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Manufacturer turned developer

For Hamidon Abdullah, life after retirement is just as exciting. From producing automative systems, he's now building homes here and in Australia. 

After a successful career, one would usually prefer to sit back and reap the fruits of one’s labours. But for Hamidon Abdullah, having founded and built up the Main Board-listed automotive systems and components manufacturer EP Manufacturing Bhd (EPMB), his life after retirement — he recently turned 56 — looks just as exciting.

Having nurtured a strong management team to take over the responsibilities at EPMB, where he is still executive chairman, Hamidon is ready to embark on what he calls his hobby: property development. He is now the chairman of Serai Saujana Development Sdn Bhd, the niche developer of Serai Saujana, a bungalow and condominium development in Saujana Resort, Subang, Selangor.

“I don’t believe in retiring… life is short and with only one shot at it, we must do all that we can. I still have the next 10 to 15 years to do something, to stamp my name and leave a legacy,” he tells City & Country.
Serai Saujana is not his first property venture. For the past decade, Hamidon, together with two close friends — Main Board-listed Atis Corp Bhd CEO Aaron Chen and Kelvin Wong, a Malaysian with permanent resident status in Australia — have been buying old houses at “good locations” in Melbourne, Australia, and building new homes in their places for sale.
A view of Seria Saujana under construction. Some of the condo units will overlook the Saujana Golf and Country Club (in the foreground)
Hamidon, who also sits on the board of Atis Corp, had once resided in Australia for about a decade. He obtained a degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Adelaide in 1974, and a year later secured a master’s in urban planning. Thereafter, he worked as a computer systems analyst in Australia. Upon his return to Malaysia in 1979, he found a job managing computer systems with architect firm Hijjas Kasturi & Associates.

In 2003, Hamidon and his partners Chen and Wong, through Kephomes Pte Ltd, successfully bid for a 10-acre site abandoned by the Australian government in Glen Waverly, near Monash University in Melbourne. Kephomes plans to develop 2-storey bungalows and apartments at the site. Hamidon says they have just obtained planning and building approvals from the Australian government.

“This is a small project with a gross development value (GDV) of A$30 million (RM78 million) and we are targeting locals as well as parents or their children who are studying in Monash. The infrastructure works will be starting in the next few months,” says Hamidon.

This project will be handled mainly by Wong, who is based in Australia. Prices for the bungalows, with land area of between 4,000 and 5,000 sq ft and built-ups of 3,500 sq ft, are tagged at about A$1 million each.
And for the 3-room apartments with built-ups of about 1,500 sq ft, the price has been set at A$600,000 each.

From his experience in Australia, Hamidon has become a full-fledged developer in Malaysia with the introduction of the Serai Saujana freehold gated development in 2006. The RM340 million strata-titled project, located in the exclusive Saujana Resort, offers 169 condominiums and 42 bungalow villas and has seen a take-up rate of over 70%.

“Serai Saujana is where I put my money where my mouth is. It is also my attempt to revisit the development field formally. I wanted to do something bigger,” he says.

Having spent the last 25 years in the manufacturing sector, Hamidon believes his experience, coupled with his training as a town planner, would bring new values and set higher benchmarks for his new projects.
“The fundamentals of the manufacturing process and property development are the same. As long as you understand the basic sciences that underlie the creative process in coming up with a home, it can be done,” he says.The View condominium showroom

Always been mindful about details, Hamidon shares how he determines the quality of buildings. “You can judge a building by looking at the car park — is it wide enough or are there unsightly pipes on the ceilings? For Serai Saujana, I am very particular about the design elements, particularly on how space can be optimised,” he says.

Buyers of the Serai Saujana units — to be completed by next year — will be provided with an operational-cum-maintenance manual, adds Hamidon, who visits the Serai Saujana site twice a week to check on the construction progress.

“It’s a manual of sorts to ensure the quality of the building. Everything here will be documented to the tiniest details, like the manner the floor tiles in the common areas should be cleaned. Without this, the units at Serai Saujana will not be able to command strong secondary values,” he says. While his company is maintaining the project during the first two years, Hamidon plans to send an audit team to conduct checks to ensure that the manual is adhered to.

Two years ago, Hamidon teamed up with another friend, Lim Beng Guan, a founding member of financial advisory firm ZJ Advisory Sdn Bhd, to acquire a stake in Main Board-listed Mutiara Goodyear Development Bhd. Today, Hamidon serves as Mutiara Goodyear’s executive chairman while Lim is the executive director.
Says Hamidon: “I will be reducing my involvement in Serai Saujana as, in the next five years, I can contribute more to Mutiara Goodyear, which has an existing landbank of 1,000 acres. In partnership with the company’s other directors, I aim to rewrite the path forward and we think we have the answers to make it one of the leading developers in this region.”

Serai Saujana
It was five years ago when the opportunity arose for Hamidon to drive his own property development project. The Saujana Group was looking to dispose of a strategically located 10-acre parcel at the main entrance of Saujana Resort, he recalls. Although there was a premium attached to it, he declined to reveal the cost of the site.

For this project, Hamidon teamed up with the Yam brothers, Kenn and Michael, as well as the Saujana Group to set up Serai Saujana Development. Michael was formerly Sunrise Bhd’s managing director.
This was Hamidon’s first project as a developer, and among the challenges he faced was with the architects and contractors. “I benchmark my project with the best in Australia, the US and UK. The main problem I faced here was the ‘shortcutting mentality’, which was certainly not acceptable. To achieve the quality I envisioned, all the criteria have to be met,” he says, adding that Serai Saujana has been envisioned as the jewel in the crown at Saujana Resort.

Although the project, which features The View condominiums and The Villa bungalows, was never launched officially, Hamidon is happy with the sales as it is now slightly above the developer’s “break-even point”.

“Looking at our finances, we can now finish the job nicely and there is no need to cut corners.
In fact, 20 of my friends have purchased units there,” he says.

Prices for the 3-storey bungalows with land areas of between 3,900 and 4,500 sq ft, and built-ups of between 5,200 and 5,800 sq ft, start from RM3.9 million. Since end-2006, half of these units have been sold. With a maintenance fee of 20 sen psf, these bungalows come with a lift, swimming pool, residential and entertainment pavilions, and a garage that can accommodate up to four cars. Hamidon says the prices may soon be revised.

In 2006, the developer launched the condominiums, with sizes ranging from 1,800 to 2,900 sq ft, and priced between RM380,000 and RM450,000. These 169 units, with a maintenance fee of 25 sen psf inclusive of sinking fund, are housed in two blocks of 15-storey towers. So far, 73% of the units are sold. The remaining units, with sizes of between 1,800 and 2,300 sq ft, are tagged for between RM550,000 and RM650,000. There are also eight duplex penthouses, with built-ups of between 4,000 and 5,000 sq ft, and priced at RM3.5 million each and these have all been sold out.

Commenting on the competition, Hamidon says, “I’m running my own race and I’m passionate about property development. I will not restrict myself to high-end projects. I even want to do medium-cost housing and despite the cost constraints, I want to challenge myself to offer the best for house buyers.”



This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 751, April 20-26, 2009


 

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