Swept up in a condo frenzy

Swept up in a condo frenzy

SINGAPORE - The uniquely Singapore smell of real estate anxiety is in the air.

Five hundred or so people are crammed in here today in a big white tent to buy a piece of the Singapore dream. But as with any part of that dream, there is competition.

A ballot will decide if these people get one or more of the 868 units here at Bartley Ridge, along with its shared amenities, which include a "play agora", a "bioswale" and "meditation pods". I have no idea what they are but the hefty brochure, the size of a coffee- table book, assures me that they are very nice to have.

This church-like temporary structure, vast and air-conditioned, stands on Mount Vernon Road. Its whiteness and newness is in contrast to the rundown brown building across the street, home to the cats, dogs and other creatures cared for by the SPCA. Soon, the gently undulating grassy ground around the Bartley MRT station, close to the home to unwanted animals, the Mount Vernon Sanctuary funeral home and the Gurkha police unit will be thudding with piling works.

Inside the tent, there is an army of men and women in navy blazers and ties, doubling the size of the crowd. These are property agents, most of them at the elbow of their customers. But at this tense moment, they are also counsellors, speaking in low, soothing voices, trying to put their nervous clients at ease. Here and there are attractive young women handing out name cards, selling bank loans.

The buyers' fate hangs on the lottery. It is a system that has largely replaced the first-come-first-served system in private home sales, a style that in years past led to the sight of people - many of them teens or odd-jobbers hired as placeholders - queuing for days in the sun and rain before the start of sales.

On this day in late March, the buyers, a motley lot in T-shirts and shorts, mainly Singaporeans with a smattering of Indonesians and China nationals, retirees and working couples with children, whisper and check and recheck their papers as numbers are read out over the speakers.

A few buyers shout with joy as their ballot numbers are called and trot happily to the registration counter at the front. Some cheekier agents shout "Huat ah!", meaning "success" in Hokkien, but it is delivered as a joke in an attempt to lighten the mood.

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