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Condos embrace accents on lifestyle

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UOL Group and United Industrial Corporation go for lush greenery and thoughful urban landscaping at The Tre Ver.

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Artist's impression of CDL's The Tapestry with its 100-metre infinity pool.

AFTER a 10.2 per cent decline in the URA non-landed residential property price index from Q3 2013 to Q2 2017, property prices rose by 9.3 per cent between Q2 2017 and Q2 2018.

Among the three regions, the Outside Central Region (OCR) or suburban areas performed the best with the non-landed residential property price index in the OCR increasing by 10.4 per cent from Q2 2017 to Q2 2018. The price indices of both the Core Central and Rest of Central Regions rose by 8.0 and 7.9 per cent respectively in the same period.

Prior to the latest cooling measures in July 2018, launches in the suburban areas attained relatively healthy take-up rates, with some developments fully sold within months. The primary attractiveness of condominiums in the suburban areas, widely categorised as mass-market condominiums, is the pricing.

Developers are also fine-tuning their focus in marketing and developing their properties to stand out from competition.

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Going beyond pricing to lifestyle

Many suburban developments are now thoughtfully designed, focusing on the lifestyles of buyers and occupiers. This emphasis is particularly important to millennials who value experience-driven lifestyles.

Developers are providing a wider variety of facilities in suburban condominiums, catering to residents of all ages and even for pets. This is especially important for suburban developments, with a large number and somewhat diverse profile of occupiers. For example, The Tapestry in Tampines has over 50 facilities including a 100-metre infinity pool, hydrotherapy pool and Club Tapestry, which consists of an extended al fresco area by the Central Lawn and gourmet kitchen facilities.

Previously, some of these facilities were only available in high-end or luxury developments in prime areas. In addition, with technological advancements, smart features in suburban homes have become a norm, allowing residents to book facilities or control home systems at the touch of their mobile devices.

Living well with nature

With Singapore being a garden city and its growing appreciation of nature, developers have responded by incorporating lush greenery in their developments. This is encouraged by URA, which introduced the Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (LUSH) programme in 2009 and extended the programme in 2014 to cover more geographical areas and development types under LUSH 2.0.

In November 2017, LUSH 3.0 was implemented, further enhancing the quality of greenery and encouraging the incorporation of more sustainability-related uses in developments.

The concept of wellness and being near to nature is gaining popularity. The development eCO, located in Bedok and completed in 2017, preserved mature raintrees, with a 100-metre nature boardwalk and bio-stream at the end of the trail. This nature trail has become a sanctuary for fauna, adding to the tranquillity of suburban living in urban Singapore.

Thoughtful landscaping and natural social spaces are evident in one of the recent launches - The Tre Ver - being developed on the site of the former Raintree Gardens in Potong Pasir. The existing mature raintrees lining the riverbank will be preserved, as the natural landscaping extends into the development together with lush greenery blending into the waterfront.

Nature and gardens not only promote wellness, but they also have a positive impact on property values. Research has shown that a well-conceived garden can add a premium of 5 to 10 per cent to the property value.

Emphasis on sustainability

The greater emphasis on green and sustainable buildings can be seen from more developments going beyond meeting the minimum legislative standard on Environmental Sustainability stipulated by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and opting for the voluntary Green Mark certification. In 2018, BCA presented the Green Mark Award to 420 of such projects, a significant increase from the 347 in 2017.

Nearly half of the awarded projects in 2018 attained the higher-tiered BCA Green Mark Platinum and Gold Plus ratings.

A recent BCA survey showed that Singapore residents have a keen interest in green buildings and are aware of their benefits and value. Around 54 per cent of the survey homeowners were willing to pay a premium of 3 to 4 per cent for a Green Mark building.

They perceive numerous benefits from living in these developments such as a healthier lifestyle, better resale value, lower utility bills and operational cost, and reduced carbon footprint.

For example, H2O Residences, located along Fernvale Link, was the Gold award winner under the Sustainable Development category at the FIABCI World Prix d'Excellence Awards 2017. Some of its sustainable features include a Rain Garden and Nature's Terrace which allow rainwater to be recirculated and provide a thriving habitat for biodiversity.

Another suburban condominium, Eco Sanctuary along Chestnut Avenue, also won the Singapore Property Awards 2017 under the Sustainable Development category from FIABCI Singapore for its green and sustainable architectural design.

The unique facade of the development is designed with nature-inspired architecture, modelled after a beehive to provide shading from the sun. Additionally, there is a Butterfly Trail and Bio Pond to bring homeowners close to nature.

Good location redefined

The emphasis on nature has also brought about a shift in consumers' mindset to the definition of a good location. Previously, a good location is traditionally defined by its proximity to main transport nodes, popular schools or amenities, with homebuyers willing to pay a premium for such properties. As the MRT network expands and is expected to double by 2030, eight in 10 households will eventually be within a 10-minute walk of an MRT station.

There is an increase in homebuyers' preference to live near park connectors which provide tranquillity and greenery. Park connectors offer enhanced accessibility, promote community living and encourage interactions with nature and residents beyond the development.

Park connectors are more important than before, as more residents use bicycles or personal mobility devices for first-and-last mile commute. The government is planning for more inter-town cycling routes and the 150-km Round Island Route to connect cyclists from their homes to the city as well as for recreation, with the aim of improving connectivity and creating more recreational spaces for residents.

Despite the latest round of cooling measures, demand for well-conceived suburban condominiums has remained relatively resilient. This was evident from the healthy take-up of The Tre Ver, with around 140 units sold in the first three days of the 99-year leasehold project's release in early August at an average price of about S$1,550 per square foot.

Most of the buyers are Singaporeans and first-time buyers, which is likely to be the trend for mass-market condominiums going forward, as they are not affected by the higher additional buyer's stamp duty though not spared the lower loan-to-value limit under the property cooling measures that took effect on July 6, 2018.

In the quest for excellence, developers are engaging well-known architects for suburban condominiums as well, and not just for high-end or luxury developments.

Well-conceived developments which focus on design concepts, thoughtful landscaping, sustainability features and enhanced connectivity among others, will continue to attract discerning buyers as developers adjust to the new normal.

Ong Choon Fah is CEO and Leong Kin Mun, senior research analyst, at Edmund Tie & Company.

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