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Helping hand for Singaporeans living in Johor

THE Johor-Singapore Community Care Association (JSCA) has appointed Metro Homes Sdn Bhd (Iskandar) as its official property investment advisory partner.

The move by JSCA, which was set up less than a year ago, will enable it to better fulfil its objective of assisting Singaporeans who live in Johor, especially the newcomers.

Among other things, the association helps them get access to social, education and emergency services and also gives assistance on economic, lifestyle and security matters.

Vice-president Fahmi Rais says the association was mooted by the current secretary-general Muhd Mazlan and is led by a former Singapore MP, Wan Hussin Zoohri. All of them live in Johor.

"The main reason for setting it up is because more and more Singaporeans are looking at Iskandar Malaysia as their principal or alternative home," explains Fahmi. Expatriates as well as Singapore permanent residents are welcome to join as well.

JSCA estimates that some 5,000 Singaporean families reside in Johor. "There are no official figures. The estimate is based on the percentage of Singaporean buyers for some of the developments in Iskandar Malaysia, traffic at the two causeways and feedback from online surveys," Fahmi says.

On the role of Metro Homes, branch manager Danny Chua says: "We provide property investment advisory services as well as help JSCA members source for the right kind of properties to buy or lease in Iskandar Malaysia, according to their families' needs and budgets."

The majority of Singaporeans are buying for their own stay, for retirement or for family members nearing retirement, he adds. Johor offers more in terms of the quality of the environment and space, apart from a lower cost of living compared with Singapore.

Another reason is the growing number of international colleges, universities and schools in Iskandar, which expatriates with families will appreciate.

Metro Homes data reveals that most Singaporeans prefer landed homes, although high-rise residences have become more popular of late. "Most are buying in the Nusajaya area given its proximity to Singapore via the Second Link. The more popular projects among Singaporeans are Horizon Hills, East Ledang, Puteri Harbour, Ledang Heights, Leisure Farm and Danga Bay," says Chua.

"There is also rising interest in the eastern side of Johor, namely, Senibong Cove and Iskandar Zone E in Senai, given the connectivity of the places via highways to the Causeway or the Second Link." Singaporeans account for a big chunk of the residential property transactions in Iskandar.

At Mulpha International's Leisure Farm Resort, some 500 units have been sold to Singaporeans, who are estimated to make up about 40% of the residents. There is good demand for the low-density, gated and guarded project as it is located close to the second link.At Gamuda Land's Horizon Hills, where about 1,600 homes have been sold to date, about 40% of the buyers are foreigners, of which Singaporeans make up 80%.

They are also among the top buyers of UEM Land Holdings Bhd's projects. At East Ledang, of the 49% of foreign purchasers, 36% are Singaporeans. At Imperia, Puteri Harbour, 50% are foreign buyers, with Singaporeans comprising 34% of their number. Foreigners are only allowed to buy properties priced from RM500,000 in Malaysia.

Some 883 Singaporeans have taken part in the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme from 2002 to November, 2012.

"Singaporeans will still buy into quality projects in Iskandar as long as security is adequately addressed," says Chua. Security in general has improved and will be further enhanced within Nusajaya with Iskandar Investment Bhd (IIB) and UEM Land teaming up to create Nusajaya Five O Sdn Bhd (N50), a full-fledged security service company.

"Apart from this, other factors include a strong inflow of investments, the commitment of the government and ample amenities such as hospitals, schools, shopping malls and a good public transport system. These are the deciding factors Singaporeans look at before they buy houses in Johor."

The JSCA is looking to build a strong Singaporean community in the state.

"For the first two years, JSCA is committed to building a foundation in the core services it seeks to provide," says Fahmi. "So the main resources will be spent on establishing a centre of operations, creating awareness, membership, fund-raising, connecting with key government agencies on both sides of the causeway and getting more establishments to participate in its benefits-for-members programme."

He figures it will take about two years to really get the association going and ensure it is efficiently run. "In the meantime, it will need critical support from members as it faces its formative challenges like any other new organisation." Only about 100 have signed up as ordinary members to date, paying an annual subscription of RM100. JSCA is targeting to get 1,000 paid members. "The annual fees are a small fraction of the financial resources JSCA needs to ensure its its viability," says Fahmi.

He adds that the Singapore government, through the Consulate-General in City Square, Johor Baru, is aware of the association's formation. JSCA, however, does not get any funding and is completely independent, he stresses.

Seeking a better quality of life

Some Singaporeans who have taken the plunge to live in Johor and commute to work in the island republic agree that traffic is one headache they would like to do without. However, for them, the benefits far outweigh the longer commute. Among them is Denyse Tessensohn, who runs a weblog (puterim.com), does speech analysis, and teaches spoken English and foundation phonetics.

"I moved from Singapore because of the rising housing prices and cost of living," says the 60-something Tessensohn, who has been living in Ledang Heights, Nusajaya, since 2007. "The benefits include more space, good air, 80% reduction in stress, new friends, a return to 1950s and 60s lifestyle and space for pets. The commute to Singapore is a bother if there are jams on either sides of the Causeway, so I have to time it right, but I still get caught."

For senior risk assessment executive Zack Han, 36, his reason was to seek a better quality of life. He has been living in [email protected] Hills, Nusajaya, since 2011.

"Life in Singapore is very expensive. In Singapore, both my wife and I had to work full-time to maintain an economically comfortable and viable lifestyle. After just three years of living here, my wife is a full-time homemaker looking after our toddler," he says. Although the travelling can be a hassle, he has got used to it.

Indonesian Erika Oktora, 33, who works as a sales manager in Singapore, has been living in East Ledang, Nusajaya, since 2010.She is a permanent resident in Singapore, but "decided to move to Johor for more affordable housing with a bigger space as we are planning to have a family. "We live in a development that has a great community and we definitely enjoy the space and quiet neighbourhood. The daily commute is definitely the biggest trade-off for us." Malaysian Jason Ng, 32, who has Singapore permanent residence status, worked as a financial controller there until he was recently relocated to Hong Kong. He has lived in Horizon Hills, Nusajaya, since 2010. "Both my wife and I lived in Singapore before moving to Johor Baru. Given that we had spent a considerable amount renovating the house upon vacant possession, we thought it was a waste to just use it for weekend stays," Ng explains.

"So, we tried commuting on an adhoc basis for about three months and to our surprise, the journey wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. The Second Link customs checkpoint isn't as badly jammed as what many perceive.

"After that, we decided to move in to stay permanently as the environment is much more serene and tranquil compared with Singapore."

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Apr 15 - 21, 2013.


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