Property
Building through the generations
Aliff Yusri 
The Fennel has proved popular among younger purchasers in part due to its unique, tilting facade
advertisement[x]

NEARLY three decades after the debut of Pantai Hillpark in Kuala Lumpur, YTL Land & Development Bhd will return to its flagship mixed development with the launch of Pantai Mid-Levels.

The upcoming apartment project sees the developer coming full circle in a number of ways.

The development is being overseen by executive director Yeoh Pei Teeng, who represents the fourth generation of leadership in the Yeoh dynasty.

Upholding a legacy is not something that can be achieved in just a year, says Pei Teeng

She is the third daughter of YTL Land executive director and YTL Corp Bhd deputy managing director Datuk Yeoh Seok Kian, the second son of the late YTL Corp Bhd founder and chairman Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay (see sidebar).

Pantai Mid-Levels is one of the last packages of undeveloped land in Pantai Hillpark, the YTL Group’s 36.4ha mixed development in what was then known as Kampung Kerinchi.

It will set the tone for Pei Teeng to take a more active role in the company as it focuses on larger developments in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

“It’s a hefty responsibility that comes with high expectations. I don’t think upholding a legacy is something that can be achieved in just a year.

“It needs to be gauged over the course of 30 years or more,” she says.

A Bachelor of Science graduate from Imperial College London, Pei Teeng served as a structured lending analyst with the Credit Suisse Group in Singapore from July 2015, prior to joining YTL Group in September.

While details for Pantai Mid-Levels are still under wraps, it will comprise boutique apartments next to the Bukit Gasing Forest Reserve.

 

Born out of squatter land

Launched in 1991, Pantai Hillpark encompasses landed homes, retail outlets, boutique offices and condominium components in projects ranging from Pantai Hillpark Phases 1 to 5 as well as Pantai Peak, Andalucia and Centrio.

“The area was known as a squatter settlement at the time, and few developers wanted to venture there.

“This was long before Bangsar South came into the picture,” says Seok Kian, who adds that Pantai Hillpark was a ‘swap arrangement with the government’.

“We built low-cost housing for them and got the rights to develop the land. We turned the area around by focusing on low-rise, low-density launches with Mediterranean architecture, which were usually sold out within days,” he says.

Reapfield Properties Sdn Bhd group chief operating officer Jonathan Lee echoes Seok Kian’s views, noting that the entry of private developers into Kampung Kerinchi caused it to undergo rapid changes.

“You see a lot of existing public housing such as Program Perumahan Rakyat flats coming down as Kuala Lumpur City Hall works with players such as YTL and IJM Land Bhd to gentrify the area,” he says.

While the group was already involved in the property sector in the 1990s with Pantai Hillpark as well as low-cost housing projects in Perak, Selangor and Johor, the turning point came with the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

It was then that YTL Corp emerged as the majority shareholder of Taiping Consolidated Bhd, the real estate and hospitality player behind the JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur, Lot 10, and Starhill Shopping Centre (now Starhill Gallery).

 

Takeover

The ensuing financial crisis saddled Taiping Consolidated with extensive debt burdens, leading to its restricted issue of 100 million shares to the YTL Group, giving it a total 51% stake.

The group took over Taiping Consolidated’s listed status via a reverse takeover in 2001, with the latter changing its name to YTL Land & Development Bhd in 2002.

One of the projects which stalled under Taiping Consolidated was Sentul Raya, launched in 1995 as a 70:30 joint venture between the company and Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB), comprising 118.9ha in Sentul.

YTL Corp Bhd was announced as KTM’s new partner for Sentul Raya in 2000, paving the way for the introduction of YTL Land’s Sentul Masterplan in 2002.

“We have a tendency to turn around underutilised lands. Like Kampung Kerinchi, Sentul was not seen as prime real estate at the time, being associated more with crime and social issues,” says Seok Kian.

“However, we saw the area’s long-term potential due to its central location in Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to take on the project.”

Today, the developer’s launches in Sentul include high-rise residential offerings ranging from The Saffron, The Tamarind, The Capers and The Maple to its d6, d7 and d8 line of commercial developments.

In total, its Sentul projects have a reported gross development value (GDV) in excess of RM25 bil.

“We divided the area into Sentul East and West, with the KTM railway track as the dividing line.

“Sentul East caters more to the younger demographics, while Sentul West offers sedate lifestyles,” says Seok Kian.

YTL Land’s urban renewal plan for Sentul presented unique challenges as a brownfield initiative, involving the redevelopment of land or premises left disused or derelict.

“The Saffron was an existing, uncompleted development which we rejigged in 2006.

“There were legacy issues with previous purchasers, which led to a longer development cycle, but these were settled and the project was completed by 2008,” he says.

The developer’s most recent launch in Sentul East, The Fennel, comprises 916 condominium units in four blocks on 2.63ha of freehold land fronting Jalan Enam.

It offers built-ups of 1,081-1,554 sq ft, at an average price of RM700 psf. It has an estimated total GDV of RM800 mil and is slated for completion in Q4.

Pei Teeng says The Fennel has proven popular with younger purchasers, with its striking facade often cited as a factor.

“They like that part of Sentul because it’s fresh, and it’s hip, but also quiet enough with Sentul Park nearby to offer an escape from the city,” she says.

“Most of our purchasers are upgraders from surrounding areas, or parents purchasing units for their children.”

Designed by Singapore-based RT+Q Architects Pte Ltd, Seok Kian notes that The Fennel’s unique tilting facade was conceptualised to appeal to the aspirations of the younger generation.

