In a market slowdown, astute businessmen will have to think out of the box and come up with innovative business strategies to persuade potential buyers to part with their cash.

In the case of boutique developers, the challenge becomes more daunting as the hefty premium that their projects command may end up being a millstone around their necks as demand dries up.

However, Datuk Jeffrey Ng, Urban Hallmark Properties’ Sdn Bhd managing director, is unfazed by the vagaries of the economy, having been in property business for the past 26 years. He set up Urban Hallmark after his stint as managing director of Asia Pacific Land and senior executive director of the Low Yat Group. Ng is also the executive director for Sunway City Bhd.

Ng's project will be equipped with luxury bathroom fittings from Villeroy & BochIndeed, he is not perturbed that Urban Hallmark’s inaugural project is being undertaken amid a slowing economy. Its boutique development, Zephyr Point in Lorong Basong in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur, has only seven highly exclusive units — three penthouses of between 10,000 and 11,500 sq ft, and four 3-storey villas with built-ups from 8,000 to 9,500 sq ft.

Each unit comes with a private home office to be located on a specially dedicated floor known as Breezeway, with sizes of between 200 and 350 sq ft. The Breezeway can also double up as a function lounge and entertainment foyer, overlooking a fully equipped gym and infinity pool. Zephyr means “gentle breeze” or “west wind” in Greek, after Zephyr, the mythical Greek god of the West Wind.

Indicative prices for the units range from RM8 million to a whopping RM12 million, amounting to a gross development value (GDV) of over RM68 million. Ng, a past president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Assocation (Rehda), had acquired the land in Lorong Basong at about RM130 psf in 2004.

Choosing the best
While many developers are likely to take the cost-cutting approach in a recession, Ng is adopting a contrary view. He plans instead to choose “only the best” products and fittings for his development.

“As a high-end residential development in the country, we choose only the best products in the market,” he tells City & Country. For instance, he is spending RM40,000 per unit on fittings from Villeroy & Boch (V&B), a renowned German designer of luxury bathroom wares.

Ng says the top and latest range of V&B products will be used throughout the development. “We have also finalised a top Italian designer’s latest range of gourmet kitchens which will definitely impress our buyers,” he adds. “We are taking away the decision-making process and putting effort into what we believe the residents will love,” he says.

“Our philosophy is to provide the best for our buyers. We looked for brand partners that also share the same commitment — a desire and passion to never compromise on quality in order to create true masterpieces in luxury living. Our choice of V&B signals our intention to make Zephyr Point a hallmark luxury address,” says Ng.

The almost 260-year-old V&B has a 14-year presence in Malaysia, with GC Building Technologies Sdn Bhd as its sole distributor. Bukhard Schmidt, Villeroy & Boch marketing and sales director Asia/Pacific, tells City & Country: “When Urban Hallmark first approached us, we looked at the design philosophy of the development and found the perfect fit in terms of our products.”

Ready for preview
Ng says Zephyr Point is 65% completed and expects a penthouse and bungalow villa to be ready for a preview in August. The whole development will be ready by 3Q2009, he adds.

Ng says several local high net-worth individuals have already enquired about Zephyr Point but prices will only be announced during the preview. “From a marketing perspective, we want to keep Zephyr Point very exclusive through private invitations only,” he adds. Individual previews will commence immediately after the launch of the two showhouses.

The developer says the showhouses will be fully furnished, so potential owners will be able to appreciate the quality of the actual architectural finishes, the quality of workmanship, and the selection of latest branded fittings and appliances.

“The remaining five units will be fully fitted and in move-in condition with minimal renovations required,” Ng says. This would include both gourmet and Asian kitchens being fully equipped, light fittings except for customised decorative lightings and wardrobes.

On whether it is a bad time to launch such a high-end development, he is realistic but optimistic. “We are marketing to seven owners in such a prestigious area, and it’s a gated and guarded development. However, it is reasonable to expect that it will take some time to sell under the current market sentiments.”

Given the blue-ribbon address and the development on elevated land, Ng is confident that Zephyr Point offers good value with capital appreciation. Along with the super-rich, Urban Hallmark is also targeting owners of existing homes in Damansara Heights, Taman Duta, Kenny Hill and Bangsar who may want to upgrade because they want better views, a higher level of security or a more modern home built for entertaining, as well as other lifestyle features. The developer has appointed Regroup Associates as its marketing agent.

Urban Hallmark is also in the midst of planning its next development — a boutique office in Lorong Universiti, Petaling Jaya. However, Ng says he is not in a hurry to launch the project, given the current market conditions.

With Zephyr Point on track to becoming a benchmark in luxury homes, Urban Hallmark is set to take its place among the elite group of boutique developers in Malaysia.

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