Monday, July 5, 2010

Waterfront living more Indians are buying into it

FROM the plush sofas in the elegant living room of their Sentosa Cove bungalow, the Thakran family enjoys taking in the view beyond their patio and the plunge pool... the Singapore skyline, punctuated occasionally by tankers taking on their cargo at the Tanjong Pagar container terminals.

The only intrusion to the calm, soothing sound of waves breaking gently on the shoreline, a hop, skip and a jump from where they sit in their 13,000 sq ft bungalow, is the occasional blare of a ship's horn.

That view was one of the reasons Mr Ravi Thakran, his wife Anjali and their sons Ishaan and Soman moved to the exclusive gated community on Sentosa last year.

The lifestyle was the other reason.

"I was looking for something more peaceful. It just fit the bill fabulously," said Mrs Thakran.

For Mr Thakran, who is LVMH's group president of South Asia, South-east Asia and the Middle East, his Sentosa Cove home is a sanctuary from his very busy schedule and gives him an opportunity to spend more time with his growing boys, aged 12 and 13.

He also wanted to give them a home where they could enjoy the outdoors, cycling and swimming, more than they would if they continued to live in their city condominium.

"This place gives a sense of space. At this age, it's great for kids to have that life and even for us to spend that time in this environment," said Mr Thakran.

It was for the same reasons that their friends - Mr Mahesh Sivaswamy, managing director of Orient Express Lines and vice-chairman of the Transworld Group of Companies, his wife Mala Mahesh and their children Mithila and Murli - moved into Coral Island in Sentosa three years ago.

Their 10,000 sq ft bungalow comes with a swimming pool and a dock in their backyard.

"When we first saw this place, there were no buildings yet but we liked the environment and the atmosphere. We even saw a peacock walking across the road. It gave us a feeling of how it would be to live here," said Mrs Mahesh.

The family admits it has since bought into the lifestyle, lock stock and boat. They enjoy long walks on the beach, have an electric buggy to get around the island and have a 12m boat moored at their dock. They take it out to the Southern Islands for weekend jaunts and picnics.

Said Mr Sivaswamy: "In Singapore, despite there being so many buildings, it is such a well-planned city, you get connected to nature here."

Waterfront living is the new buzzword, especially after a Chinese businessman recently spent a cool $36 million on a bungalow in Coral Island. And Indians are increasingly buying into it, say real estate agents.

While it is well known that condominiums in the East Coast, especially those with a sea view, are popular with Indians, waterfront homes are also fast becoming destinations of choice.

Orange Tee's team associate director Jasmine Png, who deals with the high-end properties in Sentosa, told tabla! that she is seeing more Indians, mainly professionals who have lived in the United States and Europe, keen on buying waterfront homes that average $2,000 psf.

And even though some who sign along the dotted line may rent out the property, their eventual goal is to live in them.

Ms Png said: "One client bought two condominium units, rented one out and kept the other for himself as a holiday home. Those who rent their waterfront apartments eventually want to stay in them after a few years. They like the lifestyle, it's exclusive, has an international feel with so many nationalities living here and there is more privacy."

The Indian community has also been eyeing the other waterfront-living choices mushrooming around the island.

Among those that have caught their eye is Waterfront Gold condominium along Bedok Reservoir which comes with a skypark that serves as an observation and exercise deck with views of the reservoir.

Real estate agent Jessie Nathan told tabla! that the Bedok Reservoir properties have been popular with her Indian clients and several of them have bought units in Waterfront Gold.

"They like the fact that the units have a view of the water and it is in the East," she said.

Waterfont Gold is the third in a series of four projects that Far East and Frasers Centrepoint call the Bedok Waterfront Collection which plans to maximise the draw of the reservoir.

Waterfront Waves, Waterfront Key and Waterfront Isle are the other three projects that are part of the collection.

Frasers Centrepoint Homes chief operating officer Cheang Kok Kheong told The Business Times that "the masterplan ensures that all units have excellent views, either of the reservoir, pools or the landscape".

The reservoir has park facilities where residents can kayak, dragon boat, sail, wake board and fish.

