ownership, offers for the land parcels have been climbing, hitting a new peak last month of over $1,400psf for bungalows facing the sea.

Plots along waterways or facing golf courses, also known as fairway, are often deemed less prime.

But even these types recently fetched an all-time high of $960psf and $910psf, Government-linked SCPL said yesterday.

The latest bungalow plots on the market — three waterway types and one fairway — could garner even more when interested investors submit their “expressions of interest”, which are non-binding compared to a tender bid, on July 25.

The highest offer wins and Mr Vincent Chong, associate director for residential sales at Colliers International’s, foresees offers from $1,000psf to $1,500psf.

“The whole of Sentosa Cove is taking shape. As more developments are built up, there is more confidence in the market. As prices go up and as supply becomes less, that’s where expectations go up,” he said.

Some 120 families have moved to the island, which is currently 89-per-cent sold, SCPL said. It will soon roll out the last of 20 bungalow parcels in the southern residential precinct.

Based on Mr Chong’s predicted prices, bids for the four plots on offer would range from around $9.4 million to $16.1 million.

Each parcel spans between 9,365sqf and more than 10,764sqf.

Homebuyers and investors have been willing to fork out premiums for Sentosa Cove, even though its tenure is 99 years, compared to freehold bungalow space on mainland Singapore.

Property developers are also hoping to cash in on the destination’s marina lifestyle as a unique selling point.

When SCPL puts up for sale the final condominium parcel “in the next few months”, a scramble is expected.

But the strongest contenders for the condominium parcel could be City Developments Ltd and Ho Bee Investment, Mr Chong said.

Both have Sentosa Cove housing projects, which have given them “strongholds” and economies of scale to build new developments on the island.

But it is possible “one gungho developer might bid a very high price” to use the Sentosa Cove brand name to establish its standing in the global arena, Mr Chong added.

Source: Today. 13 July 2007

Dubai World, the investment holding firm of the Dubai government, said its real estate arm is looking to expand in the United States and Asia

Dubai World, the investment holding firm of the Dubai government, said its real estate arm is looking to expand in the United States and Asia and is set to make an acquisition soon.

‘We like the market in Singapore and we’re evaluating opportunities here. We are looking at China, Vietnam, Thailand,’ Dubai World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem told Reuters on the sidelines of a press briefing on Thursday.

Dubai World’s real estate firm, Nakheel Group — the developer of three palm-frond shaped islands off Dubai’s coast — recently said it would launch an international arm to pursue projects outside of Dubai.

In December last year, it sold the world’s largest Islamic bond, raising US$3.52 billion.Asked what the timeframe was for Nakheel’s next acquisition, Mr Sulayem said he hopes ‘that it can come within the next few months,’ adding these would be in Asia and the US.

Dubai World holds a multi-billion dollar portfolio that includes British ports operator P&O and has been taking on considerable debt to fund its acquisitions for its various businesses.

The investment firm’s private equity arm, Istithmar, has also been buying up US property aggressively. Last year, it bought a 73 per cent stake in the Mandarin Oriental New York, acquired retailer Loehmann’s, the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, and office block 280 Park Avenue in April.

Istithmar and Nakheel have also said that they plan to develop tourist resorts and real estate projects in African nations including Kenya and Mozambique to tap rising leisure demand.

Istithmar recently made an US$825 million offer for New York luxury retailer Barneys in June, but its bid could be scuppered by Japan’s Fast Retailing , which later offered US$900 million.

In November 2005, Dubai Ports World, the investment firm’s port operator and the world’s third-largest container port operator, said it was planning an initial public offering (IPO) within two years.

Its holding company issued a US$3.5 billion Islamic bond, or sukuk, convertible into shares in any IPO.

Mr Sulayem was in Singapore to finalise the acquisition of Singapore shipyard firm Pan-United Marine by Dubai Drydocks World, the global maritime arm of Dubai World.

Dubai Drydocks said in a statement that it has received acceptances of approximately 84.8 per cent of shares in Pan-United Marine.

Source: The Business Times, 12 July 2007

Malaysia’s developers said a government move to remove a cap on cement prices will boost construction costs and compel them to increase property price

Malaysia’s developers said a government move to remove a cap on cement prices will boost construction costs and compel them to increase property prices by about 10 per cent.

‘The price increase is an additional burden on the property industry at a time when the building and property industry is challenged by softening market demand,’ the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association said in a memorandum to the trade ministry.

Shares of cement suppliers, including Lafarge Malayan Cement Bhd, surged after Malaysia decided last month to lift the price cap on cement, a governmentcontrolled item.

The selling price of cement will be fixed every four months under an automatic pricing mechanism from Jan 1 instead of being set by the government, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said then.

