Finding a perfect fit in NAI Global

HAVING spent a decade in the local corporate and commercial real estate sector, Zerin Properties is set to make great strides in the international property arena.

On Jan 14, the Malaysian real estate investment agency became an official member of the US-based NAI Global, which manages and supports 350 independent commercial real estate firms in 55 countries. NAI Global is one of the largest commercial real estate service providers in the world with over 5,000 professionals under its wing and its offices collectively complete transactions of over US$45 billion a year and manage over 300 million sq ft of commercial space.

Zerin Properties struck the deal after a year of discussions and meetings and, according to its CEO Previndran Singhe, the decision was finally made after he was convinced the tie-up would help grow the real estate business he started 10 years ago.

"I saw NAI Global's commitment to grow the Asia-Pacific real estate sector and its unique system of generating business between its offices around the world. It also has a technology that can track all our transactions and communications that eventually lead to a deal. It gives us a lot of access to locations worldwide. So I can now service my clients on a global platform."

It is worth noting, however, that Zerin Properties already has offices in Singapore, Sydney, New Dehli and London. "We started expanding because we knew globalisation was going to take place and we needed to have our footprint in certain places," Previndran explains.

Zerin Properties has since closed its Sydney office, but as a result of its foray into the international field, the company attracted interest and was courted by global property firms to join them. Previndran declined the offers at the time as "the fit wasn't right", as he puts it.

"What we found was that there would be a loss of corporate culture. Zerin Properties is known as an intimate firm where we spend time with our clients to know and meet their investment requirements. That is why we never expanded size-wise and we remained a boutique firm."

The company employs 21 people at its main office in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur.

No name change
Previndran continues: "Also, we didn't want to change our name or give up ownership as we are distinctively Malaysian. That is our strength and that is why we can do well locally and at the same time provide services to our clients outside Malaysia." However, NAI Global was agreeable to these terms and both parties found a partner that fit each other's criteria.

"We were looking for a Malaysian company with a global mindset on managing property investments and corporate clients," says Stephen Atherton, NAI Global's managing director of Asia-Pacific and Middle East, in an email interview.

"NAI Global seeks high-quality, international partners in every major market around the world. Our business isn't about quantity, but quality and scalability. Previndran Singhe and the team at Zerin Properties give us the market knowledge, expertise and confidence to operate at the highest level of innovation and service delivery in the Malaysian market and surroundings.

"We found Zerin Properties to be the right fit for NAI Global because it had international experience, professionalism, was client-centric, team-oriented, results-driven and efficient."

How did NAI Global get in touch with Zerin Properties to propose a tie-up? Through an introduction made by an investment manager with a large property development company, says Atherton. "I also had other professionals in our network who highly recommended Previndran and Zerin Properties."

Over the years, Zerin Properties has established itself as a leader in the competitive Malaysian commercial real estate marketing business. It has won several awards, including the Outstanding Individual in the Industry for Real Estate Transactions Award 2009 from RFP Hong Kong to Francis Quah, Zerin Properties' head of mergers and acquisitions-investments, and Best Real Estate Agent of the Year 2008 by the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents.

"I think we survived over the years because we had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve and that was to be the best. And to be the best, it is always about service because people remember you for your service," Previndran points out.

"We also knew which markets we wanted to be in. We can't do everything, so we did hospitality transactions and that is where we built our niche." Major deals done in the past include the US$75 million sale of Intercontinental Hanoi in Vietnam in 2008 and the RM435 million sale of Four Seasons Langkawi in 2007.

At the present time, 80% of the company's activities is focused on corporate and commercial investments, but Previndran says the residential portion will continue as usual.

Since it started operations in 2002, Previndran estimates that Zerin Properties annually transacts RM350 million worth of deals on average and office leasing of 150,000 sq ft. He expects transactions to double in the next five years and office leasing to increase four to five times in the next two to three years, especially with the company's association with NAI Global.

Attracting foreign investors
Zerin Properties' partnership with NAI Global augurs well for the Malaysian property sector as now more international investors can make inroads into the local real estate market. "What we will offer is access to Malaysian investment opportunities and information for foreign investors looking at alternative investments here," Previndran says.

Already, a deal done through NAI Global's network has seen an Indian IT firm setting up shop in a 10,000 sq ft space in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Another one that is still being negotiated is a hospitality/recreational deal in Johor involving 50 to 60 acres. Also in the discussion stage is an international department store looking to open its first store in the Klang Valley either this year or in 2014.

So, what can investors expect of NAI Global and Zerin Properties in the near future?

"We will be focusing on sealing deals on large developments and investment projects in and around Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru as well as with selected corporate clients," says Atherton.

In the long term, though, he sees greater reach in the corporate and commercial markets with "major hotel and commercial investment sales, land acquisitions and seamless advisory services on large commercial and mixed-use developments as well as appointments on several major corporate accounts".

Of course, these plans will depend on how the Malaysian property market performs.

"There will be a lot of investment transactions and I see a lot of foreign funds looking to invest in Malaysia like those from Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, Europe, Korea and Japan," says Previndran, who sees bright prospects for the corporate market this year.

"Transactions will be in development land, offices and the hospitality and retail sectors. Real estate investment trusts will also grow in 2013."

Atherton agrees. "Benchmarked to the cost of doing business in Singapore, Malaysia will grow increasingly attractive to multinational corporations seeking a high-quality location with good infrastructure, but with lower costs. We remain bullish about the prospects for major investment in Malaysia and new foreign direct investment by MNCs in 2013 and beyond."

With such positive sentiments on the Malaysian corporate and commercial market, the collaboration between Zerin Properties and NAI Global is bound to pay off handsomely for both parties.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Jan 14-20, 2013.

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