Jan 15, 2007

Upmarket real estate brand aims to enter Singapore

By Joyce Teo, Property Correspondent

LUXURY property agent Sotheby's International Realty is looking to enter the Singapore market, to cater for the increasing number of wealthy people setting up homes here.

Vice-president for international development Scott Schubiger will be here later this week to screen prospective candidates keen to run a master franchise.

This move comes as more well-heeled foreign buyers are being attracted to Singapore, thanks partly to the upcoming integrated resorts and the development of the high-end residential enclave, Sentosa Cove.

Mr Schubiger said Singapore's stable economy, government and thriving property market are other key reasons Sotheby's wants to be represented here. 'Singapore will become a major tourist destination,' he said.

Sotheby's International Realty is owned by the world's leading franchisor of real estate brokerages, Realogy.

The latter is listed in the United States, where the waning housing market is expected to slow the world's economic growth.

Realogy has a long-term licence agreement with Sotheby's Holdings, the parent company of the renowned auction house, for Sotheby's International Realty. Focusing mainly on the luxury end of the residential market, this unit counts among its clients 71 of the world's 100 richest people listed by Forbes.

Realogy is well-represented in Singapore, with Coldwell Banker and ERA as well as the Century 21 property brands.

Sotheby's has had to turn away business here, for example, when it was asked to help market the luxurious St Regis Residences and Sentosa Cove's southern precinct to its global network of wealthy clientele last year.

Sotheby's prefers to find a partner in Singapore before it took on any local business, said Mr Javier Parraga, Realogy's executive vice-president for international sales and service.

Singapore is regarded as a key part of the firm's expansion plans as it is seen as a launch pad for South-east Asia.

Mr Schubiger already made four visits to Singapore last year to meet government officials and major developers such as Far East Organization and City Developments, as well as property agencies.

'Our goal in the next 18 months is to populate the franchise throughout Asia,' he said, adding that he wants to bring the brand to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Bangkok and other markets.

Sotheby's only Asian franchise at present is in the Thai beach resort of Phuket.

Realogy is offering potential Singapore partners an exclusive 25-year master franchise deal for Sotheby's International Realty.

One local candidate could be Hersing Corp, which already operates the ERA and Coldwell Banker brands here.

Hersing president Jack Chua said the company has discussed the possibility of acquiring the franchise rights for Sotheby's International Realty. 'We are still open to it,' he said.

Candidates will need a real estate background and franchising experience or knowledge, said Mr Schubiger.

Sotheby's properties are certainly for those with deep pockets. Its listings include an US$8.8 million (S$13.6 million) seafront villa in Spain and a US$35 million house on a 3.94ha estate bordered by white sand beach coves on Hawaii's Big Island.