Sentosa Cove also recently saw three launches of waterfront condominums: The Seascape developed by Ho Bee and IOI in a joint venture, The Residences at W Singapore and Lippo Group's Marina Collection next to ONE°15 Marina Club.

Others from the community, like public relations officer Charu Mehrotra, have their eye on Waterway Terraces, the Build-To-Order project in Punggol from the Housing Development Board (HDB).

"My husband and I have been discussing upgrading to another flat and this development is something we would be keen to look into," she told tabla!.

Waterway Terraces will be built along a 4.2km waterway that connects Sungei Punggol and Sungei Serangoon, with parts of the waterway and promenade featuring sandy coasts as well as a sports activities area and horse riding centre.

PropNex's corporate communications manager Adam Tan told tabla! that young couples will be keen on this premium public housing and expects the project, which will be ready in the first quarter of 2015, to be oversubscribed.

"The interior finishings are of a higher quality, while the design of the overall project connotes a feel of private property living. On top of that, Waterway Terraces is literally waterfront property. Compare $374,000 for a 5-room flat in Waterway Terraces with a $2.5m apartment on Sentosa of a similar size. Would-be residents at Waterway Terraces will find this attribute to be immensely appealing."

While Indians have really taken to the concept of waterfront living and the premium lifestyle it offers, there are a few who point out a few downsides too.

One of them, an Indian Singaporean who lives in a Sentosa Cove condominium that has a beautiful view of the Southern Islands from his balcony, says he misses the easy access of the city condos.

"I also own an apartment in the city and you can have access to a high-end meal or you can go to a food court with nightclubs and bars close by. Sentosa Cove wouldn't appeal to everyone as accessibility is an issue. If you have a young family, schools aren't that nearby and there are not that many restaurants here at the moment," he said.

Then, just to show that he may be buying into the lifestyle too, he added: "But if you like having a low profile yet active lifestyle, this is the place."

THE Waterside, Laguna Park, Pebble Bay, Costa Rhu, Mandarin Gardens... these are just some of the condominiums that Indians flock to in Singapore.

Some of them, especially those that offer views of the sea off the East coast, can house more than 300 Indian families.

What is it that draws these Indians to this part of the island? Is it the view, the location or the proximity to others in the community?

Mrs Prabha Rao, who has been in Singapore for 10 years and has been living in the Waterside for eight years, admits: "I chose the East Coast because of the sea view. I also like the fact that East Coast Park is right next to us for our morning and evening walks."

Miss Manavi Sharma, who has been in Singapore for 17 years and has been living in Siglap for 14, sings praises of the facilities offered by the condominiums and neighbourhoods of the East:

"It's open, it's spacious and not that congested. There are a lot of facilities around the area, a lot of restaurants, good Indian restaurants, and good malls, such as Parkway Parade."

The proximity to the airport and the city centre via the East Coast Parkway (ECP) is also a plus factor.

Mr Kiran Deshpande, who has been in Singapore for 22 years and has been living in Mandarin Gardens for over 10 years, says: "I travel a lot and when I was choosing a place to stay, the proximity to the airport was very important at the time."

Though it may not be the deciding factor, living with hundreds of other Indians as neighbours has its advantages.

Mrs Rao says: "I don't miss India as much, because I have all my Indian friends just here. There's even an e-group for Indian Waterside residents and I can connect with all of the 200-plus Indian families that way."

Adds Miss Sharma: "You feel like you're back home. It's nice to go down and meet people who speak not only Hindi but also the different dialects. I'm half Maharashtrian so it's nice to go down and meet people who also speak Marathi."

So are there any downsides to living in the East?

Just one, according to Miss Sharma: "I think the only problem would be connectivity. I don't have an MRT nearby. The buses go everywhere but it just takes longer." The closest MRT station to Mandarin Gardens is Bedok, about 2km away.

This, however, is not a problem any longer for those staying in the Tanjong Rhu area. Since the new Stadium MRT station on the Circle Line opened in April, residents of the condominiums in that area - Pebble Bay, Costa Rhu and the Waterside among them - have seen their commute times shorten substantially.

As posted in Tabla! by Sheela Narayanan and Urvija Banerji

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