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Tue, Oct 30, 2012
The Business Times
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Women making a mark in property projects
by Mindy Tan

SINGAPORE - Of the industries one may choose to build a career in, property development is one that is arguably more difficult for a woman to sink her nails into.

Yet, with grit and a sound grasp of fundamentals, it is possible to make a mark in the field, says Tan Yang Po, chief executive of Azea Property Investment, who recently led Azea to venture into property development.

"The most important thing is that you must earn your respect. (The common perception is that) women are not as strong or decisive (as men). However, if you can prove that you are and that you know what you are doing, the acceptance level is quite high."

Arguably impervious to the concept of barriers, Ms Tan has not only traversed into what may traditionally be delineated as the male-dominated field of property development, she is also taking on an unlikely market - India.

"Today, India is like China 15 years ago. Their first-tier cities have matured and it is their second-tier cities that are coming up. That is why I invested in their second-tier cities, because that's where there is still growth potential," says Ms Tan, who recently purchased two adjacent plots of land in Lucknow, the capital city of the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.

While she acknowledges that India's macro picture is not all rosy, it's about identifying opportunities, she stressed.

"I'm not taking on the economy, today I'm only looking for 200 people to buy my property! And in Uttar Pradesh alone, you have 200 million people," says Ms Tan. "While the macro is important to watch, at the end of the day you must know how to tap the micro as well... that's where true entrepreneurs succeed. You need to know how to find opportunity in crisis."

Taking advantage of a crisis could well be the calling card of Ms Tan, who formed Azea three years ago in the middle of the financial crisis.

Since then, the company, which started out in the business of conducting property-investment seminars and pooling individuals together to invest in various developments around the world, has moved into the field of development.

Her latest project in Lucknow sits on a combined site which spans some 138,000 sq ft.

Ms Tan embarked on her maiden building attempt in Malaysia's Danga Bay in South Johor in 2010. To date, 300 units within the project have received expressions of interest, even though the 700-unit premium waterfront development, Azea Residences, has not been officially launched. The project features apartments ranging from 584-7,000 sq ft.

"While we don't really see any returns yet from our development arm, in the longer term we expect development to take up a larger portion of revenue," says Ms Tan. "We're already working on a listing, targeted for the first quarter of next year."

One of the strengths women bring to the table is a keener sense of empathy, says Michelle Yong, director at Aurum Land.

"With no disrespect to men, I think that women are more adept at thinking about the needs of others, in this case of our buyers, and hence better able to meet their needs. This is especially so of the home, which is traditionally the woman's domain," says Ms Yong.

Aurum Land, a subsidiary of construction firm Woh Hup, is behind the freehold development, 1919, at Mount Sophia. Comprising 75 units, the five-storey residential development which is fully sold out, is predominantly in two-bedroom, or two-bedroom plus study configurations.

The firm is currently in the process of finalising the design concept and unit-mix for a 37,000 sq ft residential site along Upper Thomson Road.

"The development will likely draw inspiration from the site's natural surroundings, and preserve the lush greenery and serene ambience of the Thomson enclave," says Ms Yong.

"In addition we may incorporate elements of vernacular architecture, or use overhangs and sunshading extensively, or perhaps even create a tropical black and white development as this has really captured the hearts of our buyers."

Aurum Land hopes to launch the project, which is likely to be a five-storey development of approximately 60 units (largely two- and three-bedroom units), for sale in the second quarter of 2013.

Apart from the understated elegance that buyers have come to expect from Aurum Land, the market can expect well thought-out spaces to inform the design, says Ms Yong.

She says: "(Women) are programmed with better design sensitivities in that we automatically think about whether the kitchens have sufficient worktop space, drawers and cabinets; whether the bathrooms have sufficient countertop and storage space for toiletries; whether the wardrobe shelves and hangar bars are adjustable to suit different individual needs etc."

Indeed, being a new mother has further honed her sensitivities, says Ms Yong, who now looks at design plans with "an additional set of eyes".

"For instance, are the master bedrooms wide enough to fit a crib next to the bed? Is there a bathtub to bathe the baby in or should we design a bay window ledge for easier bath times with the baby?" she says.

"Of course all these 'wants' need to be balanced with other considerations such as the total size and hence price of the units, construction cost and buildability, aesthetics, etc, which may make these 'wants' infeasible but it is always good practice to take them into consideration."

This drive to fulfil your customers' expectations and the attendant knowledge is what will help you achieve the next level of growth, says Callie Liew, the founding director and chief operating officer of HSR Property Group.

"Truth be told, there are still glass ceilings in the industry," she says. "However, they are not insurmountable. If the customers and other stakeholders know that you are a professional with the necessary knowledge and competence and you want to help fulfil their needs, you can achieve the next level of growth."

On the cusp of moving both upstream and downstream, HSR has been actively recruiting key individuals from the industry to strengthen its footprint and move into strategic services, says Ms Liew.

Specifically, the company intends to expand into upstream services including asset development and management services, and downstream to provide a holistic range of solutions for customers.

HSR has been aggressive in its expansion plans since the group was set up in 1981 by Ms Liew. Her husband, Patrick Liew, now helms the company. It is a fully owned subsidiary of HSR Global Ltd, which gained an SGX Catalist listing last year through a reverse takeover of Wepco Ltd.

"In this time of unpredictability, we believe it is also the best time to not only rationalise our costs but to also strengthen our franchise and services so that we are fully prepared for the next major upturn," says Ms Liew.


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