The most common line from property agents is that it “never goes wrong”. Property always increases in value, because Singapore is land scarce. And sure, that sounds good in theory – but the Seaview and its current $32 million lawsuit is a good example of what can go wrong:
The Seaview situation
When the residents of the Seaview first purchased their units, they did so at the exorbitant cost of around $1,600 per square foot. It didn’t seem unreasonable at the time: the Seaview was developed by Wheelock Properties, which has a reputation for quality, high-end properties.
But problems started early, and by 2011 residents were attempting to sue Wheelock Properties for damages amounting to $32 million. And even that amount doesn’t highlight what they’ve had to put up with.
Lethal swimming pool, falling debris, and apartments that stink
The Seaview’s problems started within a year of being occupied. Signs of the problems are still apparent, as the trial is still pending. Here’s one of the most obvious:
Notice the discrepancy the right hand side of the roof, where part of the grille like structure is missing.
It’s not there because, during the middle of a storm, it fell off and crashed near the swimming pool. No one was out at the time, but “chance of being killed by falling debris” was probably not a highlight of the property brochure.
Again, this is not an old condominium; and the management informed me that the incident happened sometime within the first year of occupancy.
Now take a look at the swimming pool:
Those green patches are not slime. They’re much worse. That’s where the tiles have popped loose, and form razor sharp patches. At one point this cut into a pregnant resident. The medical bills amounted to over $20,000.
The same happens at the edge of the pool, where people often sit or stand:
The management discovers new patches of loose tiles every day. It’s gotten to the point where parts of the pool are regularly cordoned off, to avoid someone requiring stitches:
When it’s not threatening people, the pool is busy threatening the carpark. This is what you find on the ceiling of the carpark (located under the pool):
Those are tiny stalactites, formed from the liquid in the swimming pool. While I am not an expert, I suspect there is no school of architecture that recommends letting the swimming pool leak into the carpark.
The wooden deck around the swimming pool is thoroughly rotted in parts, and the management explained that at least one resident has put a foot through the platform. Currently, the deck is made of a mismatched, different coloured wood: each darker coloured plank is where a rotted piece had to be replaced:
The wood problem is also in the Seaview’s clubhouse:
Those are very welcoming doors, in that they will never close. They are literally too small, and don’t meet in the middle. Tape measures were apparently in short supply when the Seaview was being built.
All of these issues pale in comparison to the sewage problem. Now I can’t go into someone’s house and take pictures, but it’s not needed in this case – the problem is the stench.
In the linked article (see The Seaview situation), it mentions that residents complained of “foul smells” and “infestations of flies.” While I didn’t see flies, I can attest to the smell.
A sickly sweet smell would sometimes seem to come out of the walls. This is due to the lack of a U-trap: a device that separates waste from the kitchen and the toilet. Refuse from the two just merge into a common pipe, and choke up.
One of the residents complained that the cost of hiring a contractor, every time he needed to clear up the pipes, ran into hundreds of dollars every month. The alternative was for him to go arm deep into the pipes, and clear it himself.
Other bizarre design decisions include windows that leak, and not using primer before the buildings were painted (primer is the base layer onto which paint adheres. Without it, the paint will crack and peel).
Financial consequences for residents
Most residents were torn between openly discussing resale issues, and keeping it quiet. On the one hand, many of them would rather offload their units right now. On the other, they can’t openly say it because it would just drive their property values down even more.
One resident claimed that he was struggling to sell at around $1,000 per square foot (remember, the original price was around $1,600 per square foot). However, his prospective buyer ran into problems with the bank, which refused to grant the loan due to the Seaview’s pending legal issues.
Legal frustrations and the “independent contractor” defence
You’d think this is a clear cut case in court, but it isn’t. Wheelock Properties, like many other developers, can invoke the independent contractor defence. This is basically a claim that certain third parties, hired to build the property, are the ones responsible for the defect – not the developer.
These independent contractors, to whom the blame might be pushed, can in turn invoke the same defence when they are sued. They might also be able to claim another contractor they hired is responsible, and deflect the legal heat.
This can eventually result in residents suing small sub-contractors, who probably cannot pay the amounts needed for proper compensation.
As annoying as that may sound, it’s not unusual turn of events. The independent contractor defence has been used by property developers for a long time.
This is where the Seaview becomes important: the law firm representing the Seaview is arguing that the independent contractor defence cannot be used in this case. If the courts agree with them, it will be a landmark case: it would shift significant power into the hands of property buyers, as developers would be much more accountable for their work.
A warning that every property buyer should heed
The Seaview is a monumental reminder to every property buyer in Singapore: never make assumptions based on the name of the developer. Each and every property development should be viewed in isolation – judge it as a unique case; don’t look at other works by the same developer, and expect the same quality.
It is also a warning against attractive “early bird” discounts for under-development property. It may be cheaper to buy before you can see the end result. But if the end result is something like the Seaview, the discount will be more than compensated for by the potential losses.
Do your homework before you buy. Shop around, ask difficult questions, and get some expert advice. You can always speak to us at 99.co for a better view of the property you want.
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