Climate change and millennials driving demand for sustainably built homes

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Singapore’s property developers have been successful in implementing sustainable building techniques, and implementing innovative designs to overcome building challenges, says Lee Nai Jia, deputy director of the Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies at the National University of Singapore.
Lee is one of the judges of the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2020, an annual property awards event hosted by EdgeProp Singapore that recognises excellence in the local real estate market. As a judge, Lee is contributing his expertise in real estate research, especially in the fields of sustainability and design concept.
Lee: This year’s EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards has shown that developers are going beyond the usual Green Mark requirements and are genuinely committed to building sustainable homes. (Picture: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore)
There are more than 20 categories for this year’s awards, including sustainability excellence, landscape excellence, innovation excellence and top development. “The quality of the awards submissions this year is very high, in terms of design and sustainability. Based on the submissions, it is clear that developers are putting a lot of effort into coming up with the right design and the right product for the market segment they are targeting,” says Lee.

Focusing on sustainability

This is the fourth year the property awards are being held, and the awards have consistently recognised sustainability and green building development in new private residential developments in Singapore.
“Over the past few years, the market has widely adopted a range of sustainable building techniques. The government has led this push with higher-quality public housing, but the private market also faces intense competition with more foreign developers in the mix,” says Lee.
He says that private property developers have placed more emphasis on the quality of the residential product they are developing, and over time, this includes a focus on sustainability and wellness in new residential developments.
As a result, developers are going beyond the expected Green Mark standards and are genuinely looking into new and innovative ways to help save energy and reduce their overall carbon footprint, says Lee.
Landscaping and greenery - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Landscaping and greenery are important factors to home buyers, and these elements must be planned with the end-user in mind, says Lee. (Picture: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore)
“This judging experience has been good for me, and I am happy to see that developers in the private sector are doing more than what is required of them, and that they continue to look at ways to improve their product,” he says.
One aspect that has gained prominence is residents’ wellness, as well as an adequate amount of green spaces, and this is likely to be a growing trend for future private residential developments, Lee says. He adds that “there is more emphasis on the number of trees and the degree of biodiversity within developments”.
Lee points out that this is even more challenging for boutique developments, which must already contend with a relatively small-sized site and expectations from home buyers. “For boutique developments, it is very important that they try to come up with a product that provides most of the facilities that residents would need, and that the developer tries to enmesh greenery wherever they can,” says Lee.
He says that greenery and landscaping are important considerations among buyers, and developers must plan their landscaping areas with the end-user in mind, and in keeping with the broader architectural vision of the project.

Innovation excellence

These challenges have encouraged most property developers to be innovative in designing their product. Given the scarcity of land in Singapore, developers often find some constraints within their development site, for example, an irregularly shaped plot.
“We have seen, at least from this round, that given the set of challenges that the developers and designers may face, they have come up with even more creative solutions in terms of the use of space,” Lee says.
The award winners this year — in particular the architects, landscape designers, and interior designers — have successfully showcased innovative solutions to overcome such challenges, he says.
This year, the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards is also recognising excellence among mixed-use developments, a type of property that Lee feels will become more common in Singapore in the future. “Urban planners are trying to minimise travel movement. From a planning perspective, it makes sense to have various types of real estate integrated into one mixed-use development,” he says.
But a challenge in designing integrated developments is maintaining the separation of users, while retaining a design harmony throughout the building, Lee says. “How do you make this type of development exclusive for residents, while inclusive for the public at the same time? I think that is one of the biggest challenges that integrated developments face,” he says.
According to Lee, property awards that are objectively judged help consumers make better purchases, and pave the way for better developments in the future. “Through this type of competition, we can differentiate between developments, and ascertain the unique points that are important to consumers. This is especially vital since real estate is such a big investment for many home buyers,” he says.
Recognising excellence in the market also serves as a benchmark for developers and will encourage them to continuously come up with great designs and quality products, says Lee.

Bridging academia and private sector

Lee’s real estate experience extends beyond his academic credentials. Before taking up his latest tenure with NUS, Lee headed the research departments at Knight Frank Singapore and Edmund Tie & Co, publishing regular market intelligence reports, research bulletins, commentaries, media columns and property supplements. He also frequently shares his insights at public seminars and events.
Lee started his real estate career in academia, as an assistant professor at NUS. He cites one of the reasons for his move back to academia in April this year as a personal desire to bridge the gap in information-sharing between academic circles and the private sector. “I feel that the real estate market is undergoing structural changes, and we need to constantly update ourselves, learn new skills and knowledge to keep pace with change,” he says.
According to Lee, one of the most important changes in the sector has been the rising importance of sustainability and green buildings. “Sustainability in the real estate market means making sure that we do not over-consume resources, and that we limit the overall carbon footprint of the built environment. This ensures that future generations can live comfortably, and it should be done in a way that economies can still progress without negative long-term effects,” says Lee.
Tapping solar energy - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Tapping solar energy. The sustainability movement is driven by concerns over climate change, and greater awareness among millennial consumers. (Picture: Bloomberg)
Climate change has been a key driver in the widespread adoption of sustainable buildings in Singapore, such as the government’s concern over rising sea levels and how this threatens low-lying areas such as Singapore, he says. Millennials are likely to place emphasis on the safeguarding the environment, given their early education on the importance of sustainability, and this will likely increase the demand for more sustainably built homes.
“However, in terms of pricing, I believe that people are still unwilling to pay overly high property prices for a building that just has a Green Mark Platinum certification. To them, it is a ‘good-to-have’ feature, but I do not think most are willing to pay exceedingly for it. Unfortunately, the cost of building sustainably and incorporating all green features is still relatively high,” says Lee.
According to Lee, competitions such as the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards that recognise sustainable design are good for everyone in the real estate market. It prompts consumers to think seriously about climate change and sustainable living, with the winners setting the benchmarks for the market.
The winners of the Sustainability Excellence Award will be announced during the virtual ceremony of EdgeProp Excellence Awards on Oct 29, 2pm. Awards will also be given to developers who excel in innovative design.

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