No doubt construction cost is widening amongst Builders

Three months ago, our Minister of the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid mentioned he had no doubt that construction costs in Singapore will be higher because of new regulatory requirements. I was keeping my arms crossed (instead of fingers).

Earlier our condo MCST had agreed on carrying out renovation and repair works to the common areas and landscaping. This was in the beginning of 2020 but the tender was delayed due to the coronavirus. The list of works are as follows.

  1. Rewiring of some electrical cables (150m)
  2. Demolition of old BBQ pits and 1m low walls
  3. Replacement of paver stones approximately 1.2m along 120m trail
  4. Removal of debris

Our committee was expecting the full cost to be less than $6K, even after factoring labor constrains with the safety distancing measures. To our surprise, the quotes received this month were between $12K- $16K. I wonder how the figures are higher than 100%.

Somehow it reminds me of Pricing elasticity. Assume a huge inventory of Coffee Mugs that were written off previously, whether you sell 100 Mugs at $1, or 50 Mugs at $2 makes no difference to the underlying profits. Could the contractors be pricing Q3 works at double the price to make-up for zero projects in Q2?

Anyway we are not prepared to accept sky-high prices. Prefer to wait out and see. Meanwhile, I hear numerous small contractors are facing cashflow problems. Perhaps they fancy smaller projects with timely payments?

Don’t play play, ah!

There is a well-known quote by Warren Buffett about economic or financial crisis. “When the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” In recent years, I notice a rise in complaints against MCST council and Managing agents. To be fair, some are trivial issues voiced by overly-sensitive residents, while others can be as severe as mismanagement, extreme lack of financial prudence and even ‘hidden political agendas’.

Usually these are discussed openly in AGMs or in private with the MA. However in the current covid-19 crisis, many subsidiary proprietors (SPs) have found time to publicized their concerns on social media. I was told these pent-up frustrations have been accumulating for years in a number of condominiums around Singapore.

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Cleaners, our silent Heroes

Everyday we struggle a little under the constraining measures of the circuit breaker. We cannot visit shopping malls; they are closed. No dining with friends. Young ones bemoan no bubble tea. And even younger ones cry for their playgrounds. Only when we are done with the complaining, we begin to realise the important stuff that matters has continued as normal.

All around me, Food and Cleanliness is uninterrupted. Supermarkets operate. Hawkers and restaurants continue to feed take-away patrons and supply delivery riders. The condo estate remains clean and litter-free. Even the pathways are swept clear of fallen leaves every morning.

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Sinking funds tell ‘a tale of two cities’

A number of people who are on the hunt for their first condo home have asked many questions on online forums and via face-to-face conversations. Leasehold or Freehold? Facilities, residential profiles, monthly maintenance fee, etc. Within that monthly maintenance fee lies two components; the managing fund (MF) and the sinking fund (SF).

https://www1.bca.gov.sg/docs/default-source/docs-corp-regulatory/building-maintenance-and-strata-management/smg1-concept-of-strata-living.pdf

In other words, the SF takes care of the big items in the near future, while MF runs a monthly expense to keep the condo operational. Therefore it is crucial to find out what are the SF reserves an existing condo have. And whether it is financially stable to fund future works. If not, an extraordinary AGM may be called for all owners to cough up a lump sum. (see Case study: Killer lifts?)

One advice for first time condo buyers: ask the seller for the recent AGM booklet. Reading it will give you an excellent idea of how well the place is managed. And whether the existing sinking funds are sufficient to cover outstanding and future liabilities.

Take the case of Viz Holland and Citylights. Both are 99 year leasehold condos; built in 2008 and 2007. On first look the key difference is that Viz Holland has 165 units, while Citylights have 600 units.

(From past years AGM, actual SF contributions differ slightly due to increment in some years)

In the span of 12 years, Citylights would have collected $8,396 from a unit owner. Viz Holland would have collected $9,240 from a unit owner since its beginnings. Yet, a chunk of Citylights sinking fund has already been spent and only 37% of total collections remain. What does it mean? Bear in mind things like lift overhauls, pipes and pumps replacement, roof works can easily cost $100k- $1 million, especially over the 10 year mark.

Whereas for Viz Holland, 70% of the sinking fund remains to be deployed. The numbers do look much better and prudently managed. The question to ask then is whether Viz have done their 10 year replacement items? If not, when is it due? And what is the financial impact?

Again the details can be sourced from the Seller and verified with an on-site visit. If all things are equal, then clearly one is far better than the other. Go see for yourself. Caveat emptor.