The price mechanism would affect ongoing projects, including 597,242 houses being built nationwide, the association said. ‘In extreme cases, contractors’ inability to absorb such financial burden may lead to project abandonment,’ it said.

The association represents more than 800 developers responsible for about 80per cent of the total real estate built in Malaysia. They include SP Setia Bhd, Malaysia’s biggest developer, Sunrise Bhd and Mah Sing Group Bhd.

Source: The Business Times, 12 July 2007

Mapletree Investments says its wholly owned subsidiary, Mapletree Industrial Fund Management Pte Ltd (MIFM), will buy two industrial properties in Mal

Mapletree Investments says its wholly owned subsidiary, Mapletree Industrial Fund Management Pte Ltd (MIFM), will buy two industrial properties in Malaysia for a total of RM171.5 million (S$75.7 million) - the first regional acquisitions for Mapletree Industrial Fund.

MIFM will buy the first property, in Johor Technology Park, for RM80 million and the second property, at Technology Park Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, for RM91.5 million.

Both deals have been structured on a sale and leaseback arrangement, with the Malaysian vendors - Classic Advantage Sdn Bhd and Iris Technologies (M) Sdn Bhd respectively - taking long leases on the properties.

‘These acquisitions are an important part of our strategy to expand our investments beyond Singapore for Mapletree Investment Fund,’ said Mapletree chief executive officer, Hiew Yoon Khong. ‘These acquisitions will help us gain a foothold in Malaysia. We will continue to look for quality industrial properties here and across Asia to invest in and grow Mapletree Investment Fund into a truly pan-Asian industrial fund.’

MIFM CEO Phua Kok Kim said: ‘The property at the Johor Technology Park benefits from its proximity to the University Technology Malaysia campus and the Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia as synergies and innovations from these two institutions would complement the manufacturing industries located in the Johor Technology Park.’

‘The property at the Technology Park Malaysia is also a strategic acquisition for us as it is located within one of Malaysia’s most advanced and comprehensive centres for research and development of ICT and knowledge-based industries,’ Mr Phua added.

Source: The Business Times, 12 July 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rexit to make big strides in Japan

Rexit to make big strides in Japan

By C. S. Tan

PETALING JAYA: Rexit Bhd got closer towards taking a big step into the insurance market in Japan when it received a letter of intent from Marubeni Safenet Co Ltd on Monday.

Marubeni Safenet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marubeni Corp of Japan, sent a letter of intent (LOI) to Rexit International Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Rexit Bhd, for implementation of its insurance software and services for the Japanese company.

“Marubeni does not lightly issue an LOI. When it gives an LOI, a contract is likely to issued soon, maybe in a month or two,” industry sources said yesterday.

When that happens, it would be a giant step for Rexit because Marubeni Safenet is a giant even on the scale of the huge Japanese insurance market.

In a note on Rexit yesterday, Aseambankers said Marubeni Safenet was an insurance agency that counted the top three non-life insurers in Japan as its clients, namely Tokyo Marine, Sompo Japan and Mitsui Sumitomo.

These three clients account for more than 62% of Japan's non-life insurance market.

Aseambankers expects the Rexit portal would go live in Japan in July next year. It is understood that Rexit would then replace the current process there of issuing paper documents and physical delivery of policy documents with its e-Cover portal.

The brokerage also expects Rexit International would adopt a model based on a percentage of Marubeni Safenet's insurance premium revenue.

“Any percentage would be a lot for Rexit International because Marubeni Safenet's revenue is in the billions of US dollars,” the sources said. Marubeni Safenet represents 25 non-life companies and 15 life insurance companies in Japan.

Rexit International is a joint venture company that is 51% owned by Rexit Bhd and 49% owned by Marubeni Corp.

The joint ownership with Marubeni does not, however, automatically ensure the Japanese group would outsource the information technology (IT) services of its insurance group to Rexit International.

The Malaysian company has to undergo a thorough evaluation by Marubeni Safenet, a process that started in October last year.

There is increasing confidence that the arrangements made so far would lead to a contract and implementation of Rexit's e-Cover portal for Marubeni. Some fund managers believe that.

T. Rowe Price Associates Inc, for instance, bought an 8% stake in Rexit.

Aseambankers said that since it initiated coverage of the stock in January, large investment funds, both local and foreign, had become significant shareholders of Rexit.

That may explain the relative stability of Rexit's share price, which occasionally jumps, then follows a flattish trend but does not fall sharply.

Rexit is now one of the largest companies listed on the Mesdaq Market in terms of its market value of about RM550mil. The stock rose 30 sen to RM2.92 yesterday.

Glomac to make foray into India

Glomac to make foray into India

BANGKOK: Glomac Bhd is planning a mixed township in Pune, India's biggest second-tier city, and the emerging “Detroit of India”.

