In 2020, when the pandemic first struck, 46 luxury bungalow or Good Class Bungalow (GCB) deals were made, according to statistics revealed by the Urban Development Authority (URA) of Singapore. This sales momentum continued with 43 deals made in just the first five months of 2021.
In July, TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi became the newest entrant in this niche segment with his $86 million purchase of a 31,800sqft property at Queen Astrid Park in District 10.
The resilience the market has shown during challenging times can be attributed to the rising affluence among local families as well as the newly-minted ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) citizens—those with US$30 million and above in net assets—which ticks of the reason that this uniquely Singapore classification was introduced in the first place by URA.
Investing in a GCB for the UHNWs is more as a means of wealth preservation, as well as a hedge against inflation. Investors tend to prioritise capital appreciation over yields.
— Linda Chern, head of residential services (Singapore) at real estate service provider CBRE
While we know that the classification has existed since 1980, as part of the Ministry of National Development’s master plan to differentiate these from other kinds of smaller bungalows, there are no records as to the reason for the name itself. 39 areas—including prime residential areas such as districts 10 and 11 and the bungalow estates in districts 20, 21, 23—in Singapore were gazetted as Good Class Bungalows Areas (GCBA), with bungalows there having a minimum plot size of 1,400sqm (about 15,000sqft) coming under that classification.
“Given the finite supply of about 2,800 units and land scarcity, coupled with high population density and growing affluence, GCBs have become an asset class symbolising the wealth of the owners,” says Linda Chern, head of residential services (Singapore) at real estate service provider CBRE.
“From 2001 to 2021, land prices for GCBs have been rising at the compounded average growth rate of 7.5 per cent per annum. However, historically rental yields have remained low—below 1 per cent—she adds. “As such, investing in a GCB for the UHNWs is more as a means of wealth preservation, as well as a hedge against inflation. Investors tend to prioritise capital appreciation over yields,” she adds.
It is for the same reason that most GCB buyers look at them as a home they can make their own and live in. Here, we learn more from the experts on the steps involved in acquiring a GCB and some tips to know.
1 ) Get your lawyers involved
As per the guidelines ruling the purchase of any landed residential property in Singapore, citizens are pre-qualified, while non-citizens will be given approval by the Land Dealings (Approval) Department (LDAU) based on their economic contribution to Singapore as well as their track record.
“Under the LDAU guidelines, approval to purchase properties over 15,000sqft or GCBs is granted only on a highly exceptional basis,” says Kenneth Szeto, partner, Banking, Finance & Property at law firm, Withers Worldwide. But when it comes to legal obligations, he says that the purchase of a GCB does not differ much from that of any other landed property.
The same goes for bank loans, adds Clive Chng, Associate Director of Red Brick Mortgage Advisory. “Financing requirements like Total Debt Servicing Ratio are similar in this case to all other residential private property purchases in the market,” he adds.
However, due to the large purchase price quantum, a prudent course of action for GCB buyers is to first ask their lawyers to review the proposed sale contract (usually in the form of an Option to Purchase) before putting down the option fee. “If buyers are not advised on the legal implications of the option to purchase, they may pay the option fee and then find that they have lost the leverage to further negotiate the terms in the option to purchase, which the seller is not obliged to entertain,” says Szeto.
He says that another important point to note is that if the buyer owns another property in Singapore, a GCB purchase will be slapped with a significant Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty.
2 ) Know your land
As we have established earlier, it is very rare for a GCB buyer to invest in such a property in order to earn rental income. So more often than not, buyers are looking at making sizeable changes to the property to ensure it suits their lifestyle.
But before one even rents a bulldozer or wields a sledgehammer, it is important to be clear on some salient restrictions and conform to stringent land and development guidelines stipulated by the authorities, says Chern.
“Legal requisitions should be conducted by the buyers’ lawyers to assess whether the property is subject to road or drainage reserves, which could result in portions of the land being set aside or surrendered or requiring approval from the Land Transport Authority or Public Utilities board, prior to the commencement of any redevelopment work,” she advises.
Szeto agrees. Buyers who are getting into the buy with a specific development plan in mind would do well to check the technical specifications of the target property with their technical advisors, such as their architects and/or engineers), he adds. “For example, the land site may be subject to road reserve lines or drainage reserve plans which may prevent the buyer from designing the bespoke property in the way that they want.”
3 ) Save the trees
Another small, but equally important thing is a common misconception that trees within or around a GCB can be chopped down and removed at will, says Chng. There are two main Tree Conservation Areas (TCA) in Singapore governed by National Parks Board (NParks): the Central TCA and the Eastern TCA with the former covering quite a number of GCBAs.
“Any tree that has a girth of more than one metre is protected and written approval has to be sought from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation to fell or remove it, even if it is located within the GCB,” adds Chng. Non-compliance will result in fines. Chng says that on top of the fines, there have been instances where NParks have asked that the tree be reinstated in the exact location if illegally removed.
4 ) Ground-breaking rules
Despite the minimum land area requirement for GCBs, “the footprint and coverage of the property cannot consume more than 35 per cent of the plot size. A typical GCB can be built up to two storeys only with adequate green buffers—boundary setbacks and the like,” says Chern. Some black-and-white bungalows—colonial houses built between the late 19th century up until the pre-war era of the 1930s—that are privately owned and classified as GCBs cannot have their facade changed, adds Chng.
Apart from these, if the GCB plot has a conservation building, then any addition or alteration works should be approached with sensitivity when upgrading and adapting the conservation building to new use, says Terri Tan, design director of Designworx Interior Consultant.
It is for these reasons that she recommends that buyers who are looking to make major changes to their interior consider going for a new build as working within the constraints of the existing foundation and structure can be more costly in the long term and the end result may not be up to their expectations.
“For those planning to do interior renovations, some common aspects to take note is to assess the condition of hidden elements and fixtures such as the ACMV (Air-Conditioning and Mechanical Ventilation), the electrical wiring and cabling, plumbing and more. Visible exterior elements such as the roof, facade fenestration should also be checked to ensure leakage issues, if any, are properly addressed before the project even kicks off,” adds Tan.
Tan, who has designed the interiors of several GCBs in District 10 such as Leedon Park, Ridout Rd, Cluny Road, Nathan Road, Cable Road, Maryland Drive, Fourth Ave, King Albert Park, and more, says that the time and resources a GCB demands can be very different from other projects. “Often the design of an award-winning GCB is attributed to the architect. However, in order for a GCB to successfully come to fruition, the process requires the combined talents and team efforts of a large number of professional consultants and contractors,” she adds.
(Published by: Tatler Singapore in August 2021)