October 25, 2009 Sunday

'No' to stock market, 'yes' to real estate

Boss of interior design firm, who quit school at 12 to work, also invests in his company

By Lorna Tan, Senior Correspondent

Mr Tay learnt about thrift from a young age from his mother Madam Tan, who had to work four jobs to help support the family. Today, they co-own a condo unit in Newton, which is being rented out for $4,000 a month. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Mr Tay Chin Ann, the man behind the interior decor of food and beverage outlets such as Thai Express, Jollibean and Shokudo in Raffles City, prefers not to lose sleep over his money.

Having seen how his friends lost hundreds of thousands, and even more than $1 million in one case, from stock investments, Mr Tay wants to play it safe.

This explains why the 44-year-old has never dabbled in shares, preferring to invest mainly in his own interior design and project management business, Bio-Design, which he set up in 1996 with his savings of $50,000. He is a director there.

Mr Tay also likes real estate and co-owns an investment property, a condominium unit in Newton, with his mother, Madam Tan Ah Pong, 78.

He stopped formal schooling when he was 12 because he wanted to help supplement the family income. He had started working part-time when he was six, earning 50 cents a day by helping to sell noodles for a hawker.

After he left school, which was the former Sin Ming Primary School in Sin Ming Road, he worked as a construction worker in Tuas and performed other odd jobs, before discovering at the age of 14 that he was good at and liked carpentry.

After his national service, he joined his brother's carpentry business and worked there till 1989. His work as a project manager at a local interior design firm from 1989 to 1995 proved particularly valuable, and when it shut down its business, he decided it was time to do his own thing.

Bio-Design broke even three years after it was set up. It employs 25 people.

Mr Tay is married to housewife Selina Ong, 44, and they have no children.

Q: Are you a spender or saver?

I'm a combination of both. As I have no children, my expenditure is mostly on travel, family outings and dining out. I eat out all the time. I set aside 20 per cent of my income.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

I use mainly cash and a debit card. Not having a credit card helps me to control any urge to overspend, especially on impulse buys. That way, I have more control over my cash flow. I charge about $2,000 to $3,000 to my debit card every month. I go to the ATM seven to eight times monthly and I withdraw $400 to $500 each time.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

Six years ago, I invested about $30,000 of my Central Provident Fund savings in an Asian fund. It is near 'break even' point now. Apart from some SingTel shares which were given to Singaporeans some time ago, I do not own other shares. I also save via a regular premium endowment plan which should yield a good six-figure sum when it matures in my 50s. In addition, I have a whole life cover of $250,000 and a medical plan.

Most of my savings is tied up in my business and its future expansion which is my main focus now.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

I am the youngest in a family of two other brothers and four sisters. My father was a coolie and my mother used to hold four jobs just to make ends meet.

Besides sewing clothes and making mattress pocket springs at home, she was a helper at my school and a part-time maid. As a result, her hands became badly callused. She is also a good cook. To earn extra money, she made and sold dumplings and rice cakes at different times of the year.

I learnt from a young age that money is hard to come by and not to be wasted. My mother taught me to be thrifty and save for my old age. My brothers and sisters all went to the same school so we could recycle our books, uniforms and shoes. We lived with our grandparents in a wooden attap house in Bright Hill estate.

Q: What property do you own?

In 2002, I bought a condo unit in Newton with my mother for $560,000. It is currently worth about $900,000. It is a two-bedroom, 1,300 sq ft unit. I'm renting it out for $4,000 a month. I believe it may have en bloc potential. I am on the lookout for good property investments, both in the residential and commercial sectors.

Q: What criteria do you look for in property investments?

I'm considering investing in landed residential property, and a commercial property mainly to house my office and factory which now occupy about 5,000 sq ft of rented space in Sungei Kadut. For the commercial property, I would need 8,000 to 10,000 sq ft of space for my office and warehouse.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have spent on?

It was my first trip to Japan in 1995 with my girlfriend (now wife). We visited Tokyo and Osaka. We spent over $10,000 during the 10 days there, shopping and dining.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I aim to be financially independent when I'm 50. I plan to continue to work even during my golden years because it will help to keep my mind active.

Q: Home is now.. .

A five-room HDB flat in Sengkang which I bought in 2002 for $310,000. It is worth about $410,000 now.

Q: I drive...

A black Toyota Camry.

[email protected]