Asking price for their back garden: $9.8m

Asking price for their back garden: $9.8m

SINGAPORE - How much would you pay for somebody's back garden?

A couple in their 70s are asking for $9.8 million for theirs.

It's huge.

Once carved out, the 39,000 sq ft plot in the Seletar Hills area can be developed into about two dozen terrace houses.

It is up for sale because the couple feel they are too old to manage their garden, but love their home too much to move away.

They bought their home, which is off Yio Chu Kang Road, for $40,000 in 1961. The entire compound has an area of 71,000 sq ft, about the size of a football field.

In land-scarce Singapore, where most people live in high-rise apartments, homes this size are rare.

After selling off their back garden, they will still be left with a 32,000 sq ft plot on which their bungalow, maids' quarters and an outhouse, stand.

The couple, Ms Kathleen Chung and Dr Chou Sip King, said they bought their home from developer Bukit Sembawang Estates.

The company was responsible for most of the housing development in the Seletar Hills area in the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Ms Chung, a retired physiotherapist, there were several other such bungalows in the vicinity in the 1960s.

But most of these large compounds have since been sold and redeveloped into more homes. The couple, however, decided to hang on to theirs.

During the 1996 property boom, several developers offered to pay as much as $400 per square foot, or $28.4 million, for their land, much more than the $250 psf they are asking for now. But they turned them down.

'We didn't think about it, because we still wanted to enjoy the garden,' said Ms Chung. And it is a garden to behold. The undulating plot has durian and rambutan trees, a lily pond, rock paths and cement figurines of koalas, eagles, pandas, pigs, penguins, cows, cranes and even a mermaid. Several of these figurines were made by Dr Chou, a retired doctor.

Quipped Ms Chung: 'It's like a zoo in here.'

The couple, who do not have children, live in the bungalow with two Indonesian maids and two dogs. Both used to take daily walks in the garden, but hardly ever do so now as they have walking difficulties.

She added: 'It's too big to manage. Our gardener, who has been working with us for 20 years, is in his 60s. He cannot work forever.'

The couple are not daunted by the construction work they will face daily once the land is sold and redeveloped. For them, that is a better option than leaving their home, which has a front garden decorated with many mini Chinese pagodas that Dr Chou also made.

Their marketing agent, Mr Jacky Chan, an executive director with property consultancy Chesterton International, said that a cluster 23 terrace houses can fit into the plot. Each home will have a 660 sq ft ground floor, two storeys and a basement.

Developers can build up to three storeys and there are still 874 years to go on its 999-year lease.

Consultants say the plot may be of interest to small and medium sized developers.

Mr Ho Eng Joo, investment sales director at property consultancy Colliers International, estimates that the break-even cost for such a development would range from $900,000 to $1 million per unit if the development charge of $1.5 million is factored in.

The tender for the plot closes on May 6.

For now, Ms Chung is content to admire the garden from her back porch every morning, her favourite time of the day.

'Everything is so fresh, and there are plenty of birds,' she said.

This article was published on Apr 8, 2004 in The Straits Times.

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