Saturday, October 10, 2009

Heavenly house

Housing people in Singapore has been a challenge. It always has been, and probably will continue to be. Back in the early days - the 1960s/70s, it was building enough public housing apartments fast enough. Today, it is trying to put people into their preferred houses fast enough - high floors, not situated in some remote and god-forsaken corner of the island, near where their parents live, has a full suite of amenities - wet markets, supermarkets, shopping mall, adequate parking, schools (the more well-known ones the better), convenient public transport (bus, MRT, LRT), has a view, preferably of the sea, or at least some greenery, etc. etc.

You can never satisfy all of them, but can you blame people with this laundry list of demands when the price of a public housing apartment these days is upwards of S$200,000? In some countries, you can get a bungalow for that kind of money. The government does not seem to get it. I think anybody will be happy with any public apartment if the prices weren't so stratospheric. But when you are potentially tied down for the rest of your life servicing the mortgage, you'd naturally want something better. Frankly, whatever subsidy that the government provides for nowadays is "peanuts", to quote a distinguished citizen. No, it wouldn't be practical to have all the items on the laundry list checked off, but you try to get the best. And this is why, I suppose, some people reject apartments offered to them time and again.

Having said that, however, people should look at the practical side of things. When it is your first apartment with your fiance/wife, take any flat that is offered, even if it is in the most remote corner of the island. Someone said that Punggol is in one corner of the island (read "remote"). Singapore is a small island, and no part of the island that is remote today will remain so tomorrow. The reason why our parents made so much money from their public apartment over the years is because of this belief. They didn't mind Toa Payoh when it was a swamp-land, ditto Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, etc. With the redevelopment of the surrounding land courtesy of the government, the value of the real estate naturally soared. Many cashed out and moved to more virgin parts of the island to repeat their conquests of new land and more value. Sure, you need to put up with the inconvenience at first, and probably the sneers and jokes from relatives and friends about your living in an ulu place, but you probably will have the last laugh when you cash out again and buy that dream condo, and then have something left over for a good meal of curry fish-head.

The value of your apartment may not appreciate as much today compared to 15-25 years ago, but property will always be valuable in land-scarce Singapore. If the government wants to build apartments in a particular part of the island, you can be sure that they already have big plans for redeveloping that piece of land and its surroundings. Don't be short-sighted and go for instant gratification. Every good investor will tell you the same. Isn't a house an investment rather than an expense?

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