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Willi Ching: From beauty care to property

Not everyone can make the transition from sales and marketing of skincare and beauty care products to property, but Willi Ching did. After spending six years at French personal care company L’Oreal Singapore as a national sales manager, he had a one-year stint with ECG Property (now part of TEHO International) before he joined Huttons Asia eight years ago.

Ching: I wanted to do something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. And I also wanted to be my own boss. Real estate offers me the opportunity to do that (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

“I wanted to do something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life,” says the 40-year-old Ching. “And I also wanted to be my own boss. Real estate has offered me the opportunity to do that.”

In 2015, Ching founded MTD Landed Division, which he now heads. His team of about 30 realtors has brokered the sale of more than 100 houses over the past four years. MTD Landed is a division of Huttons Asia, one of the four biggest real estate brokerage firms in Singapore with over 3,000 agents today.

MTD Landed focuses on districts in the east (Districts 13, 14, 15 and 16); northeast (Districts 19, 20 and 28); and central (Districts 10, 11 and 21) regions. This is because these districts account for 80% of all landed residential property transactions in Singapore, says Ching.

According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, as at 2018, about 78.7% of Singapore residents are HDB flat dwellers; another 15.9% of the population are ensconced in private apartments or condos. Only 5.1% of the population live in landed property.

Only 5% of the population in Singapore live in landed property (Photo Credit: MTD Landed Division)

Housing aspirations

Many Singaporeans therefore aspire to live in a house. Ching lives in a shophouse apartment now. But having grown up in an HDB flat, he understands that aspiration only too well. “I used to wonder what it was like to live in a house,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the buyers of landed property are HDB or private condo upgraders. There are also those who are upsizing to a bigger house. Those who are downsizing are usually doing so because of lifestyle changes – children having grown up and moved out, loss of mobility or loss of their spouse, adds Ching.

Landed property accounts for 73,256 units or 18% of the total housing stock of about 404,732 units in Singapore as at end-2Q2019, according to URA data. Given the limited stock, landed property prices have been relatively resilient.

Prices of landed properties decreased by 0.1% q-o-q in 2Q2019 compared with a 1.1% q-o-q increase in the previous quarter, according to URA data. Meanwhile, prices of non-landed properties increased by 2% q-o-q in 2Q2019, compared with the 1.1% q-o-q decrease in the previous quarter.

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In the Eunos-Kembangan area, a palatial 3½ storey house features a double-volume ceiling height of 7m, 12 bedrooms, a gym, swimming pool and covered parking for six cars. The house sits on a freehold, land area of 9,200 sq ft and is on the market for $10.88 million. (Credit: MTD Landed Division)

Market anomaly 

There was a surge in landed property transactions in 2017 and 2018 to 2,418 and 2,322 units respectively. The steep increase in both private residential property prices and transaction volume in 2017 and 2018 has been considered an anomaly due to the wave of en bloc sales from 2016 to 1H2018. During the 2½-year period, 65 en bloc sales worth $19.1 billion were transacted, according to data by Colliers International research.

“The en bloc sales created a lot of liquidity in the market,” notes Ching. “When en bloc beneficiaries buy replacement property, some may opt to buy a private condo or even a landed property. The seller of the private property in turn may decide to upgrade to a house.”

He adds: “Landed property prices were pushed up as well, even though they weren’t a direct beneficiary of the en bloc fever. Hence, en bloc sales had a spiralling effect on overall private property prices, including landed property.”

However, sentiments in the residential market had also picked up on the back of more positive economic outlook and “fine-tuning” of the seller’s stamp duty (SSD) policy in March 2017, which saw the holding period reduced to three years, from four years before. The levy was lowered to 12% (from 16%) for those who sold their property within the first year of purchase.

A detached house in the prime Meyer Road neighbourhood has a built-up area of 11,000 sq ft space, seven bedrooms, spacious living and dining areas and a huge garden. It sits on a 9,806 sq ft, freehold site and is on the market with a price tag of $17.5 million. (Credit: MTD Landed Division)

Besides en bloc sales, land prices had also been pushed up by developers’ aggressive bids in the government land sales (GLS) programme in 2017 and 1H2018. This is because the government had held back the GLS programme between 2013 and 2016, and this led to the pent-up demand from developers eager to replenish their land bank.

Slight pick-up in transactions

Following the property cooling measures last July, transaction volume of landed property contracted by 21.3% q-o-q to 295 units in 1Q2019. Compared to a year ago, transactions of landed property shrank 57.3% in 1Q2019. Meanwhile, in 2Q2019, transaction volume increased 15% q-o-q to 338 units. Still, it was 57% below the transaction volume in 2Q2018.

“It was only towards the end of 2Q2019 that transaction volume picked up,” Ching says. “Even then, it is nowhere near the levels seen in 1H2018.” However, he is hopeful that with the pick-up in transaction volume, prices will be on an upward trend.

He recently brokered the sale of a detached house at Dunbar Estate in District 15 for $7.68 million. The 2½-storey house sits on a freehold land area of 5,030 sq ft and has a built-up area of about 6,000 sq ft. The house comes with six en suite bedrooms, a pool and roof terrace.

Ching recently brokered the sale of a detached house in the Dunbar area that fetched $7.68 million (Credit: MTD Landed Division)

MTD Landed is marketing another detached house in District 15, located in the prime Meyer area. It is a bigger house with 11,000 sq ft space, seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms, spacious living and dining area, as well as a huge garden, on a 9,806 sq ft, freehold site. The property is on the market with a price tag of $17.5 million.

In the Eunos-Kembangan area in the east is another detached house that is currently marketed by MTD Landed. The 3½-storey house has a built-up area of 13,300 sq ft and has 12 bedrooms. The house comes with a living room that has a double volume ceiling of 7m; private gym; lift; swimming pool; and covered parking for six cars. It sits on a freehold-land area of 9,200 sq ft. The property is on the market for $10.88 million.

For price trends, recent transactions, other project info, check out research page of Dunbar WalkMeyer RoadKembanganLorong Salleh


For Ching, his interest in architecture and interior design also helps in marketing landed property. “There’s a lot more product differentiation compared to marketing private condos or apartments,” he says.

The graduate of Nanyang Technological University was a bit of a maverick as a student. His O-level results had earned him a place in Hwa Chong Junior College, but he opted to attend Ngee Ann Polytechnic instead. “I didn’t like the thought of having to do A-levels and I didn’t really like the science subjects,” he says. “I opted for Ngee Ann Polytechnic because it has a good business school and I found the education programme more practical, and in line with what I wanted to do.” That has also served him well in his current position as the head of MTD Landed Division within Huttons Asia.

Ching finds the homeowners he deals with interesting. “A lot of them are entrepreneurs, business owners, top executives or professionals,” he observes. “I’ve always been interested in business and I learn a lot from talking to them.”

Having a good sense of the home owner helps too. He says: “That always adds an interesting dimension to the house – for instance, a successful doctor, a restaurateur with a flourishing business, or a family whose children excel in school.”

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