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More Singaporeans have weekend homes in Iskandar, Johor Singapore


STRAITS TIMES - 11 JAN 2010 - AFTER a leisurely lunch on his patio, Mr Zulkifli Mansor can walk out to a putting green and practise a few strokes of golf – and he doesn’t even have to leave his home.

From his balcony, Mr Tio Hong Tjoen sometimes casts a reel into the stream winding around his home. The Singapore permanent resident has caught fish weighing up to 3kg.

Mr Zulkifli, a 47-year-old civil servant, and Mr Tio, 53, who is in the furniture business, are among an increasing number of Singaporeans and permanent residents buying high-end homes across the Causeway, mainly as weekend residences.

From his doorstep, Mr Zulkifli can point out eight other properties belonging to Singaporeans in a neighbourhood of about 170 homes.

‘In fact, the first group to welcome us to the neighbourhood was Singaporean,’ he told The Straits Times. He bought his home about three months ago as a holiday retreat for his wife and son. His mother-in-law and sister-in-law live there permanently.

His two-storey house is in a gated estate fronted by burly security guards – a far cry from the days when Singaporean-owned homes in Johor Baru made headlines as prime targets for burglaries.

And with relatively few restrictions on home ownership in Malaysia – the houses have to be at least two-storeys high and until recently had to cost a minimum of just RM250,000 (S$103,000)- Singaporeans are finding it a breeze across the border. The minimum cost has just doubled to RM500,000.

Mr Zulkifli’s roomy 2,140 sq ft house sits in a lush garden and cost him RM298,000 – much less than what he would have had to fork out for a three-room HDB flat here.

‘Every month I pay a $630 instalment on the house which is less than the $800 I pay for my car – and I can’t live in my car!’ he quips.

Mr Zulkifli’s house is on an estate known as Nusa Idaman, one of at least four sprawling housing estates within South Johor’s Iskandar Malaysia project, which is being touted as a high-class resort area.

The Iskandar Regional Development Authority, which oversees the development of the 2,217 sq km area, says Singaporeans occupy about four in 10 homes there. Another three in 10 are occupied by other foreigners, mainly expatriates working in Singapore, with the remainder owned by Malaysians.

Iskandar Malaysia was designated as a special economic zone in Johor in 2006. Besides upmarket housing, plans are in the pipeline to build universities, top-notch medical facilities and theme parks.

The residential estates are none too shabby either, and home owners say the construction quality is good.

Homes in the luxurious Horizon Hills are set against a private golf course. Residents in the nearby Leisure Farm Resort have horse-riding facilities, and at Nusa Idaman, there is a kindergarten on the estate.

The fear of being a target of burglars has by and large been put paid to as well, with developers cottoning on to the concerns and touting high-levels security features to reel Singaporeans in.

Back in 2006, 37 Singaporeans launched a petition to the Malaysian High Commission for Singapore, asking for help following a spate of burglaries in a condominium in Bandar Seri Alam in Johor. Their units were completely ransacked and stripped of electrical wiring and light fixtures.

Mr Tio, who bought a weekend home in Leisure Farm Resort, says: ‘It’s very safe. Security is one of the reasons I bought a unit here.’

The neighbourhoods are fenced in and have several levels of security, such as CCTV monitoring and former Nepalese army guards on 24-hour patrol.

Developers Mulpha International even paid for a manned police station to be built just outside the main entrance of the the Leisure Farm estate.

‘We have had a few attempted break-ins in the past 12 years but with no harm, casualties or monetary loss. We are trying our level best to keep our record low and as close to zero as possble,’ a spokesman added.

With the promise of better security and property prices soaring at home in the last few years, Singaporeans have been looking northwards, charmed by the prospect of open space and quiet.

Developers say that interest has grown stronger in the past two to three years with the ‘aggressive promotion of Iskandar Malaysia’.

There are advertisements in local newspapers, roadshows in hotels and even charter buses to take interested Singaporeans to South Johor – a 15 minute drive from the Second Link – to view the developments.

Mr Zulkifli makes the hour-long drive from his home – a flat in Jurong East – whenever he is on leave and his son is on vacation from school.

Sometimes he goes to the nearby kampung, a 15 minute drive away, for a walk to unwind.

Mr Tio, an Indonesian who is now a Singapore permanent resident, said: ‘I come here with friends to eat and drink. In Singapore, where can you unwind?’ He lives in a bungalow in the MacPherson area with his two daughters.

But there are drawbacks to living life far from the bustling city. The nearest supermarket is a 10 minute drive away. Many Singaporeans say that they prefer to live and work in Singapore,and have a weekend home to escape to.

Mr Zulkifli’s wife, part-time wedding caterer Madam Amidah Ahmad, 47, said: ‘Back in Singapore, I step out of my house and there is an NTUC there already.’

And home repairs are not always undertaken speedily.

Said 68-year-old remiser Tan Hui Nam: ‘ ‘The system here is different, the work ethic and culture are different. You have to learn to be more patient.’

Also, while the estates are not far from the Second Link, the cost of driving back and forth can add up, with the tolls on both sides of the Causeway. A round trip can cost almost $20.

‘I cannot live here on a full time basis because it’s just too expensive to be driving in and out of Malaysia every day!’ added Mr Tan.

Singaporean Arif Tan, 62, is shopping around for contractors to have a bungalow built to his specifications in Johor.

The owner of a transport company has made trips up to various showflats in the region and says he hopes to make the move with his wife and three grown children within three to five years.

It is part of his retirement plan, he says, adding: ‘The cost of living in Singapore is just too high.’

Property experts say that buyers of property in the Iskandar Malaysia project should see their purchases as long-term investments, as the area is still in its developmental stages and not expected to realise its potential within the next five to 10 years. These properties are better off as holiday homes, they add.

Said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail: ‘There will be a continuous supply of more land and property, so new buyers will have a choice between resale homes and new properties. It will take some time for the development to attain maturity and for the resale market to become buoyant.’

Source : Straits Times – 11 Jan 2010