Savills bolsters property management and agency businesses with opportunistic buys, new hires

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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November 18, 2022 9:00 AM SGT
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - While others see cleaning services as an unsexy business, Savills Singapore sees it as a boost to its facilities services offering. This explains the acquisition of a majority stake in Absolute Maintenance Services (AMS), a 20-year-old cleaning and sanitising services firm in September.
The acquisition will catapult Savills from a top 10 position among facilities services providers to the top five. “We intend to be the only international service provider among the top three players in Singapore,” says Chris Marriott, Savills Southeast Asia CEO.
Over the past decade, Savills has been building its property management, integrated facilities management and facilities services businesses in Singapore. “Combined, we are hoping that turnover for the overall property management business will top $100 million next year,” says Marriott.
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He hopes to replicate its strategy in Singapore in the rest of the region. Having been in Asia since 1990 and with Savills since 1995, Marriott has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore. Based in Singapore now, he oversees the firm’s entire operation in Southeast Asia.
“I’ve always held the belief that in Asia, we have had to manage through feast and famine more so than in the Western world — whether it’s the Asian Financial Crisis, the dotcom boom and bust, Covid or property cooling measures,” says Marriott. “We’ve had to be agile in the way we operate our business. That means having a robust strategy that survives the highs and lows of the real estate markets.”
THE INTERLACE - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The 1,040-unit The Interlace is one of the 160 condominium projects with a total of 50,000 units managed by Savills Property Management (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Counterbalance

As a counterbalance to the more transactional nature of the agency business, which tends to fluctuate, Savills is building up its recurring income through contract-based businesses or “perennials”, says Marriott. For Savills, that started with the acquisition of CKH Strata Management founded by Chan Kok Hong, with an initial stake of 51% in 2011.
Since then, CKH Strata Management has been fully integrated with Savills’ property management business with Chan at the helm as managing director. It is now the largest strata property manager in Singapore, with a portfolio of over 160 management corporation strata title (MCST) buildings comprising about 50,000 residential units. Winnie Wong, deputy head of Savills property management, is targeting to grow the portfolio to 200 MCST buildings with 60,000 units.
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In addition to the residential strata management business, Savills is said to be gaining ground in the commercial and industrial space, both in strata-titled and single-ownership buildings such as Orchard Gateway and 20 Collyer Quay. This business segment is driven by Tang Chee Charn, executive director of Savills property management. Tang joined Savills from Colliers two years ago, where he was last head of property management.
An integral part of Savills’ overall property management business is its facilities management and facilities services, headed by executive director Robin Leow. Some of Savills’ facilities management clients include Bank of East Asia and Visa corporate offices.
Leow was instrumental in the acquisition of AMS, which provides cleaning services and facilities services for large-scale commercial and industrial buildings, warehouses, commercial kitchens and institutions. Its clients include the Building and Construction Authority, Singapore Press Holdings and Fullerton Bay Hotel. AMS’s sister company, Solute, a professional home cleaning services firm, was acquired together with AMS. (Find Singapore commercial properties with our commercial directory)
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MERX SAVILLS - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
At the start of the year, Savills took a major stake in Singapore-based, project management services firm Merx Group. William Forwood of Merx Group (second from left) and Chris Marriott of Savills (third from left) at the ceremony in April (Photo: Savills)

Other acquisitions

In January, Savills took a major stake in Singapore-based, project management services firm Merx Group. Founded in 2001 and headed by its CEO William Forwood, Merx has 50 professionals across Asia, covering multiple sectors from workplace to data centres, industrial, hospitality and retail.
Recent projects completed by Merx in Singapore include fitting out Dyson’s 148,000 sq ft headquarters at the St James Power Station heritage building, and Axis Communications’ regional office at an 11,484 sq ft Grade-A office space at Suntec City Tower 1. Another significant project was Metrojet’s integrated aerospace facility at Clark, in the Philippines.
“Merx is the cornerstone in the expansion of our regional project management services,” says Marriott. With Merx’s operations fully integrated with Savills’, Forwood, regional lead for project management, is now “actively seeking to expand our footprint in Southeast Asia and the rest of the Asia Pacific region”, Marriott adds.
According to Marriott, Merx’s business complements Savills’ project management services headed by Vincent Lau, which handled the office fit-out for Lazada at its new 109,000 sq ft office across four floors at Lazada One in Bras Basah and KPMG’s new office at Asia Square Tower 2.
In July 2021, Savills purchased a strategic interest in Malaysian supply chain consulting agency, LCA. Now renamed LCA-Savills, the supply chain and logistics consulting firm has a regional footprint. “This business has given us a seat at the boardroom table with the C-suite of e-retailers, manufacturers, distributors and logistics firms, to advise them on their real estate and logistics strategies in the region,” says Marriott.
To scale its property management business, Savills spent $650,000 on a “re-engineering programme” that will take two years to complete. “We’ve had consultants come in to help us look at the digitisation and digitalisation of the services we deliver,” says Marriott. “It’s not just about adding new applications and technology but more about streamlining our existing business to be more efficient and more scalable. It responds to the challenges that every employer in Singapore faces, which is workforce — both at the headquarters and on the ground.”
Rajawali Place - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Savills is the sole agent for Rajawali Place, a 30-storey office tower with a total lettable area of close to 455,900 sq ft, with 26,049 sq ft of retail space (Picture: Savills)

