Bloc party approach to property development
Aliff Yusri 
Bön Estates’ interactive showroom for Bön Kiara allowed visitors to specify their preferences in terms of unit design, layout and features
Mont Kiara is well known as a high-rise haven catering to affluent domestic purchasers and expatriates, thanks largely to the efforts of condo king Datuk Alan Tong Kok Mau.

The development of Mont Kiara has long since moved beyond just Tong and the company he founded, Sunrise Bhd. Today, competition among developers in the township is heated, with players such as MKH Bhd, Trinity Group Sdn Bhd and Bön Estates Sdn Bhd, among others, all striving for a share of the lucrative market.

Amid this milieu, Bön Estates’ anticipated entry point of RM450,000 for its upcoming Bön Kiara high-rise development has turned heads. Should the developer maintain Bön Kiara’s current unit sizes and entry points, the project will likely launch at about RM690 psf, slightly above the market median. This compares with the median subsale price of closer to RM950,000 for condos and serviced residences there, according to Brickz property portal.

Currently, non-landed properties in the area are transacting at the median price of RM666 psf in the secondary market, according to the online portal.

At the high end, the condo king’s legacy remains in the form of Verve Suites, a development by Bukit Kiara Properties Sdn Bhd headed by Tong and his son NK.

Comprising 881 luxury units in four towers, Verve Suites has consistently recorded the highest transaction prices in Mont Kiara for non-landed properties, with a median of RM1,206 psf in April.

Marketing for millennials

“The rules of engagement have changed for the younger generation, so too must the rules change for developers who wish to engage this young and dynamic market,” says Bön Estates managing director Goh Soo Sing.

Population growth, heavy traffic and work competition have changed the game for young urbanites, says Goh

Bön Kiara’s positioning is squarely targeted at purchasers ranging from the late 20s to early 40s, who represented a key demographic for the developer’s debut project in South Bangsar, The Estate.

In catering for the younger market, Bön Estates pioneered an innovative marketing and product development hybrid campaign dubbed the Bloc Party.

Held from July 21 to 23 at Art Printing Works, Bangsar, the event brought a fine food and music festival, living trends survey and interactive showroom tour together under one roof.

The festival included cuisine presentations by brands such as Sangkaya, Omakase + Appreciate and The Good Co, as well as an appearance by local jazz performers Ryot Jones and beer yoga demonstration.

The Bloc Party’s lifestyle elements were incorporated to appeal to the “Instagram” generation of home seekers, characterised by an adventurous streak and emphasis on experiences in their purchasing behaviour.

While many developers include focus groups in their product development cycle, Bön Estates is taking the next step by directly engaging the public in an ideas exchange to determine the direction of their upcoming launch.

Unlike conventional showrooms, the Bön Kiara show units incorporated adjustable building blocks, allowing participants to choose their preferred layouts and features.

Options included living room balconies and Juliet balconies for bedrooms, bathtubs and showers for bathrooms, and a choice between study or yard space.

Moveable partitions also allowed participants to adjust the psychological separation between living spaces and bedrooms, while tweaking the dimensions of rooms, walk-in wardrobes and more.

In addition, the developer conducted extensive surveys designed to gauge the spending power and favoured living trends of younger purchasers.

Similar to personality quizzes popular on social media, the surveys identified the most suitable apartment layouts and designs based on participants’ feedback.

Blue ocean strategies

“People are at the heart of what we do at Bön Estates, so it makes sense to involve them and make them part of the process,” says Goh.

“By inviting young buyers to be involved from the onset, we include them in the conceptualisation phase so they have a say in how they want to live in the future.”

While Bön Kiara is still in the planning stages, Goh shares that the project sits on 1.62ha, and will likely comprise a 40-storey residential component.

The development, expected to be launched next year, offers built-ups of 650, 850 and 1,200 sq ft, as well as 1,050 sq ft duplex layouts.

It includes an adjacent commercial block with 70,000 sq ft dedicated to dining facilities, pocket garden, and open-space cinema, serving as a platform for community interaction as well as a home for the project’s future sales gallery.

Bön Estates has also partnered with social developer Epic Communities to incorporate urban farming initiatives into Bön Kiara.

Bön Kiara will incorporate urban farming initiatives, says Oei

“Once the project’s design is finalised, we can examine which farming methodology is more suitable, whether it’s aquaponics or hydroponics or even vertical gardens,” says Epic co-founder and CEO John-Son Oei.

While innovative, it remains to be seen whether the Bloc Party is representative of a “new wave” of property development and marketing. However, some industry analysts note it is likely local players will follow Bön Estates’ lead.

“The market is growing more competitive and sophisticated. Developers will have no choice but to engage buyers with similar initiatives, or they risk falling behind,” says Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents past president Siva Shanker.

“While focus groups are nothing new, Bön Estates has taken consumer participation in the design process to the next level. This is a particularly good move because they are targeting the younger generation, who like being involved and having their input valued.”

Differentiation factor

Bön Estates’ novel marketing and positioning for its Mont Kiara project is typical for the boutique developer, which adopted a similar blue ocean strategy for The Estate.

There, it offered larger unit sizes from 2,346 sq ft, while nearby properties focused on smaller built-ups of 800 to 1,000 sq ft.

Such differentiation will be necessary for Bön Kiara to stand out in Mont Kiara’s competitive high-rise segment.

Unlike South Bangsar, which consists primarily of low- to mid-cost housing with relatively few premium serviced apartments, luxury high-rise projects are the rule in Mont Kiara.

Stiff competition in Mont Kiara

Bön Kiara will be competing with a slew of upcoming projects in Mont Kiara by established developers, including Saville @ Mont Kiara by MKH Bhd, and an as-yet unnamed condominium development by Trinity Group scheduled for launch in Q4.

Trinity Group has traditionally focused on what it terms the “affordable luxury” segment, catering for the middle-income group.

Its Mont Kiara project, spanning 1.19ha with a gross development value (GDV) of RM400 mil, will feature 330 units with prices ranging from RM1 mil to RM1.5 mil.

Saville @ Mont Kiara will feature 640 serviced apartments and two retail lots in a 46-storey tower. Prices for the development have yet to be finalised.

The project represents a joint venture between MKH and the Fairview Group of Companies, both of which have been primarily active in Kajang.

Aside from an influx of competition, Bön Estates and other Mont Kiara players also face challenges in the form of sluggish consumer sentiment, particularly at the higher end of the market.

“We observe that the outlook for the high-end high-rise segment remains flat and challenging, as potential buyers and investors adopt a wait-and-see approach,” says Trinity Group managing director Datuk Neoh Soo Keat.

“However, we remain optimistic that there will still be demand for properties with the right location, a unique concept or which meet an existing need of the community.” 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 244.