City & Country: Where the rich want to retire to

The prices of the residences are cheap compared with similar properties abroad — Syed Yusof

HAVING set a new benchmark in Kuala Lumpur's luxury real estate market on a per square foot basis, Four Seasons Place Kuala Lumpur plans to push prices even higher. The branded residences are likely to go for as much as RM3,500 psf in the second round of sales, higher than the RM3,198 psf commanded by its 11,894 sq ft penthouses sold earlier this year.

"We have sold 60% of our apartments so far and target a 70% take-up rate by year-end. After that, we probably will stop and review the price. This is also to give the investors a chance to make money because we have a lot of investors," says Venus Assets Sdn Bhd chairman Tan Sri Syed Yusof Syed Nasir, or Jojo as he is fondly known.

Venus Assets is the developer of the mixed-use development. Its controlling shareholders are Syed Yusof, the Sultan of Selangor, Datuk Ong Beng Seng and Datuk David Ban - "empat sekawan" whose friendship is more than three decades old.

Of the four, Syed Yusof and Ong have extensive experience in hospitality -- the former is known for his Concorde hotels in Jalan Sultan Ismail and Shah Alam, and Hard Rock Cafes in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka while his Casa del Mar (Langkawi), Casa del Rio (Melaka) and The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands resorts are managed by Ong's Singapore Exchange-listed HPL Hotel & Resorts group. According to Syed Yusof, their collective expertise was what caught the attention of the Four Seasons brand.

"The project is owned by individuals. It is so simple. We know each other in and out. We make fast decisions, so it is easy. We don't have board meetings to decide things. We can just make decisions through phone calls or chit-chat Ö so when we hit our 70% threshold, the four of us will sit down to talk [on how to proceed]," he says, chuckling at the thought.

The 65-storey Four Seasons Place Kuala Lumpur will comprise 242 private branded residences from the 22nd floor, a 230-room hotel from the 8th to 18th floors and 27 serviced apartments from the 19th to 21st floors on top of a 6-storey mall.

Some notable facilities for the private residences are a gymnasium overlooking KLCC Park, a sky lobby on the 35th floor and a rooftop garden with a 25m half-lap pool that offers views of the city skyline.

"If you want to entertain guests, you can bring your cooks up to the rooftop or engage one from the Four Seasons if you own an apartment here. The important thing is to pamper the purchasers. That's what the Four Seasons is all about," says Venus Assets' managing director Richard Ng.

"At one time, we actually considered making the rooftop pool public, like at Marina Bay Sands, but Four Seasons has stringent requirements. It knows what it wants. So we kept it private."

The Four Seasons Place site is 30 steps away from Suria KLCC

The RM2.4 billion development, which has a total built-up of 1.4 million sq ft, is coming up on a 2.7-acre parcel right next to Suria KLCC.

"We are literally 30 steps away from Suria KLCC," laughs Ng. "We counted from our site and we ended up near Isetan."

So far, about 20% of the project has been completed.

That the branded residences have achieved commendable sales without a formal launch proves that the nascent market is gaining traction, notes Ng.

"The prime minister presided over our groundbreaking ceremony, but that was it," says Syed Yusof, recalling that January night where the project's model and site were unveiled amid fireworks and with music by English rock giant Muse and most appropriately Vivaldi's Four Seasons playing in the background.

According to Ng, Venus Assets began selling the apartments in April and collected the deposits a month later. He says about half the buyers were well-heeled locals - mostly friends of the four stakeholders - while the rest were mostly investors from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, the Middle East and Europe.

"We were looking at RM2,700 psf four months ago, but priced it at around RM2,800 psf. Actually, we wanted to charge more, but we are reasonable people. It's because we acquired the land at a reasonable price years ago that we are able to sell at these prices. We also considered the price from all aspects. We looked at others, like St Regis Kuala Lumpur in KL Sentral and the Banyan Tree Signatures Pavilion Kuala Lumpur in Bukit Bintang," says Syed Yusof.

He argues that the prices of the residences are cheap compared with similar properties abroad. For instance, in Singapore, luxury condominiums around Orchard Road can fetch around S$4,000 psf (roughly RM10,000 psf).

