WHEN it comes to property buying, it is all about location, location, location. But developers also know that an attractive showflat can entice the buyer to sign on the dotted line. After all, a showflat is set up to show potential buyers the kind of lifestyle they can achieve if they purchase an apartment at the said development.
As showflats are the first thing that potential buyers see of a development, developers are known to spare no expense in decking them out, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Think wallpaper all round the home, carpets in the bedrooms and thick curtains with tassels for the luxurious look. Then there are plush sofas and marble dining tables with matching chairs. In the bedrooms, beds are piled high with fluffy pillows. Bathrooms are not spared, either, with fancy toiletries on display and thick towels hanging on racks, never mind that no one gets to use them.
"Generally, the showflat is the primary marketing tool for developers to promote their new condominium," says Elson Poo, general manager of marketing and sales for Frasers Centrepoint Homes.
Albert Foo, general manager of marketing for Keppel Land, points out that "showflats are modelled closely after actual units".
"The interior design styling, fittings and finishes also mirror the actual product. There are clear indications where modifications have been made to the showflat or when a particular product is not included in the purchase," he says.
Showflats are often located within the site of the development. "This helps to give buyers a better understanding of the site and its surrounding attributes," says Joyce Sng, assistant general manager of product development at UOL Group Limited.
Sometimes, however, they are located off-site when there are site constraints.
For some projects, the developer can choose to have in-situ showflats, which are actual units located within a built development.
Developers usually invite interior designers to pitch their design plans for the showflat. Depending on the number of showflats needed for a project, it can be a single interior design firm that does up all the showflats, or there could be two or more firms working on them.
Wheelock Properties' group general manager of marketing Stephanie Tay says that "the brief comes from the marketing department jointly with our in-house design team, which then works very closely with the appointed interior design firm in making sure that the vision is realised in the eventual product".
It has worked with interior design firms including Wallflower, Janet McGlennon Interiors and FBEye International.
UOL's Ms Sng says that to meet customers' needs and aspirations, "we select interior designers based on the target customer segment". The developer has worked with French designer Christian Liaigre, Shanghai firm neri&hu, and Singapore firms Ong & Ong, DPD+ and WOHA.
Says Ms Sng: "To nail the interior design that exudes the lifestyle we envisage, communication with the designer is key. Once the interior designer understands our product positioning, we usually give him the free hand to unleash his creativity."
At Frasers Centrepoint Homes, "the selection of the interior design firm is based on the design proposed and cost", says Mr Poo. Among the design firms the company has worked with are Haier Living, Index Design, Su Misura, and Elements.
The amount spent on the design and construction of such showflats is relative to the scale of each development. In-situ showflats incur interior design costs only, while temporary showflats have additional structural costs incurred from the building of these provisional structures.
Developers and interior designers are tight-lipped about how much a showflat can cost but as a general guide, a two-bedroom apartment can cost $90,000 to $120,000 to kit out while a four-bedroom apartment can cost from $120,000 to over $400,000 in decorating fees, including the purchase of furniture, lighting, mirrors and wallpaper.
Angelena Chan, founder of Index Design, has more than 10 years of experience decorating showflats, including the ones for The Rainforest, Bartley Residences and One Shenton. The design process for Ms Chan begins by finding out more about the architecture of the condominium and the developer's marketing angle before she conceptualises a design. "The context is also important - who the developer is selling to and where the project is located," she says.
She is given a budget by the developer and then she heads off to shop.
"Often the time given to fit out a showflat is six weeks to three months, which means I cannot purchase items which take time to arrive," she says. Instead, she heads out to stores such as Space Furniture, Proof Living and Dream to purchase the furniture.
"Sometimes if I find pretty things, I keep them in a warehouse first, before taking them out for use," she adds.
At some projects, developers even create an outdoor ambience to wow potential buyers. For example, Frasers Centrepoint Homes had a spa pavilion complete with massage beds and aromatherapy oils to bring the spa theme to life for its Soleil@Sinaran showflat.
The show suites of The Luxurie in Sengkang by Keppel Land feature private lap pools, which are found in the ground floor units of the project.
UOL's latest showflat for Katong Regency may change the way showflats look in the future. While huge billboards announcing an upcoming condo development are common, at Katong Regency, there are none of these. Instead, its designer, Ministry of Design's Colin Seah, devised a museum-like structure for the facade of the showflat.
"We created a series of L-shaped walls to block off oncoming traffic and allow light to penetrate through the sides, and we sought to challenge conventional Singaporean show gallery precedents which seem to ignore the potential for unique architectural solutions as a valid and powerful marketing device," says Mr Seah.
The unconventional move for the showflat must have paid off because the 244-unit development sold out within a week of its launch in April. The showflat has also been shortlisted as a finalist for the World Architecture Festival Awards 2012.
The curtains come down on these glitzy showflats when the project's sale period is over. Showflats in temporary structures are dismantled to make way for construction. The furniture in them belongs to the developers, who say the items are put to good use if there are ongoing needs for the office or disposed off according to internal policy. Sometimes, the furniture is sold off.
For in-situ showflats, the unit is eventually sold, "often with the furnishings with the exception of artworks and select decorative items which are collectibles", says Wheelock Properties' Ms Tay.