Shoebox units “almost inhuman”

Singapore should put restrictions on the rising number of shoebox units as they are “almost inhuman”, according to CapitaLand CEO Liew Mun Leong.

“I am dead against shoebox developments,” he said in an article by Bloomberg. “The government should intervene. Singapore’s land is very precious and you are wasting your scarce resources” by developing shoebox homes.

Last week, the government said that it was monitoring the situation, after private home sales rose to a near three-year high with record purchases of shoebox units, which measure less than 50 sq m.

The country’s population growth, skyrocketing property prices and scarce land supply have prompted many developers to shrink new apartments. Meanwhile, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament last week that the government may impose measures to restrict the sale of shoebox units.

Latest data shows that 1,764 shoebox apartments were sold in Q1, accounting for 27 percent of all home sales during the period. Units priced at less than S$750,000 made up 42 percent of total home sales in the quarter, up from 25 percent in the previous quarter.

Liew, who grew up in a one-room unit with nine people, said shoebox apartments are “almost inhuman”.

“It’s not good for the welfare of the family to feel that constrained,” he noted, adding that Singapore should implement a minimum size for homes.

Pratik Burman Ray, an analyst from HSBC Holdings Plc in Singapore, said the trend of shoebox living is not unique to Singapore. Developers in Indonesia and Thailand have built homes smaller than 35 sq m while apartments in Hong Kong measure less than 50 sq m and usually house two to three people.

“I wonder if this phenomenon is Singapore specific or a shift in buyer preference, and then the question is should it be regulated at all,” he said. “What’s needed is greater transparency to protect home buyers, which is perhaps more critical.”

Meanwhile, CapitaLand is lobbying against the development of shoebox units.

“I used to joke that when I sat on the sofa, I don’t need the remote control to switch on the TV, I use my toes,” said Liew. “If you build 200 sq ft, 300 sq ft (around 20 – 30 sq m) for a family of two or three, you might as well stay in a box. There needs to be some degree of comfort level.”


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