Saturday, August 27, 2011

Condo heroes

It is no longer enough for condominiums to boast a pool, gym, clubhouse and tennis court. Developers are adding fancy facilities such as a spa, sports bar, rock-climbing wall, luxury dining room and even a bird-watching tower to make their projects stand out.
Take the 417-unit Soleil@Sinaran condo at Novena, which was recently given its temporary occupation permit.

It has its own spa on the premises, run by well-known local chain Aramsa Spa. Soleil is believed to be the first in Singapore to tie up with a spa operator to run the facility in a condo.

Adding to the wow factor is that the swanky spa consists of three wooden- decked pavilions that each has two massage beds, a hot tub and a shower area, located in full view of the pool.

They are a striking sight amid the condo's lush greenery and although they are out in the open, curtains can be drawn for privacy.

The spa pavilions are not the only fabulous feature Soleil residents can enjoy on top of the usual pool, gym, tennis court and barbecue pits.

The condo has two sports bars on its 20th floors, for residents only, where they can watch football matches while enjoying a beer. Developer Frasers Centrepoint Homes is finding an operator to run them.

The condo 'high' life craze includes Meadows@Peirce in Upper Thomson Road, which has a three-storey bird-watching tower where residents can spot birds nestling in the greenery at nearby Peirce Reservoir.

At Tree House condo in Dairy Farm Road, developer City Developments is building three tree houses on its premises, which 'offer a different experience of play for the young and young at heart', says Mr Anthony Chia, its director and head of projects.

One Devonshire condo in Killiney Road, meanwhile, scales new heights with a three-storey rock-climbing wall.

Fancy something not so 'out there'? At Palm Gardens condo in Choa Chu Kang, there is a bowling alley at the clubhouse, while upmarket Nassim Park Residences has a luxurious dining room.

Over at The Orchard Residences, residents can rent wine lockers to store their wines.

The chief executive of real estate firm ECG Property, Mr Eric Cheng, says of the trend: 'Telling potential buyers their units can have a pool view no longer cuts it, as condos now all have pools.'

Indeed, Soleil's additional facilities were what attracted Korean-Australian expatriate Verena Lim, 29, to buy a two-bedroom unit there.

'The spa and the sports bar caught my attention as they have not been seen before in condos here,' says Ms Lim, a vice-president at an Australian investment company.

Frasers Centrepoint Homes worked with Aramsa Spa to design the pavilions, and the developer's assistant general manager of sales and marketing, Mr Elson Poo, notes: 'In line with the strong interest in spas, we have incorporated spa facilities so residents will be able to enjoy the convenience of a spa experience right on their doorstep.'

Indeed, Ms Lim, who usually goes for spa treatments in Orchard Road once a month, says she will switch to the spa at her home, because 'there's no reason not to use the one downstairs'.

Like other owners, she has just received her keys and is in the midst of moving in, and adds that she will be making a booking soon.

Residents need to make appointments for their treatments such as massages and facials two weeks ahead. The cost is the same as at Aramsa Spa's outlet in Bishan Park. A 60-minute massage, for example, costs $108.

However, spa manager Kelvin Tay says that although there are no additional charges, residents have to purchase a minimum of $200 worth of treatments a session for transportation charges to be waived.

Mr Tay adds that other developers have also approached the spa to set up shop at their condos, but declined to elaborate.

As for other unusual condo facilities such as Palm Gardens' two-lane bowling alley, a spokesman for developer Keppel Land says: 'Such innovative and lifestyle features make for stronger value offerings in our homes.'

According to retiree Danny Nai, chairman of the condo's management corporation strata title (MCST) committee, the bowling alley is very popular with residents, who pay $5 an hour for its use. Bowling shoes and balls are provided. 'We have bookings every night and the alley is packed on weekends.'

Over at One Devonshire, the idea for its rock-climbing wall on one of its sky terraces was proposed by the project's landscape developer, Belt Collins.

Ms Anna Tabo-Nair, a project manager at Belt Collins, says it offers residents a different experience. The condo already has a pool, barbecue pits, clubhouse, gym, tennis and squash courts and several gardens. 'But for residents who want something different, they can go to the rock-climbing wall,' says Ms Tabo-Nair.

The idea went down well with the condo's developer, Allgreen Properties.

Ms Tabo-Nair says the hand grips needed to climb the rock wall go up to 3m high, 'so it is still very safe, and there will not be any supervision needed'.

She believes it will be a hit with residents when the condo is completed next year.

As for the dining room at Nassim Park Residences - a project by United Overseas Land (UOL) Group and which was completed earlier this year - it has a pool view, can seat 14 people and comes with a plush lounge. It also comes with a fully equipped kitchen, so residents can hire their own private chefs to do the cooking.

UOL Group's deputy general manager for marketing, Mr Anthony Wong, says: 'We have in mind the lifestyle of these home-buyers; we envisage frequent socialising and dinner parties. Therefore, we provided a well-furnished dining room, lounge and kitchen where owners can invite their friends over and have a chef whip up a good meal without having to clean up their own place afterwards.'

A resident who declined to be named says the dining room 'is decorated like a hotel private lounge'. The room is done up in dark wooden panels and has a sofa and thick carpets.

UOL Group also developed Meadows@Peirce, which, along with the talking-point bird-watching tower, also has a sky-gazing jacuzzi near the pool.

Mr Wong says enthusiastically: 'The design fuses outdoor and indoor spaces to create a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity. We created the bird-watching tower and the sky-gazing jacuzzi facilities in line with its nature-based theme.'

But added facilities come with an additional price - a higher monthly maintenance fee.

'There would be more facilities to maintain, so naturally the maintenance fees would be higher,' says Mr Francis Zhan, chief executive of Association of Management Corporations in Singapore, which represents more than 3,000 MCST committees of condos here.

He adds that the extra facilities are usually in upmarket condos, where monthly maintenance fees can range from $800 to $1,600.

In comparison, the 'mass market condos usually charge about $300 to $400 monthly in maintenance fees'.

Ms Eleana Teo, executive director at Knight Frank Estate Management says, 'For estates with more varied facilities and an in-house team of concierge and/or guards, residents would have to pay around 10 to 30 per cent more in terms of maintenance charges to finance such expenses.'

ECG's Mr Cheng says that 'with so many condo launches, projects must have their selling point, hence these facilities'.

Added facilities will 'attract' buyers, he says, 'even if they may not use the facility, they still want to have it.'

Even if the condo is not in an ideal location, its facilities will pull in buyers, as 'buyers are attracted to the condo's offerings. Plus it is easy to get around Singapore these days'.

One home-buyer, however, is not convinced by these condo 'carrots'. Housewife Mary Lee says: 'Location and the design of the apartments are more important. The facilities are good to have, but apart from the pool, I may not use the others and don't see the point of paying to maintain them.'

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