Raymond Chia: Uniting Chip Eng Seng and SingHaiyi Group

By EdgeProp Singapore
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
Raymond Chia receiving the Personality of the Year Award 2023 from Bernard Tong, CEO of EdgeProp Singapore (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp SIngapore)
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Group CEO of Chip Eng Seng Corp since 2016, Raymond Chia’s leadership role expanded to assuming the group CEO position for property company SingHaiyi Group from April 1.
Now that both companies are privatised, Chia says his focus is on “uniting both sides” so that the merged entities can share resources and position themselves for the future. Chia received the Personality of the Year award at the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards (EPEA) 2023 at the Pan Pacific Orchard Ballroom on Oct 6.
Chia: Unlike in the past, when each property cycle lasted a few years, the market changes are now so rapid that the windows of opportunity are very short (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The award is given to only one individual biennially. This year, the recognition goes to Chia for his business acumen, marketing prowess and courage to break new ground in the real estate sector, even in a challenging market environment.
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“The real estate market is cyclical,” says Chia. “Unlike in the past, when each property cycle lasted a few years, the market changes are now so rapid that the windows of opportunity are very short.”
Chia says the real estate business has been about creating lifestyle experiences in recent years. Before deciding on any land acquisition — a government land tender or a collective sale, he will reflect on the following: “What can I create on this site that will make homebuyers choose my project over the others?”
Showflat of a 474 sq ft flip/switch studio at TMW Maxwell (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
TMW Maxwell’s “flip/switch” units are a manifestation of Chia’s latest lifestyle offering. These studio apartments are fitted with flexible furniture: The living room sofa, for instance, transforms into a Murphy bed at night. Movable wardrobes have a hidden panel that opens up into a workstation. The kitchen countertop has a breakfast table that can be stowed away. The balcony has a pull-out table with a niche for a wine bottle and two glasses.
“We experimented with the flip/switch concept at TMW Maxwell to optimise living spaces in the city,” says Chia. TMW Maxwell is a mixed-use development with 324 apartments and three storeys of commercial space in a 20-storey block. The apartments are predominantly a mix of studio apartments and one- and two-bedroom units.
The 99-year leasehold building is a redevelopment of the former commercial complex, Maxwell House, which Chip Eng Seng, SingHaiyi and Chuan Investments jointly acquired en bloc for $276.8 million in May 2021.
Half a dozen units were sold at TMW Maxwell’s opening weekend. Transacted prices ranged from $1.498 million for a 474 sq ft studio to $2.47 million for a two-bedroom apartment or an average price of $3,334 psf.
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Chia remains confident that the concept works. “Aside from psf price, I hope buyers can look at properties from a different perspective and consider factors like concept and design,” he adds.
Chia at the sales gallery of TMW Maxwell, with its flip/switch concept (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
It is not the first time Chia has experimented with a concept that went against the grain. Another example is Parc Komo and Komo Shoppes, a redevelopment of the former Changi Garden at Upper Changi Road. The 276-unit freehold development was sold within three years of its launch in May 2019.
Parc Komo is a low-rise, five-storey residential development with a two-storey, 27,000 sq ft retail podium named Komo Shoppes. The mixed-use development at Upper Changi Road North was completed earlier this year.
Chip Eng Seng acquired the former Changi Garden en bloc for $248.8 million, translating to a land rate of $888 psf per plot ratio in October 2017. “We were able to purchase the land at an attractive price because it’s opposite Changi Prison,” adds Chia.
Given the surrounding private housing at Jalan Mariam, Toh Heights and the Flora Road-Flora Drive enclave, he was drawn to the area because of the opportunity to create a retail offering.
Chia at the Parc Komo sales gallery in 2019 (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Park + Associates, the design architect for Parc Komo, and landscape architect Salad Dressing created a project with a resort setting, given its location in the east, near Changi Village, which has a more laid-back vibe.
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“I’m happy with the end product, and the residents are happy too,” he says. “When you walk into the residential area from the retail podium, it’s like walking into a resort with the water cascading down.”
Parc Komo in the east has a resort theme, but the 805-unit Park Colonial — designed by ADDP Architects — has a contemporary black-and-white colonial theme. The project, built on a government land sale (GLS) site, is within a short walk of the underground Woodleigh MRT Station on the Northeast Line. The MRT station is integrated with the 330,000 Woodleigh Mall and The Woodleigh Residences.
Park Colonial was launched on July 5, 2018, the eve of the set of property cooling measures that kicked in the following day. A total of 300 units were sold at an average price of $1,745 psf that evening. The project was fully sold and completed in 2021. Based on caveats lodged from June to September, the average transacted price has appreciated by 19.6% to $2,087 psf.
The sales gallery at Kopar at Newton was modelled after the clubhouse of the project (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Kopar at Newton

