A Brief History Of Istana Woodneuk, the Former Palace That Inspired ‘Crazy Rich Asians’
A recent report by Credit Suisse Group predicted that by the year 2025, Singapore may have 437,000 millionaires. The bank’s Global Wealth Report for the year 2021 said that this would be a 60 per cent spike from the numbers recorded in 2020.
That doesn’t seem improbable considering the number of ultra-high-net-worth (UNHW) newly-minted citizens, who have clamoured to its shores—thanks to its strategic location in Southeast Asia and stable business-friendly environment. The sector that has most benefited from this has been its luxury real estate sector, which according to a recent report released by Singapore real estate company OrangeTee & Tie has seen some of the highest number of sales in the city-state during the last decade.
As if on cue, in 2018, the movie Crazy Rich Asians spotlighted the affluence levels in the island state. Although the film was largely shot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, author Kevin Kwan has admitted to have been inspired by long-abandoned Istana Woodneuk for the ancestral house of the protagonist’s grandmother, the matriarch of the Young family.
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Bordered by Holland Road and Tyersall Avenue, and near Botanic Gardens in Singapore, the land is set in Tyersall Park and has belonged to the Johor state since 1862. Once a palace, it suffered irreparable loss due to a fire in 2006 and has remained abandoned since. The Singapore government bought parts of it in 1990, as an extension of the Botanic Gardens, and then in 2009, bought a further 98,000sqm.
As a recent news report by Bloomberg disclosed, there is speculation that the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim is in talks with authorities to redevelop the area into a cluster of ultra-luxe homes. We are talking about a plot that is over 52 acres in a country that is 180,000 acres in total, in the Core Central Region (CCR) of Singapore.
“Such a huge land parcel to be situated in one of the most coveted locales in Singapore is indeed a rarity. If they are able to convert the space successfully for residential usage, then the new development could be on par with other super-luxury developments in the area,” says Christine Sun, senior vice president of Research & Analytics at OrangeTee & Tie.
Grab CEO Anthony Tan's family purchased a GCB in Bin Tong Park in mid-July (Image: Getty)
Secretlab co-founder Ian Ang purchased a GCB on Olive Road in earlier this year (Photography: Darren Gabriel Low)
Located in District 10, the Queen Astrid Park area where TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi bought his property is one of the most affluent residential districts (Image: Google Maps)
As per data revealed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the CCR recorded a 25 per cent increase quarter on quarter in private home sales this year. The second quarter of the year saw a sale of 1,930 units, which the URA says is the strongest quarter since Q4 2010 when 2,014 units were transacted.
There has been a corresponding growth in demand for landed properties as well, says Clive Chng, associate director of Redbrick Mortgage Advisory. This can be attributed to various factors including the “growing demand for more spacious homes among locals and the fact that they are being snapped up by UNHW individuals, such as the CEOs of Grab, TikTok and Secret Lab”, he adds.
So there is no question on the amount of interest this speculated $4.7 billion development off Holland Road area will capture. But Sun is sceptical as to how the government will redesignate the area for redevelopment and if there will be special provisions given.
Alan Cheong, head of research at Savills Singapore agrees that it is very unlikely the land will be developed, being that it is zoned as the very basal end of the land use spectrum. If permissions were given for a luxury residential development, “hefty development charges would cream off the gains to the land owner”.
As for the buyer profiles, the returns may not be that much of a decisive factor, feels Chng. “It is sometimes difficult to tell whether the investment made today in the prime districts will be realised as gains in the future because the considerations for this segment of buyer profiles are quite different,” he explains.
Cheong is also concerned that such a redevelopment will bring about a loss of invaluable forest region to Singapore, but is also keenly aware of the advantages it can bring about to the area. “On the positive end of the spectrum, if it were ever allowed redevelopment to either residential or mixed commercial-residential real estate, it would definitely kick up a new hive of activity in the Holland Road area and generate a new value uplift that spreads out from the area.”
But being that it is part of an already exclusive area in Singapore, Sun feels that “there should be minimal impact on the entire property market”.