From cemeteries to hot properties in Singapore

By EdgeProp Singapore / EdgeProp | August 26, 2017 8:00 AM SGT
 - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Living in what used to be a cemetery isn’t the most attractive idea when it comes to buying a home. But in land-scarce Singapore, the reality is that the dead will have to make way for the living sooner or later.
Already, hundreds and thousands of bodies have been exhumed to pave the way for shopping malls, roads and apartment blocks. Prime among these repurposed burial grounds is the Bidadari cemetery.
The 18-hectare Bidadari cemetery was once the largest grave site in Singapore. It was officially opened in 1908 to replace the old Christian cemetery at Bukit Timah and held the tombs of pioneers, such as Lim Boon Keng, Ahmad Ibrahim, and lawyer, politician and Lee Kuan Yew’s first boss, John Laycock.
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It was cleared between 2001 and 2004, in an operation that exhumed 58,000 Christian and 68,000 Muslim graves. In its place, the government is building the Bidadari estate, which will comprise 10,000 HDB flats and 1,000 private homes. When completed, it will be the first public housing estate in Singapore that allows people to live within a park.
Bidadari neighbourhoods will incorporate features such as multi-level green decks with roof gardens atop multi-storey carparks and selected residential blocks, courtyards in between residential blocks, and an underground bus interchange and the city’s first underground service reservoir.
The neighbourhoods will incorporate features such as multi-level green decks with roof gardens above multi-storey car parks and selected residential blocks, courtyards in between residential blocks, and an underground, air-conditioned bus interchange and the city’s first underground service reservoir.
The first Bidadari BTO flats went on sale in September 2015 and were met with rousing demand.
Singapore house buyers undeterred by cemetery past
While there’s been some evidence that cemeteries do affect demand for properties nearby, a large number of Singaporeans are in fact, undeterred by buying an ex-cemetery home.
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Along with Geylang, new HDB flats in Bidadari was met with rousing demand among house-hunters, with larger units being the most oversubscribed in the latest BTO sales exercise in May 2017.
At the sales exercise, five-room and multi-generational flats in Bidadari’s Woodleigh Hillside were among the top picks, with 1,753 applicants for the 374 units. These flats are priced from S$579,000 and S$622,000 onwards respectively, excluding grants.
Bidadari’s proximity to the city centre, accessibility, along with the new technologies, green initiatives and design factors at the estate are likely reasons for its popularity.
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Booming estates in Bishan, Orchard and Tiong Bahru once housed graves
 - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
In Orchard, the site of the former Teochew cemetery, Tai Shan Ting is now home to the bustling Ion Orchard mall.
As the need for urban development and public housing grew, former cemeteries and burial sites were eventually cleared to make way for development. By 1985, 21 cemeteries had been cleared, and an approximately 120,000 graves had been exhumed by the Housing Development Board. Despite this huge number, many Singaporeans do not know how much of our city is built over former graves.
Bishan is one such housing estate that was built over a former burial ground. It even derives its name from the Cantonese term, Peck San Theng (Bishan’s old name), which literally translates as “pavilions on the green”. The Peck San Theng cemetery was built in 1870 by Cantonese and Hakka immigrants and was exhumed in 1986.
In this case, Bishan’s cemetery history has no impact at all on property values as the estate is now associated with million-dollar public housing flats and some of the country’s top schools such as Raffles Institution and Catholic High. Meanwhile, condominiums in Bishan are selling up to $1,900 psf.
In Orchard, the site of the former Teochew cemetery, Tai Shan Ting is now home to the bustling Ngee Ann City mall, Ion Orchard mall, upscale apartments and the Orchard MRT station. Clearly, buyers are unperturbed by its history. In June, units at two high-end condominiums in Orchard both sold for above $3,000 psf.
The same goes for the Tiong Bahru estate. The name itself means new cemetery, though most Singaporeans today know Tiong Bahru as a hipster zone teeming with specialty coffee shops and indie bookstores. What many may not know is that a large part of the estate, including grounds of the Singapore General Hospital and the stretch of land along Tiong Bahru Road all the way to Leng Kee Road were once part of a sprawling Chinese cemetery.
In Knight Frank’s inaugural Global Cities 2015 report, Tiong Bahru was named one of the 10 urban markets to watch, joining the likes of London’s Victoria Park and Kowloon West in Hong Kong as the new wave of property investment hotspots. Meanwhile, upcoming condos in the area are selling up to $2,200 psf.
As with the case of Bidadari and these former cemetery-homes, it would appear that for many buyers, a convenient location, attractive amenities and proximity to town far outweighs whatever squeamish feeling that might be associated with living in an ex-cemetery site.
Next to be exhumed will be graves located at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, whereby over 80,000 graves will be emptied to expand the Tengah Air Base.
At Bukit Brown cemetery, more than 3,000 of the 100,000 graves have been exhumed for the construction of a new road. However, there is growing awareness of Bukit Brown’s historical significance through the outcry that was generated when the government proposed plans to develop the area. Whether it will successfully lead to the preservation of the cemetery still remains to be seen.