Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year

May we all have a prosperous and healthy new year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


231TR is now completed and delivered to owners. That's an additional 190+ units added into the KL property market, mind you. I have learnt through several blogs and forums that majority of purchasers here are investors and many of them speculators who took up more than 1 unit. There is even a forum with a very dominant member who happens to be related to the developer of 231TR, Urban Delta. There are many postings in this forum which are posted in order to pad up the value of this development but when one investigates the details, finds that many of them are untrue or partially true. A bit like "frying the stock market". I've actually been banned from this forum for questioning too much... which is quite amusing...

Anyway, I made a visit to 231TR recently after having received a letter to collect my keys. Much to my disappointment, I did not realize that one needs to make a prior appointment to collect the keys from the developer's office instead of the site. However, the site manager was very kind to show me around the site and allowed me to take some pictures.
I was greeted by this large lobby which at my first impression, was rather disappointing. 231TR need to compete directly with Bintang Goldhill and the low ceiling and cheap granite material used and layout of the lobby is not really up to the grade. Let's hope the decorations will be better especially with the participation of a relatively unknown serviced apartment group and hopefully 231TR will be able to attract a good tenant for their lobby retail outlet.
Nothing is more disappointing than the lift lobby below. One has to really search for it hidden at the left hand side of the entrance. The door that leads to it is similar to the one for other rooms such as the telecoms room. It is also unusually narrow for a lift lobby and I come to wonder how we are going to move some larger furniture items. Another one mark down for the developer...
Without sounding repetitive (as I have mentioned twice before in this blog)... I wonder how 3 lifts are going to service more than 190 units of apartments.

Perhaps the most distingushable feature of 231TR is the center part of the inner court that looks down to the jacuzzi and swimming pool. This feature allows natural light to come down into the inner court but due to the high density of units, one might be excused to have this low cost flat feeling about the place.

In my opinion, the 2 bedroom corner unit type B has the best layout among all. It is extremely functional and spacious despite the small 834sf size.

As in almost all my apartment purchases, the expectation from viewing the show unit always let me down. But nothing more than 231TR. The unit comes with free built-in kitchen and bedroom cabinets. The quality is extremely poor and always left me calculating how much it would cost me to dismantle the built-ins. The kitchen top is probably the only valuable part of the built-ins - the accessories and the materials are all low cost. This is a completely far cry from the show units. Typical.

The bedroom wardrobe is also not floor to ceiling and the cheap handles make them look really low cost; when of course, they are indeed really low cost. One could have found ways to hide that fact - don't you think? Nevertheless, the engineered hardwood floor is a welcome change against laminated flooring or tiles or carpets in other similar priced development.

It comes with 2 bathrooms. One en-suite in the master bedroom and another one outside. This is a really functional idea. The tempered glass shower screens are nice. However, the little attempt to box up the bathroom sink with marble is pathetically obvious.

The best part is perhaps the large bathroom window and the space behind the door sufficient to fit in a washing machine with a dryer stacked on top. It would not be possible to have anyone peek into your bathroom window as there is no other tall building in the vicinity.

The 2nd bedroom is very small but would fit a small bed and a writing table. I think this is just nice unless you want a bigger family unit. Then you would be better off getting a 3 bedroom unit and the maintenance fee, calculated at RM0.40psf would be higher too.

Type B is a corner unit with breath taking views of the Royal Selangor Golf Club and the KLCC skyline. Despite the road frontage, the noise is surprisingly dimmed. The site manager pointed out that this is due to the sound proofing and the quality glass used for the windows. There is indeed a great difference in the sound level when one opens the windows and when closed.

The living room and kitchen is endowed with imported Iranian marble. But the skirting, as in the bedroom is the same cheap painted wood. Changing the skirting to marble would have made a world of difference at a minimal cost.

Before this, I have always wondered if Type G is a better buy. This bigger 1000sf 2 bedroom unit faces KLCC and has a completely unobstructed view of it due to the low rise Kuwait Embassy down below.

I am so glad not to have made the wrong choice in this unit because of the greatest utter disappointment in the kitchen layout.

As the layout plan above suggests, the kitchen sorts of disappears into a black hole at the back of it. It is extremely dinghy and narrow. The island that sits in the front of the kitchen would obstruct the flow of the unit.

