Is having a car still a symbol of freedom?


HAPPY 2113! Rest assured there is no typo error on the intended year of the greeting. I am wishing everyone a Happy 2113 at the beginning of 2013, to invite you to an adventurous ride to see the world 100 years ahead.

Imagine yourself embarking on a flying public vehicle that can carry you almost anywhere without the hassle of traffic jams. Late and missed appointments will be a thing of the past.

With an effective and efficient public transportation system in place, using your own vehicle other than for leisure or emergencies would seem unnecessary.

Imagine that the highways, car lanes and open car parks that once filled the landscapes are now replaced with parks, pedestrian friendly streets, public halls, malls, cafés and restaurants.

Travelling far to enjoy a good meal or watch a movie at the cinema becomes a distant past.

With ample time at hand, you can even catch up with colleagues, friends or family members at these easily accessible and beautiful sites or if you prefer, indulge in your favourite sports such as jogging, cycling, etc.

Now, that is creating true work-life balance.

This scenario sounds like a fantasy but it may become a reality in 2113, a hundred years from now. A hundred years ago, the sky was the limit.

Today, outer space is the limit. With the advancement of technology nowadays, there is no limit to our imagination.

However, we do not need to wait a hundred years to enjoy such a lifestyle. We can have a city with a hassle-free public transportation system if we start planning and building it now.

Efforts must be made before we can move towards a world-class city where the citizens can travel freely despite the growing population.

To achieve this, one of the areas that everyone can contribute is to reduce the usage of private vehicles which is currently the main mode of transportation in our country.

Every year, we have more than 600,000 new vehicles joining the traffic league.

Imagine what will happen to our traffic condition 100 years later if this number keeps increasing?

The strong demand for cars is understandable as cars have long been associated with the symbol of freedom and independence. This symbol is further hyped in many movies such as the James Bond series and associated with many famous celebrities including James Dean.

Today, we are still embracing a vehicle-centric culture. Given a choice to pick between a self-owned vehicle or a self-owned property, the vehicle always gets the thumbs up especially for the younger generation. The young ones plan for the wheels they ride in but give less attention to the homes they live in.

Car_House

According to the 10th Malaysia Plan, our public transportation usage has only reached 12% in 2009. Our government aims to increase it to 30% by 2015. In other vibrant cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, their public transportation modal shares are about 90% and 60% respectively. In terms of car ownership,

Malaysia has a ratio of 200 cars for every 1,000 people, compared with Hong Kong’s 59 cars per 1,000 residents, and Singapore’s 117 cars per 1,000 residents.

With the number of vehicles rising significantly in our country, there is little room left for a car to continue being a symbol of freedom as portrayed in James Dean’s movies. Where is the freedom in owning a car if it is common to have long queues on our roads and our car is caught in traffic congestion?

Even in America, where the population is traditionally obsessed with cars, the Frontier Group and US Public Interest Research Group found that, Americans between 16 and 34 years old have in fact drove 23% fewer miles in 2009 compared with 2001. Meanwhile, they increased bicycle riding by 24% and their mileage on public transport by 40%.

To effect these similar changes in our country, a comprehensive and efficient public transportation network must be provided. One of the notable efforts made is the the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project.

The Sungai Buloh-Kajang line which is expected to be completed in 2017, is purportedly able to serve a population of 1.2 million people and attract 400,000 passengers per day.

The announcement on the alignments of Line 2 and Line 3 next year is a good move to transform our transportation landscape.

As we wait for the completion of the MRT networks, other alternatives such as providing more feeder buses and taxis, or extending the current number of our LRT coaches should be considered.

The 2113 scenario with all its sophistication and engaging living environment is a lifestyle worth pursuing. Best of all, we do not need to wait 100 years to enjoy this lifestyle if the public transportation projects can be expedited. It is done in many great cities, why not our own cities?

Today’s infrastructure is built for decades to come, it is meant to support the demand and growth of our future generation. A comprehensive public transportation system will be the answer to the challenges posed by a world class and people-oriented city. And the true symbol of freedom is captured when you are able to speed on an MRT which bypasses the cars stucked in the traffic below. ·

Food for thought  By DATUK ALAN TONG

FIABCI Asia-Pacific regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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Mums top list of child abusers


KUALA LUMPUR: In a surprising finding, the highest number of child abusers turn out to be the hand that rocks the cradle the victim’s mother.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Heng Seai Kie said statistics from the past three years had revealed that most child abusers were parents themselves and in particular, mothers.

“Mothers make up 25.4% of perpetrators in child abuse cases while 18.9% are fathers.

“Together, parents comprise 44.3% of child abusers in incidents recorded nationwide last year,” she said in her speech at the third national conference of the Association of Registered Child Care Providers Malaysia here yesterday.

Heng said the third largest number of child abusers at 11% of the total number of cases were the lovers of teenage victims.

Children are defined by the ministry as those aged below 18.

Parents should learn to strike a balance between work and parental responsibilities, she said.

