"Troubles @Trivelis": Our Two Cents

By The Folks @PropTalk - May 14, 2015 No Comments

The wife and I typically do not comment on public housing matters - not that we are "atas" (snobbish) but more because we have little to none in terms of personal experiences when come to HDB/DBSS/BTO flats. However, an article that we came across in today's TODAY has stirred up some food for thoughts.

It was reported that over 500 flat-buyers in a recently completed DBSS (Design, Build and Sell Scheme) project - Trevelis in Clementi - are upset with various design and quality issues found in their flats. These include exposed sanitary pipes in the kitchen (which was not depicted in the project's showflats), living floor-tiles that are scratched, shattered shower glass panels and narrow common corridors that are prone to flooding.

The group of affected residents have accused the developer of being slow to respond to their emails and refusing the team's request to meet the managing director in person. The developer have also taken the position that since their designs and building works were cleared by the relevant authority (it was not stated who such "relevant authority" is but the wife and I assumed that it was HDB) and had met all minimum requirements, they are not obligated to entertain requests for redress.

When contacted by TODAY, a spokesperson of the developer said that they are in the process of resolving some of the issues that are not restricted by technical or regulatory controls, such as replacing three shower screens that had shattered because of impurities in the glass, and clearing drainage pipes to ease flooding in the corridors. However, they are unable to resolve the issue of the placement of sanitary pipes - the spokesperson had acknowledged that these were originally depicted in the showflats as being placed at the air-con ledges outside the flat. However, due to technical and regulatory constraints during construction, the pipes had to be placed in the service yard inside the unit instead.

And in response to TODAY's queries, HDB said that the flat-buyers' concerns have been referred to the developer to address. And discussions are currently ongoing between the developers and buyers.

The "Troubles @Trivelis" seems to suggest that the supposed higher design quality (over a regular HDB flat) that buyers are promised of their DBSS flats may not necessarily be a sure thing. This is despite the fact that such projects are tendered out to private developers to design/built and cost quite a premium over regular flats.

Three things came to our minds after reading the news article:

1.  If the sanitary pipes were depicted in the showflat mock-ups as being located outside of the flats but subsequently installed within the actual units, can this be construed as misrepresentation on the part of the developer? If it is indeed misrepresentation, should the developer be allowed to get away easy by hiding behind "technical and regulatory controls"? It is probably too late to make any ratification to the pipes now but surely the affected buyers are entitled to more compensation than simply an apology + offer of smaller front-load washing machines at discounted prices?  

2. Speaking of technical and regulatory controls, the developer claimed that they were informed of such constraints (which ultimately dictated where they can install the sanitary pipes) only during construction. This is rather incredulous as the developer concerned is supposedly quite established in the market and should be more than experienced when comes to what can/cannot be done. If this is not the case, it then raises a bigger question on the qualifying process of developers that HDB allow to bid for their projects.

3.  And speaking of HDB, do our public housing authority not have an obligation to intervene and resolve the buyers' concerns with the developer, rather than just "refer and request" and letting the buyers deal with the developer by themselves? If we understand the relationship correctly, private developers are acting as contractors to HDB in DBSS projects , i.e. instead of building the flats themselves, HDB allow private developers to tender and build the DBSS projects on their behalf. So the response from HDB did come across as merely "passing the buck".
* Correction (May 16): We read in the ST today that HDB only oversees DBSS projects, which are designed, built and sold by private developers who are responsible for any defects. And the developer concerned had beaten 10 other bidders for the Trivelis site by offering $271psf ppr. So maybe HDB is not to be faulted even if they are perceived as "passing the buck".

Finally, our take-away from the whole "Troubles @Trivelis" saga: it is probably wiser for buyers to just go with the regular HDB flats - you pay a lower price than BTO/DBSS and since the unit comes "bare", i.e. without the promised fancy furnishing that may turn out to be not that fancy after all, you can probably better manage your expectations. And once you get the keys to your flat, you can engage your own (hopefully reliable and trustworthy) designer/contractor to do up your home in the exact manner that you want it to be!

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