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Braddell View's enbloc success may hinge on creative use of site

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The 918-unit Braddell View, which was privatised from Singapore's last and biggest privatised HUDC estate, went up for grabs on March 27 with a reserve price of S$2.08 billion, or a land rate of S$1,199 per square foot per plot ratio.

BELATEDLY or not, a behemoth has lumbered its way into Singapore's waning en bloc property market.

The gargantuan land parcel could in fact allow for ambitious tie-ups between developers and other firms, if they use their imaginations.

The 918-unit Braddell View, which was privatised from Singapore's last and biggest privatised Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) estate, went up for grabs on March 27 with a reserve price of S$2.08 billion, or a land rate of S$1,199 per square foot per plot ratio.

To be sure, some developers may choke if they try to swallow whole the site's whopping 106,121.1 square metres.

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Tang Wei Leng, managing director at marketing agent Colliers, acknowledged that the size presented some potential risks and uncertainty.

"Given that this is a sizeable development, it is likely to see interest coming from a consortium of developers," Ms Tang said, ahead of the tender, while floating the possibility of selling the land as two separate plots.

But there are other creative options for the site, which has a gross plot ratio of 2.1 and is zoned "residential" under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) 2014 master plan.

Just as data centres opened up a new front in industrial property, there is room for innovation in the residential sphere, as seen in the rise of "co-living spaces" (dormitories by any other name).

Residential zoning allows for more than condos and landed homes. "Serviced apartments and student hostels may be allowed subject to evaluation by the competent authority," the URA has said.

Retirement housing is also acceptable. The URA made an early stab at opening up the private land developer market to Singapore's first "private retirement housing product" in 2008, with the Jalan Jurong Kechil site eventually bought by World Class Land and launched as The Hillford.

But there were also grouses about that project. Without any age limits in place, younger buyers flocked to invest in the development, as the 60-year lease made units cheaper.

Since then, the lack of solid retirement housing may have become even more of a bugbear in Singapore. The Housing Board ended a studio apartment scheme for seniors in 2015, more than a decade after the first owners got their keys, and rolled out two-room "flexi-flats" instead.

Besides these flats, independent seniors not yet in need of dedicated care seem to have bifurcated options: welfare homes for the destitute aged, or pricier places like the St Bernadette Lifestyle Village, which opened in 2015 with eight residents at S$3,500 a head.

But one selling point of the senior studios was the activity centres tailored just for the elderly, under each block - with private organisations monitoring panic buttons, running gyms and offering traditional Chinese medicine clinics.

Group homes in HDB rental blocks, such as the AWWA Senior Community Home set up by the Asian Women's Welfare Association in Ang Mo Kio, offer another model for developers to glean inspiration.

Reviving such senior living - albeit with safeguards for consumers, such as minimum unit sizes, commitments to maintaining amenities, and an age bar on residents - could be quite lucrative for private players.

In some ways, retirement villages would resemble serviced apartments more than condominiums, with potential income streams from recurring service contracts - home care aides, housekeeping, catered meals, fitness programmes, and the like.

The URA has also said that "the quantum of all ancillary or non-residential uses needed for support or management of a residential estate" can be determined by the authorities based on the scale of the development. While earlier retirement home efforts have not really panned out, the concept's time may have come at last.

The landscape is much greyer than it was a decade ago. The share of elderly people in the resident population climbed from 8.7 per cent in 2008 to 13.7 per cent last year. Among these over-65s, some 8.2 per cent called private apartments home. Singapore-listed groups - from real estate's Wee Hur Holdings and Far East Orchard, to diversifiers such as Centurion Corp and Business Times publisher Singapore Press Holdings - have already built up experience in purpose-built student accommodation projects in overseas markets.

It's not that much of a stretch going from purpose-built for students, to purpose-built for seniors - which means that Braddell View, once an HUDC estate, could yet be re-invented as "aged you" residences.

To be sure, Braddell View sits on prime real estate, so channelling it into newer, perhaps unproven, types of housing might be seen by some as a waste of perfectly valuable land.

But the land is only as valuable as units in the redeveloped projects - and watchers have been sounding the alarm over how sustainable this business model can be for developers.

Forget "buy low, sell high". The collective sale market fuelled a frenzy of "buy high, sell higher", while the apartments got smaller. At some point, consumers will wise up, and who wants to be left holding the baby?

That's why it could pay for developers to keep an eye on emerging demographics and new revenue collection, other than holding showflat visitors by the ankles and shaking out the loose change in their pockets. The affluent middle-aged, heading into their golden years with an eye on a life of ease and a familiarity with smooth monthly payment plans, are just one possible segment out of several.

In an over-stuffed market, where new launches wait in the wings like Brutus lurking knife in hand, developers have to think out of the shoebox.