When IT executive Vincent Foo went house-hunting recently, his pick was an executive condominium (EC).
The 33-year-old bought a three- bedroom unit at Prive, an EC in Punggol, for $790,000, early last month and plans to move in with his fiance, cabin attendant Carol Loh, 29, when the apartment is ready by 2014.
He says: 'Prive is in a good location as it is near Punggol MRT station. We also don't mind paying more to get condo- style facilities. Resale flats were not our choice as we didn't want to pay high cash-over-valuation prices for them.'
In the last three months, ECs, which are 'more posh' than Housing Board (HDB) flats but not priced as high as private property, have been selling like hot cakes in the sizzling property market. Nearly 1,000 out of 1,659 EC units launched have been sold since October.
In that month, property developer Frasers Centrepoint Homes launched Esparina Residences near Buangkok MRT station, followed by MCC Land's The Canopy in Yishun.
Prive by NTUC Choice Homes Cooperative was launched earlier last month, while United Engineers Limited's Austville next to Punggol Park will be launched this month.
In 1995, it was then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong who mooted the idea of building ECs to meet the housing needs of 'sandwich' families, whose income exceeds the $8,000 HDB income ceiling and yet cannot afford private property.
The gross monthly household income of buyers of new EC units cannot exceed $10,000.
Although ECs are developed and sold by private developers and their designs are comparable to that of private condominiums, they come with sale restrictions similar to those for public housing.
First-time EC owners must live in their homes for at least five years. After that, they can sell the apartment only to Singaporeans and permanent residents.
When an EC home is 10 years old, it will be fully privatised and can be sold to foreigners.
It is not just home buyers who feel that ECs are good buys. Property agents agree, too.
Mr Eric Cheng, chief executive of ECG Property, says the homes offered by developers in the recent EC launches generally have been priced well.
They are about 10 to 15 per cent cheaper than the resale condominium apartments in the same area.
For example, units at The Canopy in Yishun are going for an average price of $650 per square foot (psf). About 2km away is the 16-year-old Orchid Park Condominium, a 99-year leasehold development, where units were recently sold for an average of about $660 psf.
Mr Chris Koh, director at Dennis Wee Group, adds that on top of ECs' lower prices, 'buyers are getting new apartments rather than resale ones'.
'ECs come with many amenities and it is as good as living in a private condominium. And they tend to be located in mature estates that have good transport networks and other amenities,' he says.
He adds that ECs have also been known to appreciate in value over the years.
For example, when the Lilydale EC in Yishun was launched in 2001, the average price for the units was $360 psf. Records for recent sales show that the selling price is now about $650 psf.
Over at the first EC, Eastvale in Pasir Ris, which was completed in 1999, prices then were about $430 psf.
Today, units are sold at an average of more than $600 psf. This is slightly higher than the average $530 psf price that the nearby, 99-year leasehold condo Elias Green, completed in 1994, is fetching.
To date, 23 ECs have been built in the heartland such as Pasir Ris, Jurong East and Woodlands.
The spate of recent EC launches comes after a five-year drought, when the last EC, La Casa in Woodlands, was launched in 2005.
Living Down Under in Sengkang
There were no EC launches between 2005 and 2009 because in 2004, the property market slumped and private home prices fell. The need for ECs diminished and the Government stopped selling land for EC development.
ECs today have become so posh, they even have fancy showflats that can match those at private condominium launches.
Austville in Sengkang will have Australian-themed features for its project, such as eucalyptus gum trees, tropical ferns, vineyard-inspired clubhouse and kangaroo-tile motifs in the pool.
Units come with marble flooring for living and dining rooms much like those in private apartments.
A spokesman for United Engineers Limited says the theme was chosen because 'Australia has always been one of the coveted places in the world to live in, combining the best of rustic living and city life. We want to bring that element here'.
Over at Esparina in Buangkok, residents can enjoy seven types of spas, such as a rain spa and hydromassage spa.
The Canopy in Yishun prides itself on having units with large living spaces.
Mr Richard Nah, a senior manager at The Canopy's developer MCC Land, says: 'We have buyers who are upgraders, who are used to the large living spaces in older flats, hence we want to give them this similar feeling in our EC.'
At Prive in Punggol, there are amenities such as a clubhouse, lap pools and floating decks for its residents.
It is features such as these that have attracted credit analyst Derek Ng, 25, and his girlfriend, analyst Hanna Tan, 25, to buy an EC at Esparina. They paid $809,000 for a three-bedroom unit.
'We belong to the sandwich class and buying an EC allows us to get access to condo-style living,' says Mr Ng.
For others, it is the location of the EC that made them sign on the dotted line.
Software engineer Benjamin Kwang bought a three-bedroom unit at The Canopy for $780,000. 'It is near Yishun MRT station and I find Yishun a convenient location,' says the 22-year-old.
There is more good news for those who have their eyes set on ECs.
Four more sites - in Tampines, Chua Chu Kang, Punggol and Upper Serangoon - have been earmarked for ECs in the Government Land Sales Programme for the first half of this year. These will provide 2,290 homes.