Crown Group bucks the trend with ‘highest sales in 18 months’ despite Covid-19

/ EdgeProp Singapore
June 26, 2020 5:50 AM SGT
Crown Group's upcoming project in Los Angeles, US, will have a curved tower top - a unique feature among the flat-topped buildings dominating the city's skyline (Credit: Crown Group)
The coronavirus pandemic has played mischief with most firms, slowing down business for some and shuttering others. But Crown Group appears to have been spared: the Australian property developer reaped its strongest sales from February to April, raking in A$63 million ($60.7 million) over the period.
The group’s strong performance took even its CEO, Iwan Sunito, by surprise. “In fact, February and March have seen the highest sales we have had in the last 1½ years,” Sunito, who is based in Sydney, tells EdgeProp Singapore over a phone interview. The buyers in the February–April period were predominantly from mainland China; they snapped up properties across four of Crown Group’s developments in Sydney.
Most of them settled on Waterfall by Crown Group. The development, in the heart of Sydney’s Waterloo district, comprises one, two- and three-bedroom apartments, as well as duplex penthouses that boast roof terraces. The highlight of its architecture is a seven-storey waterfall that cascades down one of its four buildings. Other attributes inspired by nature include a bamboo-covered walkway and lagoon-like water features. But it was not just the amenities that drew investors to acquire homes in the development.
Residents at Waterfall by Crown Group have access to a floating cantilevered gym (Credit: Crown Group)
Beyond just amenities
Over the months of February to April, demand for apartments at Waterfall by Crown Group stemmed largely from Chinese parents purchasing homes for their children who were studying in Australia. “Many of them did not return to their country in February and March, and because of that they have had time to look at properties,” remarks Sunito. “We have been fortunate in a way that we had some units that were ready for them to move into.”
Another pull was the weak Australian dollar, which fell to a 17-year low of US$0.55 to a dollar. “A lot of buyers capitalised on that,” says Sunito, “especially our investors who are holding US dollars from the US or around the world; this is almost like a bargain.” He reveals that some of them were “significant buyers making A$3 million to A$4 million purchases for their stay while they were in Sydney. And their transactions are in cash; they’re not borrowing”.
Arc by Crown Group rises over Sydney’s CBD in two 25-storey steel towers, with cathedral-like curved arches (Credit: MARTIN MISCHKULNIG)
Notable transactions over the three-month window included three penthouses that were sold at Arc by Crown Group, Mastery by Crown Group, as well as Waterfall by Crown Group. Arc rises over Sydney’s CBD in two 25-storey steel towers, with cathedral-like curved arches. The development comprises a condominium and hotel tower. Residents can swim in an ice-cave-themed indoor pool, and frolic in a verdant rooftop garden with sweeping views.
Meanwhile Mastery, also in Sydney’s Waterloo district, is a mere six-minute walk from Waterfall. Mastery comprises five buildings of one, two and three-bedroom apartments, penthouses, as well as a street-level retail precinct with a mix of eateries and shops. Four of its low-rise buildings are slated for completion this year, while its high-rise building is set to be completed in 2021.
To prepare for the design of the project, Sunito toured Japan to soak up Japanese architecture and lifestyle. The result is a “stacked forest” concept, where one of the building’s facade will be covered with green plants. For this, Crown Group worked with three architects: Japanese architect Kengo Kuma; Japanese-born, Sydney-based architect Koichi Takada; and Sydney’s Silvester Fuller.
Infinity by Crown Group comprises two levels of retail and 18 storeys of apartments above, decked out in a curved facade of subtly-patterned glass and aluminium (Credit: MARTIN MISCHKULNIG)
Location, location, location
Crown Group’s strategy for meeting demand could perhaps be described as cliché, but Sunito admits that it’s all about “location, location, location”. He says: “The easy thing for us is to [build within] proximity of the biggest universities.” But there is a fine line: “We don’t necessarily build it too close to universities, because our customers are not just students — students probably take up about 20% of our market, and the rest of them are the younger generations, global investors and professionals,” says Sunito. “We’ve got to be mindful that the project does not become too much of a student dormitory.”
Australia is currently home to some 200,000 Chinese on student visas. Tapping the demand from Chinese parents snapping up homes for their kids, Waterfall by Crown Group is within an eight-minute drive to three universities —University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, and University of Technology Sydney —while Taylor’s University College is a three-minute walk away.
