29 May 2007

In between ... evolving a "Bagel Class" of Singaporeans

Update on 7 Jun 2007:

As Shakespeare said: "Life is a stage ...".

From the time the Ministry of Law announced in March 2007 about the upcoming legislative review of the Land Titles (Strata) Act and the commencement of MinLaw's Public Consultation in April 2007, it was interesting to observe various en bloc happenings and the evolution of "The Bagel Class" of Singaporeans:

ACT 1 - Super-duper rush by various Sales Committees in a last-pitch push of hasty deals as if Apocalypse Now + Armageddon combined will soon be descending upon us!

ACT 2 - Vibrant cyber chatter even in official REACH Forum and AsiaOne Forum, fostering valiant active citizenry efforts by Owner-Occupiers who are facing or are being threatened with enforced en bloc sales in various parts of Singapore [do scroll down and click on the links to their blogs that I have created on the right-hand side of this blog-page].

ACT 3 - Journalistic integrity courageously manifested by the Today newspaper who took the lead to give voice to the Dissenters as part of balanced reporting to counter the hyped-up rah-rah of en bloc windfall! [Look out for The Straits Times' article (finally) on en bloc dissent tomorrow, 30 May, and followed up with another ST special report on 16 June 2007.]

ACT 4 - Anarchy finally hit Singapore with the latest fiasco of Watten Estate having two Sales Committees, each with their own marketing agent and lawyer - a scoop reported by The New Paper!

ACT 5 - PAP's INconsistency in fostering a "sense of community" as part of our nationhood in HDB estates versus private residential estates. Are Singaporean owners of private residential apartments 2nd class citizens in a way?

Compare this SCENE (i): At the completion of HDB Selective En Bloc Scheme (Sers) for Sembawang, Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that it is important "to try to keep the community intact" and "ensure that even as we modernise, we make sure that we don't unsettle the population" (Today, 4 June 2007).

Contrast this SCENE (ii): At the parliamentary sitting on 22 May 2007, Opposition MP Mr Chiam See Tong asked if the Gahmen could incorporate a provision into the law to enable SOME owners to exchange one-for-one in the same en bloc site. However, Senior Minister for State (Ministry of Law) Ass Prof Ho Peng Kee replied that "this is one area where we should leave it to the owners to decide, because not ALL owners may want a replacement flat. Different people have different considerations. But I know on the ground that owners who want a replacement, in fact, negotiate with the developers who are buying the property. This has happened in some of the developments. So, let the owners negotiate with the developers and get a deal that suits them".

Perhaps the good Senior Minister for State couldn't follow the thrust of Opposition MP's question which suggests a mandatory "OPTION" for SOME (not ALL) owners to select, knowing that their selection would then have the full force of legal protection to cap their multitude of key exchange risks. This is NOT (i) mandating it for ALL owners or (ii) leaving owners (especially Owner-Occupiers) in a lurch in a dog-eat-dog market infested by Developers who must account $$$ bottomline to shareholders and Investor-Owners who see quick $$$ or (iii) saddling en bloc exchange owners with very serious risks if the Developer-Buyer fails.

Ahhh ... maybe the good minister is NOT close enough to the ground to realise that exchange negotiation is either NOT on a level playing field OR NOT even entertained by the Buyer-Developer/Sales Committee/Majority Owners (A) if the 80% (90%) consent is likely to be hit or (B) if distribution of collective sales proceeds is to the obvious advantage of Majority Owners who reckon that the Developer-Buyer would reduce the price for the cash option if an exchange option is bundled with the en bloc deal or (C) if incremental development/profit potential is limited in certain sites due to small size land plots, new building height restrictions which may be lowered by the planning authorities or already maxed-out Gross Plot Ratio or additional pay-outs arising from Development Charge/development baseline issues, land premium for lease top-ups, etc. In the face of all these risks and challenges that seem to be blithely ignored by the Ministry of Law in giving this type of reply, surely the PAP must realise that it will be that much harder to move back to the same community space after an en bloc and thus preserve that "sense of community".

ACT 6 - Deja vu all over again when former NMP, Mr Shriniwas Rai, suggested in ST Forum that yet another Select Committee be formed to review the findings of MinLaw’s Public Consultation - Geez!


