Land of Opportunity
Published August 9, 2005

Rising stars of real estate


IN THE first 40 years of Singapore's history, the players that dominated the property business were names like Far East Organization, Hong Leong Group and listed arm City Developments, CapitaLand and Keppel Land. But who are some of the newer names who could shape up to be future stars in the real estate firmament?

Ho Bee springs to mind, along with others like SB Development, SC Global Developments, Sim Lian Land and Chip Eng Leong Enterprise.

Ho Bee has been making waves on Sentosa Cove, with two projects that have sold like hot cakes - The Berth by the Cove condo and The Berthside terrace homes. And if that wasn't enough to make industry players sit up and take notice, Ho Bee's participation in last month's tender for the mega Business and Financial Centre site must have.

Ho Bee chairman Chua Thian Poh is not shy of declaring his ambitions: 'We would like to be one of the top property players in Singapore.'

Instead of trying to compete head-on with the big boys, Ho Bee has decided to focus on niche areas. 'Every developer has its way of doing business. The biggest one has its way of doing business and the smaller ones, they've got their way. It depends on how you smell the opportunities,' says Mr Chua.

His group has been sniffing out opportunities in niche residential developments - mostly located near the water, or nature reserves. Its forte, it says, is design. The group claims to have been the first to come up with roof-top terraces with jacuzzis.

SC Global, too, boasts innovative concepts in its niche of luxury boutique residences. 'We keep our projects to a certain size to maintain the highest standards, and what we may lack in scale is more than compensated by the premium we command,' said Simon Cheong, the group's chairman and CEO. 'Our challenge is in staying at the forefront of new concepts and retaining our edge in this field. Some of our concepts have been imitated by other developments not only in Singapore but also in other cities. So innovation is one key to our market relevance,' he added.

Construction businesses

Then there are the property development upstarts that have construction businesses - like Sim Lian, Chip Eng Seng and Soilbuild Group - which provide them a competitive edge when bidding for land. Sim Lian Land executive director Diana Kuik says the group targets residential projects with less than 400 units. 'So in that sense, we don't really compete with the big boys. We have also not gone into commercial and retail, where the big boys are,' she added.

SB Development, part of the Soilbuild Group, says it is a boutique residential developer focusing on medium-sized freehold projects in prime areas.

Chip Eng Leong Enterprise, the property arm of Chip Eng Seng group, has no illusions of being in a position to compete with CityDev and Far East. Instead, it carefully manages its capital resources and risks, only undertaking smaller developments of around 100 units when it does projects on its own (like OneFort and ShanghaiOne). Or it teams up with strong industry partners like NTUC Choice Homes and Keppel Land for larger projects. All of them avoid tying up funds in landbanks.

Low Soon Sim, executive director of Soilbuild Group and its property unit SB Development, says: 'We minimise our holding costs by avoiding large, passive landbank holdings and acquire land sites as and when we undertake a project. This approach enables us to shorten the period of our typical investment cycle for our developments. We minimise our interest costs by maintaining the shortest possible investment-to-sales periods for our projects.'