PENANG-based New Bob Group is starting to make itself known as a boutique property developer on the island and the mainland. The low-key player had in recent years acquired pockets of land in the state.
The group, which was formed in 1959, made a name for itself as a real estate agency, but over the years morphed into a diversified outfit, venturing into the car rental business and, later on, property development. While New Bob has sold some of its land over the years, it is developing some parcels into high-end luxury products.
"The agency was started by my uncle, whose name was Bob," explains director Dr Lee Ville. "He passed away and my father bought the business in 1973 and renamed it New Bob as it was under new management."
Lee's father, group chairman Datuk Leslie Lee, started developing commercial and residential projects in Penang in 1992. His first project was New Bob's headquarters called New Bob Centre. The 33-unit, 7-storey office block is located in Gottlieb Road on the island.
"Initially, we just built products that were needed, but moving forward, we need to be more visible," says Lee, who gave up a medical career as a doctor to pursue corporate life.
New Bob's latest offering is Preston Oaks — a luxury development of four bungalows in the prime address of Jalan Lim May Chye, off Western Road on the island.
Preston Oaks, New Bob's first luxury project, has a gross development value (GDV) of RM24 million. The four bungalows, two of which feature rooftop gardens, have built-ups ranging from 6,634 to 7,221 sq ft and land sizes of 6,233 to 6,847 sq ft. Priced from RM974 to RM1,005 psf, one of the houses was snapped up by a Kedah businessman for RM6.25 million last June. Preston Oaks is scheduled to be completed this May.
What makes the development stand out is that it is in the process of getting Singapore's Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Gold certification. Its green features include solar panels, rainwater harvesting, low VOC paint, house orientation and high ceilings.
"One of the elements that gave us a lot of marks was the orientation of the buildings," says Lee. "We designed them so that the east-west facing sides had minimal windows or a wall while the north-south sides were designed to allow cross-ventilation. Also, our floor-to-ceiling windows, about 11 ft high, allow a lot of natural light into the houses."
While green homes are fairly common in the Klang Valley, the concept is relatively new in Penang. That posed some challenges, says Lee. "One of the challenges was dealing with contractors who had no idea what the green concept was and another was supply. There are not enough suppliers in Penang to provide certain materials to build green. It is better now, but when I first started, you had to go to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to get some products."
To ensure everyone was on the same page, client-consultant meetings were held and a Green Mark facilitator from Singapore was engaged.
An important move was hiring well-known conservation architect Laurence Loh of Arkitek LLA Sdn Bhd to design the bungalows. Loh, who restored the famous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Leith Street, has incorporated into the design elements from heritage homes, such as small courtyards and louvred windows.
Besides paying homage to the past, Lee also wanted the design to encourage family interaction.
"All the bungalows have an open concept on the ground floor. We see the kitchen as the centre of family activity, so we designed the houses in such a way that there is a direct view of the dining and living rooms from the kitchen."
The grounds of the bungalows will be landscaped and maintained by New Bob for 18 months, in line with the defect liability period. After that, the owners can continue using the services of the landscape company or look for their own.
Apart from Preston Oaks, New Bob is also embarking on high-end bungalow project The Manor in Codrington Avenue — a premier address on the island.
Three bungalows will be built on the slightly less than one-acre site. The units will have land areas of 5,275 to 6,997 sq ft and built-ups of 5,576 to 5,804 sq ft. One unit was bought by a Penang doctor for RM4.8 million early this year, while the two others are going for RM4.9 million and RM5.3 million.
The houses will feature green features such as passive solar shading, rainwater harvesting and "aerofoil" roofs that open to the sky. "We are aiming to get Green Mark Platinum certification for the project," says Lee.
The Manor has a GDV of RM15 million and should be completed by December this year.
New Bob's first commercial project — a light industrial development called The Gates — was launched in 2011. It is located on under two acres of freehold land and has a GDV of RM45 million. Three of its 19 factories will be detached and the rest semi-detached. Built-ups range from 2,641 to 4,281 sq ft and land sizes from 3,635 to 7,600 sq ft. To date, 13 units have been sold.
"Developers don't usually look at light industrial projects, preferring residential or commercial," says Lee. "So we saw there was a real shortage of light industrial units … no one had been building such products for the last five years."
The project initially faced objections from residents in the area because they were worried the construction work would cause flooding. But Lee found out that drainage in the area was poor because of clogged drains. He took it upon himself to improve the situation and managed to win over the residents.
He says the incident has made him more aware of what to do the next time. "The experience taught me to consult the residents near where your project is coming up. A lot of the time, they just want to be briefed on what you are doing and not feel threatened by the project.
In the future
Next in New Bob's pipeline is a luxury bungalow development in Biggs Road, Penang, that will offer six 3-storey units with built-ups of 6,000 sq ft and above. Prices start at RM8 million. Construction of the project that has a GDV of RM42 million is scheduled to start in 1Q2014 and to be completed by mid-2015.
"The design of the Biggs Road bungalows is pretty similar to what we have been doing as we have engaged the same architect. The only difference is that the development will feature strata-landed bungalows," says Lee. "We are doing this because of feedback from the customers of our other bungalows. People want security now and strata-landed is the only way you can do that."
Another project is NB Place, which is the redevelopment of a building next to New Bob Centre. It will offer 88 commercial units and has a GDV of RM44 million.
On the mainland, New Bob has two projects —, the first of which is a RM50 million condominum in Permatang Pauh on 2.877 acres that will offer 148 units with built-ups starting at 1,300 sq ft. The other is the 5.99-acre NB Tower Commercial Suites in Seberang Perai, which is still in the planning stage.
As New Bob moves to the fore, Lee's passion and drive to create a niche market for the company is slowly bearing fruit.
This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of June 24-30, 2013.
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