Chia points to another project, the 378-unit Kopar at Newton, which obtained its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) last month. Chip Eng Seng’s property development arm, CEL Development, won the site at Kampong Java Road with a bid of $418.8 million ($1,192 psf ppr) in January 2019. The 125,326 sq ft, 99-year leasehold residential site is just off Newton Road. “We were fortunate to win the site at an attractive price,” says Chia.
Given its prime District 9 address, Chia wanted the new 23-storey twin blocks of Kopar to stand out. “I thought we should create a project with a clubhouse that makes people travelling along Bukit Timah and Dunearn Road wish they bought a unit at Kopar when they see it,” adds Chia.
The project was previewed in the third week of March 2020 amid heightened Covid-19 safe distancing measures and was launched on April 6, the eve of a two-month-long “circuit-breaker”. Seventy-seven units were sold on its launch day at an average of $2,350 psf.
“At that time, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, but life has to go on, so we bit the bullet and decided to go ahead with the launch despite the uncertainties,” Chia relates. “Luckily, the efforts paid off, and we achieved encouraging sales.”
Even though he has been a property developer for over 20 years, he still has a sense of satisfaction when a project is completed. “When you buy a GLS site, it’s usually like a jungle initially,” he says. “And then during construction, it’s very messy on-site. But when a project has obtained TOP, people have moved in, and you see children laughing and playing, you realise you have built homes for many people and have this sense of satisfaction from doing that.”
The 659-unit The Parc Condo, was launched in 2007 and entirely sold in less than two weeks (Photo: The Edge Singapore)

Chip Eng Leong to CEL Development

Chip Eng Seng has transformed over the nearly three decades he has been with the firm. When he first stepped foot into the company in 1994, Chip Eng Seng’s founder, Lim Tiam Seng — his father-in-law — appointed him managing director of the real estate development arm, Chip Eng Leong. Chip Eng Seng was a medium-sized construction company focused exclusively on building HDB public housing flats then.
In the mid-to late-1990s, Chia handled mainly the refurbishment of shophouses along Geylang Road and boutique housing developments in the East and Lorong Chuan. Only in the early 2000s did Chip Eng Seng take on larger-scale developments. It started in 2001 when Chip Eng Seng became a joint venture partner of NTUC Choice Homes in developing the 384-unit Bishan Loft executive condo (EC). Chia recalls the project was 100% sold within 1.5 days of its launch.
In 2006, Chip Eng Seng formed a joint venture with the former Lehman Brothers to acquire the former Westpeak condo at West Coast Walk en bloc for $206.9 million. The new condo, the 659-unit The Parc Condo, was launched in 2007 and entirely sold in less than two weeks.
Keppel Fund Management (formerly known as Alpha Investment Partners) acquired the balance 30 units at City Vista in 2010 for $147 million (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Chip Eng Seng and Lehman Brothers jointly bid for and won the en bloc purchase of the former Venus Mansion on Peck Hay Road in 2007. The project was launched as the 70-unit, freehold condo, CityVista. That year, Chip Eng Seng also tied up with US hedge fund Citadel to acquire a site on Grange Road, which has since been redeveloped into the 68-unit high-end condo Grange Infinite.
In 2006, Chia proposed to his board of directors to change the name of Chip Eng Leong to CEL Development. “The Caucasians just couldn’t pronounce Chip Eng Leong and would shorten it to ‘Chip’ or ‘Chips’,” he recalls.
After Lehman Brothers’ 2008 collapse triggered the global financial crisis, sales in the luxury market stalled. However, some Asian funds viewed it as an opportunity for bulk purchases in selected prime condos at a discount. ARA Asset Management swooped in to purchase the remaining 53 units at Grange Infinite in a bulk deal for $388 million in March 2008, while Keppel Fund Management (formerly known as Alpha Investment Partners) acquired the balance 30 units at City Vista in 2010 for $147 million. Hence, Chip Eng Seng offloaded its unsold inventory.
ARA Asset Management swooped in to purchase the remaining 53 units at Grange Infinite in a bulk deal for $388 million in March 2008 (Photo: The Edge Singapore)
Chia emphasises the importance of local knowledge in real estate. “We know Singapore best, compared to other parts of the world,” he says.
In October 2018, Chinese billionaire couple Celine Tang and her husband, Gordon Tang, bought out the Lim family’s stake in Chip Eng Seng for $201 million and privatised the firm in February. The Tangs bought out SingHaiyi and privatised the firm in January 2022.
“Real estate company shares tend to trade at a substantial discount to net asset value. So it made sense to privatise,” says Chia. He believes the privatised and merged group will be more nimble in seizing market opportunities.“There is still a lot of money coming to Singapore from abroad,” says Chia. “Our currency is strong, and our real estate market is stable.”
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