Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cemeteries before, homes to die for now

Straits Times: Sat, Jun 09
SOME home buyers may be feeling a little squeamish about living at former cemetery Bidadari once it is redeveloped.

But property industry experts had this reminder for Singaporeans: Various high-profile residential areas share a similar history.

For instance, some apartments in mid- to high-end districts such as Bishan, Orchard and Tiong Bahru were formerly occupied by cemeteries, they say.

They add that some Chinese buyers might even see such sites as auspicious as burying ancestors in grounds with good fengshui is thought by some to bring blessings to future generations.

These experts noted that with the passage of time, the former use of a site is often forgotten, with the home's value unaffected.

The issue came to the fore recently when the Government announced that work on the new town, Bidadari, will start by the year end, paving the way for 12,000 new homes to be built there.

The graves in Bidadari, near Potong Pasir, were exhumed in 2001 to make way for housing.

Singapore is dotted with former cemeteries. In 1952, available records indicated that there were 229 registered burial grounds, including many small ones that have since been exhumed.

In land-scarce Singapore, it has been essential to use such sites for housing development.

In 1981, for instance, the Housing Board (HDB) exhumed graves in Peck San Theng, in what is now Bishan, to make way for flats and light industry.

But despite their past solemn uses, these areas remain some of the choicest HDB estates due to their city fringe location.

Even bustling Ngee Ann City mall on Singapore's best known shopping strip used to be the site of an old cemetery. The former Tai Shan Ting cemetery was bounded by Orchard, Paterson and Grange Roads.

The site of the former Teochew cemetery includes the Ion Orchard mall, upscale apartments at The Orchard Residences and the Orchard MRT station, noted Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo of the National University of Singapore's department of real estate.

But buyers seem to have taken scant notice of its history.

The latest sale for The Orchard Residences, in January, was transacted at $4,057 per sq ft (psf) while the record price achieved was $5,000 psf in July 2007.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said that while the first few blocks of homes to be built on such sites might face some buyer resistance, there is little stigma for subsequent projects once a population catchment is established.

'Of course, your market size is reduced by those who are pantang, but if the location is good, it is likely to outweigh the superstition factor,' he said, referring to the Malay word for taboo or superstitious.

While most of his clients do not inquire much about the history of a land plot, they do occasionally take along a fengshui master and interior designer during subsequent viewings, Mr Ku said.

But Prof Sing acknowledged that with rapid urbanisation, the history of land use quite often becomes lost in the mists of time.

'It is difficult to verify the original land use of the site and many younger generations have probably no memory of the past,' he said.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng noted that many sites here were once filled with a distinctive or sad past.

But home buyers should be forward-looking, looking at a site's upcoming potential and taking into account the location, rejuvenation plans and new infrastructure planned for the estate, he said.

Other housing estates in Singapore also have interesting histories a world away from housing.

For instance, Potong Pasir used to house prawn and pig farms while Punggol was a largely agricultural area, SLP International research head Nicholas Mak noted...
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