Commonwealth Towers Review



  • Christopher Chitty
  • 19 February 2016

Commonwealth Towers is developed by a consortium comprising of City Developments Limited, Hong Leong Holdings Limited and Hong Realty.

Project Name: Commonwealth Towers

Address: 230, 232 Commonwealth Avenue

Type: Condominium

Site area: approx. 130,100 sqft

Tenure: 99-year leasehold from May 2013

District: 03

Configuration: 845 units over two 43-storey towers

Unit types: 341, 1-bedroom (441 – 484 sqft)

271, 2-bedrooms (689 – 797 sqft)

195, 3-bedrooms (904 – 1,076 sqft)

38, 4-bedrooms (1,302 sqft)

Parking lots: Expected TOP: Dec 2017

Project Details

Though it has a large supply of 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units, Commonwealth Towers offers some of the smallest 1-bedroom units, even more so than Alex Residences in neighbouring Redhill.

At 441 and 484 sqft, the 1-bedroom unit provides just enough living space for a couple. A single would certainly have more room to themselves but not much more.

The best way to describe the bedroom is functional, in that it works as a room you would put a bed to sleep in and that’s it. A single bed would give you a little bit more space to maybe squeeze in a small work table for a laptop.

Source: Commonwealth Towers e-brochure (1-bedroom layout)

Source: Commonwealth Towers e-brochure (1-bedroom layout)

2-bedroom units are slightly better, though the large balcony and bigger living room cannibalise space that could have been allocated to the two bedrooms. Large balconies in small units seem to have taken over bay windows and planters, where they’re essentially taking up valuable space.

The second bedroom (not the master), works best with a super single. You can put in a queen size bed, but that would leave little room for anything else. Furthermore, the smaller windows limits the amount of light that can come through, which has the added effect of making a small room look even smaller.

This is different for the master bedroom, which has large casement windows that allow the residents to open by pushing them upwards. With more natural light, the master bedroom appears slightly bigger in comparison to the second bedroom. Both bathrooms, master and common are also quite big.

Source: Commonwealth Towers e-brochure (3-bedroom impression)

Source: Commonwealth Towers e-brochure (3-bedroom impression)

The units actually do look nice, which makes the small bedrooms feel harder to accept. The living room and dining room is quite spacious and the bathrooms also look like something out of a classy hotel.

The entire unit is covered in quality finishing with marble flooring for the living and dining areas and timber for the bedrooms, though this is more of an expectation now.

Source: Commonwealth Towers e-brochure (3-bedroom impression)

Source: Commonwealth Towers e-brochure (3-bedroom impression)

The 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units fare much better, by virtue of their bigger sizes.

As a high-density development, Queenstown MRT station will see a larger crowd. Regardless of this, Commonwealth Towers is still a good buy as the proximity to the MRT will help increase its rental potential.

The bigger units are more suited for family living, though with little amenities in the area currently, interested buyers should consider if the distance of the MRT station is enough to justify prices that appear on the high side.

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Location

Etymology: Named after Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her coronation in 1952, Queenstown is one the oldest and earliest housing estates in Singapore, preceding even Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio.

Originally developed by HDB’s predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), in the 1950s, it was eventually further developed by HDB in the ‘60s.

As the first satellite town in Singapore, Queenstown was home to many iconic buildings like the Queensway Cinema and Bowling Centre and the Queenstown Driving Test Centre.

The former has been demolished and the latter still remains, though abandoned with the land slated to be used for residential purposes.

Queenstown wears its age on its sleeve and despite being surrounded by heavy traffic and automobile factories, its atmosphere resonates its vintage status.

The way of Queens

When Prince William and Princess Kate visited in 2012, it wasn’t to new and modern towns in Singapore but to Queenstown, in the Commonwealth district, so named after Prince William’s mother.

Whether this is of any significance to the majority of the populace is up for debate, but the fact that this ailing district was chosen out of the many other modern ones, hints at some potential plan the government may have for the future of Queenstown.

Commonwealth Towers from Queenstown MRT station overhead bridge

Commonwealth Towers from Queenstown MRT station overhead bridge

And perhaps to begin this gentrification, is Commonwealth Towers, a two block, high density condominium. It is being built just across from Queenstown MRT station.

Commonwealth Towers is next to the old Queenstown Driving Test Centre, an antiquated and plain-looking building bristling with history but faced with an uncertain future.

Commonwealth Avenue runs between Commonwealth Towers and Queenstown MRT station. It is a narrow one-way road that goes all the way to JEM in Jurong and beyond.

Prone to heavy traffic, the area also counts the constant stream of trains going to and fro as part of the ambient sounds. The sounds might be too much for some people, though it is a small price to pay for a lot of travelling convenience.

