Some 1,000 Singaporeans are said to own the majority of Good Class Bungalows here, reports ARTHUR SIM
VERY few people live in landed homes in Singapore and even fewer live in Good Class Bungalows (GCBs), which probably explains why they are so desirable. There are about one million or so homes here. These comprise terrace houses, semi-detached houses, bungalows and of course high-rise homes - condominiums, apartments and public housing flats.
Exclusive: While it is not inconceivable that there could be more GCB areas added in the future, given the need to intensify land use in Singapore, the likelihood is slim
But GCBs stand quite far apart from all of these in that they not only have to sit on land that is of a certain size - not less than 1,400 square metres - but also have to be located in areas that have been specially designated for them. Indeed, there are estimated to be less than 2,500 GCBs in Singapore.
GCB areas were officially gazetted in 1980 with 39 areas formally safeguarded. A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) explained that the purpose of the gazette was to 'protect the high environmental quality of these established large bungalow areas from the intrusion of more intensive forms of housing such as semi-detached or terrace houses'.
Walk or drive around these GCB areas and often you will notice not only stately houses but stately trees as well with many protected for posterity. There are two zones in Singapore under the National Parks Board's Tree Conservation Areas with the main zone covering central Singapore where most of the GCBs are located.
To control development in these areas, URA set certain guidelines for planning purposes. For instance, the minimum plot size for any newly created bungalow within the 39 GCB areas must be at least 1,400 sq m. For this reason, a GCB plot cannot be developed to accommodate more intensive forms of housing. And unless it is at least 2,800 sq m in size, it cannot be sub-divided into two GCB plots either.
Of the GCB areas, the best known are the Nassim, Cluny, Bishopsgate and White House Park estates. While it is not inconceivable that there could be more GCB areas added in the future, given the need to intensify land use in Singapore, the likelihood is slim.
URA's spokesman said: 'In drawing up our land use plans for Singapore, we aim to provide a variety of housing options for Singaporeans, from waterfront housing to garden living to city living. This includes low-density and landed housing, such as those found within existing GCB areas. The detailed housing form for future landed housing areas will be determined when the area is ready to be developed.'
URA said that there are currently no plans to release new sites or designate new areas as GCB areas. 'Nevertheless, there is scope for the number of GCB plots within existing GCB areas to increase, for example through sub-division of larger GCB plots into several GCB plots, so long as each bungalow plot meets the minimum land size of 1,400 sq m,' URA added.
Big GCB plots do not come by often. In 1994, a plum site in the Tanglin GCB area came up for sale by public tender. The 194,000 sq ft parcel was the official residence of the Australian high commissioner at White House Park/Dalvey Road. Property valuers had estimated that the site could fetch as much as $70 million, or around $400 per square foot (psf). The site eventually sold for $98 million or $505 psf.
In 1997, developer Wharf Group sold five units of the 11-unit development of GCBs at an average of $14.1 million each. Ten years later, in 2007, a house in this development sold for $28.8 million. There have been other public tenders of large sites.
In 2000, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) sold a 201,782 sq ft freehold bungalow site it owned since the 1960s in Jervois Road for $60 million, or slightly over $330 psf. Then in 2003, HSBC sold a 276,112 sq ft site at Bishopsgate for $69.8 million. Together, all three sites would have yielded less than 40 new GCBs.
Occasionally, individual GCB sites will come up for auction. In 2008, the Singapore Land Authority auctioned a site at Ridout Road which saw 34 bids lodged by three prospective buyers. The winning bid came in at $8.96 million or $579.55 psf. This was 22.6 per cent above the opening bid of $7.31 million or $473 psf. Being fresh government land sale sites, however, it came with a 99-year lease.
SLA also said that recently, three parcels of land have been sold under the Sale of Infill Sites programme on 99-year leases. 'The owners have to comply with URA's GCB guidelines as the land parcels are within GCB areas,' it added.
Because the environment is an important factor in GCB areas, there are guidelines that control how big the house can be. For instance, the house cannot cover more than 35 per cent of the site. This is to ensure that there are adequate green buffers between each house.
There are also more prosaic restraints - childcare centres are not allowed in GCB areas for instance. But perhaps the most important constraint on GCB ownership to note is that foreigners are not allowed to own these, thus reducing the buying pool of GCBs.
Some 1,000 Singaporeans are said to own the majority of GCBs here and are mostly intent on holding on to them as long-term investments. If you have bought one through the open market, you can count yourself lucky indeed.