The rooftop garden at Arc by Crown Group (Credit: Crown Group)
The real estate developer has applied the same game plan to its first project in the US, in downtown Los Angeles. Projected to cost US$500 million ($695.8 million), the 43-storey mixed-use building encompasses a high-rise condo with 319 apartments on its higher floors and a 160-room hotel occupying the lower floors. Once completed in 2025, the apartments could cater to foreign students attending the University of Southern California, an eight-minute drive away.
The base of the Los Angeles building emulates a canopy that Sunito describes as looking like ‘Marilyn Monroe’s skirt’ (Credit: Crown Group)
“We want this to be the pinnacle of our development, the best of the best of our projects,” says Sunito of its Los Angeles project. One way Crown Group will achieve that is through stunning design. The base of the building emulates a canopy that looks “almost like Marilyn Monroe’s skirt, and the building will go California’s iconic redwood trees, all the way through the top. And on the top we will then introduce a sky forest,” he shares.
The top of the tower will also be sculptured to suggest the crown of a tree. Curved tower tops are unique to Los Angeles’ skyline because for years — up till 2014 — there was a rule that every tall building must house an emergency helipad landing, resulting in flat-topped skyscrapers dominating the city’s skyline.
Residents at Arc by Crown Group can swim in an ice-cave themed indoor pool (Credit: Crown Group)
Shifting trends
Covid-19 has undoubtedly upended the way companies are run. “One of the biggest fundamental changes is the move away from the need to have a physical inspection of a property,” says Sunito. To operate within the constraints of the pandemic, the team at Crown Group ramped up its production of high-resolution 360-degree video tours, enabling clients to view properties remotely. “These capacities have actually unlocked a lot of things — because we have a lot of overseas customers before who couldn’t come to Sydney. But now they say, ‘Look, anytime, let’s have a look at it.’”
Sunito believes that there has also been a shift in the concept of luxury in real estate. “Whereas the old luxury was something like the cigar room, or the billiard room, the new luxury for the generation today is about [having the facilities for] co-working and shared spaces,” says Sunito. He adds: “Being able to be away from home but still be within the complex, and having all the conference facilities, for instance.”
The highlight of Waterfall by Crown Group's architecture - a seven-storey waterfall that cascades down one of its four buildings (Credit: Crown Group)
Due to the push to remote working now, Crown Group is resolute to take the trend further with its upcoming complex in Los Angeles. “A lot of people are actually struggling psychologically to work from home, because of distraction — and you’re not in your own space,” says Sunito. As a result, future residents of the development can expect a conducive environment for work: they will be able to enjoy high-speed internet access and conference facilities with features such as proper lighting, video cameras and sound system.
This trend of seeking shared spaces has also been observed across Crown Group’s hospitality brand, called Skye Suites. “Guests are calling to ask [whether] they can book two or three co-joining apartments so that they can enjoy a holiday with their kids and the grandparents in one place, or so they can have friends who live in regional areas finally [being] able to join them in the city for restaurant or gallery outings,” said Crown Group chief operating officer, Pierre Abrahamse, in a press statement in June.
The lobby at Waterfall by Crown Group (Credit: Crown Group)
The developer has now opened three Skye Suites projects: two in Sydney, and one in the suburb of Parramatta, west of Sydney’s CBD. In response to Covid-19, Crown Group has also fast-tracked the opening of its third hotel in Sydney’s Green Square to April this year. The hotel is set within the larger development of Infinity by Crown Group, which comprises two levels of retail space and 18 storeys of apartments above.
To cushion the fallout from international travellers due to the pandemic, Skye Suites has rolled out offerings for long-stays and staycation packages for domestic guests.
Sunito: We want to be the Bvlgari or Louis Vuittonof the architecture world (Credit: Crown Group)
Sunito admits that Covid-19 has forced everyone — including himself — to be more tech-savvy. Sunito, who speaks regularly at large conferences, can now address an audience from his couch at home, without the hassle of travelling and ironing out the logistics of holding a huge seminar. He has also used the time cooped up at home to set up his own YouTube channel, where he documents his learning journey and life experiences.
In one of the short videos, Sunito captures Crown Group’s aim succinctly: “We want to be the Bvlgari or Louis Vuitton of the architecture world.” Given its past and upcoming projects, the developer is undeterred in its journey to create iconic buildings that will dress skylines worldwide.