A TALE OF TWO HOUSES

Home with skeletal remains, bungalow in Yang Yin case: How much would you pay for these 2 storied houses?

Two of Singapore's most storied houses are now on the auction block. One is a small single-storey terraced house off Upper Thomson Road where two sets of skeletal remains were found, the other is a bungalow on a sprawling piece of land off Yio Chu Kang Road that was almost swindled from a rich widow. Senior correspondentToh Yong Chuantells the stories behind these two houses.

A city obsessed with property faces a tricky question about valuation.

How much will Singaporeans pay for an abandoned house that is decently located, where the skeletal remains of two people were found?

The answer may be revealed this week.

The Sembawang Hills Estate house, where the skeletal remains were found almost 10 years apart, will be put up for sale by auction by the Government on Tuesday.

The Public Trustee's Office took ownership of the house at 17, Jalan Batai in 2015 after it had remained in a dilapidated state for more than a decade.

It has appointed real estate company Knight Frank to auction the house.

The house belonged to two 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, when National Environment Agency officers entered the house for an inspection after neighbours complained of mosquito breeding.

The officers found a human skeleton in a toilet. But the house hid another secret that was not revealed for almost another decade.

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

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


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

The state coroners in both cases ruled out foul play, but could not determine the causes of death.

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 a few years earlier and was likely to be 60 to 70 years of age.

A spokesman for the Public Trustee's Office said on Friday 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 some relatives had laid claim to the property, but were rebuffed.

"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 Sunday Times visited the house last week and found the rusted gates locked. Weeds were growing from cracks in 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 Malay term for superstitious.

The auction's success 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."

It added that Knight Frank had valued the property at $1.85 million.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said: "The market value of the 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 properties with grim histories in Hong Kong had fetched about 15 per cent less than they would otherwise have.

"However, in Singapore, we are probably less averse to homes and locations with such history.

"In this particular case, the deaths in the house could be natural deaths rather than (due to) more macabre reasons such as murder or suicide, which we associate with suffering and pain," he said.

"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 large cemetery."

He noted that the auction will attract small developers who could tear down the old house and build a new one for sale or rent.

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 the sad history of the old house," said Mr Oke.


Sale will close sad chapter of widow's life, says niece


Madam Chung Khin Chun has been living with her niece Hedy Mok at the latter's semi-detached house off Upper East Coast Road since 2014. The elderly woman's property (above) in Gerald Crescent, off Yio Chu Kang Road, was put up for sale by tender at a minimum price of $35 million. PHOTO: ST FILE

The sale of the bungalow that was almost swindled from a wealthy widow by a former tour guide from China will close a sad chapter of her life, said the woman's niece.

The 31,882 sq ft property at 2F, Gerald Crescent, off Yio Chu Kang Road, belongs to retired physiotherapist Chung Khin Chun, 91.

On Thursday, estate agency Savills Singapore put up the property for sale by tender, or closed auction, at a minimum price of $35 million.

The land, about the size of half a football field, has a 999-year lease that started in 1879.

"The bulk of the sale (proceeds) will go to charity," Madam Chung's niece Hedy Mok, 64, told The Sunday Times yesterday. "With the sale, we want to put what happened behind us," she added.

The property nearly slipped out of Madam Chung's hands when former tour guide Yang Yin, 43, tried to swindle her of it.

She met Yang in 2008 on a trip to China, when he was her tour guide.

 

A year later, Yang moved into her bungalow and brought his family here. He coaxed the widow to grant him Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to manage her financial affairs. He also got her to make a will where he stood to inherit everything, including the house.

Yang's ruse was exposed by Madam Mok in 2014.

She spirited her aunt away from the house when Yang was overseas.

Madam Mok also started a series of legal actions, including evicting Yang from the bungalow and revoking the LPA and the will.

The will has since been thrown out by the courts.

Under Madam Chung's new will, her sister Doris - who is Madam Mok's mother - and family friend Chang Phie Chin will receive $250,000 each, and the rest of her estate will go to charity. They have not decided which charities will be the beneficiaries.


Madam Chung Khin Chun has been living with her niece Hedy Mok at the latter's semi-detached house off Upper East Coast Road since 2014. The elderly woman's property in Gerald Crescent, off Yio Chu Kang Road, was put up for sale by tender at a minimum price of $35 million. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Madam Chung, whose husband, Dr Chou Sip King, died in 2007, is childless and was diagnosed with dementia in 2014.

Madam Mok has been appointed her aunt's deputy, or guardian.

Yang pleaded guilty in August 2016 to misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung and to 120 other charges, including falsifying receipts for a sham company to live here and obtain permanent residency.

He was sentenced to a total of 11 years and two months in jail.

Madam Mok said she had put the house up for sale because it was too expensive to upkeep.

"Only a maid and two dogs live there now," she said.

Madam Chung has been living with Madam Mok at her semi-detached house off Upper East Coast Road since 2014.

Her house in Gerald Crescent used to be bigger, at about 71,000 sq ft, which the couple bought for $40,000 in 1961.

In 2004, the couple sold their 39,000 sq ft garden for $7.6 million to a developer, who built 25 terraced houses in a gated community.

Savills Singapore's senior director for investment sales Suzie Mok said the latest tender is rare because land of such a size is seldom made available for sale.

The land parcel can be broken up to build 11 landed houses, comprising two detached houses, a pair of semi-detached houses and seven terraced houses.

On the price tag, Ms Mok said it is about the price of a good-class bungalow (GCB), the most prestigious segment of landed property in Singapore.

But the property has an advantage over GCBs in that it can be subdivided into smaller plots for sale in the future, she added.

The tender for the sale closes on March 22. Ms Mok said there have been about 10 inquiries so far.

Madam Chung told The Sunday Times yesterday that given what had happened, she is indifferent to the sale of the house that was her home from 1961 to 2014.

"I feel nothing now," she said. "So many things have happened. If we have to sell (the house), so be it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Home where skeletal remains found: How much would you pay? '. Print Edition | Subscribe