Sentosa Cove is built on big aspirations and big business. When it was an idea on the drawing board, the goal was to “emulate the romance and magic of renowned idyllic waterfront resorts in the French Riviera, Caribbean and the Mediterranean.” Since its first land parcels went on sale in 2003, nearly 10 years ago, that dream is on its way to being realized.
On the Cove’s sprawling 117 hectare plot—the size of about 45 football fields—lie nine lavish condominiums, some up and running and some being built, which when fully completed in 2014 will house 2,160 units. And then there are almost 400 houses: 20 terraces, 20 ‘detached houses’ (like bungalows but on smaller plots) and the famous breathtaking bungalows, of which there are 344. All around the Cove are bright blue swimming pools, both private and communal, smart cars, wide spotless pavements, beautiful architecture and leisure facilities that make coming home here a getaway.
Being right by the sea is an obvious draw, and the Cove’s One°15 Marina already sees a bevy of gleaming yachts bobbing in its 270 berths, including 13 that take mega yachts, flanked by the development’s ocean-facing condo blocks and houses. In addition, says a spokesperson for Sentosa Cove Resort Management, “more than 50 households own yachts which are berthed in their backyard.” The water is cleaner here, marine life more manifest, and, it can feel, even the sun shines more.
Canals wind through the Cove, and their well-maintained waters have given rise to populations of common tropical fish like perchlets, silver moonfish and rabbitfish. Beautifully landscaped grounds, manicured lawns and lush jungle foliage crown the luxury resort experience.
This is the dream.
The reality is of course somewhat different. While it’s certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, living on Sentosa Cove is not perfect. Some of its strengths have also ended up being some of its weaknesses for instance, like how being a closed community means both space and privacy but also a greater distance from the city. And certain conditions and circumstances have arisen that irk some residents or pose challenges to the future of the development. You might not detect these unless you’ve lived there and experienced them yourself or know someone who has. They are the invisible currents that run through any community, not evident and hard to show, but that you should definitely know about if you are thinking of moving in.
Two of the Cove’s residents—Emmanual Daniel, 49, founder of finance industry intelligence provider The Asian Banker; and Andrew da Roza, 52, a retired lawyer and Chairman of the Sentosa Cove Residents and Owners Association—share their interesting insights on living in the Cove. Daniel has been a resident there since January 2008 and lives in a sea-facing apartment; da Roza has lived in a house on Coral Island since October 2007.
Novelty Value and Real Value
There’s nothing quite like Sentosa Cove in Singapore at the moment and top quality marina residential developments are still rare in the region. So it was no surprise that when Cove properties were released for sale, they—after an initial calm while buyers dipped their toes into the market—soon started fetching sky-high prices.
But this value has tapered off and, in Daniel’s opinion, will face stiffer competition in time to come. He says, “It is possible to replicate enclaves like this in other parts of Singapore, such as in the new waterfront in Marina Bay area or in Sembawang. Once the novelty wears off Sentosa Cove, I think prices will level to that of all other properties in Singapore, notwithstanding the foreign ownership element. Also, the pressure to redevelop the place will certainly come up in 10 years’ time to realize new value as the current one gets exhausted. Someone will think of something.”
In fact, recent transactions at the Cove show that its property prices are already comparable to those in district 9 and 10. Is this good or bad? In da Roza’s eyes, this means the Cove becomes even more attractive because for that same price range, you don’t have to contend with “traffic, crowds of people, noise, dust and views that just look into other buildings.” You could easily make the reverse argument though—that for equal price you could be closer to the vibrant city centre.
Exclusivity vs. Convenience
Because Sentosa Cove has its own preferential swatch of land far from the madding crowd, it takes a good 10 minutes getting to and from it and the mainland. The way in also involves passing through two car entrances: one at the entrance to Sentosa and another at the entrance to the Cove colony. And there’s only one road into Sentosa, the Sentosa Gateway bridge.
So while this gives you a private corner of Singapore to call your own, it spells bottleneck traffic on weekends and holidays and a bit of a drive for you to go anywhere, even to the closest supermarket at Vivocity. “I think many residents wished Vivocity was nearer or that there was a comprehensive set of stores nearby,” says Daniel.
