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THE DIVERSIFIED BUILDER

Smart Niche Group off to a great promising start

By: Aidil Mohammad Noor

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At rare times, we encounter developers who strive to achieve greatness in building up their name and reputation. Such company is Smart Niche Group (SNG), a joint venture of two companies (Rivertree Group headed by Dato’ Simon David Leong and Imaxland Sdn Bhd headed by Dato’ Dr Colin Lee), from an idea birthed by the two good friends with completely different background but with two common passions: responsible property development and drive for excellence.

A relatively new developer, Smart Niche Group has roots that began after the development of Tropicana Medical Centre in 2005 where Dato’ Simon worked with Dato’ Dr Colin Lee.

Dato’ Simon is an engineer by profession who graduated from the world renowned Imperial College of London where he obtained a First Class Honours Degree besides also bagging the Sir Bruce White Prize on his graduating year. He was a Chevening Scholar, being part of the Chevening Scholarship Scheme awarded by the UK Government internationally. He later obtained his MBA via a part-time programme with The University of Hull while working.

“Dato’ Dr Colin is an old friend of mine and he is a world renowned Fertility Specialist specialising in In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and is known for founding Damansara Women’s Specialist Centre and Tropicana Medical Centre which was subsequently publicly listed in Bursa as TMC Life Sciences Berhad,” recalls Managing Director and CEO of Rivertree Group Dato’ Simon of his partner.

“Besides being a passionate doctor, he is extremely passionate in property development owning, designing, building properties locally and overseas including but not limited to the development of Tropicana Medical Centre in Kota Damansara where I worked with him.” says Dato’ Simon.

They both invested in land and properties together as joint venture partners. By the end of 2010, Dr Lee had sold his shares in TMC Life Sciences Berhad and from here, they both decided to venture in a more serious manner into property development, which inspired them to establish their own company and eventually led to the joint venture that created Smart Niche Group.

What is unique about Smart Niche Group is that its well-diversified group of stakeholders. They consist of quantity surveyor, medical doctor, town planner, telecommunication engineer, civil engineers and many more. It is a company who takes in ideas from people of different backgrounds, creating a fresh idea and unique developments which can set them apart from other developments. This is similar to the approach adopted by Goldman Sachs, one of the top merchant bankers in the world, who ropes in even psychologists and rocket scientists into their financial team.

“We here in SNG is similar in that our products are a result of brainstorming among individuals ranging from a top medical doctor to engineers, town planners, quantity surveyors among others. We bring more than 30 years of design, planning, construction and project management expertise to the table,” says Dato’ Simon with pride.

FUTURE DEMANDS

“One of our biggest challenges is, really, the perception by public. Certain people perceive us as a new kid on the block, with one of the shareholders being a medical doctor turned developer,” says Dato’ Simon. The truth of the matter is in fact far further than it seems.

They themselves have had extensive developments experience of their own, according to Dato’ Simon. “Yes, the company itself is new. But the team that makes up the company ranges from people from many years of experience,” he adds. The company may only be new in name but the people within are proven veterans.

“For example, my high-end bungalow development under my flagship company Rivertree Group and Dato’ Dr Colin’s Tropicana Medical Centre under TMC Life Sciences Berhad,” Dato’ Simon adds.

Not only that he had his own development before, Dato’ Simon started his own business in construction back in the 1999, and his passion in property development gradually lead him to vertical integrate into the property development sector in 2009. The company bought many bungalow lots in Setia Eco Park and Tropicana and they developed high end bungalows with lift and swimming pool based on a build-and-sell concept. “Total GDV for the boutique bungalow development was approximately RM70 million”, says Dato’ Simon.

In countering the perception problem, Dato’ Simon believes that they have to develop and deliver, and results so far have been encouraging. “We managed to achieve 100% booking of our first block in a few months. Now we are opening the second block for booking. That can be considered as ‘okay’ for what people call ‘a new kid on the block’,” he adds, smiling.

As for challenges in the property market, Dato’ Simon thinks that developers have to improvise and plan developments to meet future market demands. “There will always be a demand for properties, be it residential (landed or high rise), commercial or industrial as long as there is no war or famine. The challenge is which type and when. That is, we have to foresee what kind of product the market wants in the future and plan for it now,” Dato’ Simon explains.

For example, some developers foresaw the high-end residential wave coming in the mid-2000s onwards, and they benefited from the wave. Some foresaw high-end landed bungalows as the in-thing eight years ago and started planning for it early. Today, the wave is no longer in high-end housing but rather in affordable homes.

Dato’ Simon thinks that Malaysia will one day have many developments that cater for the intergeneration needs when families, while raising their own children, will opt to take care of their aging parents. “It is a fact of life. Sooner or later, our old-aged will not have anyone taking care of them due to the hectic lifestyle in the city, since it’s becoming a norm for both the husband and wife to be working,” he says.

The social norm of Malaysians is that we would rather not put our parents in a nursing home facility, and developments that can address these family and social needs will be in great demand in the coming future, Dato’ Simon has no doubt.

