Mixing nostalgia and contemporary living in Tiong Bahru

By Michael Lim / The Edge Property | September 9, 2016 11:00 AM SGT
Located on the city fringe, Tiong Bahru is famous for its eclectic mix of traditional eateries — such as the food stalls at Tiong Bahru Market and Ting Heng Seafood Restaurant — and new cafés such as PS Café, Forty Hands, Coq&Balls and PoTeaTo bistro & café. Retail shops that have opened there include Books Actually, We Need Hero and Aphorism Antiques.
The main attraction of Tiong Bahru is that it was the first public housing estate to receive conservation status from URA in 2003. It was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), which was set up during the British colonial era in 1927 and is the predecessor of HDB.
Alvin Yeo, a realtor with KF Property Network, has been living in Tiong Bahru for the past 11 years, specialising in the sale and rental of units in the housing estate. Home for Yeo and his family is now a four-bedroom flat that is an amalgamation of two adjacent units on the top floor of one of the corner conserved three-storey blocks on Tiong Poh Road. Yeo purchased the two units in 2011 for $1.5 million and spent another $80,000 renovating them before moving in four years ago.
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Yeo’s first home in Tiong Bahru was a three-bedroom apartment at the former Bo Bo Tan Gardens, which was sold en bloc to UOL Group and has since been redeveloped into The Regency at Tiong Bahru. The Yeos had also rented a unit at Twin Regency, by developer UOL Group, when their current home was under renovation.
Tiong Bahru was the first public housing estate to receive conservation status from URA in 2003
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Dwindling lease not a deterrent
The HDB flats in the conserved blocks of Tiong Bahru continue to be sought after despite having just 49 years left on their leases. While there are still requests for viewings, potential buyers are more price-sensitive and taking longer to commit, given the property cooling measures in place, particularly the total debt servicing ratio and the weak economic climate, says Yeo.
Yeo says potential buyers are more price-sensitive and taking longer to commit, given the property
cooling measures
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Prior to the introduction of the TDSR in 2013, Yeo was able to close the sale of at least one unit a month at Tiong Bahru. Since the start of 2016, he has sold only three units, or an average of one every two months.
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Three years ago, the flats in Tiong Bahru were selling at an average of $1,000 to $1,200 psf. Units sold this year ranged from $910 to $1,070 psf. In July, for instance, Yeo sold a renovated 1,360 sq ft, two-bedroom unit on the ground floor of Block 56 Eng Hoon Street for $1.3 million ($955 psf). In February, a 1,000 sq ft, two-bedroom unit at Block 78 on Yong Siak Street fetched $1.07 million ($1,070 psf). In January, a 1,254 sq ft, three-bedroom unit at Block 73 on Eng Watt Street changed hands for $1.28 million ($1,020 psf).
This 1,000 sq ft, three-bedroom unit at Block 78 Yong Siak Street was sold for $1.07 million ($1,070 psf)
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Rental rates holding up
Yeo is marketing a 1,087 sq ft, three-bedroom unit on the second level of Block 55 on Tiong Bahru Road for $990,000 ($910 psf). While the resale market is soft, the rental market continues to be relatively active. According to Yeo, since the start of the year, he has managed to lease on average two units a month. They include a 790 sq ft, two-bedroom unit on the fifth level of Block 78 on Moh Guan Terrace for $3,600 a month; and a 1,300 sq ft, two-bedroom unit on the ground floor of Block 81 on Tiong Poh Road for $5,500 psf.
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“The rental rates in Tiong Bahru are still holding up,” says Yeo. The area is sought after by expatriates and well-travelled locals who like the rustic ambience of the estate, he adds. They tend to be professionals working in the IT or financial services sectors, and are willing to pay a slight premium for well-renovated units.
A 1,087 sq ft, three-bedroom conservation unit being marketed by Yeo
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Fitting the profile is W M Cheong, an IT professional who has been living in a 1,000 sq ft, two-bedroom rented flat in Tiong Bahru for the past five years. The renovated unit is located in a block opposite the Tiong Bahru Market. “I like how the heritage of the place has been preserved, even though new establishments have moved into the neighbourhood,” he says.
Cheong points to Bincho, a yakitori and cocktail gastrobar at Block 78 Moh Guan Terrace, which maintains the 1970s coffee shop look with tables and chairs from that era. The other is Tiong Bahru Club, located at 57 Eng Hoon Road, which also kept the coffeeshop look and feel from the 1970s.
