In High-Rise Happy Singapore, a Luxury Single-Family Home Bucks the Trend - Kanebridge News
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In High-Rise Happy Singapore, a Luxury Single-Family Home Bucks the Trend

A local couple tore down their bungalow to create a four-story, seven-bedroom house for a total cost of $4.2 million

By J.S. MARCUS
Thu, Aug 31, 2023 10:55amGrey Clock 4 min

A single-family home is the exception to the rule in high-rise Singapore, where most of the city-state’s 5.5 million residents live in apartments. So when it came time for Mark Tan and Stella Gwee to trade in their starter bungalow for something larger and grander, they decided to stay put, tear down and begin again on their rare 1/10th-acre lot.

In 2009, Tan, now 48, and Gwee, 46, paid 2.2 million Singapore dollars, or about US$1.6 million, for their original 1,500-square-foot house, located in a single-family enclave in Singapore’s North-East region. The couple then spent $2.6 million to replace the three-bedroom, semidetached structure, built in a Balinese-fusion style, with a four-story, seven-bedroom brick house that combines Asian and Western elements across 7,400 square feet.

In all, Tan and Gwee have invested just over $4.2 million in their new home. Multibedroom Singapore homes of a similar size could sell now for twice that.

The couple—Gwee works with her husband, a local entrepreneur—began demolition in 2020, relocating with their two children, Xavier, now 17, and Andrea, 13, to a nearby rental for the two years of construction. The family, along with dogs Furry and Brownie, moved into the finished house in early 2022.

The new home’s standout feature is a landscaped vertical courtyard, rising nearly 40 feet. “A lot of Singaporeans won’t sacrifice the space to build a courtyard like this,” says Tan, a Singapore native, who grew up nearby.

Enclosed by a skylight, the space is outfitted at the top with a large industrial fan 8 feet in diameter that is powerful enough to ventilate a factory floor. Made by Southern California’s MacroAir, the fan helps the family keep cool in Singapore’s year-round tropical weather. It is part of a $74,000 climate-control system that allows every room individual air-conditioning units.

The flora-rich courtyard, featuring an indoor koi pond and fronted by an open-air outdoor swimming pool, opens to the street at its base between the pool and the pond. The house can be closed off and revert entirely to air conditioning on especially hot days.

The open-plan first floor includes living and dining areas, and has space enough for a Steinway piano for music student Andrea. The second floor is given over to a mahjong room that doubles as a guest bedroom and a study. The bedrooms are on the third floor. The fourth floor serves as a penthouse recreation room for the kids and their friends.

The elevator makes for easy transitions, but Tan says his health-conscious wife takes the stairs.

Windows and terraces orient the house around the courtyard. Designing an expansive vertical courtyard was a challenge, says the couple’s architect Han Loke Kwang, principal in Singapore’s HYLA Architects, which specialises in upscale single-family projects (or landed properties, as locals call them). Immense vertical spaces like this are seen in commercial structures but are unusual in a residential setting, says Han.

The goal in the Tan-Gwee home, he says, was “to make sure the scale of the courtyard wasn’t overwhelming.”

Foliage—chosen to flourish in the courtyard’s shaded conditions and kept fresh with an elaborate irrigation system—and the koi pond help ornament the space. The pond gives the first floor a waterfront feel.

The couple spent $148,000 on the pool and pond areas. Tan filled the pond with $59,000 worth of top-dwelling adult koi, mostly imported from Japan, and several bottom-dwelling freshwater stingrays, costing $22,000.

Singapore, which is smaller than Los Angeles County, is a blending of cultures, bringing together East Asian, South Asian and European influences. The Tan-Gwee home has a decidedly cosmopolitan flair, combining Italian designer furniture, British and Canadian lighting, kitchen appliances from Germany’s Miele, and bathroom details inspired by vacations in Dubai and the Maldives.

The fortresslike facade, which preserves the privacy of the home, is in keeping with Asian residential models, says Han.

Many of Han’s clients have two kitchens—an open area for Western-style cooking and a closed-off Asian-style cooking space with wok stations, requiring extra ventilation. While finishing the house, Tan and Gwee decided to forgo the planned Asian kitchen, converting it into a kitchen terrace equipped with an $11,000 barbecue.

Back inside, the kitchen was outfitted with a steam oven, two conventional ovens of different sizes and a built-in Miele coffee machine.

These are booming times in Singapore. The city-state now has a per capita GDP of more than $91,000, higher than anywhere else in Asia and one of the world’s strongest residential markets.

Overall residential real-estate prices rose 7.5% between the second quarters of 2022 and 2023, with those of landed residences increasing by 9.4% in the same period, says Nicholas Keong, senior director of Knight Frank’s Singapore affiliate. Also, Singapore came in first in Knight Frank’s Prime Global Rental Index—far exceeding London, New York, Monaco and Tokyo—with rent prices rising 28% in 2022.

The couple seem to have exhausted their wish list. When you have everything from three ovens to a stingray budget, there isn’t much left. What about a home spa? “No sauna here,” counters Tan, who relies on the primary bedroom’s three air conditioners to maintain comfort. “It’s already too hot in Singapore.”

OTHER COSTS

Foundation and framing: $589,400

Electrical work: $148,000

Designer Lighting: $74,000

Elevator: $88,400

Kitchen (including appliances): $222,000

Bathrooms (7): 148,000

Brickwork/masonry: $222,000

Glazing, including windows and sliding glass doors: $222,000

Landscaping, including indoor plants and irrigation: $73,700



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Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

By REBECCA FENG
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.