Queenstown MRT station and Commonwealth Avenue

Queenstown MRT station and Commonwealth Avenue

It is after all, a two minute walk from Queenstown MRT station where there are seven MRT interchanges along the same East-West Line.

And since Queenstown is between those interchanges, it tends to be a bit less crowded (peak period crowds none withstanding) than if you had hopped on the train at Tiong Bahru. But peak-hour crowds are still going to be bad.

The closest of these interchanges is Buona Vista. MediaCorp will take up residence in the Mediapolis there.

Jurong East Interchange is four stops up while Outram Park, Raffles Place, City Hall, Bugis and Paya Lebar are, three, five, six, seven and 11 stops down respectively.

Queenstown Station bus stop in front of Commonwealth Towers

Queenstown Station bus stop in front of Commonwealth Towers

The bus stop, which is along Commonwealth Avenue in front of the condominium have six buses that service it.

51 goes to Hougang Central Interchange, 111 goes to Ghim Moh Terrace, 145 goes to Toa Payoh Interchange, 186 and 970 goes to Shenton Way and 195 heads to Pan Pacific Hotel.

All these buses with the exception of 195 stop at Dawson Place, the only mall in Queenstown. From the Dawson Place bus stop, it’s about a five minute walk to Queenstown Secondary School past the large canal.

Queenstown Secondary School after Dawson Place

Queenstown Secondary School after Dawson Place

This is the most convenient school to get to from Commonwealth Towers. Queenstown Primary School is arguably closer, along Margaret Drive and just behind the Queenstown Good Shepherd kindergarten along Dundee Road, next to the Church of the Good Shepard. It is roughly a ten minute walk from the condominium, maybe lesser from the rear exit.

The MDIS UniCampus is also walkable, albeit from the opposite side along Stirling Road and toward the old Venus & Golden City Theatre.

The walk takes about 15 minutes but MDIS does provide shuttle bus service from Queenstown MRT station for its students.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Google Maps

Mei Ling Market and Food Centre located along Mei Ling Road is the closest wet market and hawker centre.

It is further away from MDIS, so the long walk might not actually be worth it, even for cheaper produce and tastier local food.

Dawson Place mall

Dawson Place mall

Dawson Place, though limited with its offerings, is closer and more convenient to get to.

Despite sounding like a 90s TV drama, it is the lifeline of the residents in the district. It has an NTUC Fairprice, several eateries, like Subway and Koufu, 7-11, electronic stores, thrift shops, salons, clinics, dentistry and a childcare centre.

For a heartland mall, it’s well-stocked.

Dawson Place exterior

Dawson Place exterior

There are two ATMs – POSB and OCBC – along the perimeter of Dawson Place, a left turn from the NTUC exit within the supermarket.

The ATM at the MRT station is UOB so most banks are covered though the aforementioned two are further away.

Inside Dawson Place Mall

Inside Dawson Place Mall

Most essentials are located in this two-storey building, three bus stops from Commonwealth Towers or a ten minute walk through Strathmore Avenue.

Should you choose to take a stroll, the quickest way would be to turn into Strathmore Avenue at Forfar Heights and follow the path.

Forfar Heights

Forfar Heights

This pathway is about 1/3 sheltered until just before Dawson Site E (a new HDB estate). At the traffic junction at Dawson Site E, Dawson Place is on the right and across the road.

It is possible to get to Dawson Place by walking past Strathmore Avenue and Forfar Heights along Commonwealth Avenue and Alexandra Road, but despite it being a slightly more linear path, it is both unsheltered and noticeably longer.

Forfar Heights along Strathmore Avenue

Forfar Heights along Strathmore Avenue

The interior walk is shorter, though if you’re partial to walking, there are buses that gets you there in about five minutes, not including waiting time.

Other than the mall however, amenities in the surrounding area is sparse. A lot of the old iconic buildings have been torn down and the land appropriated by the government. Unless you count the 7-11 and Mister Bean at the MRT station, Dawson Place (or Mei Ling food centre if you don’t mind walking) is the closest to get food.

There are no cinemas in the immediate area, as both Queenstown Cinema and Venus & Golden City Theatres (near Margaret Road, close to MDIS) have been demolished.

Those iconic structures gave Queenstown its identity and their absence has diminished some of the historical relevance Queenstown once had.

Bus stop in front of Dawson Place

Bus stop in front of Dawson Place

The upcoming developments do make Queenstown look like a work in progress, with prices set for what it may be worth in the future, rather than now.

As it is now, Commonwealth Towers is in an area lacking in amenities but full of automobile factories, like SM Motors Centre and Cycle and Carriage. It does however, make up for the difference by being well-connected with numerous buses and of course the convenience of the MRT station being literally across the road.

