8 St Thomas holds its ground

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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The luxury project has weathered market forces, changes in homebuyers’ appetite and property cooling measures. DP Architects’ Wu Zhi Wei gives a behind-the-scenes account of how design played a part.

When Wu Zhi Wei, DP Architects’ group director for Asia, revisited the 8 St Thomas development late last year, he was worried about how it would look against a backdrop of newer condominiums that had sprouted up in the neighbourhood. After all, Wu had designed 8 St Thomas nine years ago but the 250-unit development was completed only in January 2018.
The ultimate test came when listed Singapore developer Bukit Sembawang Estates previewed 8 St Thomas simultaneously in Hong Kong and Singapore over the weekend of Aug 25 and 26. So far, more than 20 units have been sold, according to the developer. About 70% of the buyers were from Singapore, and the remainder from Hong Kong. Based on caveats lodged, the average price achieved was $3,191 psf.
Wu’s trepidation quickly turned to relief. “When I heard the prices achieved, I thought, ‘Wow, more than $3,000 psf!’” he says.
Wu: When I heard the prices achieved, I thought, ‘Wow, more than $3,000 psf! (Photo Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Even Bukit Sembawang says it was “heartened” by the response to the project. “Prices averaging above $3,000 psf is encouraging in today’s property market,” says group CEO Ng Chee Seng.
The average price achieved at 8 St Thomas has effectively set a new threshold for the St Thomas enclave. A high of $3,400 psf was achieved for an 807 sq ft, two-bedroom unit on the 31st floor that was sold on the first weekend of preview at 8 St Thomas. In 3Q2018, the Core Central Region (CCR) had the least new launches, and the launch of 8 St Thomas achieved a high median price of $3,226 psf, says Ong Teck Hui, JLL national director of research & consultancy, Among the different regions, CCR registered the highest increase of 1.2% for non-landed property, based on the URA 3Q2018 flash estimate, he adds.
Prior to the preview of 8 St Thomas, the only time a unit in the St Thomas Walk neighbourhood crossed $3,000 psf was in 2011, when a 591 sq ft unit on the 31st floor of Skypark changed hands for $3,238 psf. Skypark was completed in 2010.
8 St Thomas saw 20 units sold at its first weekend of previews at prices averaging close to $3,200 psf (Photo Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Ten-year lapse

One could say that the 10-year interval between site acquisition and project completion was owing to timing and circumstances. Bukit Sembawang had purchased the former Chez Bright Apartment in a collective sale for $54 million, or $625 psf per plot ratio, in 2006. Then, it bought the adjacent site — the former Airview Towers condo, which occupied a 63,264 sq ft site — in a collective sale for $202.17 million, or $1,038 psf ppr a year, in February 2007.
Bukit Sembawang’s intention was to amalgamate both sites to create a larger freehold, land area of 99,000 sq ft. The combined site would have a gross floor area of 291,166 sq ft, which would bring the average price to $880 psf ppr. One owner at the 100-unit Airview Towers objected, however, to the collective sale. He won a short-lived victory in March 2008 when the High Court ruled in his favour. A month later, the Court of Appeal overruled the High Court’s decision in favour of the majority owners.
By the time the collective sale of Airview Towers was completed, the global financial crisis had ended the property boom. In the initial design stage, most of the units at 8 St Thomas were large, with a mix of premium two- to four-bedroom units. It was in keeping with trends in the 2007 property boom, when housing demand in the prime districts was driven predominantly by foreign investors who favoured sizeable luxury apartments. “This was before the global financial crisis,” says Nicholas Mak, ZACD Group executive director.

Petite sizes favoured

In 2009, when DP Architects’ Wu came on board, housing demand had shifted towards smaller units that were more palatable in terms of absolute prices. Bukit Sembawang therefore wanted units at 8 St Thomas reconfigured to include compact one- and two-bedroom units.
A two-bedroom show unit at 8 St Thomas - the two-bedroom units were among the most popular among buyers (Photo Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
In the final unit mix at 8 St Thomas, one- and two-bedroom units sized from 441 to 1,044 sq ft account for 133 units, or 53% of the development. Another 46% of the units are three- and four-bedroom apartments, in cluding four-bedroom dual-key units with sizes ranging from 1,141 to 1,755 sq ft. There are only two penthouses in the development: They have four bedrooms each and measure 2,422 and 2,659 sq ft respectively.
Prices in the development start from $1.46 million for a one-bedroom unit; and $1.76 million for a compact two-bedroom unit. Premium two-bedroom units start from $2.5 million and three-bedroom units are $3.38 million. Four-bedroom units are priced from $5.4 million and those with dual-key configurations are upwards of $5.2 million. Meanwhile, penthouses start from $8.89 million.