“There really are no traffic jams on the bridge or the road to the Cove though,” adds da Roza, “with the exception of the odd day, such as when special events like the Flower Show or the Barclays Open are on. Some Saturday evenings it can be crowded on the bridge for an hour or so as people leave Universal Studios and arrive at Vivocity, and crossing may take 15 minutes or so.”
“But,” he continues, “a new tunnel is being built from the bridge to the ECP which will eliminate the Saturday rush hour.”
The principle of the entrance fee
You have to pay more than the price of your property for the privilege of living on Sentosa. Or more accurately, your guests have to. Sentosa Development Corporation imposes the island entrance fee to all guests of Sentosa Cove, a point that has rubbed many residents up the wrong way.
“The SDC can pretty much do what it wants,” asserts Daniel. “They charge the same entrance fee at the main Sentosa gate to my family and friends visiting me, and then tries to sell them annual packages. So, now we are part of their tourist attraction income.”
“When this place was conceptualized, it was thought of as strictly a foreign investment asset rather than as a property that ordinary Singaporeans and residents would buy and sell to each other,” Daniel continues. “So the place is not governed under normal land laws, but under the charter of the SDC, which technically gives them the right to do whatever they please. The residents want it differently.”
Who’s in charge?
And the residents have gotten together to make themselves heard, as well as to look after their own needs as a community. In July 2011, the Sentosa Cove Residents and Owners Association was registered to “interface between the Sentosa Cove Resort Management Company (wholly owned by SDC) and the residents and non-resident owners,” negotiate with third party vendors to obtain value for money and create a “warm and close community at Sentosa Cove.”
Da Roza, as chairman of the Association has attended several meetings with the General Manager of SCRM, Catherine Chew and her predecessor, Jason Yeo, and the CEO of SDC, Michael Barclay, and hopes to be able to meet with the SDC Board of Directors and the Sentosa Cove Council (an informal body that oversees the SCRM) on a regular and informal basis to discuss residents’ issues.
“Some of the issues residents have raised may be difficult to resolve immediately,” da Roza explains, “but we are confident that with goodwill, constructive and honest discussion and imaginative thinking, we will meet the needs of residents and the SDC. We hope that, through this process, we will create a strong partnership with the SDC and the SCRM, one based on transparency, integrity and the participation of the residents in discussion and decisions that affect their property values, the maintenance fees they pay in the future, and the quality and type of services they receive from the SCRM.”
Clearly many of the Cove’s residents feel they need to have more say in how their properties and community are managed. When contacted, SCRM said, politely, “Through effective place management strategies, we have seen enhanced asset values and will strive to ensure that Sentosa Cove continues to be an attractive place for our residents to call their home. We will continually enhance Sentosa Cove's premium image, create a vibrant community life and establish ourselves as a world-class, truly waterfront residential community for many years to come.”
While that plays itself out behind the scenes, there’s no shortage of social events organized by the SC-ROA for residents to attend. “In the last two weeks of February, we held a coffee morning that was attended by about 40 ladies and a Nerf Gun War for children between 7 and 14 years old,” says da Roza. “And on 5 March, we had a wine tasting with over 65 people signed up. Over the next few months, we will have more coffee mornings and wine tastings, a sand castle competition at Tanjong Beach, our Annual General Meeting, an Annual Residents Dinner and regular members drinks.”
A transient community
But how far do all these fun and games go to bond a community made up largely of non-owners and medium-stayers? “The community has not settled in yet,” observes Daniel, who has lived there for three years. “And there is a large migrant community here. There are individuals I know from work who live here, so I have a small sense of familiarity. But nothing like you would get in a mature estate in Singapore.” It’s true—when you visit Sentosa Cove you do get the feeling that it is very much a community in-the-making rather than rooted, with shell residences for the good life rather than long-term family homes.
Da Roza is confident that this will change. “We now have over 200 members in the residents’ association and, at the current joining rate, expect 300 members by the end of 2012,” he states. The Arrival Plaza is also slated to be converted into a community facility, and some time this year, Cove users have Quayside Isle—an integrated development that will feature a five-star marina hotel with al fresco restaurants, gourmet cafes, specialty shops and boutiques—to look forward to.
“Sentosa Cove will grow from strength to strength,” Da Roza says. “Working in partnership with the SDC and SCRM, we can make it happen.”
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This article was first published in Tatler Homes