City&Country: Parbury Avenue house going for S$55 million

Standing on the rooftop terrace of the Parbury Avenue house that was once his family home, Derek Goh gestures at the view of the Upper East Coast neighbourhood with the greenery, and a glimpse of the sea beyond. “This is the most desirable aspect of the property — the view, the location,” he says. “You just have to be up here to appreciate it. There’s a lot of magic that can be created.”

No 31 Parbury Avenue sits on a sprawling 61,240 sq ft freehold site and, perched on the hilltop, is surrounded by a high retaining wall, so the property is not visible from street level. The garden was even large enough for Goh to hold a wedding reception — complete with a giant white marquee — when he got married 20 years ago. The family no longer lives there, having moved out several years ago.

The 51-year-old is the scion of the Goh family that founded both NatSteel (then National Iron and Steel Mills Ltd in partnership with the Economic Development Board) and Tat Lee Bank Group. Goh’s father Seong Pek, who passed away in 1983, was founding president of NatSteel and founding managing director of Tat Lee, while his uncle, Tjoei Kok, who passed away in 1994, was the founding chairman of Tat Lee and vice-chairman of National Iron and Steel Mills Ltd from 1961 to 1986.

Goh, who has five siblings (four older sisters and a younger brother), is the trustee of his father’s estate, and has appointed CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) to handle the sale of the Parbury Avenue property through a public tender.

The Gohs were not the first owners of the house — they had purchased the property in 1980 from the sister of Wee Cho Yaw, the banking magnate of UOB Group. “The house was designed specifically for her family’s needs, and we bought it as is,” says Goh.

Given the illustrious history of the two families that once lived there, the property also appeals to wealthy individuals who want to buy the property as their residence. Over the years, there have been various parties who have made offers for the site. Says Goh: “There are the developers, but there are also individual owners who want to build their dream bungalows. There are many non-resident Singaporeans who have made it overseas — in China and India. And, interestingly, there’s still big money in the dotcom business, and these people now want to move back to Singapore because of its security and infrastructure.”

The new owner could build a mansion on the hilltop on the site of the existing house, and smaller bungalows for rental farther down the hill slope, says Goh. This way, his privacy is assured and each individual bungalow below will also have a sense of privacy, he adds.

altGoh himself is a property investor with a portfolio that includes multiple units in The Seaview on Amber Road, Parbury Hill condominium on Parbury Avenue, Cosmo on Guillemard Avenue as well as a couple of units in various developments in the prime Orchard Road districts. He was also a niche developer from the 1980s to 1990s, and developed several walk-up apartments in the Telok Kurau and Geylang area, as well as a couple of industrial and commercial buildings. His last project was the Seng Kee Building on Martin Road (where the Book Café is located), which was completed in 1997 and is now owned by his cousin.

What is likely to excite developers, though, is the redevelopment potential of the land. Over time, as large plots are divided up and sold, sprawling sites like the one at Parbury Avenue become rarer, notes Jeremy Lake, executive director of investment properties at CBRE, who is handling the sale.

The Parbury site is large enough to be subdivided and redeveloped into eight luxury bungalows or strata landed housing containing either 14 bungalows or 28 semi-detached houses. Alternatively, the developer could also build a denser strata development with 37 terraced houses.

Thus, the site could appeal to niche luxury developers like Simon Cheong of SC Global Developments, or the more “functional types” of developers such as Fragrance Group and Roxy-Pacific Holdings, which have been active players in the East Coast, notes CBRE’s Lake.

SC Global’s Cheong had purchased Chan’s Ville on Mountbatten Road, which sits on a sprawling 55,000 sq ft freehold site, in 2004 from the family of the late Chan Ah Kow. While the original mansion was conserved, SC Global built four bungalows on the site and renamed the property Five Legends at Mountbatten. All the bungalows were sold several years ago.

Beyond the developers, CBRE will also be working closely with private bankers. “We see a need to reach out to this new money that’s coming into Singapore,” says Lake. “And that’s through the private bankers.” Since the global financial crisis, private bankers have noticed that their clients are favouring real-estate investments over financial instruments. Thus, some of the more entrepreneurial ones are working with property specialists like CBRE to market property to their clients.

Lake says the guide price for the Parbury Avenue site ranges from S$52 million (RM121.1 million) to S$55 million, or an average of S$849 to S$898 psf. “We think pricing at that range is likely to be achievable,” he says. The tender is scheduled for launch this week.

Beyond the size of the plot and the unobstructed views that the hilltop site commands, the uniqueness of the site also comes from the fact that it is bounded on three sides by Parbury Avenue, which means “wastage is negligible”, says Goh.

In the past, Parbury Avenue, located just off Upper East Coast Road in District 16, was a popular holiday destination for the “old towkay” Chinese businessmen who built their seafront villas there, says Goh, “very much like Pasir Panjang and the Katong area”. However, many of the villas have since been parcelled out and sold.
“It takes someone who wants to move away from the conventional design to maximise the potential of this property,” he adds. “And it’s not necessarily expensive; it just takes a crea­tive mind.”

Cecilia Chow is editor of City & Country at The Edge Singapore

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 803, Apr 26 – May 2, 2010

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