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Saturday, April 18, 2009

What makes a landed, gated and guarded project?

ON April 4, John left his semi-detached home in Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya, at 6.30am. He returned at about 1pm to find that it has been broken into. He lost RM45,000 and was badly traumatised, not so much by the loss but by the invasion into his private domain.

John, 64, from Britain, says this is a gated and guarded (G&G) development and he pays about RM950 annually for the security service and maintenance.

As a result of that incident, he has extended the wall behind his house by another five feet, bringing it to nine feet. He has also installed an alarm system.

He suspects the thief or thieves must have climbed over the wall which separates his house from the public road.

“I’m thankful my wife and daughter were not at home when they broke in,” he says. He and his family have been staying there for about two years. The project has about 300 houses.

When contacted, the residents’ association president says the development was completed four years ago and the break-in involving John’s house is a “minor thing.”

In another project in Damansara Heights, one of the most upmarket residential suburbs in Kuala Lumpur, a relatively new development of about 18 months had three break-ins.

The weak point in this G&G development was also a wall which was relatively low compared with the other retaining walls that encompassed the project. The police were called in and a camera was subsequently installed on that wall.

“No one was hurt. It was the work of some petty thieves,” says a source from the company.

The break-ins in both the above two projects bring into focus several issues. The desire and need for security has resulted in various adaptation of the G&G concept.

In John’s case, both he and the resident association president think they have bought into a G&G development because there is a perimeter wall and guards.

Security presence and a perimeter wall do not constitute a project as a G&G. Conversely, there are some projects which are guarded but not gated.

Whatever the adaptations may be, local council approval is needed, even for the installation of a boom gate. It is sad and speaks a lot about the country’s security system if people feel safer behind bars.

Country Heights Kajang, for example, is guarded but not gated. Likewise, most parts of Bandar Utama. Seri Beringin in Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, has a perimeter wall and guards but it is not a G&G project.

Because of rising crime rate, Bangsar Baru residents are planning to turn the area into a gated and guarded community by permanently closing off roads and lanes which are accessible to motorists.

So what constitutes a G&G project? Other than the perimeter wall and the guards, the G&G project essentially takes care of its own landscaping and amenities like garbage collection and landscaping. The monthly charges go into all these, including the maintenance of a pool, tennis courts and clubhouse, if there are such facilities.

Innovative developers have also come up with single entrance/exit as a variant, without it being a G&G project.

So, how will a home buyer know if he has bought into a landed strata project, in layman’s terms, a G&G? The only way is to check with the local council or the developer. A word of caution: There are developers who claim their project is a G&G, when it is an adaptation. For many, an adaptation is good enough because security is their chief concern. Many are not bothered if there is a pool or a clubhouse.

Incidentally, a new law will be tabled soon to govern G&G developments. Previously, it was just a set of guidelines. The bill will be used on a national level and will help to regulate such properties.

The second issue pertains to security. What recourse do owners and residents have if there is a break-in? There is currently a case pending in court involving Sierramas, as a result of the breach in security. As most of the developers say: “Nothing is fool-proof. But we can have deterrents.”

The other issue is the community. While John and his family were traumatised by the break-in, the residents’ association president considers it a “minor thing”. Which calls into attention the importance of co-operation among residents. After all, isn’t that what being a community is about?

As Home Buyers Association secretary-general Chang Kim Loong puts it: “The success of a G&G project depends on the residents to be the eyes and ears for each other.”

While developers of such projects say G&G is the way to go, Chang says this is just a marketing strategy.

“G&G is not something to be encouraged. It segregates the haves and the have-nots. It is a concept, not a deception. There is no legal compulsion to buy; it is just a matter of who can afford the lifestyle that comes with a cost and it appeals to the medium and upper echelons,” he adds.

While certain quarters think this is just a marketing ploy to sell a lifestyle, it is undeniable that security and the increasing crime is making people feel more secure behind walls and bars.

The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia, in the second half of 2008, reported its findings in a survey that 89% of its respondents were concerned over public safety. It was also reported in the Ninth Malaysia Plan that public safety in Malaysia has deteriorated 21.5% between 1990 and 2004. The crime index rose 15.74% in 2006 from 171,604 cases in 2005 to 198,622 cases in 2006. Property crime made up 70% of the 2006 cases.

Landed G&G developments are not unique to Malaysia. There are such projects in the United States, Britain and Europe and Asia. G&G projects initially started out with condominiums, essentially known as strata-titled projects.

In Malaysia, concerns about security by home buyers, land issues and the opportunity to profit prompted the start of condominium living. All condominiums are strata developments, but the term strata is not limited to just condominiums today.

The desire to be on level ground has resulted in landed-strata development and this is where the landed G&G, and its variation, come in.

Seri Beringin, a project by Syarikat Perumahan Pegawai Kerajaan Sdn Bhd (SPPK), was never sold as such. Instead, it has sought the approval of the local authorities, in this case City Hall, to have a perimeter wall and even “donated” a guardhouse.

There are other projects in the country which come under this category. To enhance security, some of the residents have proactively grouped together to form a resident association to look into various security measures. Owners are allowed to put up their own barriers, like a higher wall as a form of deterrent – something John did to his Kota Damansara home.

For some landed G&G, particularly those in upmarket locations, high monthly rentals of RM10,000 and above has resulted in a large expatriate community. About 70% of Duta Nusantara (by SP Setia Bhd) in Seri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur are tenanted. Duta Nusantara, comprising mainly semi-detached and bungalow units, are fetching monthly rentals of between RM14,000 and RM18,000, while Duta Tropika, mainly semi-detached and triple-storey terraced, has lower rentals.

Seri Beringin, not a G&G project, may be able to fetch rentals of between RM8,000 and RM10,000. This project is new and given time, may fetch higher rentals.

In Damansara Heights, Idamansara residences by E&O group are being rented for between RM15,000 and RM18,000, agents say.

Says an agent: “Because the rental is so good, there are many owners who prefer to let out the place instead of using it themselves, which accounts for the high-tenancy ratio. At the same time, there is demand, especially when the project has a good proportion of foreigners as foreigners tend to attract other foreigners. They also tend to put a premium on security.”

Whether G&G projects will fetch a premium depends pretty much on location and the set-up. Those located here and with good access, and are managed well, will have a better premium.

Whether it promotes community living depends on certain factors including the overall land size of the entire project, the availability of public areas like parks and pools where residents can meet and chat. Smaller projects with a short strip of road with houses facing each other may not be ideal.

After all, buyers who opt for this lifestyle also desire communal living, and this means a place to congregate other than by the roadside.

By The Star

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