The built-up of the smallest apartment in Four Seasons Place is 1,098 sq ft while that of the largest is 3,843 sq ft. The duplexes are from 6,512 to 7,039 sq ft in size.

Syed Yusof says most of the larger and smaller units have been snapped up.

"It's a great place to retire to, which is what some of our Japanese buyers plan to do, because you have everything. We are going to have a signature restaurant here and the retail mall is just downstairs."

An artist’s impression of the duplex units The 6-storey retail section is envisioned as an upscale boutique shopping experience with a ‘lounge retail’ concept

The mall will have a gross floor area of 284,000 sq ft and net lettable area of 200,000 sq ft. DTZ Malaysia is its retail consultant while it will be designed by NRY Architects and international multi-disciplinary design firm Benoy.

"It will be very intimate, very upmarket. The idea is 'lounge retail'. We put lounges in certain areas. It is more like, not shopping per se, but ... it will be something unique. Our mall will be great for boutique shops.

"A lot of the big players are already talking to us. They are interested in coming here. Our group Club 21 alone can occupy a lot of space as under it, we have so many brands. We are also looking at a gourmet supermarket," says Syed Yusof.

Club 21, of which Syed Yusof is a director and hotelier Ong is a founder, carries a huge variety of upscale fashion brands.

"If you look at the entrance of the mall, it is so strategic. Entry from Jalan Ampang and it is on the same level as the main entrance, so it's quite exciting. It's highly visible," says Syed Yusof.

TAn artist’s impression of the duplex units

Ng notes that some brands that are currently in Suria KLCC have plans to expand by taking up space in the Four Seasons Place mall.

The size of the development's hotel rooms starts at 50 sq m (538.19 sq ft) and the rates at RM800 per night. "Four Seasons is a rate leader, so I think the hotels here will be happy to have the brand around," opines Syed Yusof.

According to CBRE Malaysia's Greater Kuala Lumpur MarketView report for 2Q2013, the average room rate for five-star hotels was RM354 per night.

"We like competition because it's good. We hosted Bill Davidson [the great-grandson of the co-founder of Harley Davidson] recently and he was so surprised to see all the brands in Malaysia. He was here for the first time, so it was a real eye-opener. So, it's a great time to have the Four Seasons here because it will put Malaysia on the map."

The mall and the hotel are expected to be completed by 2016 while the branded residences will be completed a year later.

"I just can't wait for it to be ready because I want to retire there and enjoy myself," says Syed Yusof. "All the partners are just waiting for this project to come together so that we can all move in. The Sultan says he wants to retire here. Can you imagine? That's the language we are speaking."


R5M3,00 psf still relative

Wong: Malaysian homes are still mostly cheaper than Singapore’s public housing
DTZ Malaysia executive director Eddy Wong believes that Malaysian properties are generally under-priced. “If you compare us to the top tier of Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bangkok, even Australia, we are very cheap,” he tells City & Country.


For instance, Kuala Lumpur’s property price to household income ratio is around 4.5 while for Singapore’s HDB flats, it is 5.9. This means Malaysian homes are still generally cheaper than Singapore’s public housing.
Wong says regular luxury condominiums in Singapore are commanding S$4,000 psf while in KLCC, it is RM1,500 to RM2,000 psf.

“Prices are a matter of perception. So, is Venus Assets under-pricing its properties? Well, in a way the pricing is representative of the local market. Generally, I would say we are under-priced. Even at RM3,500 psf, we are slightly above US$1,000 psf. I would say for a branded residence, that’s cheap,” he opines.

He cites Dutaland Bhd’s K Residences, which is across the road from Suria KLCC, which was launched around 2006 to 2007 when inner-city living was just becoming fashionable. However, the market was still coming to terms with the high price of the large units – built-ups of 1,400 to 10,000 sq ft — that was close to RM1,000 psf. Hence, the take-up was a bit slower.

“Timing and branding matter. Four Seasons is a strong brand, which is why the take-up is better,” he says.


This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 7, 2013.

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