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City&Country: Cover Story-- Building on niche success

The property investor’s golden rule of “location, location, location” seems to hold true for developer Impiana Land & Development Sdn Bhd. Its project in Desa Sri Hartamas in Kuala Lumpur proves that a project in a good location, coupled with careful planning, can be successful notwithstanding the land status.

Regular users of the Penchala Link in Kuala Lumpur will see some ongoing site-clearing activities near the Penchala Link toll near Desa Sri Hartamas for Serene Kiara Residence. The project is on Malay reserve land that is more than a century old. This is the developer’s second project in the area and it expects as good a response to it as its earlier project there.

The niche developer had launched its first project in Desa Sri Hartamas — the six-acre Serene Kiara several years ago — on a piece of Malay reserve land located adjacent to Serene Kiara Residence. All 46 of the 3-storey semi-detached homes, with built-ups of between 3,800 sq ft and 4,000 sq ft and priced from RM1.65 million to RM2.72 million, were sold within a month. This RM84 million project, which is a joint venture project with the landowner, was completed with certificate of completion and compliance in February this year.

The developer then began working on Serene Kiara Residence, also a joint venture with the same landowner. It is scheduled for soft launch next month. The 18-acre project has seen 70% bookings since its preview in July, mainly by potential owner-occupiers. The RM250 million freehold development offers 16 bungalows and 68 semidees.

Impiana Land & Development is spearheaded by Datuk Haris Onn Tun Hussein, who is also the managing director of Konsortium Lebuhraya Utara-Timur (KL) Sdn Bhd (Kesturi), a partnership between him, Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd (MRCB) and Ekovest Bhd. Kesturi had successfully bid for the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE) project on a build-and-operate basis over a concession period of 34 years.

A graduate in economics from Oxford University, Haris Onn worked in accounting firm Touche Ross & Co in London before joining DCB Sakura Merchant Bankers Bhd in Malaysia when he returned in 1992.

He then joined Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah’s (founder of property developer Land & General Bhd) holding company Rohas Sdn Bhd as general manager.

He is currently the executive chairman of Lembah Sari Sdn Bhd, which manfucatures and trades in security ink and banderols (tax stamp).

The years spent managing Rohas’ various activities — including property management and property investments — trained him to look after a variety of businesses at one time.

Haris Onn incorporated Impiana Land & Development at end-2006. The company’s groundbreaking project was the leasehold Taman Raintree in Batu Caves, Selayang, a joint venture with the landowner, with a total gross development value of RM210 million. The 26-acre project comprises 260 units of low-medium-cost apartments, 684 condos, 96 townhouses, a clubhouse and 260 units of low-cost apartments. The final phase, comprising apartment units, will be launched next year.

The developer then embarked on Serene Kiara before going on to Serene Kiara Residence.
“Impiana Land & Development is my first property development company. Everyday is a day to learn and to get experience, whether you are working for people or for yourself. When I was working with my former bosses, I tried to learn as much as I could and apply it in my life. My bosses told me to learn from their success as much as their mistakes and I have been fortunate that I can learn them from good people who are generous enough to show me both their successes and mistakes,” says Haris Onn.

He notes that the company started off with a management team which has years of experience in the property development industry. Its current staff strength is 23.

The property development business, he says, allows him to contribute to society.

“I’m not embarrassed to use the word ‘fun’ to describe my involvement in property development because you must enjoy everything you do. I enjoy building, be it highways or properties. In property development, you are building something for people to use and they benefit. We implement ideas in our projects that allow people to enjoy their property.

“The satisfaction comes when people subscribe to and like our ideas,” the low-profile corporate figure tells City & Country.

“Our intention is to be a niche developer. We want to be very detailed and pace ourselves in terms of development. We don’t want to be a comet in the sky ... come and go. We take great pride that Taman Raintree in Batu Caves is almost fully sold,” he adds.

Impiana Land & Development is now looking at acquiring a land parcel in KL’s central business district for a condominium project. Believing that there are still pockets of strategic landbanks in the Klang Valley, the developer is also planning to develop gated and guarded developments in the city centre.

“We feel that buyers are becoming more discerning. It is no longer the situation where you build something and people have no choice but to buy… people have lots of choices now. As a developer, we understand we have to win them over,” the 43-year-old Haris Onn says.

He adds that developers nowadays must understand buyers and provide what they want, and that’s why Impiana Land & Development goes in-depth in terms of design development and takes ownership of the design.

Citing Serene Kiara Residence, he says the company is taking an alternative way of designing the development based on the terrain of the land, instead of the conventional row-by-row landed home design.

As Serene Kiara Residence is a gated development, he also puts himself in the buyer’s shoes as he has lived in a gated development for 10 years.

Haris Onn has four checklists for gated developments — an entrance statement (for homeowners to understand that they are moving from a public area to a private environment); landscaping and environment; the home’s façade; and the layout.

“These are the four things that we try to provide in every project and we are consistent about this. We strongly believe that reputation takes years to build and overnight to ruin… we keep reminding ourselves of that. ”

The façade of Serene Kiara Residence is similar to that of a plantation home, with a modern twist. “Personally I feel history is important as well. It is not that when you look forward to modernity, you disconnect with history.  The past can be modernised and evolve. So, you can enjoy both the old and the modern.”

Situated on Malay reserve land, buyers would be concerned with the capital gains and rental yield of the project. Haris Onn however cites market transactions in Serene Kiara where capital appreciation had risen 30% to 35% by May this year from the launch on February 2008. Rental return is approximately between 7% and 11%.

“The cost of developing Malay reserve land is lower and hence the selling price is cheaper. However, the rental is compatible with that of neighbouring Mont’Kiara and Damansara, and in turn gives higher yield. Also the project is situated at a prime location in Desa Sri Hartamas, so the demand should always be there and capital appreciation is not a problem,” he adds.

The bungalows in Serene Kiara Residence come in two sizes — 7,383 sq ft and 8,359 sq ft — with an average land area of 10,000 sq ft. Prices are from RM4 million to RM6 million. The built-up area of the semidees is 4,457 sq ft to 5,662 sq ft, with prices starting from RM2.2 million. Work on site commenced last month.

So far, the developer has been undertaking JV projects. “It is not so much whether we build on our own or through JVs … we can develop either way.

“What’s more important is the location, the concept and the product. That is our focus. Going forward, we will go for either gated or high-end development. We are still shopping for some niche land in the Klang Valley,” Haris Onn says.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 835, Dec 6-12, 2010

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