In 1998/1999, NMP Shriniwas Rai spoke in support of this law and the present law came into being only after going through a time-consuming Select Committee process. Nonetheless, we ended up with the present law that has facilitated outright exploitation and unscrupulous behaviour.

INTERMISSION (go grab a coffee or a whiskey!) ...

I’d urge MinLaw to expedite review of the present law and gazette it as soon as possible to address the woes of the evolving "Bagel Class" of Singaporeans and prevent further anarchy and stop the blatant exploitation/short-change running into possibly six figures!!! SEE THE 30 MAY 2007 UPDATE IN MY OTHER COMMENTS UNDER "SHARE VALUES; SALES COMMITTEE".

Previously, the Government concocted HUDC and Executive Condominiums to cater for the “Sandwich Class” of Singaporeans who did not qualify for HDB flats but who could not afford private property.

Now, we have a “Bagel Class” of Singaporeans because collective sales of private property with freehold air-space entitlement based on 80% (or 90%) consensus are forcing dissenters to sell and consequently become a Squatter, Refugee, Downgrader or Downsizer. Like a bagel sliced along the circumference with a hole in the centre on both halves, Singaporeans are whacked with two holes:

1st Hole: Singaporeans are pushed out by foreigners (the really rich ones, not the so-called "foreign talent" employed on local terms) from the prime/central districts to the suburbs.

2nd Hole: Otherwise, Singaporeans have to make a yet bigger hole in our CPF/private savings to buy an equivalent replacement (ie, private strata-title property) where the price of disposal and the time of liquidation are both beyond the control of the CPF member (this makes it a Uniquely Singapore asset class!).

Can (and will) the Government redress the needs of this "Bagel Class" of Singaporeans in 2007 following the 1999 amendment of the Land Titles (Strata) Act? Following on from the predicament of the "Bagel Class" in the prime residential districts, the "Sandwich Class" of HUDCers/Exec Condoers is also finding out that they now need to revert to the "Roti Kaya Class"(bread with coconut jam) of HDBers where the heartlander ground is kept necessarily sweet but chocked-a-block with saturated fat from the very "shiok" (yummy) coconut milk that is not very good for the Heart! A happy "Roti Kahwin" (bread with a marriage fusion of butter + coconut jam) it does not make when the ex-HUDCers/Exec Condoers start competing with the Real McCoy Heartlanders for HDB public flats! Errr ... The Government Governs!

ACT 7 - Yeehah ... in gallops the dark horse with a cart trailing behind when during an interview about en bloc sales (Sunday Times, 17 June 2007), Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan advocated that Singaporeans should downgrade. He said: "If you can't buy an executive flat, buy a 5-room. If you can't afford central area, go to the suburbs. If you can't afford Tampines, go to Woodlands or Yishun." Ahem ... I thought the Gahmen has been goading us Singaporeans to be No. 1 in this and that, feeding into our aspirations of Up, Up and Away ...

Minister Mah did not say what happens if you can't afford Woodlands or Yishun. However, Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan did say on Channel News Asia on 17 April 2006 (14 months ago to the day): "My personal view is, our land is expensive. But we have nearby neighbours in Johore, Batam and Bintan. The elderly want to reach their doctors within half to one hour. So retirement villages in neighbouring countries is possible, barring the cross-border hassle. It is best to find cheap land on short leases." ... now, I'm beginning to see where the "Up, Up and Away" is leading us to - 7th Heaven no doubt!

Tsk, tsk ... except that there are some knotty kinks in this scene:

(a) To live outside of Woodlands or Yishun in a retirement home in Johore, Batam and Bintan, you first have to be "retired".

(b) You may still be of active working age at the point of a successful en bloc - So how? UPGRADE your skills but DOWNGRADE your lifestyle??? Kind of sucks, doesn't it?

(c) You may already be of retirement age at the point of a successful en bloc except that they keep pushing official retirement to a later age and even if you are so "heng" (Chinese dialect for "lucky") to hit that magic number, you need to keep working to qualify for more of the "national goodies" that they strategically time in handing-out - Then how? Work till you drop dead, ugh? And if you must get sick before dropping dead, don't stay too sick for too long ... you know lah, your en bloc windfall Fixed Deposit won't last forever and now that you are left with a flat in Woodlands or Yishun (as helpfully suggested by Minister Mah), it ain't gonna worth much!

