A prospective home buyer, who went to see a show-flat, has come back perplexed.

He found that the developer wanted to charge him for much more than a unit’s gross floor area.

The reason being that the unit had high ceilings.

To some buyers, this is just empty space – some call it “paying for air” – that is of little use to them. But to developers, this a legitimate charge for the spacious feel of a unit. A recently launched project is charging up to an extra $200,000 for this space.

Welcome to the confusing concept of “void area”.

Void area is often found in properties with a very high ceiling of more than 4m, or a floor-to-floor height of 4.5m. These are usually found in penthouses, strata bungalows and strata terrace houses.

Mr Bryan van der Beek, a photographer, was startled by the extra charge for a higher ceiling when he went to a show-flat for The Garden Residences, a condominium in Serangoon, last month. “I was astounded by how they could charge a premium for high ceilings, and claim that the price of a 1,539 sq ft apartment should be charged as that of a 1,981 sq ft apartment because the living and dining rooms have an additional 441 sq ft of air in their high ceilings,” he said.

He was referring to the condominium’s five-bedroom units with a special feature – an elevated ceiling height of 4.5m in parts of the house. The typical five-bedroom unit in the project features a 2.8m-high ceiling.

As of last Friday, the price of the typical five-bedroom unit started at about $2.5 million, while one with an elevated ceiling cost about $2.7 million, said a property agent.

Keppel Land and Wing Tai, who are joint developers for the project, told The Straits Times in a joint response that the higher ceilings impart “a palatial and more voluminous feel” to a unit.

“This additional space is a premium feature, included in the unit’s strata area and reflected as such in the pricing of the units,” they said.

This is in line with the Housing Developers Rules, which require developers to provide a detailed breakdown of spaces such as bedrooms, balconies, air-con ledges and void areas before buyers pay an option fee. A drawn-to-scale floor plan of the unit must also be provided.

Void areas are becoming popular in larger strata units and landed housing. Some buyers have no qualms paying more for these void areas.

Public housing has also featured lofts with high ceilings, with hundreds of such units in projects in Punggol and Queenstown.

Experts believe there is enough transparency in the rulings to prevent developers from misleading buyers.

However, most people may not be familiar with void space classified as strata saleable area. A lot of consumers and even property agents have been unable to get this void strata concept in their head.

Developers will not explicitly explain it with a 3D diagram, and documents might be too long and tedious for consumers to understand everything.

In addition, the price per sq ft (psf) of void area is usually 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the normal psf for the unit, and this helps to bring down the overall psf.

For example, the price for the high-ceiling unit in The Garden Residences is about $1,374 psf, while a similar low-floor unit with a lower ceiling costs $1,647 psf.

Adapted from: The Straits Times, 11 June 2018