Singapore’s Sentosa Cove rallies for a revival

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Sentosa Island, Singapore’s waterfront playground where homeowners park their yachts right outside, turns 50 this year. Formerly known as Pulau Belakang Maticthe nearly two-square-mile island is located on the south side of mainland Singapore – minutes away via cable car, car, public transport, bicycle, moving walkway or a garden-themed boardwalk.

The Singapore government has infused Sentosa (“peace and tranquility”) with more than $1 billion in development since it unveiled a master plan in 1972. Now the lush island is awash with diversions – from marinas, TNZT beaches, golf courses and spas to Resorts World Singapore with its casino, water park, Universal Studios Singapore and SEA (Southeast Asia) Aquarium, one of the world’s largest.

Some call Sentosa the ‘Monte Carlo of Asia’.

Thirty years ago — given Singapore’s sparseness — it made sense to reclaim land on the island’s eastern edge and attack five more islands. Islands within an island? Welcome to Sentosa Cove, Sentosa Island’s palm-like enclave of bungalows, villas and apartments first conceptualized in 1992.

The residential marina community of approximately 2,100 homes (approximately 16% are landholdings, the remainder are apartments) is now fully developed; the first residence was built in 2006. About 6,000 people call the nearly 300-acre gated community rumah (“home” in Malay, one of the four commonly used languages ​​in Singapore, including Mandarin, Tamil and English).

Sentosa Cove is the only place in Singapore, loved for its political stability, high GDP and low unemployment, where non-permanent residents can buy land (with a 99-year lease).

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Bentleys, Porsches, Jaguars – you’ll see them driving along Ocean Drive, one of the Cove’s main arteries, lined with condominiums and tropical homes along Singapore Strait. Bicycles also predominate, but don’t bother locking them. Sentosa Island and its residential area have the same spotless-super-safe status as mainland Singapore.

The Cove appears to be making a comeback after a pre-pandemic downturn. Revenue for 2021 was $610 million, up 72% from 2020, but still below the Cove’s peak performance of 2010-2012, when a top-end oceanfront bungalow cost $3,214 per square foot. Currently, renovated bungalows are hovering just above $2,000 per square foot.

Reinforcing the revival is the Greater Southern Waterfront, the redevelopment of 30 km from the mainland and coastline of Sentosa Island. Homes, offices, nature parks, green belts and beaches are planned. Nearly complete is the fanciful S$90 million Sentosa Sensoryscape Walkway, an “experiential sensory public park” with sculptures and water features. The connection is part of an additional impulse, the Sentosa-Brani Master Plan.

About 60% of Sentosa Cove’s buyers are foreigners, and those from Asian countries predominate. Taiwanese billionaire Hsu Chen recently flipped the “Copper House” for a profit of more than $11 million after just two years of ownership (though less tax). In 1992, Chen co-founded Hsu Fu Chi, which makes confectionery.

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Other billionaires favor eccentric home designs, including Cove rarities like a pirate-themed house and an Egyptian-themed house, the latter reportedly owned by a Singaporean (a kitschy front door flanks towering Anubis statues with glowing red eyes). Also known as the “Yacht House”, Villa Mistral mimics the fearless contours of a luxury superyacht cutting through the ocean.

“Clusters of foreigners buy property in Sentosa – their family and friends are here, so they tend to gather and build small communities within Sentosa,” said Sammi Lim, founder and executive director of Brilliance Capital. “Once you get home, you don’t really want to go out anymore.”

The W Singapore and Residences divide Sentosa Cove north from south, along with ONE°15 Marina, and the 40,000-square-foot Quayside Isle (not another island, but an airy shopping-dining complex). The North Cove has three islands and the South has two. Houses on all five islands can moor yachts.

Each island has a distinct architecture, which cannot be changed in terms of water views and aesthetics.

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In the North Cove is Coral Island along with Treasure and Paradise Islands; Ocean Drive makes a loop around the grouping. Coral Island is lined with 21 waterfront villas and bungalows, all with infinity pools. The architecture, developed by Hobee Land, is “not luxurious, but in a way more conventional,” says Lim. “But Coral Island has a little more privacy, fairly large frontages and more generous parking.”

Also developed by Hobee Land, Paradise Island has 29 two-story villas in a more distinctive tropical style. And Treasure Island has 19 two-story villas.

South Cove is home to Sandy and Pearl Islands, both lined with character homes with some beautiful architecture. Sandy Island’s 18 villas are striking stone monoliths with two-storey glass walls on observation sides. Designed by Italian architect Claudio Silvestrin, they resemble chic island temples in a rainforest setting.

Although these islands are located on the main island of Sentosa, Pearl Island takes that concept one step further, placing each of the 19 bungalows on shallow reflecting pools: “an island within an island,” according to marketing materials.

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Further north, Lim has a seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom listing along Lakeshore View Drive, a group of 29 homes overlooking Serapong Lake and Serapong Golf Course, as well as the coast. “And when there are fireworks on the mainland, homeowners can enjoy them too,” says Lim.

The 8762-square-foot three-story home includes a basement gym and a helper’s quarters.

On the other side of Sentosa Cove, just below Sandy and Pearl Islands, Lim also prefers Cove Grove, a grouping of a dozen houses, all with unobstructed sea views.

The smallest homes in Sentosa Grove are three-story, 5,000-square-foot patio homes on Ocean Drive “just before you enter Coral Island,” says Lim, who has amassed more than S$7 billion in transactions during her 18-year career.

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Ocean Drive has some of the Cove’s largest properties with lots ranging from 18,000 to 20,000 square feet (up to 40,000 square feet of living space). “There are less than 10 bungalows of that size in Sentosa,” says Lim. That includes Taiwanese billionaire Chen Hsu’s “Copper House,” which he sold in 2021.

Sentosa Island is a 30-minute drive from Changi Airport. Some of the mainland’s primary, secondary and post-secondary schools are even closer.


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Brilliance Capital is an exclusive member of TNZT Global Propertiesa consumer marketplace and membership network of elite brokers selling the world’s most luxurious homes.

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