Bukit Panjang, where the hills come alive

By Ruth Loh Xiu / EdgeProp Singapore | July 3, 2019 3:00 PM SGT
Bukit Panjang means “Long Hill” in Malay. Not knowing this origin; visitors are often amazed by the many hills and lushness of vegetation surrounding the area. Most of these visitors tend to compare and contrast the stark differences between this western area of Singapore and the rest of the country.
Bukit Panjang was originally called Zhenghua, before the government decided to rename it because it was better known to Singaporeans by its distinctive long hills.

A land of seven parts

Bukit Panjang lies in a long, quirkily shaped rectangle. Source: www.ura.gov.sg
Bukit Panjang comprises of Senja, Saujana, Fajar, Bangkit, Jelebu, Dairy Farm, and its largest sub-zone, the Nature Reserve. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is part of this last sub-zone, marked out by its greenery as illustrated on the map above.
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Apart from this wide swathe of greenery, Bukit Panjang has other pockets of nature, too.

Fresh, fruitful, and fulsome

Dairy Farm Nature Park is nearer to Bukit Panjang’s southern end. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is, of course, Bukit Panjang’s largest catchment of vegetation, and home to one of Singapore’s very few remaining primary rainforests. There are at least four other parks in Bukit Panjang: Rifle Range Nature Park, Zhenghua Nature Park, Dairy Farm Nature Park and Hindhede Nature Park. Many Malayan plant specimens were first gathered from this reserve, host to Singapore’s highest hill, and home to a large proportion of the nation’s native flora and fauna. Not all the other nature parks in Bukit Panjang are such ecologically diverse superstars, but they are impressive as a whole.
While Chestnut Nature Park escapes Bukit Panjang’s purview by a mere wisp, and sits right next to Bangkit within the reservoir-rich Central Catchment Area, it’s close enough for Bukit Panjang residents to stroll through or have a picnic in.
Some of the hipper, more happening streets in Bukit Panjang, home to chic cafes and elegant eateries, also command unrivalled views of greenery from their doorstep.
The Rail Mall, with its stretch of homogeneously framed shops, faces a ripe wall of flourishing plant life. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
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More than 121,000 HDB residents

HDB blocks at Bangkit Road. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
With so much fresh air and greenery, do you ever wonder how densely populated Bukit Panjang could be in terms of HDB dwellers?
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According to HDB, Bukit Panjang had at least 121,100 residents as of October 2017. Ong Teck Hui, senior director of research and consultancy at JLL, says: “Bukit Panjang is a suburban residential market that provides relatively affordable housing. The median prices of HDB resale flats in Bukit Panjang are generally within the fourth quartile of median prices of HDB resale flats across the 26 HDB towns, which places them within the means of more budget-conscious resale flat buyers.”
Their comparatively lower HDB prices, Ong says, can be partly attributed to the fact that Bukit Panjang is located closer to “the north of the island and away from the city”.
Thio Yu Jin, 49, business development manager at Bridges Integrity Services LLP, has lived in a five-room flat at Bangkit Road for about 10 years. Regarding accessibility, Thio says, “Bukit Panjang is actually very convenient in terms of transport. There are links to BKE [Bukit Timah Expressway] and you can get to Orchard by car within 15 minutes, and 20 minutes by bus. On the other side of Bukit Panjang, we have the Downtown Line MRT, from where it takes less than 30 minutes to get to town.”
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In fact, the new line has exerted upward price pressure on a sub-group of HDB flats — namely those within half a kilometre of the Bukit Panjang MRT Station. Ong concedes that “in recent years, the completion of the MRT Downtown Line and the stations in Bukit Panjang would have enhanced connectivity and convenience living in that area”.
Apart from the MRT line, there is also the Bukit Panjang LRT line, strengthening public transport connections within the area.
Apart from good connections, Thio says the area is well-established in terms of amenities, with a good variety of great food. “We also have Bukit Panjang Mall, Hillion Mall, and Bukit Panjang Plaza to serve the residential population.”
Bukit Panjang’s wet market at Bukit Panjang Ring Road is still fairly empty, but has great spaces available for new stalls. Currently, the market already has a fishmonger, chicken seller, and pork purveyor, along with an egg seller and noodle stall. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
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Bukit Panjang is a favourite among those who love outdoor sports. Thio says there are many park connectors, “a lot of greenery around … and dirt bikers love it. Our area is very popular with dirt bikers. Every week we see them around, having breakfast at the kopitiams with their bikes parked outside.”
There are many nicely developed, new HDB flats in Bukit Panjang, some obtaining TOP only in the last few years, reshaping the feel of that part of Bukit Panjang, Thio says. The older estates, though, have generally remained true to original form, he adds.
He remembers viewing a four-room flat (4A model) on a relatively high floor in Bukit Panjang going for $275,000 in 2009. Today, a typical mid-level four-room HDB flat (4A model) with 100 sqm (1,076 sq ft) of space in that same area is selling for $355,000 (about $330 psf).
JLL’s Ong says the median prices of “HDB resale flats in Bukit Panjang have softened 10% to 20% from their peak in mid-2013, but have stabilized over the past year or so”. He adds that the area appears to be more popular “with owner-occupiers, being a typical suburban residential area with a strong HDB heartland presence”.