Typically, the average monthly rent for a ground-floor unit that has not been renovated is $3,500, whereas a similar-sized unit that has been renovated can command $5,000. Upper- floor units that are not renovated or are in original condition tend to have asking rents of $2,500, while those that are renovated command rental rates of $4,500.
Tiong Bahru Club, at Block 57 Eng Hoon St, is a conservation block of flats and shophouses
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Conservation versus non-conservation blocks
Potential buyers in Tiong Bahru have to bear in mind that the conserved area are the 20 blocks from Blocks 55 to 82 that are bordered by Tiong Bahru Road, Seng Poh Road, Moh Guan Terrace and Tiong Poh Road. These blocks were originally built by SIT and sold to residents from 1965 to 1967 under the government’s pilot home ownership scheme under HDB.
“Although these pre-war flats are managed by HDB, buyers are not bound by HDB guidelines,” explains Yeo. “So, the units can be bought or rented out like any private property.”
The pre-war units are favoured by permanent residents and foreigners, the majority of whom are buying for their own use. After receiving conservation status in 2003, these blocks have seen prices of units spike to between $1.1 million and $1.7 million at the peak of the market. Today, prices are holding steady at between $900,000 and $1.3 million, says Yeo.
There are also post-war flats (built from 1948 to 1951) located in Blocks 17 to 50 that were also built by SIT. These units are managed by HDB and governed by HDB rules, like all other public flats, explains Yeo. The prices of these units are therefore trading at a discount, with 947 sq ft, three-bedroom units selling in the range of $600,000 to $650,000. The units can only be sold to Singapore citizens who form a family nucleus, and the minimum occupation period of five years applies.
Many of the flats in Tiong Bahru have leases starting from 1965 to 1967, and therefore have only 49 years left on the original 99-year lease. Banks are still willing to provide financing, however, as long as there are at least 30 years left on the leases of these units and owners are able to use their Central Provident Fund savings to purchase the units.
Blocks of post-war SIT/HDB flats at the junction of Lim Liak Street and Kim Pong Road
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Private condos as alternative
Besides the conservation blocks, private condominiums have also sprung up in Tiong Bahru over the past decade. Many of these are redevelopments of old freehold apartment blocks that were sold en bloc to developers. They include 234-unit Twin Regency, a redevelopment of the former King’s, Queen’s and Princess Flats, which was completed in 2007; 104- unit Regency Suites, a redevelopment of the former Kim Tian Plaza in 2008; and 158-unit The Regency at Tiong Bahru — the former Bo Bo Tan Gardens and Bo Bo Tan Mansion — in 2010. All three freehold private condos were developed by UOL Group.
A 1,421 sq ft, three-bedrooom unit at Regency Suites was sold in February for $2.35 million ($1,654 psf)
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The 234-unit Twin Regency, a redevelopment of the former King’s, Queen’s and Princess Flats, was
completed in 2007
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Meanwhile, there are also three 99-year leasehold private condos in Tiong Bahru that are developments on government land sites. One is the 412-unit Central Green, which was developed by Wing Tai Holdings and completed in 1995. The other is 213-unit MeraPrime by developer MCL Land; it was completed in 2006.
The third and latest private condo is 500- unit Highline Residences by Keppel Land. The project is expected to be completed in 2018. Keppel Land paid $550.28 million ($1,163 psf per plot ratio) for the site in a government land tender in April 2013. It was considered the highest price psf per plot ratio paid for a private condo site. Since Highline Residences was launched in September 2014, a total of 244 units have been sold at a median price of $1,808 psf. The latest transaction at Highline Residences was that of an 883 sq ft, three-bedroom unit, which was sold for $1.5 million (1,714 psf) in August, according to a caveat lodged last month.
The 412-unit Central Green was developed by Wing Tai Holdings and completed in 1995
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Meanwhile, at 21-year-old Central Green, a 764 sq ft, one-bedroom unit changed hands for $1.04 million ($1,358 psf). The freehold Twin Regency saw a 980 sq ft, two-bedroom unit change hands in July for $1.6 million ($1,654 psf). At Regency Suites, a 1,421 sq ft, three-bedrooom unit was sold in February for $2.35 million ($1,654 psf).
“What draws people to Tiong Bahru is the rustic 1960s vibe,” says Yeo. “Because of its character and charm, the estate has attracted both locals and foreigners alike.”
This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 745 (Sep 12, 2016) of The Edge Singapore.