Tiny homes under scrutiny

Many Singaporeans might think that shoebox units are small but there’s another type of micro home that has taken off in other parts of Asia, most notably in China and Japan. Called capsule homes, such units are much smaller than shoebox apartments. Some of these units can be as tiny as seven ft long, six ft tall and four ft wide as evidenced in some developments located in the outskirts of China’s capital Beijing that were reportedly going for as low as S$40 a month per room some years back.

Given the issue of land scarcity in Singapore, the immense popularity of shoebox apartments and an increasingly red hot property market, one has to wonder: Will capsule living take off in Singapore?

It has to be noted that shoebox homes are typically below 500 sq ft in size which doesn’t allow for much open space so one can imagine the constraints on movement in a capsule unit. But this type of micro living has its advantages. Firstly, it could foster closer interaction amongst neighbours compared to private apartments where many residents rarely socialise or in some cases, do not even know each other.

DESIGNED FOR AFFORDABILITY

Such homes are also cheaper to build and therefore more affordable to home buyers. Alan Cheong, Research Head at Savills Singapore, noted that developers could price such units at around S$2,500 psf for a 43 sq ft capsule, or S$107,500. He added that less space would be allocated on “frills” that consume water and power, making them more eco-friendly than a large scale development.

Despite these factors, the market may not be ready for such a lifestyle.

Darren Tan, a 33-year old trader plans to buy a home for himself in the near future, but does not consider capsule homes as a good choice.

“No, I don’t think Singaporeans in general or myself are ready for long-term ultra-micro living yet, capsule hotels maybe but not as homes,” he said.

Industry experts also suspect that such properties might run into problems. Cheong said: “I am not sure if capsule homes will not only catch on but make it past the planning authorities’ scrutiny now that the latter has imposed an average 70 sq m (753 sq ft) size for developments in most areas here. Even if these capsule units were developed in districts 1 and 2, it may not take off because they may not meet market needs.”

Last year, the surge in popularity of shoebox homes in many developments received the attention of authorities, prompting the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to impose a limit on the maximum number of small units allowed in a new project.

“The situation that we should avoid is for shoebox units to form a disproportionately large portion of the housing stock in Singapore. Increasingly we are seeing some new housing developments consisting predominantly of shoebox units – as high as 50 percent to 80 percent,” said the agency in an earlier statement.

Adopting a calibrated approach, the URA will moderate excessive development of shoebox units, but it will still allow some smaller housing units to be built in response to the diverse needs of Singaporeans.

The government will also iron out the parameters to provide a wider choice of homes for singles and small households.

“The new URA planning guidelines are measured and moderate. There will still be shoebox units to meet the need of a segment of the population, but there will also be many more larger units, to meet the demand of the other population segments,” stated National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post.

POTENTIAL FOR DEBATE

With shoebox units already stirring much debate, what more would capsule homes do?

Cheong suggested that capsule units may be considered for short-term accommodation in the hospitality industry.

If they are leased short-term, then capsule homes may appeal to buyers who could make a potential investment out of it. Developers could also jump on the bandwagon “if it makes commercial sense and it may make sense if it can be used as a hotel”.

Cheong believes such properties can be built in areas like Chinatown, Beach Road and Little India on small in-fill government or private land sites. “At the moment, I think it may be a stretch of (the) imagination to offer this type of accommodation in the suburbs where land is more available.”

Despite the diversity that capsule homes would bring to Singapore’s property market, there could be disadvantages including it being a fire hazard while its compactness and high density could breed diseases or start a pandemic. “These can also end up as an enclave of like-minded people with uncommon social behaviour, which could be seen both ways,” said Cheong.

Source : PropertyGuru – 11 Jan 2013

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