Managing director Datuk Fateh Iskandar Mohamed Mansor said the group signed a memorandum of understanding with Vescon, a Pune-based developer in April this year, and hoped to formalise all arrangements by end of this year.

He said the project, with a development value of more than RM800mil, would be located on a 30-acre site.

“Our management team had been going to almost all the major cities in India for the past three years to seek the right business and partner. Maybe we are slow compared to other major developers in Malaysia but we want to be sure before setting our foot overseas,” Fateh Iskandar said in an interview here.

Located in the state of Maharashtra, Pune is the eighth largest city with a population of 4.5 million. Many automobile, software and information technology (IT) companies are setting up their plants there.

Glomac ventured overseas in 2006 with the purchase of an office building costing A$30.5mil (about RM90mil) in Melbourne, Australia. It also set up a joint venture with Thailand's Warehouse Asia Alliance Co Ltd to build a RM110mil warehouse in the Samuprakarn province near here, which was leased to pharmaceutical company Diethelm Ltd for 15 years. For the financial year ended April 30, Glomac announced a pre tax profit of RM50.7mil and net profit after minority interest of RM32.2mil, on revenue of RM293.2mil compared with RM285.5mil previously.

He said the group was also looking at other opportunities in the region, with focus on developing countries like Vietnam.

To date, the group has completed about 10,000 residential and commercial units worth more than RM3.5bil. With about 1,000ha, the group's interest was currently mostly in the Klang Valley area, as well as in Malacca and Johor. – Bernama

SPK unit plans quality homes in Shah Alam

SPK unit plans quality homes in Shah Alam


SHAH ALAM: Sharikat Permodalan Kebangsaan Bhd's (SPK) property division, SPK Homes, aims to develop quality homes at its Cahaya SPK development.

SPK head of property division Steven Lim says the company also plans to use the surrounding lush tropical area to encourage greater outdoor activities.

When fully completed in 10 years, Cahaya SPK township, on 500 acres of leasehold, will have commercial properties, schools, shop-lots and a mix of residential properties.

Lim said the RM1.2bil low-density resort township was targeted at the mid to high-end market.

SPK head of property division Steven Lim showing a show unit of Superlink Homes at Cahaya SPK in Shah Alam
“Cahaya SPK is our signature development and has been meticulously planned with great care for minor details,” he said after a media tour of the project site in Shah Alam yesterday.

Phase 1 of Cahaya SPK, to be launched on July 21 and scheduled to be completed by mid-2009, will comprise 142 units of Superlink Homes, priced from RM361,000 onwards.

“We expect to sell all the units (in phase 1) within six months,” Lim said, adding that the gross development value (GDV) of Superlink Homes was RM63mil.

He said 84 semi-detached linked houses with GDV of about RM55mil and 80 bungalows would be launched next month.

SPK Homes also plans to develop high-rise properties, including apartments and condominiums, in Cahaya SPK in the future.

“With the launching of this 500-acre Cahaya SPK project, we will be a major player in property development,” Lim said.

Currently, SPK Homes has a land-bank of 7,500 acres, of which 6,500 are in Sungai Petani. The rest are in Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Penang.

Lim also said the RM444mil joint-venture project secured recently in Abu Dhabi by construction arm SPK-Sentosa Corp Bhd had given SPK Homes an opportunity to expand overseas.

Kuwait Finance supports plan

Kuwait Finance supports plan

By Hanim Adnan

KUALA LUMPUR: Kuwait Finance House (M) Bhd expects its newly launched Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Hijrah-i service programme to attract strong participation from foreigners.

Managing director K. Salman Younis said the bank had received enquiries for the programme, particularly from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Pakistan, India, South Korea and Japan.

“No sales target has been set but we will promote this programme aggressively by capitalising on Kuwait Finance's strong global network and its international branches,” he told reporters after the official launch by Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansur yesterday.

Kuwait Finance is the first foreign bank in Malaysia to offer financial services to support the MM2H, a Malaysian Government initiative that allows foreign nationals to live in Malaysia for an extended period of time.

MM2H offers a 10-year multi-entry renewable visa that allows foreign nationals to reside as well as invest in and capitalise on the country’s booming economy.

Under Kuwait Finance's MM2H programme, Salman pointed out that customers would have full access to banking and financial facilities during their stay in Malaysia.

From left: K. Salman Younis, board member Mohamed Ismail Mohamed Shariff and Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan
In addition, accommodation, healthcare, education, leisure, insurance and travel requirements will be packaged into the programme.

“We also render assistance to participants in expediting the process of obtaining their visa,” Salman added.

Earlier, Tengku Adnan said about 1,728 participants were accepted into MM2H programme last year.

He said Malaysia was a choice destination for foreigners looking for long-stay programmes in the region.

