Quick completion, excellent quality, says EcoFirst
Ho Chung Teng 
Tiong posing with EcoFirst's Liberty@Ampang Ukay project

FOR some property developers, delays in completing their projects are common, but not for boutique property developer EcoFirst Consolidated Bhd.

The company prides itself on completing projects on time and without compromising quality.

EcoFirst group CEO and executive director Datuk Tiong Kwing Hee says its strategy is to be consistent by focusing on speed, market position and location, and “we have always delivered all on three areas”.

Not bad for the company, given that the property market has been in the doldrums for a while, with declining sales and weak sentiments.

But poor market conditions have never been a damper for EcoFirst as the company proved critics wrong when it reported a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 122.63% from 2014 to last year.

For FY16, it reported a more than seven-fold increase in revenue to RM121.2 mil from RM24.4 mil in FY14.


Strong revenue growth

Given its good revenue performance over the three years, EcoFirst came out tops in the Best Revenue Growth category in Focus Malaysia’s Best under Billion Awards 2017.

The company won the award for companies with a market capitalisation of between RM150 mil and RM499 mil.

Since 2014, Malaysia’s property market has been challenging. Property sales declined due to weak sentiment, rising living cost and government intervention, along with Bank Negara Malaysia’s tightening of lending rules and financing requirements.

Under such conditions, the fast completion of property projects is usually associated with poor quality.

But Tiong says EcoFirst pays close attention to its product quality. He points to projects such as Kondominium Kelab Golf (formerly known as Upper East @ Tiger Lane) located in Tiger Lane, Ipoh, as one which was completed five months ahead of schedule.

As for positioning the company, Tiong says EcoFirst has a clear understanding of what the market requires.


Untapped market

The company is focusing on well-priced properties for first-time buyers, which it believes is an untapped market.

Tiong says the company’s property projects are well located.

“This [project location] is a key aspect that drives demand before we even start advertising. Our property locations speak for themselves,” he says.

Based on the three focus areas, EcoFirst completed the acquisition of 35ha in Ulu Kelang (Ampang Ukay) in September.

The mixed development flagship project, Tiong says, embodies everything EcoFirst strives to deliver – location, pricing and product quality along with its unique branding.

EcoFirst has not always been in such a strong financial position. Prior to 2014, its revenue declined to a CAGR of 46.63% to RM24.4 mil in FY14 from RM160.5 mil in FY12.

Coupled with the weak market sentiment, Tiong says EcoFirst had anticipated a slowdown in higher-priced properties.

Hence in 2014, the company decided to focus on the residential segment below RM500,000.

Tiong says EcoFirst is a pioneer among developers that designed properties at some RM300,000 a unit.

“Well-priced housing is definitely key to meeting the challenges of today’s soft property market.

“The high demand for properties below RM500,000 offers good value for money in a strategic location,” he says.

EcoFirst’s transformation, Tiong says, actually began in 2011 when it embarked on a restructuring plan. As a result, the company reported seven consecutive years of profits.

As part of the plan, the company also focused on reviving the attractiveness of its malls such as 1Segamat Mall in Segamat, Johor, which it did in 2012.

It is now a thriving shopping centre and in the process of being acquired by MTrustee Bhd, the trustee of Hektar Real Estate Investment Trust.

The property, valued at RM104 mil, is expected to be sold by year-end.

With the sale proceeds, the company wants to plough the cash to develop its 35ha Ampang Ukay@Ulu Klang project.

“We decided to sell 1Segamat Mall to invest in higher yielding opportunities, such as developing the jewel in our crown, Ampang Ukay,” says Tiong.



In March, EcoFirst launched the first phase of Ampang Ukay with Liberty@Ampang Ukay, a mixed residential and retail development with a gross development value (GDV) of RM606.8 mil. The project has achieved 90% of sales.

Tiong believes that Ampang Ukay will be the main driver of the company’s growth.

“With Ampang Ukay as our flagship project, its GDV of RM5 bil is expected to drive EcoFirst’s growth over the next 12-15 years,” he says.

Other than 1Segamat Mall, EcoFirst also revived South City Plaza, in Seri Kembangan, Selangor, by increasing its footprint.

“We’ve successfully revived South City Plaza, which is now generating steady recurring income from its mall operations under our property management and property investment segment,” Tiong says.

For Q1 FY18 ended Aug 31, EcoFirst’s net profit increased to RM3.6 mil from RM1.32 mil a year earlier, backed by improving revenue to RM44.78 mil from RM17.53 mil last year.



The company attributes the improvement to the completion of the Kondominium Kelab Golf project in Ipoh.

It also says the improving results were prompted by the strong demand for its first phase of Liberty@Ampang Ukay.

“We’re on track to sustain our profitability, having achieved almost 90% sales since the launch of the property earlier this year,” he says.

With phase 1 progressing well, Tiong says EcoFirst is working on phase 2, which consists of residential units.

Expected to be launched in mid-next year, phase 2 will generate a GDV of RM500 mil. He says the company is also focusing on phase 3, which is a commercial development. It will be launched in mid-2019.

Despite this, some investors suggest that EcoFirst could diversify its risks by developing properties in other states.

However, a fund manager says the risk is actually negligible. “The company is small. So how much of its risk can it diversify?” the fund manager asks, pointing out that EcoFirst’s property sales have done very well.

To allay investors’ concerns, Tiong says Ampang Ukay has a lot of potential value which is yet to be realised.

Additionally, to ensure that first-home-buyers could purchase a property, EcoFirst priced its Liberty@Ampang Ukay at RM750 psf. A standard SOHO unit could cost approximately RM340,000 each.

“We envision Ampang Ukay to emulate Hong Kong’s vibrancy. With such a good location in close proximity to the city, Ampang Ukay will be ‘the’ place for the millennial generation.

“It is a vibrant metropolitan area in an affluent neighbourhood of Ulu Klang and Ampang,” Tiong says.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 261.