But one can do his cooking with a full view of the twin towers. The window frames are however, a big distraction.

I have also viewed some studio units but found it extremely difficult to take a photos due to the unit sizes. They are so cramped and small.

There are a lot of negative remarks from anti-231TR forumers about the Indonesian embassy which is next door. It is indeed quite close and this would affect units up to the 8th floor. Outside 231TR when one approaches the building, there are traffic cones put out to slow down traffic for the security of the embassy as well as to regulate the queues of Indonesian and other nationalities who come to process their documents. As many people pointed out, this affects 231TR indirectly in a very negative way. But for the moment, nothing more than the construction beside Goldhill Bintang which is extremely noisy in the day time. This would be a temporary distraction, however the Indonesian embassy will be a permanent one.

The 6th floor is the common area. It comes with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, laundrette, games room (?) and a very large gym. The gym is not yet equipped so I am unable to tell if it is going to be any good - I hope so... Again here, the quality of the materials, tiles, finishings etc are more fitting of an old folks home rather than a downtown chic and yuppie apartment. This is regretably so...

Much effort has been taken by the developer Urban Delta to make this their first and successful project. Unfortunately the attention to detail has been lacking or worse, missing. There is also no parking lots allocated and one has to rent it from the management for RM60 per month on top of the RM0.40psf maintenance fees.

Subsale units are being advertised and I do not know if there are any changing hands. Some owners are optimistically asking for RM900psf and up which I think is unjustified. As most buyers, speculators included entered at a low RM500psf to RM600psf, I think this development with its kinks and flaws would do well at below RM800psf.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Seri Bukit Ceylon a.k.a. Somerset

Seri Bukit Ceylon is a commercial-titled project, a serviced apartment. Developed by UMLand in partnership with Capitaland of Singapore and a Middle East investor, this project became an instant success through its' association with the Ascott Group. The Ascott Group runs a list of 4 and 5 stars serviced apartments in 3 different brands globally - the Ascott, Somerset and Citadines. Malaysia has its' 4th Ascott property through Seri Bukit Ceylon (others are Ascott Kirana opposite KLCC, Somerset Kuching and Ascott KL Sentral which is no more).

Somerset Seri Bukit Ceylon is almost always fully-occupied and very busy from the look of the breakfast counter every morning. Somerset occupies level 5 through to level 12 of the building, with about 100 mostly single bedroom apartments. 77 units of one-bedroom apartments and 55 units of 2-bedroom apartments together with about 5 duplex penthouses on the 23rd floor were sold to individual buyers. Many buyers leased back their units to Somerset.

picture above: The lobby of Somerset decorated for Christmas

Picture above: The popular Neroteca Italian restaurant and deli

There are 4 variants of 1 bedroom apartments, all with more or less the same design but with different views and sizes. The most common being the 640sf units facing the KLCC twin towers. However, I totally disliked the layouts because the large bathroom in every unit has no windows as most units are intermediate lots. Only the smallest variant has a bathroom with a window. Unfortunately, this variant has a poorly designed kitchen which is smack at the doorway and these units although faces KL Tower also have to live the stench coming from the Wisma MPL's rubbish dump down below. Nevertheless, the smallest units is enjoying the best returns and due to it's relatively lower rental, they are also the most popular. Early buyers paid on average RM200k for the smallest unit and they are fetching between RM2500 to RM3000/month today. The average rental for the larger 1 bedroom unit is RM3500/month.

picture above: View from the 640sf 1 bedroom units

Being the minority, the 2 bedroom units are usually fully occupied. They are also mostly corner units, with lots of windows, beautiful views and brightly lit. There are 2 variants with KLCC view and in my opinion both have the best layouts. Approximately 1000sf in size, the market price for them today has hit RM1million for the better renovated units while the lowest price I've seen today is RM800k. Rental ranges between RM5500 to RM9500/month and believe me, it's so easy to get tenants there appears to be a waiting list even today. This is not bad considering the average entry price for 1st time buyers is around RM450k just 5 years ago.