Apart from popular destinations like Spain, Mexico and Turkey, Tengku Adnan said Malaysia faced competition from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines for similar long-stay programmes.

He said both new MM2H participants and existing foreigners residing in Malaysia should take advantage of the attractive programme due to the country's general low cost of living but high quality lifestyle.

Good response seen for green homes

Good response seen for green homes

By Chan Ching Thut

PUTRAJAYA: Half of Putrajaya Perdana Bhd's D'Heron at the Lakes should be sold by the time the company launches the “green homes” in September, said senior general manager Mak Hong Seng.

The construction and property developer's latest project comprises 19 energy-efficient bungalows on 6.4 acres overlooking a lake in Putrajaya's Precinct 16.

Mak said at a media preview yesterday the bungalows would be equipped with building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels to generate electricity to supplement owners' consumption.

The homes are made energy-efficient as heat transmission into the buildings is minimised by having large roof overhangs, thermally insulated roof, walls and low-emission glass windows.

“We have started constructing four units, of which some are already sold or to be turned into a show unit. The remainder will be available for sale once construction of the show unit is completed next month.

Mak Hong Seng
“The bungalows, with lot sizes of 10,000 sq ft to 16,000 sq ft, will have built-up areas ranging between 4,604 sq ft and 4,897 sq ft. There are five designs to choose from,” he added.

The bungalows are priced between RM2.9mil and RM3.7mil. The entire project has a gross development value (GDV) of RM54mil.

Putra Perdana Development Sdn Bhd general manager Bu Teng Cheng hoped all the units would be sold off in six months. Putra Perdana Development is a wholly owned subsidiary of Putrajaya Perdana.

“About 30% of the units are reserved for civil servants and we hope to attract retirees for these homes,” he added.

Mak said the company also welcomed purchasers from other countries. As D'Heron at the Lakes is a niche development, the company will arrange special preview for selected groups of buyers.

Putrajaya Perdana has a landbank of 136 acres in Putrajaya, with 113 acres in Precinct 16 and the rest in Precincts 2 and 3. It also has small parcels of land in Malacca.

Mak said the land in Precinct 16 would last between five and eight years with an estimated GDV of RM700mil.

“The company is focused on constructing energy-efficient buildings, so property development accounts for a very small percentage of revenue. For the financial year 2008, we are targeting for property development to contribute 10% of revenue,” he said.

Bu said as work on D'Heron at the Lakes took off, 49 more energy efficient bungalows were being planned in Precinct 16.

MIEA Q&A: Settling a Govt loan early

MIEA Q&A: Settling a Govt loan early

Malaysian Institute of Real Estate Agents (MIEA) Q&A

This Q&A series appears in the Metro Classifieds of The Star monthly. Here we feature some of the more popular questions asked by property buyers and home owners.

Settling a Govt loan early

Q. I took a Government housing loan when I was working in LLN (Lembaga Letrik Negara). Now I have retired. According to my records, this loan will be completed by August 2007. At present, I have put this house for sale/rent since it has been vacant from the beginning of this year.

How long does it take to settle the outstanding amount with the Government assuming I can get a buyer for this house?

What are the procedures required and which government departments are involved if I have to settle the loan prematurely? Do I need the services of a lawyer for this matter? - Boey Kok Soon

A. There are two options to choose from. Firstly, since you have put the house up for sale, you can continue to pay your instalments while waiting for the right purchaser. Once the Sales and Purchase Agreement is signed, you can either use the initial 10% down payment to redeem your loan or wait for the balance of the purchase price to settle your loan. Your monthly instalments are still payable until the completion of the sale. The second option is to redeem the loan before you secure a purchaser. You can appoint a solicitor who will help you write to the Treasury for the redemption sum, pay the outstanding amount and perform the discharge of charge to the property.

The second option of redeeming the property first would probably save you some time in the process of selling your property.

House buyers beware

Are house owners obliged to tell their potential buyers about the defects in their house?
Q. Are house owners obliged to tell their potential buyers about the defects in their house? Although some defects like hairline cracks, damp patches, etc, are obvious, things like faulty electrical plugs and wiring, clogged pipes, etc., will only become obvious when the buyer finally stays in the house. My friends say sellers won’t normally reveal the such defects to the buyers. So are buyers supposed to turn on every switch and run every tap in the house to check?

Is there a clause to say that buyers can hold previous owners responsible for such defects should they discover them after moving in, since they were not informed of such defects at the point of transaction? - Poh

A. This is an interesting question; we have to agree that it is incumbent upon the vendor to reveal any serious defects that cannot be seen by the eye.

However, it is generally accepted that the onus of identifying the defects is on the buyer during the viewing process. It is also a Malaysian phenomenon not to reveal as the price would go down or defects need to be rectified and the owner will have to incur expenses. Yes, you have to turn on every tap, flush all toilets, switch on all lights, check the circuit breaker and if possible, check the roof.