Heng also revealed that child abuse statistics from Selangor and Kuala Lumpur were constantly above 50% of the total number of cases in the country.

On another matter, she said the ministry hoped to increase the percentage of children enrolled in child care centres from the current 4% to 25% by 2020.

“This is in line with the Government’s policy of encouraging the participation of women in the workforce.

“One of our objectives is to increase the number of women from the current 41% to at least 55% of the total workforce by 2015,” said Heng, adding that a major challenge facing women who wanted a career was their responsibility towards their children.

She added that to set up more child care centres, the Government had offered incentives to corporate bodies and government agencies to establish such facilities at the workplace.

Heng said a RM200,000 incentive was given to government agencies while private companies were offered a tax deduction of 10% from their annual income for 10 years by the Finance Ministry to set up child care centres.

Early Child Care and Education Council assistant treasurer Shamsinah Shariff said it would encourage housing developers to set aside land to build child care centres and kindergartens at residential areas.

By YUEN MEIKENG  meikeng@thestar.com.my 

How to get the best price of your property’s resale value?


Nobody likes to buy a home with something that requires big money to modify or repair

While the adage “location, location, location” is still considered the ideal gauge for your property’s resale value, there are other factors that can still play a part in helping you get the best price when you part ways with your home.

One of the things to consider is the upgrades or renovations that you may have made to the property. While making improvements to a home can be a good thing, there are some additions that can make or break your property’s resale value.

The following are some home upgrades that will dampen your property’s resale value.

Poor renovation

It’s one thing to make renovations to your home – and another thing when those upgrades requires further improvements!

“Nobody likes to buy a home with something that requires big money to modify or repair,” says property investor Kamarul Ariff.

He gives an example of a property he had purchased that had a “badly-renovated roof.”

“The roof obviously had some bad leaks in the past but the renovations were very poorly done by the former owner. Unfortunately, when people go to inspect property, not many check to see if the roofing is in good condition. After all, most homebuyers or investors check out a property when the weather is clear anyway.”

Kamarul recalls that after buying the property, it rained heavily – indoors!

“There were leaks everywhere! When I finally got an expert to check the roof, I discovered that there were badly done patches made to some holes on the roof, which only worsen the leaks.

“In my opinion, it’s better to spend a bit more money and get a good job done than to stinge and get poor workmanship. In the long run, nobody benefits.

“It’ll affect your resale value and the buyer who’s looking for his dream home ends up buying into a financial nightmare.”

P. Lalitha, a home-buyer, shares a similar sentiment.

“The apartment I bought had poor floor renovations in the bathroom. Of course, it was my neighbour who lived below that alerted me of this.”

Upon inspection by an expert, she discovered that the cement used by a previous owner for the flooring was of poor quality.

Renovations were not just done, they were badly done. So much so that it cost me a fortune to fix them. My advice for future home-buyers? Check every inch of your house. To home sellers, if you want to get the best resale value for your home, get your renovations done by an expert,” Lalitha says.

backyard swimming pool
backyard swimming pool (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Permanent upgrades

Some homeowners make upgrades to their property for personal gratification without taking into account the fact that they may need to sell it in the future. However, these renovations hardly do anything when it comes to resale value, nor do they make it easy to sell.

“Among them are fixtures such as swimming pools and wall modifications,” says KL Interior Design executive designer Robert Lee.

“Having a swimming pool can increase the price of a home, but it also comes with extra responsibilities that not everyone wants. If you’re a senior citizen and not the active sort, you’d probably need to hire someone to clean and maintain the pool you’d probably never use.”

He also points out that major works done to a property’s structure, such as to its walls, can be hard to undo.

“There was this large family living in two adjacent terrace houses and they made a huge arch in the wall between the two houses. When it came to selling, they had a huge problem!

“They also wanted to sell off the house as soon as possible and refused to patch-up the wall.”

Other structural changes, like turning a three-bedroom apartment or house into a two rooms can also put a damper on resale value, says Lee.

“If you’re selling a two-bedroom apartment and your neighbour is selling a three-bedded one at the same price, which property do you think a buyer will you go for?”

Home-Deco Art Sdn Bhd director Rachel Tam says having a distinct paint job won’t affect a home’s potential resale value.

“Some people paint their homes in all kinds of colours, like a kindergarten,” she chuckles.

“But it won’t affect a property’s resale value. It’s not permanent and can be easily replaced. Besides, the first thing most homebuyers do is give it a new coat of paint anyway.

Unexpected outcome

Some upgrades can be so extreme that they no longer look like what they were initially set out to be.

“We knew of someone who bought a single-storey house for RM250,000 and spent about RM200,000 to build a second level. When he sold it, he only got RM300,000,” says Lee.

“Some renovations that place a property beyond its original architecture will not increase its resale value,” he adds.

Tam notes that some people turn their homes into an office or place to conduct business, which may or may not affect the property’s resale value.

