Winds of change at IOI properties

Change in profile but not values

Lee Yoke Har's resemblance to older brother Datuk Lee Yeow Chor is uncanny. Soft-spoken and affable, her quiet strength and firmness are very similar to her sibling's when it comes to dealing with the issues of the day.

The children of IOI Corp Bhd's executive chairman and CEO Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng, Yeow Chor is group executive director of the IOI group of companies and executive director of IOI Properties Bhd, while Yoke Har is the general manager of its legal and general operations department — a position that has enabled her to stay out of the public eye.

Two months ago, however, Yoke Har, who has been with the group for 13 years, donned another hat. She took over the marketing operations of the group's property division, which is a hot seat indeed, given the current tough property market conditions.

"I am not a corporate person," Yoke Har stresses to City & Country in what is her maiden media interview. "Please focus on the exciting projects and plans we have to share with you…"
She reports to IOI Properties' executive director Datuk David Tan, a trusted chieftain of the Lees and who has been with the group for ages. Then there are her brother and father.

With Yoke Har spearheading the marketing portfolio for the property division, Tan is free to focus on other equally demanding chores, with project management being a priority.

"He has a lot on his plate and he needs to juggle his time a lot," explains Yoke Har, whose newly put-together team oversees the marketing of key Klang Valley developments, comprising those in Puchong and Klang and IOI Resort in Putrajaya.

The changes being effected are aimed at coordinating and expediting decisions so that the developer can move at a fast clip. Raising the profile of IOI Properties — a brand that is synonymous with dependability and being conservative and low profile — is also in the works.

Says Yoke Har: "We want people to know us... It is high time there was coordinated effort to do this. Our style has always been to do things quietly; do it well and people will know. (But it has been) too quiet. This has been going on for years. But our values have not changed…"

For IOI Properties, indisputably a top Malaysian property developer that has been active since 1982, the changes are perhaps overdue, seeing how the demands of property investors have surged in recent times.

No, the changes are not a knee-jerk response to the troubles ailing even the most established players across the globe, says Yoke Har. In fact, she sees the property market bottoming out in nine months. "There is liquidity; people are holding back for fire sales but this has not happened."

With the property market getting more crowded and the investment climate more jittery, even the unobtrusive IOI Properties is reviewing its strategies, going forward. This is necessary because the developer plans to launch some RM500 million worth of properties in the Klang Valley this year.

The offerings will come from Bandar Puchong Jaya, the newer Bandar Puteri Puchong and Bandar Puteri Klang. In Bandar Puchong Jaya, which sprawls over 1,000 acres, more upmarket homes, like the 2½-storey superlink Vistaria Residences, have emerged in the residential component. The next six months will see the launch of sixty 2½-storey semi-detached homes and light industrial units here.

Meanwhile, almost 80% of the 930-acre Bandar Puteri Puchong has been developed. It will unveil thirty-six 2 and  2½-storey bungalows and seventy-eight 3 and 4-storey shopoffices over the next half year. Over in Bandar Puteri Klang, new homes and shopoffices will be rolled out from end-February. In short, IOI Properties is not about to put a stop to new launches.

Puchong Financial Commercial Centre
So, exactly what is going to be different about the developer? For starters, it will embrace fresh and compelling development concepts and designs. Add to the concoction a loyalty programme designed to reach out to and please both buyers and occupants to secure repeat buying.

The new and bolder designs are evident in the upcoming Puchong Financial Commercial Centre (PFCC) taking shape diagonally across the Damansara-Puchong Highway (LDP) from the IOI Mall. Work on two of the five PFCC towers on an eight-acre freehold tract is slated to be completed this April.

"These are not very high — 11 and 20 storeys. But you will not miss them as you drive along the LDP," says Mohd Ezuddin Sami'an, IOI Properties' marketing manager. "They are iconic… they stand out from the other buildings in Puchong."

Puchong has too many traditional shophouses and offices, says Yoke Har. She is confident a "happening" PFCC, with its contemporary design incorporating environmentally friendly features, will lift Puchong's image to even that of Bangsar.

Looks and design aside, the developer is counting on the proximity of Cyberjaya as drawing point. However, a building can only be audited as a Cyberjaya Centre upon its completion. "We are confident of getting the status," says Yoke Har, adding that the building designs have incorporated the necessary criteria.

While the original plan was to build all the five towers in four to five years, the timeline had to been tweaked to seven to eight years in the light of the current global credit turmoil. So, the developer is improving the designs of Towers 3, 4 and 5, based on the experience and feedback from the nearing completion of Towers 1 and 2.

Combined, the five towers will offer a net lettable area of 1.15 million sq ft. The 12-storey Tower 1 (built at RM35 million) will have 125,000 sq ft, and the 20-storey Tower 2 (built at RM70 million) 253,000 sq ft. In all, there will be 1,920 parking bays in the basement, all of them interlinked.

The developer has tagged an average RM600 psf for Tower 1, while it intends to keep the LDP-fronting Tower 2 for investment. Office space in Tower 2 is being leased out at an average of  RM4 psf, while the retail space is going for RM6.50 psf or so.

