From clicks to bricks - Alan Tan of Alan Photo diversifies into property development

/ EdgeProp Singapore
January 24, 2020 11:53 AM SGT

SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Alan Tan has handed over the reins of Alan Photo Trading to his elder son Alvan, and is focusing on real estate development with his younger son Austin. Within three short years, the Tans have progressed from developing single houses in Singapore to a 304-unit condominium in East Thailand, with investments in Australia and the UK on the horizon.

Alan Tan (left) and his son Austin founded ABN Holding to diversify into the property development business in 2016 (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Camera retailer Alan Photo Trading has been a household name in Singapore for more than three decades, among both professional and hobbyist photographers alike. Its founder is Alan Tan, who opened his first store at Sim Lim Square in 1986.
The space occupied by the flagship Alan Photo spans five prominently located shop units on the first level of Sim Lim Square. Tan is not a tenant but the owner of these five shops. For an indication of how much these shop units are worth today, one need only look at a transaction last August, when a neighbouring 355 sq ft unit changed hands for $1.85 million ($5,208 psf). This is despite Sim Lim Square looking its age (37 years old) and having just 62 years left on its 99-year lease that began in 1983.
Tan’s second Alan Photo store opened at the former Funan DigitaLife Mall in 2006. It closed when the mall was redeveloped. A new “experiential store” opened at the new Funan last year, called REC by Alan Photo. The third Alan Photo is at Raffles City.
Alan Tan owns the five strata retail shops currently occupied by Alan Photo Trading in Sim Lim Square, his flagship store (Photo: Knight Frank)
While camera retailing has been Tan’s mainstay for 34 years, he has seen how the advent of smartphones with built-in cameras has changed consumer behaviour. The retail industry has likewise been disrupted by technology, especially online shopping.

Switching focus

With elder son Alvan, 31, taking over at the helm of Alan Photo Trading to cater to the new generation of professional and hobbyist photographers, the 62-year-old Tan has switched to real estate development. That led to the creation of ABN Holding, a real estate development firm founded in 2016. Tan is president of ABN, while younger son Austin, 29, is the COO.
Over the past three decades, Tan has proven to be a savvy property investor. Besides the shop units at Sim Lim Square, Tan also owns about 10 condominium units in Singapore, zooming in on prime properties, for instance, The Sea View on Amber Road, Horizon Towers on Leonie Hill Road and Parvis at Holland Hill.
Property investments by Alan Tan include Parvis on Holland Hill (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Besides properties in Singapore, Tan also invested overseas. He owns an apartment at Queens Riverside in Perth, Australia; and a luxury condominium in Bangkok, Millennium Residence at Sukhumvit. He also invested in several warehouses in Hong Kong.
Like many children of hardcore property investors, Austin was bitten by the property bug at a young age. He and his siblings used to tag along when their parents visited new project launches and open houses. “I always enjoyed those visits,” he says.
Prior to starting ABN, Austin worked for a privately-held conglomerate HGB Group in Cambodia. HGB Group is the sole distributor in Cambodia for vehicles from Bentley and Rolls-Royce to Harley Davidson, Kia, Kawasaki and Mazda. In 2016, Austin was instrumental in striking the deal with Yum China Holdings that led to HGB Group’s appointment as the sole distributor in Cambodia for Mongolian hot pot chain Little Sheep. After his three-year stint in Cambodia, he returned to Singapore in April 2018.
Alan Tan's condominium investments include a unit in The Sea View on Amber Road (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Why property development?

ABN Holding’s maiden project in Singapore was an intermediate terraced house on Chuan Hoe Avenue at Nanyang Park, in the Serangoon area. The Tans purchased the double-storey house sitting on a 2,347 sq ft, 999-year-leasehold site for $1.71 million ($728 psf) in September 2016. They redeveloped it into a contemporary three-storey, six-bedroom terraced house with an attic and sold it for $3.78 million ($1,611 psf) in June 2018.
“People are always looking to buy property,” says Austin. “We decided to focus on houses because we believe that landed properties, particularly those on 999-years or freehold sites, will always hold their value, especially in Singapore, where land is scarce.”
Two more terraced houses were redeveloped and sold subsequently. One was an intermediate terraced house along Jalan Tari Piring in the Jalan Kayu Estate in the Seletar area. Purchased for $1.58 million ($867 psf) in February 2017, it was redeveloped and sold for $3.24 million ($1,778 psf) in July 2018. The other was an intermediate terraced house at Lorong 104 Changi in the east. Purchased for $2 million ($975 psf) in August 2017, it was redeveloped and sold for $3.74 million ($1,823 psf) last June.
ABN Holding had redeveloped an intermediate terraced house on Chuan Hoe Avenue into a contemporary three-storey house and sold it for $3.78 million ($1,611 psf) in June 2018 (Photo: ABN Holding)
Emboldened by the success of these terraced houses, the Tans took on bigger projects. In January 2018, ABN Holding purchased an old bungalow sitting on a 4,650 sq ft, freehold site along Alnwick Road in Serangoon Garden for $4.23 million ($909 psf). The property was redeveloped into a double-storey detached house with six en suite bedrooms, an internal lift and a built-up area of 6,522 sq ft. The house was sold two months ago for $6.75 million ($1,452 psf).
In May 2018, ABN Holding purchased a semi-detached house along Upper East Coast Road for $3.74 million. The 34-year-old house was then torn down. As the land area is 4,596 sq ft, it can be redeveloped into a detached house. Construction is underway for a three-storey, six-bedroom detached house with a built-up area of 7,093 sq ft. The house is scheduled for completion by end-1Q2020, and will be launched for sale in March with a price tag of $7.58 million ($1,649 psf).
The detached house on Alnwick Road was sold two months ago for $6.75 million ($1,452 psf) [Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore].

