Tuesday, October 16, 2012

This estate's yours - for $82 million

The New Paper
Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012

A wrought metal gate, designed with the owner's initials, "T.S.S", allows the casual visitor a peek into the estate.

However, I couldn't see much beyond the grass-covered driveway.

The owner could have built a sprawling bungalow on this land. He chose instead to build a modest two-storey home.

He could have made a handsome profit selling it during the property boom.

Instead, he lived on the property for almost 60 years until he died last year. Now his home and the 4,100 sq m land it sits on are up for sale.

The price tag?

Potentially a heart-stopping $82 million, property experts have predicted.

Comprising of two land parcels of 1,764 sq m and 2,430 sq m, this could probably set a new record for the most expensive freehold "Good Class Bungalow" (GCB).

These exclusive bungalows, which are located in Singapore's 39 gazetted GCB Areas, are governed by stringent planning requirements. They include a minimum plot size of 1,400 sq m, maximum site coverage control of 35 per cent and a height restriction of two storeys.

GCBs are among the most sought-after properties here and are owned mostly by Singaporean high net worth individuals.

Despite knowing that he was sitting on a goldmine, I suspect the late owner wouldn't have traded anything for his secluded home, nestled atop a hill at Jalan Asuhan, near the popular Adam Road Food Centre.

Other homes in the area come with complex security systems or even security guards.

But not No. 4 Jalan Asuhan.

While the area is often referred to as banker's lane, supposedly due to bankers calling the estate their home (United Overseas Bank chairman Wee Cho Yaw is believed to live in the area), the meaning of "Asuhan" in Malay is "to nurture" - perhaps an apt name for a place to build a home and raise a family.

Two sun-bleached signs flank the gate - one says Seet T T, while the other says "La Pineta", which is Spanish for valley of pinewood.

After seeing the name, it dawned on me that owner's path and mine had once crossed, eight years ago.

I had written a report about a Mr Seet Teck Tuan who survived after his car plunged into a monsoon drain at Coronation Walk.

Mr Seet, then 80, was returning home from his grocery shopping.

I didn't get to speak to him as he was whisked away to a doctor by the time I arrived.

Mr Seet had been in the pineapple business, but I knew little else of him. Perhaps his home would provide some insight into his life?

He had kept his home simple. Nothing flashy.

I half expected to see a swimming pool or tennis court tucked away in some corner. There were none.

At least 16 of Mr Seet's neighbours have swimming pools on their properties. The closest thing to a pool here is a small pond.

Missing, too, are solar-powered panels or energy-guzzling air-con condensers at this bungalow.

But a few steps later, I felt that maybe the view was enough to fulfil his needs.

The elevated view of the surroundings is priceless - it's almost unblocked, affording you a view of the city.

But my eyes wander to the green expanse in front of me - the field.

The inner child in me wanted to break out into a run. I realised it's even possible to do the 100m sprint, given that the two plots combined are around two-thirds the size of a football field.

My colleague, photojournalist Kelvin Chng, had already been working up a sweat by walking the full length of the grounds and circling the bungalow to look for the perfect angle.

Those looking for an old-school activity could inspect the overgrown leaves along the fencing for that prized spider to catch.

It would be idyllic to live here.

And that's exactly what growing up there was like, says one of Mr Seet's sons.

Preferring anonymity, he explains how the place got its Spanish name.

"I recall the driveway lined with rows of pine trees, or what we kids called Christmas trees.

That's why he called it 'La Pineta'. It added so much character to this place.

"At Christmas, the whole place would be lit up with coloured lights."

The pine trees are gone now. Yet fond memories remain embedded in the son's mind.

There were the "camping expeditions", where the Seet children would carry out a pot of curry and French loaves outside.

But the expeditions were short. At night, fear of the dark would send them scurrying back to the house. All it took was for one of them to scream "Ghost!".

Nobody knows, or maybe nobody is willing to say, how much Mr Seet had originally paid for his property.

What we know is that when he bought it some time in the 1950s, when a new terrace house in Opera Estate - about 186 sq m - sold for about $6,000.

Back then, Mr Seet's home, accessible only by a dirt road, was one of two in the estate, previously a Malay kampung.

There is still a sense of seclusion there, even though other houses have sprung up over the years. After growing up in the HDB heartland, I found the space at the Seet residence to be a breath of fresh air.

Over here, you hardly see, let alone hear, your neighbours.

It feels as though time has stood still - its owner unperturbed by neighbours keeping up with modern living.

As I walked on the crumbling cement floor, which occasionally made a cracking sound underfoot, the word "humble" came to mind.

Pulling back a faded wooden shutter on a window, I peer into one ground floor room where the fixtures are plain.

The decor isn't much more than a single ceiling lamp and some torn wallpaper.

I imagined the condition was similar in the few rooms upstairs.

The three servants' rooms at the rear are each slightly bigger than your average HDB room.

But in its heyday, it was a sight to behold, says real estate agent, Ms Stella Hoh from Land Empire, recently tasked to sell the property.

Said Ms Hoh: "It was a grand place and held many garden parties.

"A Chinese architect had designed the bungalow, giving it the western influence with roof tiles imported from Europe. Today, a GCB of this size is rare."

Ms Hoh said that the plots can be bought separately.

Sadly, a new owner is likely to demolish the modest bungalow. But its grand memories will live with the Seet family.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
Senior Sales Director
Email: marshe_inc@yahoo.com.sg
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA) Pte Ltd (L3006301G)

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