Private residential properties in Bukit Panjang

Ong says: “Private, non-landed home prices are fairly moderate, with median resale prices of developments generally commanding between $1,000 and $1,200 psf, while primary market units, such as those in Bukit 828, can fetch around $1,600 psf.”
Bukit 828 is a freehold condo property in Bukit Panjang, located along Upper Bukit Timah Road. At its peak, a 506 sq ft unit there was sold for $1,773 psf in September 2018 — barely two months after July’s cooling measures were announced and despite generally softened market sentiment. Of course, this transaction was the exception, rather than the norm.
“Despite transaction volumes of private homes in Bukit Panjang falling after the July 2018 cooling measures, the median prices of private condos in this micro-market have also been fairly stable,” Ong says.
Maysprings, a 636-unit apartment at Petir Road completed in 1998 with a 99-year lease, has a fairly narrow average price range of $806 to $923 psf.
Rental yields, though, may be a different story. Ong says that for condo units in Bukit Panjang, “the overall leasing volume is quite low”. As a guide, Hazel Park Condominium in Jelebu has an indicative rental yield of 2.1% while Cashew Heights, also in Jelebu, has an indicative rental yield of 1.8%. Maysprings has a slightly higher yield of 3%.
There have been some price movements in the area surrounding Bukit Panjang, though. This is due to the 32-unit Phoenix Heights in Bukit Batok, which OKP Holdings bought en bloc for $33.1 million in August 2018. Within months of Phoenix Heights’ collective sale, a mixed development a little farther down Phoenix Road decided to make a bound for the en bloc bandwagon for an indicative price of $42 million. There were 24 apartments, 12 shops, and 63,002 sq ft of land involved in this potential en bloc sale. There were no final takers in 2018, but the property was relaunched for collective sale in June 2019.
While the upcoming Phoenix Heights redevelopment rests within Bukit Batok’s Gombak sub-zone, Ong says it is “near enough to Bukit Panjang to have some positive effect [on Bukit Panjang] if it does well”.
As a suburban residential project, Ong says, the redevelopment “should generate interest among buyers, especially HDB upgraders in the Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang areas”. He adds that “if the project is priced realistically, there should be a healthy demand”.
Phoenix Heights belongs to neighbouring Bukit Batok, but the upcoming development is close enough to Bukit Panjang to have an impact on price movements there. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth

Still waters run deep

Bukit Panjang is not considered one of Singapore’s flashy or glamorous neighbourhoods. In fact, a number of people think of it as being far from town. Yet, upon closer examination, Bukit Panjang has many strengths – firmly established amenities and its potential as a good family base are just two of them. Of course, for city-dwellers, living in the area also comes with the added bonus of fresh air from its wealth of parks and reserves, making Bukit Panjang the perfect green retreat from Singapore's concrete jungles.
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