Race to the top

HANO Maeloa wants to make a mark on Singapore's property scene with his maiden residential project, The Maisons on Braddell Road. Having visited many showflats, the 44-year-old businessman has come to the conclusion that "they all have the same contemporary style — the very clean look, which is very generic".

Maeloa wants to differentiate himself from the rest through his project's concept and design. "I asked myself this question: If I were a homebuyer, how would I decide which development to choose when everyone is offering the same thing?" says the CEO of Singapore Exchange-listed Top Global. "So, we have to offer something different. We want to offer a 'baronial' concept."

The 175-unit freehold The Maisons is located amid the quiet landed housing enclave off Braddell Road. Sitting on a slope, the project is a redevelopment of two plots: the former Braddell Park, purchased in June 2011 for $85 million; and the adjacent Braddell Regalia, purchased for $12.6 million in November 2011.

"It's two developments — R Maison and E Maison. 'R' is for Romance and 'E' is for Eminence," says Jennifer Chang, chief operating officer of Top Global. R Maison is a boutique 40-unit development fronting Sommerville Walk, while E Maison is a 135-unit five-storey block facing Braddell Road. The two projects are collectively called The Maisons.

Top Global is targeting to launch R Maison at end-March, while E Maison will be released in early April. The Maisons contains a mix of one- to three-bedroom apartments sized from 570 to 1,550 sq ft, as well as two 1+1 loft units of over 1,000 sq ft and 27 duplex penthouses measuring 1,162 to 2,357 sq ft. Prices start from $800,000 for a 570 sq ft, one-bedroom unit. The units are expected to be priced between $1,350 and $1,450 psf.

"When we first bought the site, we were targeting a higher pricing level," says Maeloa. However, with the imposition of the seventh round of property cooling measures by the Singapore government on Jan 12, the price was adjusted downwards, he adds. He has also altered his timeframe for the project to be sold out. "We were initially anticipating that the project would sell out within a month or two," he says.

'Wherever there's opportunity'

Top Global's next project will be a 139-unit freehold low-rise condo called The Quinn, on Bartley Road. The development is expected to be rolled out in the middle of the year. The site is a redevelopment of the former Bartley Grove Apartment and three adjoining terraced houses that Top Global purchased en bloc last April for $74.1 million, or $810 psf per plot ratio (ppr). Last August, the developer also purchased Bartley Court, a block of eight apartments adjacent to Bartley Grove, for $10.7 million, or $699 psf ppr.

For its future projects, Top Global is interested in all segments of the residential market — from luxury to mass-market, "wherever there is an opportunity", says Maeloa. However, as a developer, "we don't believe in chasing prices up". While sales may have contracted in the high-end segment of the residential market, land prices are still high, he points out.

Maeloa also sees potential in mixed-use projects, primarily those with a mix of residential and commercial components. It has participated in several government land tenders, the most recent being the mixed-use commercial and residential site on Yishun Ring Road, which drew 13 bids at the close of the tender on Jan 24. The site was won by Chip Eng Seng's CEL Property, which submitted a bid of $212.1 million ($794 psf ppr). According to Maeloa, Top Global's bid was the fourth-highest.

In October 2010, Top Global was in the spotlight when it was jointly awarded the tender for the 1.43ha Capitol site at the junction of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road, which included restoring Stamford House, Capitol Theatre and Capitol Building. The other members of the consortium were Pua Seck Guan of Perennial Real Estate Group and Chesham Properties, which is controlled by the Kwee family that owns Pontiac Land.

However, in March 2012, Top Global announced that it was selling its 30% stake in the consortium to its joint-venture partners, and that it expected to see "a total gain of $40.7 million" from the divestment.

What was its reason for pulling out of the consortium? "We're a young company, so we need to turn our capital over and make as much profit as we can for the company and shareholders," explains Maeloa. "Three to five years later, when we have a strong base, we will look at buying assets for recurrent income."

Last October, Top Global sold a whole floor within the three-storey HDB block at 51 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 known as [email protected] for $13.8 million. The group purchased the property in July 2011 for $12 million.

The company reached a milestone when it was moved from Catalist to the Mainboard on Dec 24. It had a market capitalisation of $123.7 million as at March 6.

Sprawling interests

The Maisons is considered Top Global's first residential project since Maeloa's mother, Oei Siu Hoa (younger sister of tycoon and asset trader Oei Hong Leong), took control of the listed company in early 2010. To date, she still holds a 51.74% stake, while Maeloa controls 3.2%. Siu Hoa, also known as Sukmawati Widjaja, hails from the storied Widjaja family that owns one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates, with interests spanning palm oil, pulp and paper, financial services and real estate. She is chairman of Top Global and also chairman of Indomas Properties and Sinar Mas Capital Investments, which are part of the Sinar Mas group.

Like his mother and uncle, Maeloa has made Singapore his home, taking up citizenship in 2004. He knows Singapore very well, as he completed his primary education at Catholic High and spent a few years at Whitley Secondary School before going to Boston for prep school and then heading to Los Angeles, where he earned a BSc in business administration from the University of Southern California.

Maeloa currently resides in a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) on a sprawling 40,000 sq ft freehold site in the coveted neighbourhood of Nassim Road with his wife and three children, as well as his mother. He is in the midst of building a new GCB for his own use on the adjacent 32,000 sq ft freehold plot.

As a developer, Maeloa is also interested in developing GCBs and other landed housing projects. Top Global is also looking at potential investments in neighbouring countries such as China, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In the meantime, The Maisons will be testing the resilience of the mid-tier market. The project is located near the Woodleigh and Serangoon MRT stations as well as the nex shopping mall. "This is one of the first freehold projects to be launched this year, and it's in a landed housing enclave," says Margaret Thean, DTZ's executive director of residential services. "Its exclusivity, with just 175 units, is also a main draw for buyers."

The development is expected to appeal to owner-occupiers, comprising single professionals, couples, retirees and those buying to stay near their parents or extended families, says Phylicia Ang, executive director of residential services at Savills Singapore, which is the joint marketing agent with DTZ.

"I think our pricing of $1,350 to $1,450 psf is quite competitive if you compare it with other 99-year leasehold projects in the vicinity," Maeloa points out. Moreover, The Maisons is freehold and the pricing has already factored in the additional buyer's stamp duty and developer's discount, he adds.

This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore weekly edition of Mar11-17, 2013.

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