There are also prospective buyers who get qualified people to check the house for defects, especially ceilings, whether the house is termite infested or whether the structure is sound, etc. One way to tackle this is to go through estate agents. They are supposed to have inspected the house before putting it for sale and they generally would have advised the owners to rectify defects, if any. But purchasing a house is based on the principle: ‘as is where is’. There is no standard clause in the S&P on defects but if the buyer and seller agree, they can include such a clause.

Agents more keen on rental than sale

Q. Are real estate agents more keen on rental than the sale of condominium units?

Are real estate agents more keen on rental than the sale of condominium units?

I bought a large condo unit on Jalan SS7/15 in Kelana Jaya with plans to move from our bungalow when we reach old age. The location condo property is near the Subang Golf Club, sports stadium and income tax office. We have decided not to leave our bungalow.

We have had calls from three real estate agents regarding the condo unit, but each call was for rental and not for sale. One agent quoted the market price of RM220,000 and we were willing to accept as low as RM190,000. The place would be wonderful for someone working nearby so he/she may just walk to work and avoid daily traffic jams. Can you help? - Elsa

A. Estate agents can do both rental and sale and seldom is there a preference. We will post this mail on our website and we are sure some agents will get in touch with you.

Any property agents in Kapar?

Q. My dad has a brand new house in Kapar, Klang, which he had tried to sell for the last couple of years, but had been unsuccessful. He had engaged the services of real estate agents but still could not get any buyer. Some suggested using services of agents based in Kapar, but we have no contact with any of them. Appreciate your advice- Phillip Lew

A. Please call the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents at 03-77277477 and we might be able to give names of agents who are active in the area.

Do you have a query on real estate in Malaysia?

Having trouble buying or selling property? How do you choose the right estate agent to market your property?

If you are facing such problems, we will be happy to help out. You may e-mail your questions to (please include your location) and we will post selected questions together with our answers.

This series is supported by MIEA.

PjH in land deal with TRW

PjH in land deal with TRW


PUTRAJAYA: Putrajaya Holdings Sdn Bhd (PjH) is negotiating with TRW group on the latter's plan to acquire more commercial land in Putrajaya, said PjH chief executive officer Azlan Abdul Karim.

“We are now engaged in talks with TRW on its plan to acquire more land for commercial development.

“I hope this will be a win-win situation for both parties and provide a greater push towards the development of commercial properties in Putrajaya,” Azlan said at a sale and purchase agreement signing ceremony between PjH and TRW group yesterday.

PjH has entered into a SPA with TRW Boulevard Square Sdn Bhd to sell 6,160 sq m of land in Precint 3 for RM23.2mil.

TRW Boulevard is part of the TRW group, an international property investment and development group incorporated in Hong Kong.

Chairman Datuk Ishak Imam Abas signed for PjH while TRW Boulevard was represented by senior director Paul Ravelli. The signing was witnessed by Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique.

Paul Ravelli (left) exchanging documents with Datuk Ishak Imam Abas. With them is Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique
Ravelli said the group planned to build on its newly acquired land two office towers – one eight-storey and the other with 13 or 15 storeys.

“We have yet to confirm how many storeys we want for the second officer tower but we have engaged consultants and started the designing process,” he said, adding that the buildings were scheduled for completion in two years.

Meanwhile, Azlan said PjH and TRW group were discussing a proposed co-operation to identify and secure more foreign direct investments (FDIs) to Putrajaya.

“The proposal includes a blueprint for FDIs in Putrajaya and an international investment campaign. The main thrust of the co-operation is to secure investors to invest in cutting-edge technology industries in Putrajaya,” he said.

‘A sanctuary for the soul’

‘A sanctuary for the soul’

Seni Mont’Kiara provides a balance for the body and mind

PETALING JAYA: What differentiates the new Seni Mont’Kiara development from other residential properties in the sought-after Mont’Kiara location is the infusion of artistic and fine-living features.

This is meant to elevate Seni Mont’Kiara from a mere luxury abode to “a sanctuary for the soul,” according to developer Ireka Corp Bhd.

“Living up to its name, Seni Mont’Kiara will house an art gallery, lush landscaping based on an island concept, as well as a signature cafe. Combined, these features will heighten residents’ sensorial experience to provide a balance for the body and mind,” said Ireka Development Management Sdn Bhd president and chief executive officer Lai Voon Hon.

Seni Mont’Kiara is the third venture between the Ireka group, via Aseana Properties Ltd unit Amatir Resources Sdn Bhd, and CapitaLand Financial. It comes hot on the heels of the successful Tiffani by i-ZEN and One Mont’Kiara.