(d) Oooops ... after galloping a few rounds, Minister Mah FAILED to notice why the cart is now suddenly before the "Ma" (Mandarin for "horse") - If they didn't force you into an en bloc in the first place, you wouldn't be in this unenviable position of not being able to afford "an executive flat, or in central area, or in Tampines" as mentioned by Minister Mah after putting the much-vaunted en bloc windfall in the cart - Neigh, neigh ... that's why horses say "Nay" although one may say "Aye"!

(e) Hey ... wait, our dear Minister did explain (quite rightly too) that "the fundamental reason behind an en bloc redevelopment is really to make sure that older parts of Singapore have a chance to be rejuvenated and redevelop themselves" and "if we don't have this, we are going to have a static situation where things are going to run down and there is no opportunity for people to naturally redevelop". [APPLAUSE please for Minister Mah who should take a Bow ...]. People, that's why we do en blocs - NOT for your own windfall at the expense of others but for the country ... Yeh! See, I told you so - SEE MY OTHER COMMENTS UNDER "MAJORITY versus MINORITY versus INDIVIDUAL" IN THIS BLOG-SITE. EXCEPT that our dear Minister also solemnly pronounced that "these people" in the central area "can take care of themselves". Excuse me, sir ... "these people" are also "your people" and they were also forced to sacrifice their homes FOR THE COUNTRY for, say, a grand sum of $2mn (increased to $2.5mn in July 2007) only to pay a more princely ransom of $3.75mn (increased to $4.5mn in July 2007) in replacement! Unless you are of ministerial calibre, I dare say that not many of "these people" earn $1.75mn (differential widened to $2mn in July 2007) in a year (or even five years) - in reality, "these people" are not that bright (and understandably, therefore, not that well-paid) to fork out a huge premium for "freehold air space" in the first place!

(f) Errr ... except that what does our dear Minister mean by "older parts of Singapore"? How "old" is old when the present law allows en bloc from Day 1 of Temporary Occupation Permit based on 90% consent which drops to 80% when the estate is 10 years old??? I may be wrong but I reckon there's a Bell Curve to the age profile of our en bloc blocks - after discounting the extreme ends of the Bell Curve, I guestimate that the likely age of apartments in this 2006-07 en bloc frenzy is in the range of 15-25 years. In this age of throw-away consumerism (never mind about the irksome issue of environmental sustainability), perhaps "15-25 years old" is terribly old for a building, eh?

SAGA TO BE CONTINUED ... The FINALE is "akan datang" (coming soon) when the legislative amendment is finally gazetted as law (process is likely to start in Sep, go through three parliamentary readings, home run by Dec perhaps)? Will it be a limp squid? Will good triumph over evil? Will the hero get the girl? Will those wailing now go home with less tears? Will those guffawing now go home more sobered?

After the curtain falls, will we move together as a more inclusive people? Or do we each go off in splinter directions, our disillusion reinforced that we are truly staying at "Hotel Singapore Inc", forever in transit as "A Nation of Immigrants, Migrants and Emigrants" except that we are now into the Third Wing?

[Immigrants as we continue to harbour the mindset of our Ancient Immigrant Forefathers.]

[Migrants as we now live amongst New Migrant Neighbours who do NOT share our Modern Singapore History, distinctly choosing to retain their native citizenship even after milking the perks of Singapore PR status for decades (our Ministry of Home Affairs hasn't caught on to the idea that Permanent Residence could potentially embed an expiry - no doubt, giving up one's native citizenship is a momentous decision but surely one needs to "commit" at some point after sponging on PR benefits and tasting for 7 years what life in Singapore is really like - I'm suggesting 7 years because of the "7-year Itch Syndrome" - shouldn't we separate wheat from chaff with an oxymoron "Temporary Permanent Resident" or would the Truth cut too deep for this Gahmen to publicly acknowledge that pathetically few PRs take up citizenship?).]

[Emigrants as we are losing Old Emigrant Friends who are increasingly moving to other shores not necessarily greener but definitely more edgy or gracious than ours.]

