UOL Group: Providing value through realistic pricing, interesting product offering

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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October 25, 2019 5:30 PM SGT
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Since assuming the role of UOL Group chief executive at the start of this year, Liam Wee Sin has been working to integrate the various subsidiaries under the group, namely, Marina Centre Holdings, Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG) and United Industrial Corp (UIC). “UOL has a dedicated and robust team in place,” says Liam. “We have continued to strengthen the top leadership. We have been focusing on integration and harnessing the talent from UOL and its subsidiaries.”
Liam Wee Sin, group chief executive (left), who accepted the Top Developer Award on behalf of UOL Group at EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2019 (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Liam Wee Sin, group chief executive (left), who accepted the Top Developer Award on behalf of UOL Group at EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2019 (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Even when it comes to bidding for sites – whether in government land sales (GLS) or collective sales – every party within the group who is interested in participating will name their stakes in the project during the tender period. “It’s all decided upfront even before we submit a bid,” says Liam. “So we take the risk together.”
For instance, UOL purchased a freehold site on Amber Road in January 2017 for $156 million on its own. The new development on the site, the 139-unit Amber 45, was launched in May 2018. In just 1½ years, it is 80% sold at an average of $2,302 psf.
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On the other hand, the 729-unit The Tre Ver in Potong Pasir is a joint venture between UOL and UIC. A redevelopment of the former Raintree Gardens en bloc site, the new project was launched in August last year – just a month after the government introduced its ninth round of property cooling measures. The Tre Ver is currently 84% sold.
Launched in August last year, the 729-unit Tre Ver is already 84% sold (Photo: UOL Group/UIC)
Launched in August last year, the 729-unit Tre Ver is already 84% sold (Photo: UOL Group/UIC)

Strong underlying demand

“The government introduced the cooling measures to moderate property prices, and that objective has been achieved,” says Liam. “Notwithstanding the cooling measures, there’s always strong underlying demand for projects with good locational and product attributes.”
Property developers in Singapore’s residential sector may be buying freehold or 99-year leasehold sites. “But these sites have a five-year ‘expiry date’ by which we have to complete and sell out the units in the development. This poses a challenge for us,” adds Liam in his speech during the EdgeProp Singapore Excellence Awards 2019 gala dinner on Oct 18, where UOL Group won the Top Developer award.
The “expiry date” refers to the additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) clawback period of five years from the date of site acquisition. The ABSD for property developers who purchase residential development sites was raised from 15% to 25% in July 2018, as part of the cooling measures. There is also an additional 5% ABSD that has to be paid upfront, which is non-remittable.
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“All property developers, including UOL, have to step up our product offering and price our projects realistically to attract buyers,” says Liam. “The basic ingredient is always land price, and in creating products that are very efficient.” Realistic pricing of units, an interesting product offering and a compelling growth story will create value for home buyers, making them more willing to commit to a purchase, he adds. “That has worked for us time and again.”
 The scale model of the 56-unit Meyerhouse, a joint venture between UOL and Kheng Leong, featuring Singapore-based architectural firm, WOHA Architects; Canada-based interior designers Yabu Pushelberg; and German landscape architects Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The scale model of the 56-unit Meyerhouse, a joint venture between UOL and Kheng Leong, featuring Singapore-based architectural firm, WOHA Architects; Canada-based interior designers Yabu Pushelberg; and
German landscape architects Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Creating value, product differentiation

Liam points to The Tre Ver by way of example. “It’s in a very central location, almost like Toa Payoh, but we put in a lot of greenery,” he explains. The 99-year leasehold site has another advantage: a 220m frontage along Kallang River. The former Raintree Gardens was purchased en bloc for $334.2 million ($797 psf ppr) in October 2016, well before the start of the collective sale fever.
As such, UOL and UIC could engage celebrated architectural firm WOHA to create an innovative design for The Tre Ver. “We put value into the project in terms of design, finishes and greenery,” he adds.
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Also, UOL and sister company Kheng Leong, the private property vehicle of the family of UOB banker-tycoon Wee Cho Yaw, previewed the 56-unit, luxury boutique development Meyer House at the end of May this year. The freehold site on prime Meyer Road is a redevelopment of the former Nanak Mansions, which was purchased en bloc for $201.1 million in September 2017.
All the units sold at MeyerHouse are the four-bedroom units priced from $7.5 million (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
All the units sold at MeyerHouse are the four-bedroom units priced from $7.5 million (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
A luxury project that will stand out in the exclusive Meyer Road enclave, MeyerHouse is created through a collaboration of three designers: the celebrated Singapore-based architectural firm, WOHA Architects; Canada-based interior designers Yabu Pushelberg; and German landscape architects Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl.
At MeyerHouse, there are just 10 three-bedroom units sized from 1,862 sq ft; 40 four-bedroom units from 2,820 sq ft; and six penthouses from 5,587 sq ft. Each unit comes with its own private lift and private lift lobby.
“Meyer House features big format apartments,” says Liam. “It’s a product that appeals to those who want a luxury condo; and a property that they can hold for future generations.”
The five units sold so far have all been large units – four-bedroom apartments sized above 2,820 sq ft that fetched prices from $7.5 million to $8.3 million, or an average of $2,613 psf, based on caveats lodged to date. When the project is completed, buyers will be able to better appreciate the sense of space, adds Liam. “We have deliberately differentiated the project from the others in the neighbourhood.”
Liam: UOL has a dedicated and robust team in place. We have continued to strengthen the top leadership. We have been focusing on integration and harnessing the talent from UOL and its subsidiaries (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Liam: UOL has a dedicated and robust team in place. We have continued to strengthen the top leadership. We have been focusing on integration and harnessing the talent from UOL and its subsidiaries (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Raising the bar

