June 16, 2007


Riding the en bloc wave

Professionals slog day and night to make deals happen

By Kausar Shaik

LONG HOURS: A typical day workday for director of investment sales at property firm Savills Singapore, Steven Ming, begins at 7am and lasts at least 14 hours, compared to 11 hours prior to the collective-sale frenzy. The company he works for is currently involved in the sale of Peace Centre in Dhoby Ghaut. -- LIM SIN THAI

THEY eat, sleep and dream en bloc transactions. Mind you, they are not home owners hoping to get a chunky slice of the sizzling hot collective sale pie.

They are just the army of professionals - mostly conveyancing lawyers, property agents and real estate executives - who have been beavering away because of the collective sale mania sweeping through the island.

The fever has been good for them.

A property agent told The Straits Times that his business has doubled in the last year, thanks to the estimated 5,000 en bloc sellers looking for new homes.

Property firm Credo is currently brokering the $1.5 billion collective sale of the 618-unit Farrer Court.

If the sale goes through, the company stands to earn between $3 million and $22.5 million. Each Farrer Court home owner, meanwhile, is expected to get an average of $2.4 million from the deal.

A typical workday begins at 7am and lasts at least 14 hours - compared to 11 before the collective sale frenzy - for Mr Steven Ming, director of investment sales at property firm Savills Singapore.

The company handled the collective sales of Hillcourt Apartments and Silver Tower, both in Cairnhill Road, and is currently involved in the sale of Peace Centre in Dhoby Ghaut.

Married with a three-year-old daughter, he is kept busy the whole day. There are meetings with sellers to collect their signatures and answer their inquiries, developers to market the existing sites and advertising agencies to work on publicity campaigns.

He said that more than half the deals firmed up in the conference room are the result of working round the clock, starting from 3pm and extending up to 8am the following day.

Even his weekends can be spent dealing with work. He is not alone.

Mr Karamjit Singh, 36, executive director of Credo Real Estate, said: 'Some days go by when I don't get to see my kids.'

The father of three children, aged between three and nine, has been involved in collective sales since 1994.

Credo, which he established in 2002, has been involved in the sales of Eastern Mansion, Elizabeth Heights and Farrer Court.

Although everyone seems to be jumping into the collective-sale fray these days, agents working in teams of three to six can take three to 12 months to get the 80 per cent consensus for an estate with a few hundred units.

While they do house visits, Credo Real Estate also organises open houses where its managers station themselves at times that are convenient for owners - 7pm to 9pm on weekdays and 2pm to 5pm on weekends.

'This is a less intrusive way, yet convenient for the owners,' said Mr Singh.

Lawyers are brought in to advise owners on the legal aspects of the collective-sale process, and to handle paperwork.

Dr Phang Sin Kat, the principal of law firm Phang & Co, said lawyers 'must show that there is due diligence and process' in the collective-sale process.

They are also involved in the mediations between the sales committee, agents and developers.

Their days are just as hectic as real estate executives and agents.

Dr Phang said a conveyancing lawyer can sometimes handle the legal work of between 100 and 150 owners and mortgagees for any one sale.

Also reaping the benefits of collective sales are property agents.

Mr James Lee, 39, who runs his own realty firm said his business has doubled over the past year. He currently handles at least 20 transactions a month.

'For every 10 of my clients who want to buy property, at least two or three are en bloc sellers. Some of them even pay cash,' he added.

Not surprisingly, the agents and lawyers involved in collective sales told The Straits Times that their cellphones are switched on at all times of the day.

Ms Christina Sim, in her 40s and director of investment and capital markets at Cushman & Wakefield, said it is not unusual for her to get more than 20 calls a day.

She said: 'I try to switch it off after 11pm.'

The majority of calls are from home owners who have agreed to sell but want a better price.

Mr Ho Eng Joo, Colliers International's director of investment sales, said: 'Every owner thinks his or her estate is the best.'

When it comes to the minority who do not want to sell, Mr Ming believes in being patient.

He said: 'We provide a listening ear and a venue for them to vent their frustrations.'

Although he has been spared verbal abuse, he said angry callers are par for the course.

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