Value of prime, freehold sites doubles

In retrospect, Bukit Sembawang’s purchase price for the amalgamated site of $880 psf ppr at 8 St Thomas was not high, especially compared with the reserve prices of collective sale sites today. For instance, Grange Heights, which is also located on St Thomas Walk, was put up for collective sale on Sept 17 at a reserve price of $820 million, or $1,948 psf ppr. Colliers International is the marketing agent.
Freehold sites in the River Valley area, for instance Pacific Mansion at River Close was sold at $1,987 psf ppr and Grange Heights at St Thomas Walk has an asking price of $1,948 psf ppr (Picture Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Nearby, at River Valley Close, the freehold Pacific Mansion was sold in March this year to a joint venture between GuocoLand Singapore and Hong Leong Group for $980 million in what is considered the year’s biggest collective sale. Based on the gross floor area of 493,222 sq ft, the purchase price for the land works out to $1,987 psf ppr.
With land prices in prime District 9 at close to $2,000 psf ppr, ZACD’s Mak estimates the break-even price for the new projects to be around $2,800 psf and selling prices from $3,100 psf. That’s assuming a 10% profit margin, he adds. “With the latest round of property cooling measures, developers will have to build more compact apartments to sell their projects within a five-year time frame so as not to incur higher additional buyer’s stamp duty.”
Bukit Sembawang’s Ng acknowledges that properties with freehold tenure are “very limited in supply”. 8 St Thomas is located in prime District 9, which is a sought-after address, he adds.
Given that 8 St Thomas is completed, homeowners can move in immediately or rent out the units (Photo Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The attributes that buyers seek in prime developments remain relatively unchanged over time. According to Ng, most desire a large plot that offers lush landscaping and full condo facilities. Accessibility is also key, and 8 St Thomas is within walking distance of two MRT stations — Somerset and the upcoming Great World. Having a wide range of units that are functional and spacious as well as with great views are also key attributes, he adds.
Given that the project is newly completed, homeowners can move in immediately or rent out the units. “For buyers, 8 St Thomas is seen as a good, long-term investment with potential for capital appreciation,” adds Ng.

Capturing views

Even though the design was conceived nine years ago, it is still relevant today.
The façade of the two towers at 8 St Thomas are streamlined and sleek, while the balconies of the units designed to look like “drawers that have been pulled out” (Photo Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
DP Architects’ Wu wanted to create “a sense of art and an identity” for 8 St Thomas. The façade of the two towers is streamlined and sleek, while the balconies of the units were designed to look like “drawers that have been pulled out”. Says Wu: “The balconies are an extension of the apartments to bring residents closer to nature, the outdoors.”
The idea was to capitalise on the location as well as the views from the lofty height of more than 150m. As such, the two towers are pushed to the edges of the site. From one of the towers, high-floor units will be able to enjoy views of the Istana and the Singapore River. From the second tower, high-floor units will have views of the city and Marina Bay Sands.
To maximise views, many units come with bay windows and corner windows. The height of the bay windows at 8 St Thomas is just 0.5m above the floor instead of 1m. They can therefore be turned into seating or display areas without compromising the views, points out Wu. “These days, you hardly see bay windows in new developments, which is a pity. They do serve a purpose — bay windows make a small room feel spacious.”
The master bathroom of a three-bedroom unit with corner windows (Photo Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Social, communal spaces

A total of 11 sky terraces was incorporated into the two towers: six in one tower and five in the other. Each sky terrace has a triple-height ceiling and, besides greenery, they introduce pockets of social and communal spaces in the development. “Most new developments sacrifice social and communal spaces in favour of more saleable area,” says Wu.
At 8 St Thomas, however, the developer has offered owners more social and communal spaces at the sky terraces situated at intermittent levels for social gatherings, lounging and reading. The high-floor sky terraces come with dining facilities, and look out to greenery, the landscape or the skyline.
“The landscaped deck acts as a soft barrier to separate the development from the main street and neighbouring developments,” says Wu.
The high-floor sky terraces come with dining facilities, and look out to greenery, the landscape or the skyline (Photo Credit

‘The Mondrian spirit’

His design for 8 St Thomas was inspired by his favourite artist, Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
Regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Mondrian championed abstract style and favoured simple geometric elements. Wu hopes that by invoking “the Mondrian spirit”, his design for 8 St Thomas will stand the test of time.

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