City & Country: Accidental developer

First [email protected] Damansara started out as an attempt by a group of friends at communal living. But now, the six homes in a walled compound in Damansara Heights may signal an entirely new direction for Datuk Ling Keak Ming.

Datuk Ling Keak Ming enthusiastically describes one of his more astute investments — a Siberian Husky.

“My son moved out after he got married. One day, we went out to buy some fish. He saw a beautiful Siberian Husky and he really wanted to to buy it but I told him he couldn’t keep a dog in his condominium.

“So I had a very good plan — I bought the dog and now my son comes back to his father’s house every day to play with it. After he first moved out he didn’t visit very often, but now he comes back every day to see his father so he can see the dog,” laughs Ling, who lives in a landed home in Petaling Jaya.

“This is just one of the perks of living in a landed home. You have your own garden, your own dogs running around.”

The First 6 @ Damansara offers luxury accommodation for multi-generational familiesLing is certainly one who values close relationships with family and friends. One could say this is what led him to become a property developer, if one may say so, overnight. Ling’s project, which became known as The First 6 @ Damansara, was born out of discussions among a group of good friends. The six friends enjoyed each other’s company so much they decided to “live together”. They pooled their resources to acquire a plot of land along Jalan Chempenai in Damansara Heights to build a bungalow each within a walled, guarded compound with common facilities, creating their own commune of sorts.

While he declined to reveal the names of his friends, he notes that they are bankers, lawyers and corporate figures. 

The 55-year-old Ling, who is managing director of MWE Advanced Structure Sdn Bhd, MWE Golf & Country Club Bhd and Melati Mewah Sdn Bhd — all members of MWE Holdings Bhd — had the land developed by London Avenue Sdn Bhd, formed by the group of six, with Melati Mewah serving as the contractor.

He, along with his five friends, are owners of London Avenue which was set up to develop the land.

Melati Mewah is the construction arm of MWE Properties Sdn Bhd, which is responsible for a number of developments such as the three-block Union Heights Condominium at Overseas Union Garden, Jalan Kelang Lama; Taman Batu Uban II low-cost flats, the 17-storey MWE Plaza at Lebuh Farquhar, Penang; City Gardens Luxury Condominium in Kuala Lumpur, Sri Bintang Heights shopoffices in Kepong and Taman Kristal II terraced homes in Dengkil, Sepang.

MWE Holdings also developed Monterez Golf & Country Club in Shah Alam, a mixed development not unlike the upscale Tropicana Golf & Country Resort by Dijaya Corp Bhd.

The group is involved in electronics, plantation, leisure,  heavy and commercial vehicle assembly and distribution,  garment manufacturing, property development and corporate services.

Ling has over two decades of experience in the construction sector, starting in the late 1980s with a company that supplies building materials.

The six families had orginally planned to move into the bungalows when they were ready, but they had a change of heart when enquiries and offers from interested buyers came pouring in.

The group recognised the commercial potential and seeing it as an opportunity not to be missed, they agreed to sell the homes instead. The First 6 @ Damansara is now being sold as a boutique development. The strata bungalows share a swimming pool, basement parking and an approximately 30,000 sq ft compound.

“During construction (1½ years ago), we received 30 to 40 enquiries, mostly from expatriates, though there were some locals,” Lee says. The bungalows are currently awaiting the certificate of fitness (CF).

By virtue of its location, ensconced among older bungalows in the established, blue-ribbon Damansara Heights neighbourhood — the domain of well-heeled Malaysians and expatriates — The First 6 @ Damansara offers peace, quiet and convenience. It is far enough away from the bustle of the busy town centre, yet close enough to numerous amenities, like trendy restaurants and shopping complexes such as Bangsar Shopping Centre, Bangsar Village and Mid Valley Megamall.

The built-ups of each unit range from 7,068 sq ft to 7,805 sq ft. Each bungalow will have 24-hour security and a basement level which is accessible through the shared car park, a lift, five plus two bedrooms and seven bathrooms, quarters for live-in domestic help as well as an outdoor deck on the third floor. With some slick manoeuvring, the basement-level car park can hold up to 30 cars, says Ling.

Always with the thought of maintaining family ties, the bungalows have been designed to meet the needs of both young and old in a family. They are designed for comfort and convenience. “Actually, this project is perfect for those with one or two kids. We [may] want [our] children to be near to us, or we want to be near to our children. That’s why we [installed] the lift, for the convenience of elderly parents and so that you don’t have to squeeze [your parents] into a small room downstairs just because they can’t use the stairs,” he says.

“[It’s] just a normal family house with a small maid’s room downstairs.”

One that comes with a price tag of at least RM8.3 million, or about RM1,200 psf.

He says: “Of course, we hope we can get en bloc sales — we might even sell cheaper to extended families. The parents, for instance, may want to live in one house and the son and his family in another.”

The lifts are an especially useful feature, not only for elderly parents but for pregnant women or other emergencies, he says, speaking from experience.

An incident in his past spurred him to incorporate lifts into the bungalows. His father had to carry his uncle down one floor after the latter suffered a heart attack.

“My father had to tie a belt around his waist to strengthen his back to carry him down,” he says.

“And at the basement level with the cars, there is a big room with enough space for a kitchenette which could be used for a disabled person. It’s very well thought out,” he says.

With the entire area wired up for Internet connectivity, Ling says younger families could use the basement space as a home office, instead of purchasing a small office/home office (SoHo) suite, as working from home gains popularity.

He aims to launch the project in the second week of August, but it seems that some real estate agents have beaten him to the punch with listings appearing online around June.

Ling, who emphasises his personal preference for landed properties throughout the interview, says the prices are comparable to other high-rise developments in the neighbourhood such as the upscale One Menerung residential highrise by Bandar Raya Developments Bhd on the fringe of Bangsar.

In 2008, L&H Property Development Sdn Bhd unveiled Anggun, a boutique development comprising six three-storey bungalows resting on a sloping, acre-wide plot of land along Jalan Dungun.

Two units of this development share the same entrance and exit while the remaining four units are accessible via a second entrance. With built-ups ranging from 5,800 sq ft to 9,300 sq ft, the bungalows were priced at RM5.8 million to RM9.3 million.

A real estate agent who handles residential properties in Damansara Heights says a traditional bungalow in good condition on the secondary market along Jalan Setiakasih, roughly two kilometres away from Jalan Chempenai, can fetch anywhere from RM666 to RM750 psf.

Another agent cited a freehold, linked terraced home in a guarded community along Jalan Beringin, about a kilometre away from Jalan Chempenai, going for about RM900 psf.

Going forward, Ling plans to build more such developments as he believes there is a market for them. He is already hunting for little pockets of land in the Damansara area and Ukay Heights in Ampang, due to their exclusivity,  convenience and potential for appreciation . “I believe you should be able to choose your neighbours,” he says. Ling expects future strata bungalows in Ukay Heights to be greener as he intends to keep most of the flora intact.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 816, July 26-Aug 1, 2010 


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