While a permanent art gallery will stand centrally in Seni Mont’Kiara, a specially designed space within its property showcase has been dedicated for the same purpose during the construction period.

Prominent landscape designer Karl Prinsic has been entrusted with the job of creating a peaceful and serene resort-type ambience
To be opened in conjunction with its sales launch, well-known international artists Eng Tay and Jolly Koh will showcase their masterpieces at the inaugural exhibition. Other renowned artists lined up for the year include Jansen Chow, Yeong Seak Ling, Yuen Chee Ling, Ahmad Shukri and Latiff Mohidin.

Sparing no efforts to create a peaceful and serene resort-type ambience, prominent landscape designer Karl Prinsic has been handpicked for the landscaping job. The core landscape concept for Seni Mont’Kiara is one of an island, with a central courtyard that runs between two residential blocks to act as the recreational platform. With 2.3 acres in soft landscaping, residents will come home to a tropical paradise that can be viewed from all the units.

Seni Mont’Kiara, located at the highest point of Mont’Kiara and next to Kiaraville, is ringed by an excellent network of roads and highways, including the North Klang Valley Expressway, Sprint Highway and Duta-Ulu Klang Expressway, providing easy access to the Kuala Lumpur city centre, Petaling Jaya, Bangsar, Damansara Heights, Damansara Utama and Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

The development on an 8.83-acre freehold site comprises two 40-level tower blocks and two 12-level low-rise blocks that house 605 units and more than 2,000 parking bays.

An artist’s impression of Seni Mont’Kiara
Unique to Seni Mont’Kiara, 60% of the units, with built-up areas ranging from 2,400 sq ft upwards, will have a view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. The remaining units will enjoy the tropical garden and pool view in Prinsic’s signature fashion.

The Blayney penthouse

The Blayney penthouse

By Johnni Wong

The penthouse is even more spacious when the walls of one of the bedooms were removed to enlarge the lounge. Note the bold colour scheme
Jules and Terry Blayney enjoy living in Kuala Lumpur so much that they just had to have their own penthouse.

But not any old penthhouse will do as Terry, who is a public relations consultant, entertains a fair bit at home.

The expatriate couple's dream home would have to be fairly spacious, conveniently located, in a secure neighbourhood and offer a spectacular view of the Klang Valley.

Prior to buying their own duplex unit, the Blayneys lived in a rented penthouse at the Wangsaria complex in Bangsar for nine years.

The original entrance is now concealed with a sliding door with green-tinted panes
“Jules looked around for six months before finding this place in Bangsar,” says Terry, who is originally from Wales but have lived in Asian countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and now Malaysia for more than two decades.

The penthouse spans 279sq m (3,000sq ft) and after major renovations such as knocking down the walls of a bedroom to expand the living room, the lay-out on the first level is even more spacious.

“We enjoy entertaining and we wanted an open concept. Much of the pleasure of living on the top-most floor is the view.

"We opened up the walls to reveal the windows for a central perspective especially when a visitor steps through the front door.

“However, we couldn't change the casement windows as the façade of the building can't be altered.

The view - from one of the highest vantage points in the whole of Bangsar - is what makes this penthouse so attractive and exclusive
"But we changed the front door's orientation which now offer a more logical entrance.”

It only took less than four months for the contractor to renovate the whole place.

And Terry is fond of telling guests that the “guys who did the renovations only did low-cost housing before.”

As for the colour scheme, the Blayneys chose primary colours such as red and blue for visual impact. And an interior décorator friend “contributed to the interior design”.

Although the mistress of the penthouse doesn’t cook much, she sure has everything handy should inspiration strike
The couple even flew to Bali to pick up a couple of décorative items such as traditional doors, antiquated wagon wheel as well as “bits and pieces”.

The lounge has “his” and “hers” reclining chairs in front of the TV set and the elevated floor is lined with engineered wood.

Part of the floor space is paved with green slate, as Terry quips, “Wales is famous for slate”.

For Terry, growing in Wales meant mountains, lakes, forests and playing the guitar “then and now”.

But for Jules, who hails from Singapore, growing up on the island meant “HDB flats”.

Says Jules: “The design is contemporary tropical with lots of wood. The décor is a combination of our stuff which reflects our individual personality and heritage.

The well-used masterbedroom painted in lurid red that Terry describes as “seductive”
"I'm from a Peranakan family so the chupu (covered bowl) from my great-grandmother represents my heritage. I love colours and we are not afraid to make a statement with colours.”

Terry lived in Singapore for about nine years in the 1980s. And his prized collectibles include an old counter bought from a Chinese medical hall which now serves as his bar.

As avid travellers, the Blayneys are always discovering and collecting things that appeal to their sense of adventure and history.