Without diminishing the other hard-nosed and technical issues raised in this blog ... May I also ask if there are still some things left in this world that money can't buy? Have we hit the stage where we know the Price of Everything but the Value of None? Sigh ...


Anonymous said...

Good post. Well written.

You mistaken one thing. "Hotel Singapore Inc" is more common than you and I wish. This giant hotel still has value, RELATIVE to other places, that's why we are here. Once it lost its value, we will go.

The other piece is this >$3000 psf and $10K/month rental prices. Property is a cycle. I wonder if the balloon will descent slowly or it will come down crashing.... God bless those who buy at this stratospheric price.

The Pariah said...

Thank you, dear Anonymous, for your kind compliment.

Although prices seem to be at stratospheric level, we should be mindful of ONE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE (ie, Gahmen's announced target of population growth to 6.5mn within next 40-50 years) - Channel News Asia Moneyweek broadcast on 3 June 2007 featured property experts stating population increase of 80,000 persons EACH YEAR! Singapore is gonna be a very crowded hotel!

For Central Core district, bar charts flashed in that CNA broadcast show SEVERE UNDER-SUPPLY in 2007, 2008 and - surprise - 2012! URA has sussed it out, man! The past may not predict the future ...

Of course, if bird flu pandemic breaks out or there is some world/regional crisis, all bets are off. Do be mindful if you are thinking of consenting to an en bloc OR thinking of squatting after an en bloc in the hope of buying-in upon market downturn.

Incidentally, have you noticed these trends in new apartments:

- Excessive planters/balconies
- Shoe-box room sizes
- Toilets > bedrooms
- Exorbitant management fees due to 24/7 fancy water features and 12-hour tree light-up
- Oven-like apartments under this Steel-and-Glass Sustainable Construction policy after Indonesia's sand ban and granite chip control???

Anonymous said...

Hi Paraih,

it is enjoyable to banter with you at REACH.gov.sg.

I am on home vacation and will return to Macau to tomorrow.

But one thing you should bring out is that excercise in futility:

CD Shelter in Private Properties.
Even our esteemed Ho Ching is against it.

cheers and hope to catch up with you soon.

Lai CF

The Pariah said...

Ahhh soooo ... the pleasure is likewise mine and I'm glad that Lai CF still calls Singapore "home" even though it is more likely a "vacation home" for the present (and the future?).

Why "exercise in futility", Lai CF? Errr ... Let's give the Gahmen the benefit of doubt (at least for the time being).

Based on the political factor represented by private residential electoral numbers, MinLaw need NOT conduct the Public Consultation and they can merrily let the present anarchy prevail. So let's give credit where credit is due to the PAP.

Based on the socio-economic issues of societal cohesion, rule of law, community bonding and the pull-factor of retired parents firmly rooting Gen-X regionalised/globalised Singaporeans (or luring them back in due course), MinLaw needs to be SEEN to be doing something. [Pls don't "lai" (Cantonese dialect for "blame") me if MinLaw does little more than what they have proposed thus far - that would be a real limp squid!]

Well ... MinLaw has announced that amendments to the law will be out for first parliamentary reading in Aug/Sep 2007 - which means that gazetting of the amended law will likely be Oct/Nov 2007.

In another 4 months or so, you and I and the rest of Singapore will know which way the wind blows ...

As the ever-prescient MM Lee recently observed: 80% of Singaporeans CAN'T leave Singapore. This leads to the next question - How many percent of the remaining 20% who CAN leave Singapore come from families living in private air-space? Ie, those who will strike whilst the iron is hot and profiteer from the present anarchic en bloc sales OR those who feel sufficiently disenchanted/displaced from unjustly enforced en bloc sales to seriously rethink where is "home" - in both cases, the "en bloc windfall" would come in very handy for imminent or eventual emigration, yes?

I leave the answer to the above question to those who are more prescient or clairvoyant and therefore better placed to make sense of the present en bloc glee ...

Pender Court Resident said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Pariah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PCR said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Pariah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Pariah said...