It is worth noting that weak market sentiment notwithstanding, two local parties have shown interest in the buildings, with talks already in the second stage. One party is looking at leasing Tower 1 en bloc while the other is exploring a buy-and-lease-back option for Tower 2.

"We are flexible; we cannot be leaving the buildings empty for six to nine months, so if the price is good, we don't mind selling..." says Yoke Har, without disclosing the numbers now on the table. One of the parties is looking at relocating its operations, while the other is expanding and relocating its business.

IOI Boulevard
About a kilometre down the thoroughfare from PFCC, workers are putting the finishing touches to IOI Boulevard, a hybrid office-retail/lifestyle development modelled after London's Covent Garden.

"Business sophistication" and "stylish entertainment" are some of the developer's taglines for this development that comprises six blocks of office-cum-retail space. Enclosed within is the Palette, which comprises thirty-six 2-storey retail outlets that look into a 108ft by 240ft courtyard.

"This will be a platform to promote arts. Budding artists, musicians and photographers, for example, can showcase their work here free of charge. We will also build a stage in the courtyard, which will be shielded by a tinted, high glass ceiling," says Yoke Har, adding that they have factored into the design the need for air to circulate.

The developer has tied up with LimKokWing University, whose students will paint two murals in the Palette. IOI Properties is also working with the Puchong Orchestra to explore ways to promote the latter.

Of the six office-retail blocks, all equipped with individual lifts, the developer plans to keep two, both fronting the LDP for recurrent income. Since its launch last June, 60% or 262,000 sq ft of the total saleable area of just under 446,000 sq ft have been sold at an average of RM450 psf, with the ground floor retail space going for RM980 psf. Space at the Palette is leased at an average of RM6 psf. In all, IOI Boulevard offers a total net lettable area of about 730,000 sq ft, with another 133,000 sq ft in retail space at the Palette.

IOI Boulevard is targeted for completion in April and is likely to be opened in May. It will be interesting to see how much IOI Properties can do to bring arts to live in Puchong.

Sierra Puteri
Outside the Puchong boundary closer to Sepang, earthworks for a 485-acre mixed development township with a gross development value of RM1.6 billion called Sierra Puteri, have been completed. Construction will start as soon as the authorities approve the building plans. The gated development on undulating grounds will boast designs in departure from IOI Properties' norm. However, the layout will still be functional, says Yoke Har.

The lower-density units will be designed after precincts, each of which with its own park. There will be lots of buffer parks, she continues. The maiden launch, featuring the traditional 2-storey 2ft by 75 ft terraced homes, has been slated for the second quarter this year at a pricing she declines to reveal immediately.She would however only say that it will be priced at a premium to the conventional link homes in the close by Equine Park.

IOI Properties' move to go slightly up markat at Sierra Puteri makes sense given the abundant traditional offerings coming up in Equine Park. IOI Properties' target market: Puchong and Kajang upgraders and those staying in Serdang of course.

IOI family
Fostering loyalty in customers is an integral part of marketing and it is no different for developers. Come late March or April, IOI Properties will unveil its loyalty programme, which will see some 85,000 IOI Privilege Cards distributed, in the developer's two townships of Bandar Puchong Jaya and Bandar Puteri Puchong.

The cards will be given out free to those in the catchment area to shop, dine and enjoy other services for less in participating shops in Puchong, where the developer has built some 1,700 commercial units.

The developer will also take on the role of promoting the participating outlets, which are expected to offer 10% to 15% discounts or privileges in kind for a year. So far, 60 outlets have signed up. Potential candidates are tenants in IOI Mall — 199 in the old wing and another 100 in the new extension, which at press time was awaiting its certificate of fitness. The extension expands IOI Mall's 650,000 sq ft of net lettable space to about a million sq ft.

Yoke Har is particularly excited about the loyalty programme and it is easy to see why. A thriving township can only equal an appreciation in capital values and yields. And happy investors could potentially translate to repeat buyers. So clearly, IOI Properties is the ultimate beneficiary of the programme, if it works.

The community-based programme, Yoke Har points out, is an extension of the developer's community services which it undertakes seriously and with commitment. "We have been working a lot behind the scenes. Do you know we have someone dedicated to working with the residents' associations in Puchong? Besides our website, we also publish a bi-monthly residents' newsletter called Reach Out…"

"We want to make residents feel privileged. At the same time, we are supporting the business operators in our townships as part of our after-sales service. The programme makes sense — these are self-contained townships; everything one needs one can find there. The convenience, the variety, now the pricing with the discounts offered," she adds.

Yoke Har does not discount the possibility of the IOI Privilege Card being used by third parties, which augurs well for the participating businesses. Obviously, the plan to extend the coverage of the loyalty programme is on the cards.

In the pipeline
Traditionally a township developer, IOI Properties has withstood the test of time and thrived on the legacy of its developments. Recurrent income from property investments and property management fees now help make up the property division's 30% or so contribution to  IOI Group's earnings.

The ratio, Yoke Har says, is going to change with more emphasis on property, but she is unable to immediately provide the numbers. 

IOI Properties is also active outside the Klang Valley, for example Singapore, although plans there have been deferred given the current downturn.

Another project to look out for is a mall planned for Putrajaya, the details of which the developer declines to divulge for now.

All said, IOI Properties is geared to give competitors a run for their money.

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