Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Turning old CBD offices into prime new homes

As Marina Bay financial district takes shape, developers are making exciting plans

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Guanyu 道 said...

Turning old CBD offices into prime new homes

As Marina Bay financial district takes shape, developers are making exciting plans

By UMA SHANKARI
01 March 2010

(SINGAPORE) Someone million square feet of office space in the Central Business District (CBD) is likely to be converted into at least 1,000 private homes over the next three years.

Property analysts say that with the Marina Bay financial district now taking distinct shape, developers are looking to recycle older office buildings in the current CBD in anticipation of business activity moving to the new hotspot.

Redevelopment plans are also motivated by climbing luxury home prices which contrast sharply with falling office rents.

City Developments said at its results briefing last Thursday that it was looking to see if it could convert any of its office buildings in the ‘old’ CBD to residential use.

‘It is a question of demand,’ said CityDev chairman Kwek Leng Beng at the briefing.

CityDev’s parent company Hong Leong Holdings is already redeveloping 76 Shenton Way, which has a net lettable area (NLA) of about 92,700 square feet of office space.

The 202-unit residential project due to come up on the site is likely to be launched within the next few weeks.

Other similar conversions in the pipeline include UIC Building on Shenton Way and Starhub Centre on Cuppage Road.

‘With the theme of working, living and playing in 21st century Singapore fast becoming a lifestyle reality, we see great potential in quality residential developments in the core central region,’ said a Hong Leong spokesman.

The trend is not new. Developers were looking to convert selected office space into residential use as far back as 2007. City- Dev, for example, launched its One Shenton residential project in January 2007, converting an office block into residential space. Since then, 316 apartments in the 341-unit project have been sold, with many going for more than $2,000 per sq ft (psf).

But other such plans were put on hold when in May 2007, fearing a shortage of office space, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) called a halt to all conversion of offices in the central area to curb further depletion of existing stock.

The ban was lifted in late 2008 as fears of an office space oversupply emerged.

Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng said that with the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (IR) now ready to open its doors and the entire Marina Bay area taking shape, developers are now taking another look at their buildings located in the current CBD.

‘It is the government’s intention to have a new CBD in Marina South. So there is concern that some of the older office buildings may not be relevant to future needs,’ said Mr. Tan. ‘Office rents have also dipped, so it is a good time to look at redeveloping some of these buildings now that the ban has been lifted.’

Elsewhere on Shenton Way, UIC has received permission to redevelop UIC Building into a mostly residential project. UIC’s board says it is still assessing all alternatives to ensure the best use for the building. But sources told BT that the conversion could start some time this year. The property has close to 400,000 sq ft of office space.

Office real estate investment trust (Reit) CapitaCommercial Trust also said in January that it is looking at redeveloping Starhub Centre on Cuppage Road into a residential and commercial project with up to 80 per cent of the gross floor area devoted to residential use. The property currently has an NLA of about 280,000 sq ft and analysts estimate that 200-300 upmarket homes could be built on the site.

Other office properties that could be converted (either fully or partly) into private homes include KOP Capital’s The Spazio on Cecil Street, and three buildings owned by Fission Group and Yi Kai Group - VTB Building on Robinson Road, and Aviva Building and Cecil House on Cecil Street.

In all, around one million square feet of office space could be removed from the market and transformed into upmarket homes.

Guanyu 道 said...

City living has, in recent years, become more popular and luxury home prices are expected to climb this year. UBS Investment Research, for example, expects luxury home prices to rise 40 per cent in 2010 to reach $4,000 psf and maintains that prime home prices (in districts 9, 10, 11) could reach 2007 levels this year.

Falling office rents and an upcoming glut of office supply also means that office rents are widely expected to continue falling. Property firm Savills expects a 20-25 per cent fall in Grade A office rents in Singapore this year.

But Knight Frank’s Mr. Tan says that not all office buildings in the present CBD can be converted into homes.

‘City living is only attractive if you have a view of the sea or you have some kind of a city vista,’ he said.

The conversion of some office space into residential units will lend support to rents, analysts said.

UBS Investment Research said in late January that it now expects over one million sq ft of office space to be removed in 2010 and 2011, instead of the 550,000 sq ft expected earlier.

‘As a result, we upgrade our prime office rents in 2010-2013 by 5 per cent,’ said UBS analyst Regina Lim. ‘We now expect prime office rent of $8.70 psf per month by end-2010 and $9.70 psf per month by end-2011.’