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Home construction quality standards must be raised

As Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee, we have been counting our blessings, showing appreciation to our Pioneer Generation and reflecting on our arduous yet successful journey to building an economic miracle.

Top left: Concrete has fallen off the side gate of a condominium less than a year after TOP. It was left unrepaired for over six months. Bottom left: A carpark in Orchard Road that could do with higher standards of property management and maintenance. Middle: A glass wall that has shifted more than 1cm away from the marble flooring and opened up a crevice, less than 2 years after the house was completed. Stain marks suggest extensive moisture within the concrete walls and floor. Right: Dead creepers on a garden wall of a condominium that was completed three years ago. Many properties win environmental awards for their designs even before construction has begun, but without easy access to maintenance and housekeeping, the external beauty will be short-lived. Photo: Century 21

Top left: Concrete has fallen off the side gate of a condominium less than a year after TOP. It was left unrepaired for over six months. Bottom left: A carpark in Orchard Road that could do with higher standards of property management and maintenance. Middle: A glass wall that has shifted more than 1cm away from the marble flooring and opened up a crevice, less than 2 years after the house was completed. Stain marks suggest extensive moisture within the concrete walls and floor. Right: Dead creepers on a garden wall of a condominium that was completed three years ago. Many properties win environmental awards for their designs even before construction has begun, but without easy access to maintenance and housekeeping, the external beauty will be short-lived. Photo: Century 21

As Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee, we have been counting our blessings, showing appreciation to our Pioneer Generation and reflecting on our arduous yet successful journey to building an economic miracle.

In recent years, several large home-grown construction companies and developers, including the Housing and Development Board (HDB), have also celebrated their 50th anniversaries. Years of experience and a wide breadth of skill sets make our real-estate industry well respected in South-east Asia.

Singapore Real Estate Inc has achieved so much in the past. Lest we rest on our laurels, I think it is time for the industry to ascend to a higher level, especially in terms of quality: The quality of construction supervision, the attention to detail, and the quality of finishing touches.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen improvements in the finished quality of a few of the largest residential developments. Singapore is also home to some of the world’s most luxurious residences. In general, however, overall standards have not improved by much.

There have been many new entrants into the industry: Developers from overseas ranging from one with only one project under its belt to those with solid long-term reputations, small construction firms turned developers, and material suppliers turned developers. There are also developers formed through joint ventures between private equity investors whose sole purpose is the development of a specific project.

Today, we see more and more residential properties completed with shoddy workmanship, even within prestigious developments in the luxury districts. Some defects are not obvious at the handover and may remain hidden for more than a year. For example, sloppy waterproofing will lead to seepage or sewerage issues, and poor installation of dry partition walls will reveal cracks after more than a year.

Defects are not limited to interiors alone: If a contractor is not careful with basic tasks such as the mixing of concrete, then the maintenance of common areas and communal facilities — for example, playgrounds, tennis courts and vertical gardens — will become very expensive, sometimes requiring significant renovation budgets.

Bad workmanship is not just becoming more apparent in private residential developments, but also surfacing with increasing frequency in public housing. Some of the recent incidents in public housing discussed in Parliament included defects and design flaws in DBSS (Design, Build and Sell Scheme) flats such as Centrale 8, Pasir Ris One and Trivelis, and BTO (Build-To-Order) flats in Choa Chu Kang, Punggol and Bukit Panjang.

Residents have complained about narrow corridors, cracked walls, uneven flooring, leaks and overflowing toilets, and plaster slabs falling off the facade of HDB blocks. On July 13, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee explained that the rollout of about 100,000 BTO flats in the last four years has not compromised their quality. He said the Building and Construction Authority’s independent assessment showed BTO flat quality improved from a score of 79 in 2003 to 89 last year. A majority of the defects highlighted by residents who collected keys to their new flats are surface imperfections that do not affect the building’s structural integrity, he added.

Singapore’s real-estate industry should have advanced well beyond the basic assumption that buildings here have solid structural integrity. Uneven flooring and badly laid tiles do not affect the safety of buildings, but they do not provide comfort for home users, and may lead to future expenses and other burdens. If developers and construction companies take pride in the quality of their work and build solid homes that last for generations, then surface defects may not even exist. But if they do not, then even if the defects look superficial, we do not know what might crawl out of the woodwork in the years to come.

I propose that we in the real-estate industry set modest aims. Instead of thinking about what we might achieve in the next 50 years, let us aim to improve the quality of our new buildings over the next decade. As for completed buildings, we should up the ante; spend more energy and money to maintain our condominiums.

From the external environment, such as security, waste management, facilities, parking and landscaping, to interior spaces within each apartment and house, we need to embed design elements that allow homes to be constructed and finished with high quality. We should carefully consider material specifications for new homes with low-maintenance requirements.

Perhaps building awards should be handed out only 10 years after the homes are completed and have proven to provide comfort and enjoyment to the residents over at least a decade. Government agencies, designers, architects, developers, builders and property managers need to raise their quality standards.

Let us build homes that last. Profit margins may be lower, but our future generations will appreciate our efforts. Then, we might pat ourselves on the back again on our Diamond Jubilee and, perhaps, at the Centennial celebrations.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ku Swee Yong is a licensed real estate agent and the CEO of Century 21 Singapore. He recently published his third book Real Estate Realities — Accommodating the Investment Needs of Today’s Society.

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