The other major launch is the 1,074-unit Avenue South Residence located in Kampong Bahru, just at the fringe of the CBD and the gateway to the Greater Southern Waterfront. The project is a joint development by UOL, UIC and Kheng Leong. Launched in August this year, the project is more than 35% sold to date. With 381 out of 1,074 units sold, it is one of the top-selling projects of 2019.
Riding on the success of the 505-unit The Clement Canopy, which was launched in February 2017 and fully sold by July last year, UOL and UIC jointly bid for, and won, a neighbouring residential development site along Clementi Avenue 1. The group paid $491.3 million ($788 psf per plot ratio) for the 99-year leasehold site in a GLS tender in July.
“When we bought this new site, we capitalised on our understanding of the location and its attraction for home buyers based on the good run we had with The Clement Canopy,” says Liam. “The main draw is the proximity to NUS [National University of Singapore] as well as other top secondary and tertiary educational institutions in the vicinity.”
Instead of developing a project similar to The Clement Canopy, Liam says, the joint-venture partners intend to raise the bar. “We want to create a product that would wow home buyers,” he says. “We want it to be differentiated from The Clement Canopy. It’s as though we are competing with ourselves.”
Riding on the success of the 505-unit The Clement Canopy, which was launched in February 2017 and fully sold by July last year, UOL and UIC jointly bid for, and won, a neighbouring residential development site along Clementi Avenue 1 (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Riding on the success of the 505-unit The Clement Canopy, which was launched in February 2017 and fully sold by July last year, UOL and UIC jointly bid for, and won, a neighbouring residential development site along Clementi Avenue 1 (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Beyond residential

The acquisition of the remaining interests in Marina Centre Holdings in April this year gives UOL and UIC full control of the Marina Square shopping centre, Pan Pacific Hotel and Marina Mandarin Hotel, with the latter to be rebranded Parkroyal. This will allow UOL and UIC to work together to capitalise on the government’s plan to rejuvenate the CBD into a vibrant mixed-use precinct, says Liam.
In the hospitality sector, Liam sees the opportunity to turn PPHG into a leading player on the global stage. To realise that ambition, he hired Choe Peng Sum – hospitality veteran and formerly CEO of Frasers Hospitality – as the new chief executive of PPHG from Sept 1. Liam sees Choe focusing on the staff and the service culture.
“We are very strong in green building,” says Liam. “Parkroyal on Pickering is a clear example,” says Liam. “We will capitalise on that for PPHG.”
Showflat of the Heritage Collection of Avenue South Residence where all 86 units are fully sold. The five blocks which are among the oldest public housing flats in Singapore and built by SIT, will be conserved and the interiors will be gutted and rebuilt for modern day use (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore
Showflat of the Heritage Collection of Avenue South Residence where all 86 units are fully sold. The five blocks which are among the oldest public housing flats in Singapore and built by SIT, will be conserved and the interiors will be gutted and rebuilt for modern day use (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore
Liam intends to foster a “culture of innovation”. He sees innovation not just in terms of creating a great design concept, but also as working together with people from different departments or divisions to find solutions to problems.
Over the years, UOL has become a well-diversified property player with a market capitalisation of well over $6.5 billion as at Oct 22. “We will continue to build on that robustness – in income, assets and people,” says Liam. “The property market and business environment has become not only challenging but also complicated. It is also changing at a more rapid pace than we can envisage, especially with technology.” As such, UOL has set up a team to look at innovation and digitalisation.
Liam believes that success “is not just a checklist of acquisitions and launches”. He adds: “As real estate developers, we are connected to the city and our society. We need to make a positive impact on our environment and the industry.”
For price trends, recent transactions, other project info, check out these UOL's projects research page: Amber 45, Avenue South Residence, The Clement Canopy, MeyerHouse, The Tre Ver
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