For them, a 25-year love affair

MR MASAMITSU Okada has been living in Singapore for the last 25 years. But instead of renting or buying a home, the Japanese expatriate has chosen to live in the same Ascott Somerset Liang Court serviced apartment for a quarter of a century.

Not that housing is paid for by his company, as this benefit ceased 12 years ago when he retired from auditing firm Deloitte. Since then, he has been running his own business consultancy here – and footing the bill for 13 years’ worth of serviced apartment rates on his own. Seems like an eye-popping splurge? Mr Okada, 77, concedes just as much.

“I could’ve bought a house and be a millionaire now!” he told Today, laughing.

The fact is, he hadn’t expected to remain in Singapore for so long when he first arrived in 1985. “I would’ve bought a home here if I had a long-term plan from the beginning – but I didn’t.”

For contractual reasons, his room rates cannot be disclosed. But according to the Singaporean company’s website, a 30-day stay at Ascott Somerset Liang Court starts at well over $7,700 currently. At face value, this would amount to a total of over $1.1 million over the course of 12 years.

However, since it is not unusual for serviced apartments to give a discounted lease rate to long-staying guests, we can safely assume that Mr Okada paid less than $1.1 million – especially since current room rates are higher than they were years ago including during the property bull run of 2006 and 2007.

Even so, all that money could have helped Mr Okada own a piece of private property, and possibly in a prime location, here.

Any regrets? They didn’t show. The Japanese professional is so taken with his Ascott lifestyle that he has no plans to move out of the comfortable two-bedroom apartment.

Equipped just like a regular apartment, with a kitchen and separate living and dining areas, serviced apartments aim to evoke a sense of home but without the hassle of cleaning, as housekeeping services are provided. It may even be better than home for the long-staying traveller, with its condominium-like facilities, such as swimming pools and playgrounds, and hotel-like services such as laundry and even babysitting.

“It’s very secure and I feel very comfortable here, the people are friendly,” said Mr Okada.

His wife also appreciates being able to go grocery shopping at a Japanese supermarket next door.

Watching their lifestyle, a few of their Japanese expatriate friends living in regular housing here have actually become converts to Ascott’s serviced apartments over the years.

It is due to residents like the Okadas that the serviced apartment industry has been showing resilience amid uncertain economic times.

Ascott, which owns nine serviced apartments or 980 units in Singapore, reports an occupancy rate of about 90 per cent. “Travellers and companies increasingly prefer serviced residences,” said Ascott Hospitality’s chief executive Gerald Lee.

Similarly, competitor Frasers Hospitality has reported healthy occupancy despite the downturn and has its fair share of guests who stay for years on end.

Companies have taken a liking to the concept with the flexible leases and better value for money. “Instead of putting up their employees in a room at a hotel, more companies are choosing two- to three-bedroom serviced apartments,” Mr Lee said. “In this way, their employees will still have the privacy of their own room within an apartment, at a fraction of the cost compared to staying at separate hotel rooms.”

Then, there is the human touch. The Okadas are familiar to the Ascott employees. Likewise, Mr Okada tends to recognise staff who have relocated from Ascott Somerset Liang Court to other Ascott developments in other cities around the world.

He said: “I miss this place when I’m back in Japan.”

Source : Today – 16 Jul 2009

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