Mark Yip’s plan for ‘new Huttons’

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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November 20, 2020 8:00 AM SGT
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Mark Yip may have just started work as Huttons Asia's new CEO on Nov 2, but he already has big plans for a “new Huttons”. His appointment as CEO was announced shortly after the merger of Savills Residential’s project sales team with Huttons Asia in mid-September.
Having met up with the shareholders of Huttons, namely, Chris Marriott, Savills CEO for South East Asia; Herman Chang, founder of Macly Group; Peggy Ngiam, executive director and key executive officer of Huttons; and Loke Tuck Choy, Huttons executive director, over the course of three days, Yip believed he was “a good fit for the company”.
Certainly, his diverse experiences across five different sectors — from freight forwarding to land transport, fashion, retail and property — have made him “very mobile and adaptable”. He adds: “After all, it’s about business management and operations. It’s not rocket science.” (See story, ‘Freight forwarding, land transport, fashion and real estate’.)
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Mark Yip - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Yip: Although size does matter when it comes to the number of agents, in terms of sales versus headcount, we are not worse off than the big players (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Scaling up

Yip wants to grow Huttons' sales force, which currently stands at 3,295 agents. The three biggest players according to number of agents today are: PropNex, with over 8,806 agents; ERA with 7,501 agents; and OrangeTee & Tie, with 4,388 agents as at Nov 17.
“My job is now to scale up,” says Yip. “Although size does matter when it comes to the number of agents, in terms of sales versus headcount, we are not worse off than the big players. But I hope to grow the sales force by at least another 1,000 to 2,000 agents.”
Founded in 2002, Huttons made its mark by specialising in project sales and marketing. It became the leading marketing agency in new project launches and was famous for selling out projects within the first weekend of launch.
This was before the punitive property cooling measures and the introduction of the total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) loan framework in 2013 which curtailed speculative fervour.
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Yip wants to broaden Huttons’ forte beyond residential project sales and marketing, to other business lines, such as resales — in HDB and private residential market, office, retail and industrial space, as well as investment sales. He also plans to grow Huttons’ presence overseas. “Huttons already has these [businesses] in place, but I want to enlarge the scope and create a more visible pipeline of projects,” he adds.
To do that, Yip intends to focus on branding, training and developing a digital platform. “I want to extend the brand recognition beyond that of just project sales and marketing,” he says. “I want Huttons to be recognised as a total service provider.”
His priority is to invest in technology. In September, Huttons developed the “Ultimate Project Search”, according to Yip. “It helps consolidate all the information for the user, shortening their search time in finding out what they need about a particular project.”
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He believes training and engagement with the agents is equally important. “We need to upgrade our people, and training is a good feedback channel in finding out what skills we need to provide,” he says.
FOZL Group - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
On Nov 12, Huttons announced a strategic cooperation agreement with FOZL Group (Photo: Huttons)

Capturing the Chinese market

Yip is also working with strategic partners such as FOZL Group, a corporate advisory firm that specialises in helping Chinese businesses set up in Singapore, which includes helping with relocation, settling family members and finding schools for children. On Nov 12, Huttons announced a strategic cooperation agreement with FOZL Group.
Nov 12 also saw Singapore’s Economic Development Board announce a new pass specifically targeting foreign tech industry experts, that will be launched in January as part of the country’s efforts to grow the tech ecosystem.
Many of China’s technology giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance have already announced plans to set up their region- al headquarters in Singapore. “Against this backdrop, we believe that the collaboration between Huttons and FOZL will add value to both parties’ customers and contribute to building a sound business ecosystem for the future,” commented Felinka Zhou, director of FOZL, in a press statement.
“With Singapore lifting border restrictions for visitors from mainland China, this cooperation is timely as it enables us to serve more clients who have keen interests to invest here,” adds Yip. “We will continue our online educational consumer seminars con- ducted in various languages such as Chinese and Korean for those who are unable to travel.”
Chinese nationals are already the biggest group of foreign buyers of high-end property in Singapore today. Even during the Covid-19 “circuit-breaker” from April to June, many of the high-end properties were snapped up by Chinese who are already Singapore perma-nent residents or citizens, as well as those who are still in China but chose to buy based on virtual tours and recommendations of friends and relatives who have bought units.
“Sometimes, all it takes is for one friend to buy a unit, and then perhaps because of the feel-good factor, the rest will follow,” ob- serves Yip. “And suddenly you realise that the whole development is almost entirely made up of Chinese homeowners.”
New, freehold, high-end projects in prime districts 9 and 10 - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
New, freehold, high-end projects in prime districts 9 and 10 are now selling well, priced in the range of $2,500 to $3,000 psf (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Value buys in prime districts

He reckons Singapore has positioned itself well in both the regional and global platforms. “People from other Asian countries like to move here because of our political stability and transparency, healthcare and education,” adds Yip. “I foresee that next year, the high-end segment of the residential market will have a good run as more foreigners and PRs — not just Chinese, but Malaysians, Indonesians, Koreans, Thais — see property here as being a good buy.”
New, freehold, high-end projects in prime districts 9 and 10 are now selling well, priced in the range of $2,500 to $3,000 psf. Compared to nine years ago, when a new project in prime district 9 or 10 would be going for $4,000 to $5,000 psf, “this presents a value buy”, he adds. “And most of the buyers to- day are going for the larger-sized units, not the ‘mickey mouse apartments’.”
The weekend of November 14-15 saw the launch of The Linq @ Beauty World, which sold 115 out of 120 units (96%) in the project on the first day. Huttons and PropNex were the appointed marketing agencies.
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There will be four more launches in the pipeline before the year-end: Ki Residences at Brookvale; The Landmark at Chin Swee Road; Phoenix Residences at Phoenix Avenue, off Choa Chu Kang Road; and Clavon at Clementi Avenue 1. According to Huttons Research, new home sales are likely to end the year with 9,000 to 9,500 units, which is about 6.5% to 11.5% lower than the 10,164 units garnered in 2019.
“I think everybody is probably surprised by the numbers, which are surprisingly quite healthy — especially the monthly new home sales since the reopening following the circuit- breaker,” says Yip. “This is despite the Covid- 19 pandemic, rise in unemployment and bonuses being cut this year.”
The residential market could prove to be “challenging”, particularly for projects that were launched earlier, which now have to compete with new projects in the pipeline next year.
This is where the middleman, the real estate broker, will be play a key role — “as part of the food chain in the brick and mor- tar business”, notes Yip.
Huttons Asia’s management team - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Huttons Asia’s management team: (from left) Lee Sze Teck, director, research; Ngiam Juyong, senior executive officer; Mark Yip, CEO, Lily Foo, CFO; Derrick Law, director, operations); and Lim Huileng, director, transactions (Photo: Huttons)

M&A, a potential listing?

As such, Yip intends to grow Huttons’ sales force organically or through mergers and acquisitions (M&A). He says: “I hope we will be able to cross at least 4,000 agents in the next two to three years.” However, he adds: “That’s not the true measure of performance.”
Beyond the number of agents, he is also looking at another yardstick to measure performance: revenue per agent. “It’s not just residential project sales, but other areas too — resales, overseas, industrial and retail markets,” says Yip. “This way, we will be more diversified, and have a more recognised brand in the industry.”
The two biggest players have listed on the Singapore Exchange in recent years: ERA, through APAC Realty in 2017, and PropNex, a year later. “Are we going to take that same route and get listed? I don’t rule out that possibility,” says Yip.