Pointing to a potted plant with serrated leaves on the main balcony, Terry proudly mentions that it was grown from a seed that was picked up in central Turkey.

Terry’s antique bar counter where guests get into high spirits.
The balcony is also Terry's favourite spot where he can take a puff or two.

It is apparent that the couple adores staying at home.

While Jules can cook “but not very much”, party food is usually catered.

Jokes Terry: “Singapore girls aren't known for their cooking prowess. The food will turn out to be more of a surprise rather than a culinary dish.”

Nevertheless, the compact kitchen is both practical and functional. But Jules now fancies an island-style central counter.

“Some women spend hours in the kitchen but I'm not like that,” concedes Jules.

The top-level is where the master-bedroom is located. It seems to be the couple's favourite hideaway.

Terry describes the bedroom as “seductive” because of the scarlet colour scheme.

But Jules says the room is also warm and cosy like a “French bordello”.

Don't you mean “boudoir”, points out Terry.

Faintly Chiang Mai in style

Faintly Chiang Mai in style

Review by Johnni Wong

Book: Chiang Mai Style

Author: Joe Cummings

Photographer: Luca I. Tettoni

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2006

Price: RM204

Chiang Mai Styleis one of those coffee-table books that follow a “formula” but with some winning points.

This bedroom of an interior designer's two-storey, wooden house mixes traditional aesthetics as in the windows with modern elements as in the berber wool carpet and TV set
As the years go by, and as more and more publishers jump on the bandwagon of coming out with books boasting “this style” or “that style”, many don’t live up to the promise of featuring interior designs that are distinctly identifiable with the title.

Almost all the most impressive or notable properties in the South-East Asian region have been highlighted.

Well, at least, properties of owners who allow their homes or commercial centres (spas, hotels, resorts and restaurants) to be featured.

The standard format Asian “style” books more or less touch on the history and culture of the indigenous community, the artistic motifs found in that locality/region as well as foreign influences (either Hindu, Buddhist or Islamic; India or China or a combination of the two dominant cultures).

Then it will move on to modern “innovations” or contemporary taste. Perhaps, featuring the creative talents of local style leaders, i.e. architects, designers, antique and art dealers or even, an aristocrat or two – hopefully with taste.

Towards the end of such a book, a sampling of local crafts will be highlighted extolling the virtues of the local artisans and style masters.

Old teak recycled from abandoned houses and barns is used throughout this house designed by top architect Ajahn Chulathat Kittibutr
This book on the Thai provincial capital of Chiang Mai, doesn’t veer far from what has been described. Thus, after the Introduction, the chapters are divided into:

* Traditional Houses

* Contemporary Lifestyles

* Hotels, Restaurants and Spas

* Chiang Mai Crafts

* Architectural Notebook

* Acknowledgements

Within the 232 pages of this book, you will be educated on the facts that shape Chiang Mai and its artistic life. Facts include:

* The city has over 300 Buddhist temples

* The original settlement can be traced back to the 5th Century A.D.

* Indigenous groups include the Lawa

* Two northern Thai kingdoms – Lanna and Sukhothai – dominated the region

* Influx of peoples from China, Myanmar and Laos

This house of a Bangkok physician was assembled from four abandoned rice barns
* The Thais blended their own ideas with the architecture of the Mon and Khmer cultures

* The Shan contributed to Chiang Mai art and culture

* The Chiang Mai home is the result of 1,500 years of expermentation and adaptation

The pictures by veteran photographer Luca I. Tettoni were what attracted me to the book.

But after having bought the book and upon closer inspection, some of the interiors were rather derivative and most undistinctly Thai – let alone, Chiang Mai in identity.

Comedian Udom Taepanich's house reflects his unconventional taste

For instance, as much as I love Chinese furniture, textiles and the colour red, some of the interiors turn out to be quite garish, namely, The House fusion restaurant and the Dalaabaa Bar and Restaurant.

One was designed by a Mat Salleh and the other by a “Bangkokian” so that explains why the two interiors fail to live up to the book title. Just because they are in Chiang Mai doesn’t necessarily mean they should be included.

Nevertheless, the book does have some gems, like the sleek homes designed by architect Ajahn Chulathat Kittibutr.

Of note too, is the rice barn home of a Bangkok physician, overlooking a lily pond.

The foreign owner of this Chiang Mai residence is fascinated with Chinese political pop art. His spirituality is probably reflected in the 19th Century Burmese standing Buddha which towers above the multi-purpose room

And the quirky taste of Thai comedian Udom Taepanich is reflected in his home. The design merges the industrial look matched with architectural salvage items like shophouse doors and windows with faded paint and all.

Of the hotels featured, The Tamarind Village and The Rachamankha (highlighted on the cover) – both created by interior designer Rooj Changtraku and architect Ongard Satrabhandhu – seem to represent the best of boutique or heritage hotels in Chiang Mai.