Replicating recurring income business in the region

Beyond Singapore, Savills is expanding its recurring income business strategy to the rest of the region. It is starting with Vietnam, where the firm has over 2,500 staff located in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang and is managing 140 buildings across Vietnam, which are predominantly residential. It is now venturing into commercial, with several buildings under asset management.
“The Vietnam market is ahead of the other emerging markets,” says Marriott. “It’s energetic, progressive and has embraced technology in many aspects of business.”
The firm has also expanded its property management business in Thailand and Malaysia. In Indonesia, Savills bought a controlling interest in CBI, a property management firm that was formerly part of the Coldwell Banker franchise.
Savills scored a coup in Indonesia when it was signed on as the exclusive agent for Rajawali Place, a mixed-use development with two high-rise towers: the 65-storey St Regis Jakarta Hotel and the 30-storey Rajawali Place office tower. The office tower has a total lettable area of close to 455,900 sq ft, with 26,049 sq ft of retail space. The mixed-use development was completed in 3Q2022 and sits on a 62,937 sq ft site fronting West Setia Budi Reservoir in Setiabudi, Jakarta, Indonesia.
Together with Savills’ proptech investment subsidiary Grosvenor Hill Ventures, Marriott has been seeking to invest in new technology that enhances its real estate business. In 2019, Savills teamed up with HomeClick to implement iCondo, an online residential management application for residents that enables them to interface with building managers and facilities within the development.
According to Marriott, iCondo now dominates in its field in Singapore and is seeking to expand with Savills into the rest of the region, namely Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Savills has also invested in and works closely with Banco, a new invoice financing platform, that assists SMEs in the property management field. “A lot of SMEs suffer from cashflow issues, having to deliver their services before they are paid,” notes Marriott. “And it’s incredibly expensive for them to go to a traditional bank to finance that cashflow gap, which is typically over a two- to three-month period. So they use factoring.” Banco is therefore structured to allow SMEs to access cheaper financing, adds Marriott.
BRAS BASAH - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Savills advises e-commerce giant Lazada and its parent company Alibaba on their real estate requirements in Singapore and elsewhere in the region (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Agency business

Augmenting the agency business is Sally Tan, who came on board in April as Savills Singapore’s managing director of industrial and commercial leasing services. Tan oversees the growth of the firm’s sales and leasing business capabilities in the industrial market and office sector.
According to Marcus Loo, CEO of Savills Singapore, the firm advises e-commerce giant Lazada and its parent company Alibaba on their real estate requirements in Singapore and elsewhere in the region.
Some of the other notable office leasing clients the firm had represented in recent years include global financial services firms such as UBS, Allianz and EFG Bank; global engineering company Howden; consumer electronics giant Samsung; British-American international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright; and most recently multinational professional services firm KPMG. “We also help some of our clients in the region, not just in Singapore, as a lot of the key decision-makers are based here,” says Loo.
Savills’ investment and capital markets division led by Jeremy Lake and Galven Tan, has also concluded several leading market transactions such as the sale of Tanglin Shopping Centre for $868 million in February this year, as well as the sale of the private freehold sites along Thiam Siew Avenue for $815 million last November. The team has also advised institutional investors on major commercial assets, shophouses, strata-titled commercial properties and Good Class Bungalows, notes Loo.
With hybrid working here to stay, many firms will be going through “right-sizing” at the moment, Loo observes. And this is where having a workplace strategy team becomes important: “Our team will assess what works for a company from a real estate perspective,” says Loo. “It is no longer a question of affordability but about what a company needs to establish the right workplace formula.”
Besides providing workplace strategy consulting services for companies, Savills has also created a workthere.com online platform, which is an aggregator of all the co-working spaces in Singapore. There are also Savills leasing agents on hand to help end-users identify the right co-working space to suit their needs, says Loo. “The market has a broad range of providers and it can get very confusing for the end-user,” says Loo. “So we help them simplify the various options, strip out all the frills, so they know exactly what they are getting based on what they are paying in terms of membership fees.”
MARCUS LOO - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
From my perspective, Savills is no longer just a transaction and consultancy business. We have morphed into a business with a strong recurring income platform that has been augmented by the digitalisation of the business (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Landlord-tenant portal livethere.com

A counterpoint to workthere.com is livethere.com, a proprietary platform that connects residential landlords and tenants through a portal. “We are seeing more multiple-property owners who are buying for investment or the next generation,” says Loo. Hence, there is a need to help them achieve “the best yield” for their investment properties, he adds.
Livethere.com, launched in April this year, connects landlords to potential tenants who will be able to see the listings of residential properties for rent and their asking rental rates. For landlords, the platform also helps them manage their portfolio, alerts them six months before the leases on their properties expire, and allows them to compare their rental rates and yields relative to the latest market rates and yields. This will help them to renegotiate a fresh lease with the incumbent tenant at renewal, says Loo. This gives the landlord “a holistic view” in terms of his or her residential investment portfolio, he adds.
Since livethere.com went live in April, it has generated 300 to 400 enquiries every month, according to Loo. It’s helpful for tenants too, as they will be able to shortlist and compare the different properties that suit their budget and preferred locations. “Because supply is so tight in the rental market, a lot of expatriates want to secure an apartment even before they arrive in Singapore,” he says. “So livethere.com helps the newcomers as well as those who are relocating, both Singaporeans and expatriates.”
An added service provided under livethere.com is that Savills’ residential leasing agents will also help tenants negotiate with landlords, adds Loo.
The livethere.com portal evolved from Savills’ positioning as the largest strata-titled residential property manager in Singapore, according to Loo. Consequently, besides managing the estate, MCST council members and residents regularly ask Savills’ property managers if they can help with other aspects of the estate, he adds.
Savills Singapore has close to 600 staff in its property management team. However, including AMS’s business, which has close to 1,600 staff, Savills’ total headcount in its property management business as a whole — which includes facilities management and facilities services — is about 2,200, he estimates.
“From my perspective, Savills is no longer just a transaction and consultancy business,” says Loo. “We have morphed into a business with a strong recurring income platform that has been augmented by the digitalisation of the business.”

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