Beyond Singapore’s borders

Early last year, ABN Holding and its Thai partner, Triple S 2019, formed a joint-venture company called Venture Global Holding to purchase a 2 rai (about 34,445 sq ft), freehold site in Bang Saen, a district in the eastern province of Chonburi in Thailand.
The new development, Centro Condo Bangsaen, will be an eight-storey project with 304 units. Construction is expected to start in April, with the project scheduled to be completed at the end of 2021 or early 2022, says Austin, who is also the chief project officer of Venture Global. “It’s a very prime site.”
The Tans of ABN Holding and their Thai joint venture partners, Triple S Holding (from right): Alan Tan of Alan Photo, Saranrak Prasarnphan, Pheerapol “Beever” Rangsimanurak, Austin Tan, and Jakaphan “Phan” Bamphenkiettikul (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Centro Condo Bangsaen is located near the city centre, just across the road from one of the more established malls, Laem Thong Department Store; and 400m from Burapha University, ranked among the 10 most popular universities in Thailand in 2019. The site sits just 1.5km away from the Bangsaen Beach, says Pheerapol “Beever” Rangsimanurak, CEO of Triple S 2019 and Venture Global. “That’s why when we saw the site, we decided to join forces with our friends at ABN,” he adds.
Pheerapol and the Tans are family friends. A former real estate broker with ERA in Thailand, Pheerapol ventured into property development four years ago. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to become a property developer myself,” he says.
Artist's impression of the upcoming 304-unit private condo, Centro Condo Bangsaen developed by Venture Global Holding, the joint venture between ABN Holding and Thai joint venture partner, Triple S Holding (Photo: Venture Global Holding)

Up-and-coming area

Pheerapol founded Triple S 2019 together with his friend, Jakaphan “Phan” Bamphenkiettikul, and his father-in-law, Saranrak Prasarnphan. Jakaphan is said to be in the logistics business, while Saranrak is a politician and deputy governor of one of the provinces.
Triple S 2019 has two subsidiaries: Sermsub 999, which develops hotels and apartment blocks; and Subsiri 9999, which develops shophouses. While Triple S 2019 has developed projects in the eastern provinces of Thailand, such as Rayong and even Chonburi, the developer is new to the Bangsaen area. Hence, Centro Condo Bangsaen will be its maiden development in Bangsaen.
“It’s a good time for foreigners to invest in Thailand now,” says Pheerapol. What is attracting foreign investment to Bangsaen is its location within Chonburi, one of three provinces within the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). The other two provinces are Rayong and Chachoengsao. The Thai government wants to turn the EEC into a leading Asean economic zone and a hub for technology, manufacturing and services industries.
An apartment block in Easterndeveloped by Sermsub 999, a subsidiary of Triple S Holding (Photo: Sermsub 999)
There are plans to invest US$43 billion ($57.9 billion) in infrastructure to improve the connectivity of the EEC to the rest of Asean via land, sea and air. In the pipeline is a high-speed train that will link Chonburi to the two international airports and to the capital of Bangkok. This will greatly reduce traveling time: Today it takes about 1½ hours to drive from Bangsaen to Bangkok, but with the high-speed train, it will take just 30 minutes, says Pheerapol.

Apartments that cost less than that of a car in Singapore

Centro Condo Bangsaen is estimated to have a gross development value of THB550 million (about $24.4 million). The condominium units are likely to attract a mix of homebuyers and investors, adds Pheerapol. He estimates rental returns to be between 5% and 8% when the project is completed.
Tan believes the project will attract Singaporean investors too. The units start from 28 sq m (about 301 sq ft) for a studio and are priced from THB1.49 million (about $66,069) or about THB50,000 psm ($206 psf). “You can’t even buy an HDB flat in Singapore for that price,” he says.
Facilities in the upcoming Centro Condo Bangsaen will include a swimming pool (pictured), gym, landscaped gardens and residents' lounge (Photo: Venture Global Holding)
In Singapore, even a new car costs more than $70,000 and that excludes the Certificate of Entitlement (COE). For instance, a used, nine-year-old BMW X3 with less than a year left on the COE will set you back by $62,800.
As such, the join-venture partners at Venture Global are planning to hold a VIP preview towards the end of January at the Central Plaza Chonburi mall. The Tans intend to launch Centro Condo Bangsaen in Singapore in March.
“Like other listed property developers, we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, and we are looking to expand beyond Singapore too,” says Austin. “Besides Thailand, we are exploring opportunities in Australia and London. We are serious about being a property developer.”
Artist's impression of a two-bedroom apartment at Centro Condo Bangsaen (Photo: Venture Global Holding)
For price trends, recent transactions, other project info, check out these projects' research page: Sim Lim Square, The Sea View, Horizon Towers, Parvis, Chuan Hoe Avenue, Jalan Kayu Estate, Lorong 104 Changi
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