“One interesting development which we are currently planning for is a mix development comprising of commercial, residential, hospitality together with intergenerational development components and services to cater for the old age. This development when materialised will have a GDV in excess of RM1 billion.”

Market conditions

The recent cooling measures introduced by the government such as tightening of lending by banks are something that is expected, according to Dato’ Simon. “It is definitely a healthy move for Bank Negara to curb over speculation. We as developers will have to work twice as hard to filter the good, healthy buyers from the pool of buyers that have registered with us,” Dato’ Simon shares his take.

“In Malaysia, we buy many properties, and that leads to household debt getting a bit too high, and Bank Negara is getting worried about it,” he adds.

He also adds that with the implementation of the GST, they are definitely going to see increase in property prices in the years to come. It is inevitable that the additional cost borne by contractors and developers will be passed on to buyers, eventually causing property prices to move upwards.

For the younger generation, their affordability to purchase a first home will get tougher and tougher, Dato’ Simon believes. “Every ringgit we earn is buying less and less of everything. Land costs and construction costs are going higher at a rate that is way faster than the increase of salary of the ordinary man on the street,” he observes.

“The best way to fight inflation is to own properties and getting passive income to sustain our lifestyle. I hope our Government will continue to pursue programmes like PR1MA to assist our Gen-Ys to own their first homes because they are going to need it.”

Maiden Project

With aim to cater to a wider swath of citizens other than its residence is Smart Niche Group’s maiden project, Sutera Pines, a residential development on a 6.52-acre piece of land with a density of 65 units per acre. It consist of two blocks of condominiums: a 12-storey (Block B) and a 20-storey (Block A), with a car park and facilities podium in the middle serving the two blocks.

The development offers 424 units. Block A comprises of 297 units, 16 units per floor and catered by 4 lifts. Block B has 127 units with 12 units per floor and catered by 2 lifts. The facilities also include swimming pool, badminton courts, multipurpose hall, squash courts, barbeque area, jacuzzi, sun deck and floating gymnasium.

There are also eight units of shop houses called shoplex with more than 100 available car park spaces to cater for residents as well as outside visitors with a separate dedicated entrance different from the condo residential entrance. This shoplex will not only serve residents of Sutera Pines but also the public living in the vicinity that do not need to go to Sungai Long to do their shopping.

“Not to forget, a nature park or hill comprising about 1.5 acres of natural area which we have dedicated to the residents for their relaxation, jogging, tracking, etcetera. We also have a Canopy Health Garden for those health conscious residents,” Dato’ Simon adds.

What sets Sutera Pines apart is that it is the first condominium development next to Twin Palms by Lum Chang, one of the few luxury-gated guarded developments in Cheras area. Another important part of it is that Sutera Pines is away from the traffic jam within Sungai Long. It has a serene environment with nature right at the homeowner’s doorstep.

“Those who know Sg Long will know this. There are two traffic lights from UTAR Sg Long coming out to SILK Highway, and that traffic lights can get you stuck for five to seven minutes. We’re away from that. People want to live close by to their workplace, and want to live in serenity away from the traffic. That’s what we’re providing them with,” Dato’ Simon explains.

A closer look at Sutera Pines reveals that the project well-connected by several highways: LEKAS, SILK, KL-Seremban, Cheras Kajang, SKVE, and Kajang Seremban. Being slated in the south, their connectivity via Cheras-Kajang Highway into KLCC is about a 27-minute drive, a 25-minute drive to Mid Valley and 27-minute drive to KL Sentral. Towards Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and Bangi, it is about 27-minute drive via SILK Highway.

In terms of nearby facilities and amenities, Sutera Pines is of close proximity to many retail buildings. There are two Aeons within a 6km radius, which are Aeon Cheras Selatan and Aeon Mahkota Cheras, and Mines Shopping Centre is just within a 10-minute drive. Also in about 15-minute drive is Cheras Leisure Mall.

As for medical care, there are two hospitals within close proximity: Columbia Asia Hospital is just 6km away and Sungai Long Hospital is 5.3km away.

In addition, Sutera Pines is seven minutes by car from the future 20,000 student campus of UTAR which will be ready by 2016 where these students not to mention their teachers and university staff would require housing.

“The location is very preferable, with campus coming up, and also, Sg Long is quite a close proximity to Kajang, Putrajaya, and Cyberjaya,” Dato’ Simon mentions. As for Sg Long’s growth alone, this area is one of the fastest growing areas in Selangor. “If you notice, there are a lot of MRT Stations being stationed around this area. About 10 to 20 years ago, people here were not from high earners. But that has changed now. They are getting wealthier by the day, and their affordability level is getting higher,” Dato’ Simon says.

Sutera Pines is only a start, and Dato’ Simon has confidence on Smart Niche Group’s opportunities to carve its name and making an impact on socially responsible developments.

“I see SNG developing unique mixed developments that comprises of products that the market needs not only for sale but as a service to Malaysians as a whole.

“I see Malaysia lagging unique projects to serve the needs of the people and I hope SNG can fill in the gap to do such a service having in Group a diversified group of trained professionals plus business acumen,” he concludes.

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