REPOSTED by The Pariah after considering request by commentator (CPR):

1. CPR’s 1st posting on 13 Aug 2007:

You know, this entire en bloc fever is making me sick. And I am a casualty in this greed. I have been living in this estate in the suburbs. It's an old complex, but the units are huge, it's breezy (and no top to bottom pretentious glass walls!), and a few minutes to town and walking distance to a shopping mall. And guess what- of course it was finally sold to the wonderful tune of $100M. Each owner now gets 1.8M- gross (not including the deduction of legal fees, commissions etc..). Well, the word out now is that the owners are upset with the deal because it is just NOW they realize that the 1.8M is not good enough. And now they have this “mastermind” to blame.

Personally - this “mastermind” is not to blame. She wanted to en bloc, she convinced the people - and the people blindly signed. I blame the other residents for not standing their ground. I know of people just signing just because they knew it wasn't going to happen anyway - well well... 82% signed. I was shocked.

Anyways- on top of that- I have seen expat families check out units to rent here- and i found out, they are not being told that the place is enblocked. How evil is that.

Now, we are worrying where to transfer when we are evicted. I can;t get this kind of place for the same amount anymore.

My question is- can people revert their decision after the sale? or will they get sued?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

2. The Pariah’s 1st reply on 13 Aug 2007 to CPR’s 1st posting:
Dear CPR:

My empathy goes out to you and others in your estate (be they tenants for the inconvenience although some may have grown to love the place too OR owners who have signed and are now regretful OR who did NOT sign but fall short of the requisite minority)!

On the one hand, we must respect the Rule of Law. On the other hand, the Law must be Just.

What's so unfortunate at the moment is that the present laws on en bloc are - to me - UNJUST! But it is still the Law and therefore everything must comply with the Law.

Horizon Towers case is of landmark ramifications. What has been reported in the public domain on this saga up to today (13 Aug 2007) is only part of the story. As the Chinese have a saying: "The best show is yet to come"!!!

There are not just chickens and monkeys to scare and intimidate, there may be a croc or two lurking in there too, a chameleon perhaps and even a "wild card" joker in that pack!

Where the parties can "prove" that there is non-compliance with the Law however loose as it now stands - which of course makes it harder to prove and therefore shifts the onus of proof to the "victims"), I have full confidence in our Singapore "system" that the Law will prevail.

Let me urge you NOT to be Penny Wise, Pound Foolish. Your home is at stake. Your retirement nest-egg is impacted.

Unity is strength - especially for the dissenters who did NOT sign the CSA (but even for those who signed). Gather all your facts (however insignificant it may seem now but it may take on an epic proportion later on). It's hard work and sheer grit but trace back all the events and start piecing together the jigsaw puzzle.

Don't mess this up - Lodge your objections within the 21-day period from the date of the Sales Committee's application for collective sale order to the Strata Titles Board (STB). Go diligently for your STB mediation rounds and if it proceeds to tribunal hearing, engage valuer and lawyer (better still, if you engage them earlier). Sometimes, lawyers will even tell you "no fight" but neither they nor you would really know until you go through the legal process called "Discovery". In true Alfred Hitchcock tradition, skeletons have been known to tumble out when you least expect them to! I'm NOT at liberty to say more at this stage but recent en bloc cases had skeletons rattling in the closet! These "ghost-buster" lawyers and valuers add-value by helping you to "connect the dots", find the "missing jigsaw pieces", ferret out the dumbstruck skeletons!

You never know ...

Perhaps I'm a die-hard Romantic - I still believe that Right is Right (although a lot of people think Might is Right).

Justice will prevail ... May the Ministry of Law, the Strata Titles Board, the Courts, the Law Society, the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers help us ordinary folks TO RIGHT A WRONG! And SOON!!!! How long can we "tahan" (withstand) the "akan datang" (coming soon)?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

3. CPR’s 2nd posting on 13 Aug 2007:


I think you are one of the very few Singaporeans I know who still ahve passion for their home other than money!

But sad to say- I am a mere tenant. I would love to enlighten the others, but really- how? I just saw the teresaVille Anti En bloc blog, and I hoped that I was bright enough to do something like that. Now I feel it is too late.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

4. The Pariah’s 2ne reply on 13 Aug 2007 to CPR’s 2nd posting:

Dear CPR:

All the more that kudos go to you - that even as a tenant, you have "A Sense of Being in Time and Space".

Allow me to share a pithy quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt ... it goes something like this: "Whether you think you can or you can't, you are probably right".

