On Feb 27, Knight Frank will be putting up for auction a terraced house at 17 Jalan Batai, just off Upper Thomson Road. The vendor is the Public Trustee’s Office (PTO), the administrator for the estates of deceased persons. The owners of the house are believed to be two elderly sisters, Pearl and Ruby Tan.

In 2015, the High Court issued an order that they be presumed dead after skeletal remains were found in the house in September that year. An unsuspecting contractor engaged by the Building and Construction Authority to clear debris from the house discovered a human skull and femur in the guest room. After the discovery, the police reportedly uncovered other skeletal remains in the same guest room, with some buried in soil. It is believed that they are the remains of one of the sisters.

Two skeletal remains were found in the empty house almost 10 years apart. They are believed to be the remains of the owners, Pearl and Ruby Tan. (Picture: Samuel Issac Chua/The Edge Singapore)

Those were not the only set of skeletal remains to be found in the house. Almost a decade earlier, when National Environmental Agency (NEA) officers checked the house for mosquito breeding, they reportedly chanced upon a human skeleton lying on top of a toilet.

As the Tan sisters neither left a will nor had legal beneficiaries, the house has been in state possession since 2015, under the Intestate Succession Act. About 1½ years ago, PTO took an unprecedented step by asking interested parties to submit a claim on the sisters’ estate.

A cousin, two nephews and a niece on the paternal side had stepped forward and expressed their interest in claiming the estate but were unsuccessful. Consequently, the PTO engaged Knight Frank to list the property for auction.

17 Jalan Batai is a single storey terraced house which will be put up for auction on Feb 27. There will be no private treaty sales before or after the auction, and it will not be put up for auction subsequently.

PTO sales are rare, says Tricia Tan, Knight Frank deputy director of auction and sales, who is marketing the property. There was one other sale by PTO just last year: for a 398 sq ft studio apartment at The Cotz in Telok Kurau that was put up for auction in August by Knight Frank. It was sold under the hammer for $500,000 ($1,255 psf), according to a caveat lodged on Aug 29, 2017.

The guide price for the house on Jalan Batai is $1.7 million to $1.9 million. Based on the freehold site area of 1,720 sq ft, the price translates into between $988 and $1,105 psf.

While most of the neighbouring houses have been either torn down and redeveloped into 2½-storey houses or extensively renovated, the house at 17 Jalan Batai remains forlorn, having been vacant all these years.

The house is on a 1,720 sq ft freehold plot, and has a guide price of $1.7 million to $1.9 million.

The new owners are likely to demolish the original structure and redevelop it into a 2½-storey house, says Sharon Lee, Knight Frank head of auction. The cost of building a new house of this size is estimated to range from $800,000 to $1 million.

The most recent transaction on Jalan Batai was that of another intermediate terraced house farther down the row. It changed hands for $2.83 million ($1,565 psf) earlier this month, according to a caveat lodged with URA Realis. The seller is likely to have undertaken extensive renovation of the house, having purchased it in 2010 for $1.48 million ($817 psf).

The cost of building a new 2½-storey house, with a plot ratio of 0.7, is estimated to range from $800,000 to $1 million

As the houses on Jalan Batai are just off Upper Thomson Road — with Lower Peirce Reservoir Park just across the road and the Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park nearby — it is a tranquil estate surrounded by greenery, notes Lee.

“Those interested in the property offered for sale by PTO will have to bid at the auction on Feb 27,” says Lee, adding that the process is unlike how it is for other properties put up for auction. “There will be no private treaty deals conducted before or after the auction".

Most potential homebuyers are unlikely to be deterred by the property’s morbid history. “They will be tearing down the house and rebuilding it,” says Lee. “In an established landed housing area like the row of houses on Jalan Batai, it’s hard to find a house with redevelopment potential these days.” 

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