SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - For Jervis Ng, the year 2017 was a monumental one. It was the year he won the Standard Chartered Best First Year Business Student award at Singapore Management University, where he was studying for a double degree in Business Management and Law.
If that was not enough, he was also simultaneously building a multimillion dollar real estate business. And he just turned 24 this year.
Ng joined Singapore’s biggest real estate agency PropNex in 2017 and was soon managing a team of 20 agents. He was the youngest real estate agent to receive the coveted Platinum Award which was given to agents who achieved a $100,000 commission in a single month. He won his first within a month of joining PropNex, and has won six more since then. He bought his first property (a two-bedroom condo at Twin Vew on West Coast Vale) at the age of 22, as well as a Porsche Boxster S.
Ng struck out on his own to launch JNA Real Estate, as a team under PropNex in June 2017. The firm boasts of having brokered $150 million in investment deals across all sectors — from residential property to commercial and industrial.
His initial foray into real estate was an attempt to pay off his university loans quickly, Ng says. The son of a real estate agent, it was seeing his father’s experience in the industry that gave him the confidence to choose real estate to fund his studies. He credits his father’s “low cost” approach to the real estate business as a strong influence on his current work.
Ironically, Ng’s parents were initially hesitant about their son entering the real estate industry, especially with a lucrative career in law seemingly on the horizon. “My mother still asks me, ‘Are you still attending school? How are you doing at school? How’s your GPA?’ even though I have made quite a lot of money from corporate real estate,” he laughs.
Even though Ng spends 90% of his time on growing his business, he is still pursuing his double degree. While he now finds himself regularly burning the midnight oil and cramming for tests in the wee hours of the morning, he has ironically gained a more fulfilling learning experience in the process. But instead of solely chasing after a high GPA, he now focuses on learning knowledge that is relevant to his business.
“Law allows me to understand the contractual implications that my clients may face while property law allows me to understand the nooks and crannies when we are trying to restructure assets,” Ng tells The Edge Singapore. Classes on real estate finance also helped him understand different types of assets, ranging from aircraft to hotels, which adds value to his role in helping clients manage their property investments, he says. “School gives me a wider perspective of things in real estate rather than being too myopic.”
What keeps Ng going through this gruelling regimen of entrepreneur-student is ultimately his irrepressible passion for real estate. Throughout the afternoon that The Edge Singapore spent with Ng, the extrovert repeatedly mentioned his love for his job. This passion, he says, stems from the opportunity to meet new people and help them build inter-generational wealth.
Not content with being a real estate prodigy, Ng’s longer-term ambition is to “build the real estate brand for our generation”. It was this dream to revolutionise the property business that prompted him to create a spin-off arm, JNA Real Estate.
“I really loved the culture at PropNex,” says Ng. “The only thing I was really not content with was the traditional way that property [deals] were being done.” He felt that traditional real estate agents in Singapore tend to sell properties like a commercial product — a phone or a pen for instance — rather than as an investment asset.
His firm now provides objective real estate investment advice to clients based on financial modelling to help them derive optimal returns from their property investments.
Ng wants to model his real estate firm after an investment bank. After observing the investment banking business, he wanted to emulate the greater prestige and client trust they enjoyed within the property sector. “Real estate is a very big asset,” argues Ng. “It is one of the biggest assets in someone’s life. Most clients only have one shot and if a salesperson is not objective in selling it, the negative effects it would have on a family could be unimaginable.”
To achieve this, JNA Real Estate is extremely numbers-driven, using rigorous financial analysis to provide real estate advice. This has sometimes meant challenging traditional metrics of what constitutes a good real estate investment. Still, the young entrepreneur notes that the approach has won him the trust of high net worth clients, with millionaires and C-suite executives from MNCs like Siemens and Shell seeking his advice on their property purchases.
As a young company, JNA Real Estate is positioning itself as “the real estate brand of our generation”, carefully cultivating an image of youthful dynamism. Under the management of Ng’s partner Penny Liang, JNA’s digital marketing arm JNA Media Group has drawn on social media content to engage a millennial clientele. Ng even has his own twice-weekly podcasts and regularly features in YouTube videos, offering free content to spread the word about the company.
Drawn by this youthful branding, it is no surprise that most of Ng’s agents and buyers consist of millennials. Many of his agents also joined the firm via social media such as Facebook or Instagram — a distinctly millennial style of recruitment. “Age has never been an obstacle for me,” declares Ng. However, the youth of JNA’s talent pool allows it to provide young people a client experience they cannot get at the typical “mom-and-pop” agency.
It was this youthful dynamism that allowed JNA Real Estate to not only survive, but thrive during the Covid-19 pandemic. The close to three-month long “circuit breaker” — Singapore’s version of lockdown — from April 7 to June 19 was the best time for the company, relates Ng, as the team swiftly adapted to selling property online via Zoom. This allowed JNA to gain an advantage over more traditional players in the market, who may not have been able to adjust to the “new normal” as quickly.
But Ng is far from done with expansion. His eventual goal is to establish a property development and asset management arm as well. Seeking to emulate the structure of an investment bank, he sees the development arm catering to bigger players who wish to develop properties jointly with JNA in Singapore; and the asset management arm targeting retail investors who wish to invest in real estate despite having less available capital.
Again, Ng credits his father’s experience in guiding his journey in revolutionising the real estate market. He learnt largely by listening to his parents talk about real estate for two decades during his formative years. But he also tries to live outside his father’s shadow. “I see how my dad is very traditional in his business, so every single thing that he does, I try to be different,” he chuckles.
Naturally, gaining money and success at a young age has forced Ng to reconsider the role of material possessions in his life. After earning his first $170,000 in commissions in the first month of his career, he felt “purposeless” when he saw the amount in his bank account. He decided to find goals that he could be passionate about to avoid a “mid-life crisis from aimless living” later on in life. Most of his earnings are now ploughed back into the business to grow the company.
Truth be told, Ng says he does not mind losing his wealth. “My personal mission in life is to professionalise the real estate industry, and to help individuals find real estate investment opportunities.” He would willingly give up his Porsche to fund this objective if necessary, he claims — if that is what it takes to fulfil the mission that he has been “called to do”. What matters most in life is: “A nice home, good family [and] great values”, he adds.
Despite the difficulty in balancing faith and financial success, Ng tries to run his business based on Christian values. His goal is also to inspire millennials through “workplace ministry”, he says. “We really hope we can treat our clients like our neighbours and love our neighbours, and do our best for them.”
Such an outlook has influenced Ng’s leadership philosophy: He aspires to be a servant leader. “When I first started leading a team [at PropNex], I believed in being the alpha male and being authoritative because I was still young,” he concedes. “I believed that was the way to show strength.” Losing four team members in the process led to a realisation that exercising too much control could prove destructive.
Becoming a servant leader on the other hand, has helped him better understand his team and galvanise them to work together. During the circuit breaker, he sought to lead by example, and was one of the first to sell properties via Zoom. Seeing him succeed encouraged others to follow suit, and the practice is now followed throughout the company. Today, JNA has 31 agents.
With so much still left to be accomplished, Ng is unlikely to “take profit” and indulge in early retirement anytime soon. “This is something that I would do forever!” he exclaims.