You asked "what can you do"? Lots, CPR!

Point your estate's remorseful Consenters and sad Dissenters to my blog and your insightful comment postings. Also, click on the links in my blog-site to Dr Minority's blog (loads of info there too!) and other anti-enbloc blogs. Moral support is very important - to know that you are NOT alone!

Spread by word of mouth! If you do not know what is Right, then how can you possibly know when something is Wrong??? Knowledge is Power!
So, maybe the various topic in my blog would help them to focus their attention to some possible irregularities or heighten their awareness of what to look out for and galvanise their case for the STB mediation rounds. Work "smart" ... keep the die-hard Consenters far, far away from this blog.

BTW, have you read my blog updates for July (The Holey Trinity) and August 2007 (A national cause on National Day)? We should NOT be shy to question the "qualifications" of these people who took it upon themselves to sell our homes! They want to usurp RIGHTS, then we must hold them accountable for OBLIGATIONS!

CPR said...

I will have to do major research! Thank you very much!

Dr Minority said...


Tenants are the casualties of the enbloc war, unfortunately. They live in the estate and have absolutely no say whatsoever.

But any guerilla fighting (to push the war metaphor) can be done on 2 grounds - on the higher ground where you contact the MP, write to the Ministry of National Development or Law, to the media - let them know that tenants are as much subject to the harrowing ordeal of enbloc sales. The lower ground consists of you talking to your neighbours; as a tenant you have a unique situation that can be mobilised to do what Pariah suggests. In the eyes of owners staying in the estate, tenants are not for or against the sale, so they kind of become an invisible audience in the enbloc tug-of-war between majority and minority. It also means you can speak to people and they are more willing to talk to you than to an owner-occupier. You can then get in touch with other minority owners and help them form a support group, get them to gather together and see what steps can be done next. In terms of your tenancy agreement, there's lots you can do too; expats who are renting in enbloc'd estates have faced this situation. Go to my blog and click on Tenancy Agreements (labels on the right column) and have a read at what other tenants are facing and what they can do to protect themselves.

Good luck :)

CPR said...

Thank you Pariah and Dr Minority!

Actually- I think am one of the very few lucky ones. I was always on 1 year contract- with freedom to leave anytime as long as I give a 3 month notice that I will be leaving. It kind of worked my way. Am I lucky or am I screwed? Haha. But I am enjoying my last few months of this freedom. Well, I realize I never communicated with any of my neighbors, but will start doing so now. Thanks so much.

The Pariah said...

Dear CPR:

You are most welcome, CPR. Despite being regrettably enbloc'ed out and despite work pressures, Dr Minority has continued to take the time to share his insightful thoughts and compile all that data for us, the hapless and the helpless dissenters. When the dust settles on all this quagmire and the new law is passed for better or for worse, I'd be the first to laud his efforts at closet active citizenry!

Behind every dark cloud, there's a silver lining. If out of this en bloc monstrosity, we "re-discover" humanity amidst us (neighbours, cyber friends, social acquaintances) - even though it may only be a handful - it is still a priceless gem, eh?

Smile ... and the whole world smiles with you!

retiredebtfree01 said...

The re-occurring theme is that realistic budgeting is a key element of a solid savings program. The budget must not only allow for retirement savings and everyday living expenses, but should factor in amounts to be allocated to an emergency fund.

RetireDebtFreeHappy - retirement plans, retirement planning calculator, retirement planning, early retirement planning, retirement savings

The Pariah said...

Dear "RetireDebtFreeHappy":

Fully agree with your point about effective budgeting. All the more so, en bloc sales should unlock land value for EXISTING Home-Owners who had the investment foresight to buy into prime/popular residential areas some 8-48 years ago!

The fact that existing Home-Owners invariably morph into Squatter, Refugee, Downgrader or Downsizer after the en bloc "windfall" (in reality, "shortfall") only confirms that land value is unlocked for corporate Developer-buyers!

So I'd ask you: How to effectively budget and plan for retirement with this kind of "toxic" legislation (seed) resulting in "toxic" en bloc shortfall (fruit)???

Aren't we DOOMED to GLOOM from the start and thus end under a wrecking ball's BOOM?