Exclusivity is a major attraction
I was asked recently for my comments on pricey homes in Singapore and my thoughts on Sentosa homes compared to those on the mainland. When I tried to explain why they are strictly not comparable, I ran into difficulties.
I then realised many of us have read about Sentosa Cove. But how many of us have been there and seen these homes for ourselves? Not many, I suspect.
Therein lies the first distinction between homes on the mainland and those on Sentosa – exclusivity and the status that comes with it.
You cannot be at Sentosa Cove if you have no business being there. I can drive by Bukit Timah and other good-class bungalow areas to show foreign visitors where the rich and famous in Singapore live. However, I cannot simply bring them around Sentosa Cove if I do not have a valid reason. I cannot take a picture of one of the condo projects on Sentosa if I cannot get past the security post.
The closest description I have for Sentosa Cove is that it is Singapore’s first gated housing community. It is of a very high quality and not the run-of-the-mill ones you get in other countries. The individual houses and condo projects do not have boundary walls or fences.
In terms of housing designs, a photograph of one of the lakeside properties with its own individual boating berths may lead you to think that the property is in one of the top European cities. My foreign visitors gaped in amazement saying they could never imagine this in Singapore if they have not seen it with their own eyes.
I see many of these gated projects – but of a far lower quality – on my overseas assignments in neighbouring countries. In these countries, security is a big issue. But in Singapore, crime is not a big problem even in our poorest public housing estates.
On Sentosa Cove, the security posts guard privacy more than against crime.
Another important distinction I would tag on to Sentosa homes is that they are not meant to be your typical home. Holiday homes would be a more apt description. After all, Sentosa is a holiday destination.
You do not have the usual social amenities nearby such as schools, libraries, post offices, cineplexes, public transport services, banks, shops and eating places. It is much less of a hassle to stay on the mainland even if it is in the heart of the business district.
Sentosa homes are more suited for people with plenty of time to spare. While many may not be holiday homes now, they will be in time to come.
Nevertheless, whatever opinion one may have about residential properties on Sentosa, most will agree that it has turned out to be a hugely successful and profitable commercial venture.
And already there are some thoughts of replicating this model in other parts of Singapore. The Southern Islands have been mentioned as a possible venue.
But I have my reservations. I see Sentosa Cove as an enclave for the haves. In my opinion, enclaves, whether they be slums or populated mainly by a single ethnic group or just for the wealthy, should not be encouraged. They separate rather than integrate society.
Nevertheless, I can understand the strategic reasons for such a place to attract the Bill Gates of this world and other top foreign talent who will bring in much needed investments and create jobs for citizens.
However, there should be an audit before we replicate this model. Making huge profits and using them to fund other attractions is not a good enough reason. Or else, we will be carving out choice pieces of land all over Singapore and selling them to foreigners.
We need to establish whether Sentosa Cove has indeed been successful in attracting the desired top foreign talent to live and invest in Singapore. From press reports and feedback from agents, some of the buyers seemed less than desirable.
Is this the exception or the norm?
By Colin Tan, head of Research and Consultancy at real estate consultancy Chesterton Suntec International.