Abandoned house in Upper Thomson where skeletal remains of two sisters were found going up for state auction

One of Singapore's most storied houses at Sembawang Hills Estate in Upper Thomson where skeletal remains of two sisters were found about 10 years apart will be put up for sale by auction by the Government on Feb 27, 2018.
One of Singapore's most storied houses at Sembawang Hills Estate where two skeletal remains were found about 10 years apart will be put up for sale by auction by the government next Tuesday.
One of Singapore's most storied houses at Sembawang Hills Estate where two skeletal remains were found about 10 years apart will be put up for sale by auction by the government next Tuesday.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - How much will property-crazed Singaporeans pay for an abandoned house where skeletal remains were found?

The answer may be revealed next week.

One of Singapore's most storied houses at Sembawang Hills Estate where two skeletal remains were found about 10 years apart will be put up for sale by auction by the Government next Tuesday.

The Public Trustee's Office took ownership of the house at 17, Jalan Batai in 2015 after it remained in a dilapidated state for more than a decade. The Public Trustee's Office has appointed real estate company Knight Frank to auction the house next Tuesday.

The house belonged to a pair of reclusive sisters, Madam Pearl Tan Leen Hee, a former civil servant, and Madam Ruby Tan. They would have been 81 and 68 respectively in 2006.

In 2006, National Environment Agency officers entered the house for a mosquito check after neighbours complained of mosquito breeding. The workers found a human skeleton in a toilet.

In September 2015, a contractor hired by the Building and Construction Authority entered the house to erect a temporary roof after parts of the roof collapsed. A worker clearing rubble from a bedroom found another set of bones - a human skull and a thigh bone.

 

Neither set of skeletal remains could be identified as DNA could not be obtained from the bone samples.

The state coroners in both cases ruled out foul play, but declared an open verdict on the causes of death as they could not be determined.

But State Coroner Marvin Bay, who held the inquiry on the second set of remains, said in 2016 that the remains conformed more closely to Madam Ruby Tan's chronological age. A pathologist had estimated that the second set of remains belonged to someone who died at least a few years ago and was likely to be 60 to 70 years of age.

A spokesman for the Public Trustee's Office said on Friday (Feb 23) that it took over the house in 2015 after the High Court declared both sisters to be presumed dead.

"Pearl was the elder sister and owner of the property. Both sisters were unmarried," said the spokesman. "As Ruby was younger, she is presumed to have died after Pearl, and, therefore, the sale proceeds from Pearl's estate will be inherited by Ruby's estate before being accrued to the state."

The spokesman said it received some claims made by relatives but threw them out.

 

"The claimants were unable to show evidence that they had stayed in any contact with the sisters, nor any evidence that they provided for the sisters or took care of the sisters before the sisters died," said the Public Trustee's Office, without naming the relatives.

The Straits Times visited the house this week, and found the rusted gates locked. Weeds were growing from cracks on the wall.

The house, which sits on 1,720 sq ft of land, or about the size of two four-room Housing Board flats, was missing a front door and windows.

Ms Tricia Tan, an estate agent from Knight Frank who is handling the auction, said there was some interest in bidding for the house.

"The location is not bad, but some people may be pantang,'' she said, using the Hokkien term for "superstitious".

Whether the auction is successful depends on whether the bids exceed the reserve price set by the Public Trustee's Office, she said.

The Public Trustee's Office declined to say what reserve price it has set, saying only: "The reserve price will be determined with reference to the valuation carried out by a qualified valuer."

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said: "The market value of land, without the house, is about $1.7 million to $1.8 million for landed homes in the location."

He noted that media reports have said that properties with grim histories in Hong Kong were sold for about 15 per cent cheaper.

"However, in Singapore, we are probably less averse to homes and locations with such history. In this particular case, there were possibly deaths in the house, but they could be natural deaths, rather than (due to) more macabre reasons such as murder or suicide, which we may associate with suffering and pain," he said.

He added: "Just recently, Singaporeans rushed like bees to honey for high-priced Build-to-Order HDB flats in Bidadari, which, up to about 15 years ago, was a well-known landmark, a large cemetery."

He noted that the auction will attract small developers who will tear down the old house and build a new one, before selling or renting it to someone who does not mind the grim past.

One of those thinking about making a bid at the auction is Mr Raymond Oke, a contractor in his 40s who lives next door. He rented the house next to 17, Jalan Batai about five years ago and never met the sisters.

He said it was not a big problem living next to the abandoned house, except for worries about mosquito breeding.

"Maybe after some time, when a new house is built, people will forget about the sad history of the old house," said Mr Oke.