This is in direct contrast with the 1 bedroom units mentioned earlier. Due to the higher number of 1 bedroom units and in competition with Somerset's own properties, it is quite difficult to fill up the 1 bedroom units.

There are 5 penthouses occupying the 23rd and 24th floor. They are built around a private garden with a fountain and barbecue pit and the most stunning view of Kuala Lumpur. The materials are also a tad better than the school toilet tiles and cheap laminated floor boards used in the lower floors. The penthouses got quality marble and wood floor. Being only 5 units, they have been fully occupied since day one fetching minimum RM12k rental per month. The entry price was on average RM750k per unit and the last transacted unit in sub-sale went at RM1.6 million.

All units were fully sold within 1 month of launching. With the success, UMLand launched their duplex business suites on the 1st to 3rd floors. Unfortunately, these weren't so popular and there were still units for sale upon VP. Possibly this is due to the higher maintenance fees, the poor views despite the oversized windows and no parking lots allocated. The business suites and the penthouses pay RM0.55psf for their maintenance fees while the serviced apartments only pay RM0.36psf. However, since the building is holding a commercial title, all units pay commercial rates for utilities.... which is quite high...

Despite the small footprint, Seri Bukit Ceylon is actually a very high density development. There are 12 units on each floor. Despite a demarcation of lifts - 1 unit serving all floors, 3 units for Somerset serving their floors, 1 unit serving the business suites and 2 units serving the serviced apartments, the early morning wait for the lifts actually takes quite long. This is partly also due to the poor design of the parking lifts as only 1 lift can go all the way down to the underground parking. However, the problem is mainly due to the high occupancy and high density of the building. (Note: This is a warning for purchasers of 231TR as you've only got 3 lifts serving 19 floors with 15 units per floor!)

Although Somerset has their own posh marble and air-conditioned lobby, the whole building share common facilities on the 4th floor. There is a very small swimming pool with an adjoining jacuzzi and childrens pool, laundrette facilities, gym and changing rooms with dry saunas. Somerset's breakfast counter overlooks the pool. The gym is very well equipped and large but the changing rooms are poorly maintained. The management should also discourage staffs from using the changing rooms. I disliked the permeating smell of urine in the changing rooms even after cleaning - due to the poor plumbing I guess...

picture above: The Gym

picture above: The self-service laundrette

There is a little history about the construction of this building. It was initially designated as a hotel and the construction reached the 4th floor before it was abandoned for some time. When UMLand took over the project and sold all the units, the price of building materials shot up, causing the contractor to halt the construction several times to renegotiate the deal with the developer. Apparently, the project came down at a loss for UMLand and partners but being "reputable", they bit the bullet and went ahead. However, the construction went on with very poor quality materials such as the tiles I mentioned and the use of sand blocks instead of quality clay bricks. The thickness of the floors are also questionable. It is easy to hear what your neighbours are doing. Many owners of the duplex business suites converted their units for residential purposes and one such unit is unfortunately located beneath the gym. The owner 's counsel has sent a letter of demand to the management company for the noises created by the gym users although I feel he might be better off suing the developer for shoddy design and work. It's a case of the dog barking up the wrong tree.

Despite all the issues, Seri Bukit Ceylon is the choice address and the most expensive property in Bukit Ceylon. I think they owe it firstly to the Ascott and Somerset brand. The management committee is controlled by Somerset. Then there is the location factor in Bukit Ceylon, meters away from Changkat Bukit Bintang. And despite having no fences, the security is perfect - there are 2 sets of security from both Somerset and Seri Bukit Ceylon which means at any one time there are 6 guards patrolling the very small footprint of the building area. Then of course, there's the quality of the tenants.

Pictures below: The location of Seri Bukit Ceylon among the playground of Changkat Bukit Bintang

Monday, January 5, 2009

Living in the middle of the road

This house is literally situated in the middle of the road at the booming International Village cyber park in Hanoi. Once upon a time, Hanoi has seen rapid development that saw property prices exceed that of Kuala Lumpur. At one time it was difficult to find quality expatriate class accomodation even if your company was willing to pay. International Village is something like our Technology Park in Bukit Jalil or Cyberjaya. This house currently still being inhabited is in the way of a road widening project. Since it was impossible to evict the owners, the developer just built the road around them.