HIS bungalow was razed - without any notice.
Businessman Lee Khong Hwee, 67, was on another visit to his Batam bungalow when he came upon a piece of bare land.
Buying foreign property? Do background checks first
BUYERS should be aware of their legal rights and obligations in the foreign country. The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) pointed out that the laws in other countries may not provide the same level of protection for property buyers.
The consumer watchdog also said that buyers should conduct their own checks before signing on the dotted line.
For instance - buyers could check with the country's embassy on land-ownership laws.
It would also be a good move to check the track record of previous developments in the area. If there were previous problems, that could be an indication of trouble to come.
Lawyer Aziz Tayabali said: 'If the developer is represented by a Singapore firm, the buyers should find out its obligations before signing anything.'
A reputable local representative will be less likely to desert buyers should something go wrong.
Mr Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy and research at Knight Frank, said buyers should also check out the property market in the country they are going into.
He pointed out: 'In China, the property market is red-hot for new developments but the second-hand market is slow, so people who buy for investment would have to sell at a lower price compared to a new project.'
Prospective buyers should also try to understand why the developer is selling the properties in Singapore instead of in the home country, he added.
Mr Mak said: 'Be cautious and do your research on whether that foreign market is facing a decline in prices or demand, or you could be buying into a risky market.'
'There was nothing. Maybe some broken bricks and rubbish among the weeds,' he told The Straits Times.
There was no forewarning, and 80 houses in the Marina Bay Villa - which once stood in west Batam, near the popular Waterfront City - disappeared almost overnight.
For the last two years, Mr Lee has been trying to find someone who will be responsible for the almost $134,000 he paid for the 6,500 sq ft property. He had also coughed up $20,000 in renovations, he said.
But so far, he's had no luck with the authorities and companies in Batam.
'They all claim ignorance and a lawyer there said I must pay fees to get answers, but I don't want to lose more money,' he said.
Mr Lee's saga started back in 1990.
Then, he had visited a property fair and had decided to invest in the residential estate offered by Indonesian developer P.T. Karya Sinar Batam, and Island Club Condominium, a Singapore company.
It was supposed to be built by 1992 and the development of 304 units was touted as one of the biggest developments on the Indonesian island. But it would be seven years later - after numerous delays - that 80 units were completed.
Mr Lee's bungalow was one of them.
But to add to their problems, despite repeated
calls and a payment of over $1,000, the developer never did turn on the home's utilities and Mr Lee
and his wife were unable to rent it out, like they planned.
The couple would visit their new Batam house once or twice a month, he said.
Then, in early 2005, Mr Lee saw workers demolishing some structures and assumed that these needed to be rebuilt.
But on his next visit, his house was gone.
At least half of the owners were Singaporeans, said Mr Lee, and everyone lost money.
Another investor in Marina Bay Villa, Mr Lim Tay Hee, 66, also a businessman, told The Straits Times he lost $124,000.
Mr Lee said he tried to look for the developer - but the company had closed down and the listed directors were nowhere to be found.
He also contacted Island Club Condominium, which said that it had merely acted as the developer's representative and was unable to help.
According to Mr Lee's lawyer, Mr V. Ramakrishnan, because the contract agreements were signed in Batam, it comes under Indonesian jurisdiction. There is also no recourse under Indonesian law to sue as the Indonesian company had been wound up and the Singapore representative is not liable.
When contacted by The Straits Times on Monday, Island Club Condominium director Lim Choon Hock said that it was not handling any new developments. He also claimed that as he had only recently become a director, he did not know the details of the Marina Bay Villa project. He said he would get another director to comment, but there was no response by press time.
Batam land officer K. Suriyanti believes that the houses were demolished as the building permit was not valid. 'The initial permit could have been issued before 1990 and it may have lapsed and there was no new application,' she said.
She added that a Singaporean owned the land, but declined to reveal his or her identity.
Mr Lee and Mr Lim say they now give Batam a miss altogether. 'Why should we go there and be reminded of the loss of our hard-earned money?' said Mr Lee.
Other overseas purchases gone bad
- IN 2002, 1,000 Singaporeans who paid up to $3,800 each to join Indonesian country club PT Magic Kingdom Island Resort Paradise were left stranded when the club went bankrupt. Despite collecting about $2 million, the club never started the resort project.
- In 2001, about 90 Singaporeans paid $16,000 for units in the Villa Temasek development in Bintan, but the developer disappeared before work was completed.
- In 1996, more than 40 buyers in Singapore and Malaysia lost between US$54,000 and US$98,000 when an 816-unit condominium project in Bangalore, marketed by Singapore-based company Chesterfield International, was aborted. Chesterfield's directors cannot be traced and not a cent has been recovered.
- In 1996, 18 Singaporeans shelled out between $30,000 and $70,000 each for houses built by Dragon Land in Qingdao, in China's Shandong province. They turned out to be poorly constructed, with no amenities.
- In 1995, some 37 investors paid between RM150,000 and RM400,000 for apartments at the 199-unit Anjung Seri Condominium in Johor Baru. The project was never completed.
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