Good Class Bungalow for $35 mil

October 13, 2014 12:00 AM SGT
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GCB at Rebecca Road, swimming pool
The swimming pool is the main focus of this tropical house designed by Timur Designs
SINGAPORE: A rare property on Rebecca Road with a land area of 20,450 sq ft and a well-designed house by Timur Designs built less than two years ago is on the market.
On a recent Friday afternoon, the owner of a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) on Rebecca Road was seen leisurely reading the newspapers at the dining table, while his daughter-in-law was about to start baking a cake, with her son perched on a high stool at the kitchen counter, finishing his homework.
This heart-warming scene could easily have been set in an HDB apartment, if not for the astute house owner.
He made the leap from HDB occupier to GCB owner in a single, well-timed bound in March 1999 — which, on hindsight, was the trough of the property cycle.
According to a caveat lodged with URA Realis, he paid just $5.5 million for the GCB, which sits on a sprawling 20,450 sq ft site.
Not only is it the largest land plot in the Rebecca Road area, but his purchase price, when translated into price per sq ft, stood at $269, the lowest on record for the neighbourhood.
Even if one were to include the other GCB enclaves in the vicinity, such as Bin Tong Park, Coronation Road and Coronation Road West, as well as Victoria Park, that transaction still ranks among the lowest in terms of price psf, based on caveat data going back nearly 20 years.
Indeed, in the post-Asian financial crisis property market hangover of 1998/99 and the economic recession of 2001 to 2003, quite a number of HDB occupiers made that same transition into the landed housing market, snapping up semi-detached and detached houses at distressed prices, recalls Grace Ng, deputy managing director at Colliers International.
“However, only a rare few had jumped from an HDB to a GCB.”
Today, 5.5% of Singaporean households live in landed homes, and an even smaller fraction live in GCBs, the most luxurious of bungalows with land sizes of at least 15,070 sq ft.
After all, there are only 2,800 GCBs in Singapore and they are located in 39 residential estates gazetted by the URA, according to CBRE Research.
Meanwhile, a good 81.9% of Singapore residents live in HDB flats, according to the Department of Statistics.
Complete rebuild The owner of the Rebecca Road GCB made only minor additions and alterations to it over the years.
However, in mid-2011, he decided to tear down the original structure and redevelop the property to suit the needs of his now-extended family.
As the natural terrain of the site is on a downslope, the then single-storey bungalow used to sit at the bottom of the garden, below street level.
Upon the recommendation of friends, the owner engaged Timur Designs, a name long associated with private luxury homes in the prime districts of Singapore and in Sentosa Cove, to design his new GCB.
The only brief he gave the architect was that he and his wife wanted a home where they could age in place, with wheelchair-friendly floors and provision for a home lift in the future.
The owner’s son, who was living in the same house with his wife and two young child ren, asked for their own private wing fitted with a kitchenette, like a self-contained apartment, with direct access to the swimming pool.
Timur Designs partner Chan Wai Kin, the design architect for the house, cleverly created a formal entrance with a drop-off point at the front of the building.
“The idea was to create a sense of mystery when you first arrive,” explains the owner.
Double-volume ceiling and glass louvres
Double-volume ceiling and glass louvres add light to the semi-outdoor dining patio
By moving the formal entrance to the front of the grounds, the architect capitalised on the downsloping terrain to create a spacious, double- storey house with two wings, and ample space for the swimming pool and garden.
There is a separate entrance from the garage at the side of the house for the family.
Chan created indoor-outdoor spaces, where the main focus is the swimming pool.
There is even an outdoor powder room that looks like a secret garden, complete with a stone bench.
The communal gathering point for the family is the semi-outdoor dining patio with double- volume ceiling.
The adjoining dry kitchen and dining patio command the best view of the pool and garden.
Glass louvres at the top of the patio can be opened for breeze to flow into the house, or closed to prevent rain from coming in.
An enormous ceiling fan has been installed to keep the place cool.
“We seldom need to turn on the air-conditioner,” says the owner.
“We like the architect’s design, which has a rustic feel, and his play with glass and timber.
We didn’t want a show house.
We wanted a home we can relax in.”
bathroom of the junior master suite
The bathroom of the junior master suite
staircase from the formal guest entrance
This staircase from the formal guest entrance leads to the dining patio
Three-generation home The house has a built-up area of 7,440 sq ft.
On the first level, apart from the dining patio, a spacious living room opens out to the swimming pool.
There is a separate wet kitchen adjoining the dry kitchen, an aviary, a helper’s room and a yard.
The master suite for the owner and his wife is also on the first level.
It has a big en suite study — the owner’s favourite room — with a door leading directly to the swimming pool.
Two other bedrooms are on this level; one serves as a guest room, while the other has been converted into a hobby room, complete with musical instruments and model airplanes.
The second level was designed as a standalone apartment for the younger family.
It has a junior master suite with a dramatic ceiling, an equally luxurious bathroom, two bedrooms for the children, another study and a fully-equipped galley kitchen.
There is also a private balcony, with staircase leading straight to the swimming pool.
Construction of the new house took 17 months and cost $3 million, with the family moving back into their “new” home in December 2012.