“It depends on how extensive the renovations are. If you’re just converting one room into an office, then it’s fine, as the future owner won’t need to do much or anything at all to convert it back into an ordinary room.

“However, if you’re going to start raring animals or live stock there, which may include additional structures to contain them, then this could be a put-off for potential homebuyers who are looking for a basic place to live.”

By EUGENE MAHALINGAM eugenicz@thestar.com.my

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Living life by finding fulfilment without landing in debt


ARE you driven by a desire for instant gratification? Today, it has become a norm to splash the cash on ourselves, and it seems to be getting harder to keep in check the urge to spend and spend.

Unfortunately, current gain may mean future pain unless we are in control of our expenses. The good news is that it is possible to stay in charge if we know how to change our behaviour and what tools we need to do the job.

Falling prey

When the latest gadget or fad is in town, our lives seem to turn unbearably dull until we go out and get a piece of the action for ourselves.

We see others enjoying their iPads or Galaxy Note, and feel so left behind because we don’t have one ourselves. A few months ago, we had barely spared a thought on it, but for some strange reason, it suddenly feels like we just cannot function without having one. So, before we can check ourselves, we’ve gone and bought one too, although we may not really know what we want to use it for, except endlessly checking our Facebook accounts.

That is just one among the many temptations around us that are competing for our hard-earned money. Media messages of dream getaways fuel our desire to go to enchanting overseas locations, and we can’t wait to blow a small fortune on a holiday it has to be next month or we could almost burst.

Advertisements sell us the idea that we deserve to live a privileged existence, no matter what our station in life. We indulge in fine dining at the drop of a hat. When the stress of our jobs gets to us, shopping comes to the rescue in the name of retail therapy.

No wonder we find that there’s a big hole in our pockets. For those of us who have become used to living life large, it may seem strange that not long ago, that was far from the norm. Just one generation earlier, it was quite usual for people to save patiently towards their financial goals, i.e. to delay gratification until they had the money to spend.

Before and now

If they wanted to buy a car, our folks would not simply look for the latest model, but consider what was on the second-hand market. They would save towards a bigger downpayment, to reduce the interest they have to pay on the hire-purchase loan.

The first step was to save, not seek enjoyment. They kept money aside for education and important financial goals. The habit of accumulating savings was strongly ingrained in them. Sadly, that is virtually non-existent now. If you found yourself in a deep level of debt, this is a habit you have to re-learn in order to regain control of your finances.

For sound money management, delayed gratification is a key behaviour to adopt, while instant gratification can set us on the road to serious financial problems. Worse yet is “advance gratification”, when we spend money before we have earned it. Seeking instant enjoyment is not as bad. It just means that we cannot keep cash and spend it as soon as we have it in our hands.

Today, with the massive use of credit cards to pay for high lifestyles, we are in danger of being buried under consumer debt. This is a growing problem which is being seen particularly among the young.

In the past, a person who had no savings was seen as someone with poor money management skills. Now, it is quite common for people in their 20s and 30s to already be in debt to the tune of RM30,000 to RM50,000. Addressing this problem requires a change in mindsets.

Not so long ago, a person entering the job market would use the bus or get a second-hand motorcycle for about RM2,000 to RM3,000. Purchasing a car would be delayed until after about five years of work. Even then, it would probably be a used car costing between RM10,000 and RM12,000.

Today, many young people expect to drive a car before they work, usually looking to their parents for financing. For better money management, this expectation should be replaced by the habit of delayed gratification. If the young learn to save towards the car they want to drive, they can avoid building up a heavy burden of debt. Taking the LRT or commuter train can be among the options.

Growing materialism

The easy availability of consumer credit can contribute to debt accumulation becoming a larger problem for the economy, as is seen in debt-driven societies like the United States and some European countries. The Malaysian authorities can avoid the mistakes of those countries by taking further action to tighten lending rules.

Personal debt management problems are closely related to another trend in society today growing materialism. The idea that happiness depends on the number of material possessions we have appears to be stronger as time goes by.

More than ever, we now need to rediscover the value of non-material interests such as watching the sunset, jungle trekking or volunteering our time in order to find happiness and fulfilment in our lives. We need to find a balance between material wealth and life-enriching experiences that are not measured in monetary terms but build our self-esteem.

For most of us, the amount of money available is limited. In fact, there is never enough for anyone. If we change the way we look at ourselves, many of the problems associated with excessive spending will be resolved.

Instead of dining out at a fancy restaurant, we can have a fulfilling meal at home with our families and enjoy the warmth of their happiness. Instead of spending on more clothes, we can save the money for a good end. Instead of splurging on an expensive holiday, we can find joy and accomplishment in playing a musical instrument.

These are values that adults can inculcate in the young that will pay dividends all their lives. Perhaps the current debt crisis is a reminder to pay attention to the lifestyle choices we unwittingly teach the young.

MONEY & YOU By YAP MING HUI -Yap Ming Hui (yapmh@whitman.com.my) is an independent financial advisor. He is the managing director of Whitman Independent Advisors

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