July 16, 2007

Upmarket property agent Sotheby's sets up shop here

Its expertise is in getting rich clients access to projects before their launch

By Joyce Teo, Property Correspondent

UNITED States-based luxury property agent Sotheby's International Realty has set up a franchise in Singapore, attracted by the growing stream of foreign buyers seeking a home in the red-hot property market.

The high-end property broker offers services to help its rich global clientele find a dream home here. Clients are invited to preview sought-after properties, even before they are soft- launched.

Sotheby's has just started in Singapore but is already handling more than 20 deals and expects to be busy.

Developers have lapped up a record amount of prime collective sale sites, so there should be no lack of new and exciting posh projects.

Property consultancy Savills Singapore announced last week that it had formed a business unit to work with private banks in advising the banks' growing number of high net worth individuals.

Even PropNex, a property agent that started out in the HDB market - and is still strong in that segment - has jumped onto the bandwagon. PropNex Grandeur Homes was set up in March, headed by Mr Douglas Wong, who was previously associate director of Knight Frank's Regal Homes, which deals with good class bungalows (GCBs).

Mr David Wong, chief executive of the Sotheby's franchise in Singapore, said a typical day could involve picking a client up from the airport and driving him to the latest developments to help him select a unit or two.

The tour is complete with expert advice and could end with lunch at a top-end restaurant.

Sotheby's clients get chauffeured around in a car they like. 'We have a fleet of cars, including a Bentley, at our disposal,' said Mr Wong.

Its clients have previewed Scotts Square, Wheelock Properties' luxury condominium in Scotts Road, and the posh 8 Napier on the former Eng Lok Mansion site. Neither project has been launched. Sales at Scotts Square have not even started, though indicative prices hover around an average of $4,500 per sq ft (psf).

As for 8 Napier, developer Napier Properties, controlled in part by former Parkway Holdings boss Tony Tan, has released just 10 out of 46 units for sale at between $4,000 psf and $4,500 psf.

Sotheby's clients were the first group to view the homes over a week ago. They have also seen other posh projects - mostly in districts 9, 10 and 11, including GCBs.

Mr Wong said the high-end properties they help clients - either wealthy individuals or institutional investors - find are typically priced from $3,500 psf. To him, luxury properties are those priced from $5,000 psf.

Sotheby's International Realty is owned by the world's leading franchisor of real estate brokerages, US-based Realogy. The brand is offered via an exclusive 25-year master franchise. It was recently secured by JVC Capital, a firm controlled by investors including seasoned property investor, Dr Goh Seng Heng.

Prior to joining Sotheby's, Mr Wong, 42, spent nearly four years as director of sales and marketing for SC Global Developments, which specialises in building luxury homes. Before that, he headed the Prestige Homes division of Savills Singapore.

He said his firm can also help developer clients package their products to appeal to 'sophisticated international buyers'.

'You basically create a product that can command a certain price,' he said.

Sotheby's will even conduct auctions in cases where a need arises, such as when there is strong demand for a project, Mr Wong said. Those auctions will be conducted by a Sotheby's auctioneer from New York, he added.

So far, the real estate arm of British-based Christie's has helped raise the upmarket appeal of some properties, the first of which were the Sentosa Cove land parcels.

The exclusive affiliate of Christie's Great Estates, Mr Ken Jacobs, has conducted auctions jointly with Colliers International in Singapore and could continue to do so, depending on the available luxury projects in Singapore.

For now, Mr Wong said his firm is focusing on helping its global network of clients buy homes here, although in future, it will look into assisting Singaporeans in buying homes worldwide.

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Personal touch

# Sotheby's super-rich clients are picked up from the airport, driven to the latest high-end property projects and helped to pick the units they fancy.

# On top of the expert advice and meals at expensive restaurants, clients get to travel in a car they like. This is because Sotheby's has a fleet of cars, including a Bentley, at its disposal.

# Sotheby's clients have previewed yet-to-be-launched condos Scotts Square and 8 Napier.