“It’s a well-thought-out design for an extended family,” says Harvey Chia, director of boutique property agency Land Empire.
On the market The property was recently put on the market with a price tag of $35 million or $1,711 psf.
“Given a choice, I wouldn’t want to sell it,” admits the owner.
“My wife is the one who wants to sell it.” Land Empire’s Chia has been appointed the marketing agent for the GCB on Rebecca Road.
He has noticed an increase in the number of enquiries from potential buyers looking for GCBs with bigger land plots in recent months.
This is also evident from the GCB transactions in 3Q2014: of the half-dozen transactions in the months of July and August, three were for large GCB plots that fetched above $30 million.
The most recent transaction was for a GCB sitting on a freehold plot of 26,458 sq ft on Belmont Road, that was sold for $33.5 million ($1,266 psf), according to a caveat lodged on Aug 21.
The other GCB on Dalvey Road sits on a land area of 18,493 sq ft, and changed hands for $30.8 million ($1,666 psf) at end- July.
The house on Dalvey Road is a brand new GCB sitting on a smaller land parcel, notes William Wong, managing director of RealStar Premier and a specialist in marketing landed homes.
In mid-July, a GCB sitting on a freehold plot of 33,691 sq ft on Ridout Road was reportedly sold to Lim Hock Leng, managing director of listed grocery chain Sheng Siong, for $30 million ($1,039 psf).
The GCB is said to be an old bungalow located on a downslope site.
Rebecca Road GCB garden
Most GCBs sacrifice the garden for a bigger house. The Rebecca Road GCB still has space for a large garden for the owner’s grandchildren to play in
One of the children’s bedrooms
One of the children’s bedrooms
junior master suite
The junior master suite with a balcony that leads straight to the swimming pool deck below
New rich, new citizens The buyers looking to purchase big GCB plots today tend to be “the new rich” and “firsttime GCB buyers”, says Samuel Eyo, director of Savills Prestige Homes.
“It also shows that there’s still a lot of money out there.” KH Tan, founder and managing director of luxury property specialist Newsman Realty, agrees.
He has seen an increase in enquiries and viewing requests from newly minted Singa pore citizens interested in buying big GCB plots with land sizes above 20,000 sq ft.
“These are mainly former mainland Chinese who are buying their first landed property in Singapore,” Tan notes.
There are some Singaporeans who, having lived abroad for many years, have returned home and are looking to buy a GCB as well, he adds.
However, more than half the enquiries are from newly minted Singapore citizens.
Figures from CBRE Research show that for the full year of 2013, a total of 27 GCBs were sold for $654 million, or an average of $1,323 psf.
For the first nine months of 2014, only 18 GCBs were transacted, with total sales worth $467.8 million.
The average price of these transactions yearto- date was $1,419 psf, which is higher than that in 2013.
However, this is only a ballpark for GCB prices, and does not fully account for location, size, age, design, terrain, frontage and other characteristics of the individual GCBs, explains Douglas Wong, CBRE’s head of luxury homes, and a specialist in the GCB market.
“At best, it shows that GCB prices in 2014 are still holding up even though the wider residential market prices are softening.” Newsman’s Tan agrees.
GCBs sitting on good plots, for instance those that are either elevated or flat, and regular in shape, have seen prices holding up relatively well on a per sq ft basis, he says.
Those that are not as well situated, for instance those on a steep downslope or sitting on an irregular plot, have seen prices soften a little.
However, he expects activity in the GCB market to pick up this quarter and foresees prices remaining rela tively stable in the coming year.
outdoor powder room with a shower area
The outdoor powder room with a shower area for guests
Scarcity factor “I think we are probably close to the bottom in terms of transaction volume this year,” reckons RealStar’s Wong.
“But the real-estate market as a whole should start to improve next year.
As such, it is unlikely that there will be a great correction ahead in the landed housing market, especially for GCBs, where the vast majority of owners have great holding power.” The gap between buyers’ bid prices and sellers’ asking prices could narrow in the coming months owing to the scarcity of big plots, notes Land Empire’s Chia.
Many GCB owners are prepared to withdraw their property from the market if buyers’ offers are below their asking prices, says Savills’ Eyo.
“That’s why there isn’t much GCB stock in the market.” CBRE’s Wong concurs with that.
GCB owners who have the holding power will not reduce their prices just to achieve a sale, he says.
“They are more likely to wait for the market to recover before looking for buyers again.” According to Chia, buyers attracted to the Rebecca Road area in prime district 10 are usually those familiar with the Leedon Park, Bin Tong Park and Belmont areas as well.
Besides the recent transaction in Belmont Road for $33.5 million, another transaction in the neighbourhood this year was for a GCB in Bin Tong Park, sitting on a freehold land area of 20,312 sq ft.
It was sold for $31.5 million ($1,551 psf) in February.
“The owner [of the GCB on Rebecca Road] is in no rush to sell,” emphasises Chia.
“If we find the right buyer who can appreciate the house as much as they do, and if there’s a serious offer, we will sit together with the family to discuss [the deal].”
This article appeared in the City & Country of Issue 647 (Oct 13) of The Edge Singapore.

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