Liam Wee Sin of UOL Group: Cyclist, conservationist, chief executive

/ EdgeProp Singapore
October 25, 2019 5:30 PM SGT
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Liam Wee Sin has often been a fixture at the sales gallery of listed property company UOL Group’s latest project launches. “You may not see me, but I’m there,” says the group chief executive of listed property company UOL Group. “Residential project marketing and sales has always been close to my heart.”
Liam won the Personality of the Year award at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2019; UOL Group also won the top developer award that same evening (Photo: Albert Chua/ EdgeProp Singapore)
Adds Liam: “I’m actually very hands-on when it comes to the concept and marketing of residential projects: It’s very challenging, it’s highly competitive. At the same time, it’s very exciting because you have to be in touch with market sentiment.”
He believes that being at the sales gallery, particularly on the first weekend of preview and launch weekend, is the best way to “gather information or ground intelligence”. He explains: “You have to be there observing, not just receiving reports at the office; you must stay competitive; you have to see what other people are doing; and you cannot keep thinking that you’re the best.”
Liam won the Personality of the Year award at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2019. UOL Group also won the top developer award that same evening.
Liam wakes up at 6am, cycles an average of 15km three times a week, and is in the office before 8am every day (Photo: Liam Wee Sin)

Drive, tenacity, competitive spirit

While visiting showflats is his “hobby”, outside the real estate realm, Liam is an avid cyclist. He wakes up at 6am, cycles an average of 15km three times a week, and is in the office before 8am every day. It is this drive, tenacity and competitive spirit that permeates UOL and has made it a leading property developer in Singapore today.
“At UOL, we have been competing with ourselves,” he says. “To be successful, we have to be ahead of the game in terms of identifying sites with a growth story, and continually trying to improve our product offering through innovation or thoughtful designs that meet home buyers’ needs and aspirations.”
Recent examples include UOL’s 729-unit The Tre Ver at Potong Pasir. Launched in August 2018, a month after the ninth round of property cooling measures were introduced, the project is 84% sold at an average price of $1,588 psf, as at Oct 18. Another example is the 139-unit, freehold Amber 45, which was launched in May last year. The project is 80% sold at an average price above $2,300 psf, as at Oct 18.
“Our residential project launches have always seen encouraging sales, even in a challenging environment,” says Liam.
The 139-unit, freehold Amber 45 is 80% sold to date since its launch in May last year (Photo: UOL Group)

Capitalising on gentrification

A significant launch for UOL this year was Avenue South Residence, a 1,074-unit development located at Silat Avenue, just off Kampong Bahru in the CBD fringe. The 99-year leasehold condo was launched on Sept 7, and 381 units were snapped up as at Oct 22. This means that over 35% of the units have been sold in less than two months.
Having been with UOL for 26 years, Liam was appointed group chief executive with effect from Jan 2 this year. However, Liam says he has been working with the same team all these years – “some of whom have been with UOL for as long as, if not longer than, I have”.
He adds: “There are certain foundational ideas that drive, unite and distinguish UOL. That remains; there is no need to change for the sake of changing.”
Tiong Bahru, where the old blocks of public housing flats built by Singapore Improvement Trust have been conserved by URA; the entire precinct has been gentrified (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
He remembers his first project at UOL – the development of Tiong Bahru Plaza, where he was the project manager. Liam reckons he has developed an affinity for Tiong Bahru since then.
“What people saw as a precinct with an ageing population, we saw as a place with the potential for gentrification,” says Liam. “We saw how central and convenient the location is, and we capitalised on it.”
UOL subsequently purchased en bloc a number of old apartment blocks in Tiong Bahru in the early 2000s. These were redeveloped and successfully launched as Twin Regency, Regency Suites and The Regency.
In 2003, the URA gazetted for conservation 20 blocks of public housing flats built in the 1930s by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), the predecessor of HDB. Since then, Tiong Bahru has become a sought-after area, especially among the “hipster crowd”.
Avenue South Residence has 56-storey, two high-rise residential towers and five blocks of conserved public housing flats (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

First-mover advantage

Last year, when the Silat Avenue GLS site came up for sale, UOL along with its consortium partners, United Industrial Corp (UIC) and Kheng Leong Co, were the sole bidder at the close of the tender in May.
Liam and his team saw the potential of the five blocks of public housing flats on the site, which the URA had required to be conserved. These public housing blocks were among the oldest in Singapore, built by SIT after they had built the Tiong Bahru estate.
“Some of those who had looked at the site may have felt that the requirement to conserve the five blocks of old, public housing flats was a negative. But we turned it into a positive,” says Liam, an advocate of green architecture, sustainability and conservation. “We believe it adds character to the development.”
The four-bedroom show unit at The Peak Collection, which spans the 37th to 56th floors of the two high-rise towers in Avenue South Residence (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The five conserved HDB blocks were positioned as the Heritage Collection at Avenue South Residence. While the façade will be conserved, the interiors of the five blocks will be completely rebuilt into 86 modern apartments. All the units were fully sold within a month of the launch. “A lot of buyers who bought units in the Heritage Collection feel that they are buying a piece of history and are excited by that,” says Liam.
The Silat Avenue site is located next to the 24km Rail Corridor, which Liam sees as an added advantage as it acts as “a green lung that stretches from Tanjong Pagar all the way to Woodlands”.
Some home buyers were drawn to the fact that Avenue South Residence has two high-rise towers of 56 storeys, which offer unparalleled views of the surrounding neighbourhood, especially from the premium units in The Peak Collection, which span the 37th to 56th floors.
Another major plus for the Avenue South Residence site is that it is at the doorstep of the Greater Southern Waterfront, which has been envisioned as “the waterfront city of the future” and will be six times the size of Marina Bay, says Liam. “We were, therefore, quietly confident of the project, as we believed we had a first-mover advantage like we did in Tiong Bahru nearly 20 years ago.”
For price trends, recent transactions, other project info, check out UOL's projects research page: The Tre Ver, Amber 45, Avenue South Residence, Twin Regency, Regency Suites, The Regency
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