Anchorpoint mall, Alexandra Central Mall, IKEA and Queensway Shopping Centre are other, more modern shopping malls that online brochures will point toward being close by but this is stretching the reality.

As they’re more than 1km away from Commonwealth Towers, they’re worth mentioning by virtue of being in Commonwealth/Queenstown but they’re well out of comfortable walking distance.

Dundee Road future development

Dundee Road future development

Future residents with hope that the available plots of land along Commonwealth Avenue will be used for retail may have to hold out that hope much longer.

Already, the land along Dundee Road just across from Forfar Heights and after Commonwealth Towers is reserved by URA for another condominium.

Residents of Commonwealth Towers and the upcoming condo will still have to walk about 10 minutes to do grocery shopping or grab a bite to eat.

Plus, it also means that Commonwealth Avenue is about to get even more crowded.

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Analysis

About 165 units out of the 372 transacted so far, are 1-bedroom units.

Though some are expected to live here, more than likely due to the closeness to the MRT station, many of the units were bought for investment. Historically, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units are snapped up quickly for just this purpose and Commonwealth Towers is no different.

612 out of a total of 845 units are 1 & 2-bedrooms, and 353 out of 373 transacted were 1 & 2-bedroom units at the time of this writing.

Transaction data Commonwealth Towers

The last unit to be transacted at the time of writing (according to URA data) is a 904 sqft 3-bedroom unit in the first week of December. It was transacted at $1.4m at a psf of $1,578. November was also a strong month, with six transacted in total and three occurring in one day.

Typically, end of year is slow for sales, but Commonwealth Towers transactions have been steady with at least, one on average per month.

There is clear interest here despite the lack of amenities. The MRT station is certainly the condominium’s strongest and most unique selling point as is the large quantity of small units available.

4-bedroom units have yet to be sold at the time of writing, which, given its higher quantum is expected. Already, a 1,033 sqft 3-bedroom unit on the 38th floor was transacted at $1,957 psf at a price of $2m.

4-bedroom units will definitely be priced higher.

Rental

As the first condominium in this area, Commonwealth Towers has little by way of comparison. Its closest ‘competitor’ would be Queens, a 2002 condominium along Stirling Road across from Forfar Heights.

However, due to the huge unit size differences between the two – smallest unit in Queens is 914 sqft – it wouldn’t be a fair comparison.

Furthermore, Queens is much closer to amenities than Commonwealth Towers is, though it is also further from the MRT station. However, Queens is much closer to the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), as it is a straight road down from Alexandra Road.

If comparisons were to be made, Commonwealth Towers would find it difficult to compete as its 2-bedroom apartments (689 to 797 sqft) transact at a median $1,584 psf while Queens, at a much bigger 915 sqft for 2-bedroom units transact at a median of $752 psf.

According to URA, median rental yield for Queenstown is a healthy 3.5%.

Based on this and using a median transacted price of $776,300 of the 1-bedrooms that have been sold so far, monthly rent on average excluding maintenance fees and other additions like unit level and furnishing is roughly $2,200.

It is possible that 1-bedroom units on the high floors can fetch upwards of $3,000.

Queens rental transaction list 2-bedroom units at a monthly average of $4,000 and though Commonwealth Towers is smaller, the monthly rental will be positively affected by its proximity to the MRT station.

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Summary

With so many other condominiums popping up, Commonwealth Towers faces an uphill battle. The closeness to the MRT station however, is what gives Commonwealth Towers a strong advantage.

Amenities are a distance away but most of all, the small units are priced slightly above what is proportionate for their size due to the value of the district. When comparing to Queens it is still clear that prices have gone up while unit sizes have decreased dramatically. The worrying trend nowadays is to pay disproportionately more for less and is an issue that plagues every development, whether public or private.

3 & 4-bedroom units are certainly within that acceptable range but the smaller units could do with some price correction to make them more attractive. However, rental yield is still high and investors stand to recuperate and make money in the long run.

While its location is good and some of its layout planning works well (i.e. living/dining room and bathrooms), the smaller bedrooms and possible overcrowding issues may turn some people off. It is important to remember then, that overcrowding is something you will face no matter where you go in Singapore, unless it’s in an exclusive neighborhood with landed houses.

But future gentrification may deliver much needed color to the district. For now, the district has the essentials and is well-connected; arguably two of the most important things a development should have. Other amenities like shopping and entertainment are a luxury, instead of a necessity. These things aren’t that far off, especially with the convenience of the MRT station being across the road, travelling there is easy enough.

In the end, it all boils down to preference. Judging from the sales so far, people are interested and willing to pay up to $2m for a unit in Commonwealth Towers. There is absolutely potential here and with potential, comes the hope that infrastructure improvements will be made intermittently over the years.

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Eric Wong

Christopher Chitty

"I read, I write, I lift. I am content"