And sure enough, the Mandarin-Oriental Dhara Dhevi has to be featured.

The chapter on Chiang Mai crafts seems to suggest that some of the artisans or designers lack original ideas.

Some of the crafts are merely copy-cat items of traditional Chinese chairs, drumstools and saddle stools rendered in horrid colours in an attempt to “update” them.

But all is not lost in Chiang Mai, as the book also highlights the textiles of Studio Naenna which uses natural fibres and dyes to produce contemporary interpretations of traditional textiles. And the products of Sop Moei Arts do deserve to be featured.

Should you pay RM204 for this book? It depends on how much you like interior design or nice pictures.

Although some of the interiors chosen don’t really reflect the book title and not nearly as distinctive as those found in Thai Style, you may still learn a thing or two about what’s happening in Chiang Mai. If you have cash to spare, why not?

Best feng shui sites in KL

Best feng shui sites in KL

Koh explaining how the Klang Valley is cradled by two "embracing arms" formed by branches of the Titiwangsa mountain range. One branch extends to Rawang and then to Meru in Klang and subsequently into Port Klang. The other branch extends to Bukit Jalil embracing Puchong and towards Pulau Indah and ending also in Port Klang.
A rare and unique tour in Kuala Lumpur aims to offer an insight into the special landforms that have shaped the development of Malaysia's capital city.

Touted as one of the highlights of the forthcoming Asia Pacific Geomancy Conference 2007, this special tour on July 22 is organised from the perspective of geomancy or feng shui practitioners.

Organised by the Malaysia Institute of Geomancy Sciences (MINGS) and spearheaded by well-known feng shui master David Koh, the tour will include some of the city’s famous landmarks and neighbourhoods which are considered particularly significant in the realm of feng shui.

“This tour is about how and why in feng shui principles, Kuala Lumpur became the capital city of Malaysia,” says Koh who has been a feng shui consultant for the past 30 years.

“The tour starts at Ampang Hill (near Kampung Belachan) where the participants have a vantage view of the whole Klang Valley and the surrounding mountain range. They then proceed to Masjid Jamek to observe the confluence of the two rivers – Ampang River and Gombak River - and the energy that manifests around that area.

“After that it is off to Rumah Penghulu – a house that was built according to the principles of Malay geomancy - Tiang Seri. Here, the participants will be able to see, touch and feel the ambience of an old kampong-house dwelling that was built to best suit our tropical climate.”

Apparently, the programme includes a “sky lunch” at Menara KL. From Menara KL, the participants will be briefed on the latest modern commercial and residential projects, that can be seen in the vicinity.

The places to be visited is significant for making comparisons from the feng shui perspective – the formation of Kuala Lumpur –by its natural process, explains Koh.

According to Koh, the confluence of the Gombak and Ampang rivers have a great bearing on the development of Kuala Lumpur as the capital of Malaysia
Tour participants will include locals and foreigners, especially those who study feng shui. Such a tour may also appeal to those involved in town planning, architecture and interior design.

“They can experience and see the similarity manifested in other cities and townships. Developers, real estate agents, and property owners, too can take this opportunity to see and find the good feng shui sites.”

This is the second tour organised by MINGS, with the first conducted in 2000.

“The difference is, this time around, we show the differences between the new and the old and the progressive development of KL. The tour is complemented with a video recording and also an aerial view. The tour is conducted in conjunction with our conference theme, Modern Living, Ancient Concepts,” says Koh.

All participants will receive a copy of the tour video. It includes information on Kuala Lumpur - past and present. The cost of the tour is RM388 and is limited to 120 participants.

The Asia Pacific Geomancy Conference 2007 will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from July 20-22 with the KL feng shui tour on the last day.

Some 500 conference participants are expected and the objectives include: · To create an objective understanding of geomancy · To look into the similarities and differences among the different practices of geomancy

Other highlights of the conference include: · The first joint-meeting of Malay, Chinese and Indian geomancy experts · The inaugural dialogue between the two main schools of feng shui in Malaysia · The proposal to regulate feng shui practices in the building industry

MINGS is a non-profit organisation involved in the scientific study, research and teaching of feng shui.

The body aims to promote the professional practice of feng shui via a scientific approach and to dispel the “hocus-pocus” surrounding feng shui practices.

Says Koh: “Our objective is bring feng shui to a proper and higher level of learning and to pass on the knowledge to other professionals within the building industry.”

At the conference, members of MINGS will propose the formation of an organisation –with professionals from the building industry – to regulate geomancy practices concerning town planning, properties and buildings.

· For details of the tour and the Asia Pacific Geomancy Conference 2007, call 03-41083611 or log onto: Watch out for our sneak preview of the tour in a video recording.