 

Transforming Sentul

The 14.2ha Sentul Park is a key landmark and attraction in the area, redeveloped from an existing, though underutilised, nine-hole golf course.

While much of the park is closed off to residents of The Maple, a koi centre, the nearby Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) and fine dining establishments remain open to the public.

KLPac was launched in 2005 as a collaboration between The Actors Studio, Yayasan Budi Penyayang and YTL Corp.

Along with Sentul Park, KLPac is part of a larger YTL initiative designed to transform Sentul’s community landscape, which was then rife with social issues.

“We had to educate the people and change their mindsets. So we injected arts and culture into the area with KLPac in Sentul West and a number of galleries in Sentul East,” says Seok Kian.

SkyBridge International Sdn Bhd CEO Adrian Un says the perception of Sentul 20 years ago was one of a crime-ridden and gang-infested area.

He credits YTL Land’s involvement as a game-changer, not just in terms of social transformation, but with regards to property trends as well.

“Prior to its entry in 2000, Sentul and Jalan Ipoh had older terrace houses, but YTL introduced a paradigm of upmarket, high-rise offerings,” he says.

Seok Kian says Sentul’s primary appeal for the developer is its connectivity, with no fewer than five existing and upcoming rail stations serving the vicinity.

These include the Sentul KTM station, Sentul and Sentul Timur along the Ampang light rail transit line, and Sentul West and Jalan Ipoh in the Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya mass rapid transit line.

“Aside from intra-city connectivity, it also takes less than an hour to reach KL International Airport, including 15 minutes by KTM to KL Sentral and 30 minutes from there to the airport by KLIA Ekspress,” he says.

In January this year, YTL Land acquired KTM’s remaining 30% stake in Sentul Raya for RM252.42 mil.

The terms comprised RM190 mil in cash and RM61.2 mil worth of residential units in The Fennel.

The transaction gives YTL Land & Development full control of Sentul Raya’s future direction.

 

Future planning

The developer’s Sentul Masterplan is typical of its market strategy, which favours unlocking the value of underutilised land parcels – a variation of the time-honoured business axiom of buying low and selling high.

“Whether it’s Pantai Hillpark, Sentul, or our Lake Edge and Lake Fields developments in Puchong and Sungai Besi, our projects command some of the highest transaction prices in their surrounding areas,” says Seok Kian.

“For example, The Tamarind in Sentul was launched in 2002 at RM200 psf. Today, units in The Fennel fetch as much as RM800 psf,” he says (see sidebar).

The developer also builds boutique projects on a case-by-case basis should their pull factors prove sufficient.

Shorefront, Penang capitalises on one of the last remaining tracts in Georgetown fronting the sea

For instance, Shorefront, a RM330 mil condominium project in Penang, is located in a mature address in Georgetown next to the historic E&O Hotel off Lebuh Farquhar.

Encompassing 115 low-rise residential units in three five-storey blocks with built-ups from 1,400-3,400 sq ft, the developer conceptualised the project to capitalise on one of the last land parcels in Georgetown fronting the sea.

Seok Kian says YTL Land will continue pursuing domestic launches in the Klang Valley and Penang.

In terms of overseas ventures, it favours mature locations such as London, Singapore and Melbourne, unlike many players who focus on emerging markets such as Vietnam.

To date, YTL Land’s overseas launches include 3 Orchard By-The-Park, comprising 77 units in three 25-storey towers on Orchard Boulevard, and Sandy Island, featuring 18 waterfront villas in Sentosa Cove, both in Singapore.

“We don’t want to follow the crowd. Vietnam is less attractive to us because their regulations aren’t as sophisticated or transparent as they could be,” says Seok Kian.

Growing a family business empire

DATUK Yeoh Seok Kian, YTL Land & Development Bhd executive director and YTL Corp Bhd deputy managing director, attributes his industry experience and knowhow to early immersion in the trade, courtesy of his late father Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay.

“When I was young, he always took us ‘site-seeing’, as in site visits at our construction projects, while other families went sight-seeing at Angkor Wat and places like that,” says Seok Kian, who graduated in 1981 from Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh with a degree in building management.

Seok Kian credits his industry experience and knowhow to early immersion in the trade

The site visits drew Seok Kian and his brothers into the industry, each of whom would go on to take prominent roles in the YTL Group – from YTL Corp managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh Sock Ping to executive director Datuk Mark Yeoh (the youngest son).

 

The other siblings involved in the business empire founded by Tiong Lay are the eldest daughter Datuk Yeoh Soo Min, Datuk Yeoh Seok Hong (third son), Datuk Seri Yeoh Sock Siong (fourth son) and Datuk Yeoh Soo Keng (second daughter), all of whom are YTL Corp executive directors.

Prominent among the family’s fourth generation include Francis’ children – eldest daughter, YTL Singapore Pte Ltd executive director Ruth Yeoh, YTL Communications Sdn Bhd deputy CEO Jacob Yeoh (eldest son) and YTL Land & Development vice-president Joseph Yeoh (second son).

With the recent passing of Tiong Lay, all eyes are on the next generation of leadership led by Francis and his siblings, who are the third generation.

The group traces its roots to 1920, when Yeoh Cheng Liam, Tiong Lay’s father and Francis’ grandfather, arrived in Klang from Fujian province, China.

The Yeoh legacy had humble beginnings, with Cheng Liam parlaying his profits as a timber merchant into larger construction concerns under Yeoh Cheng Liam Construction Sdn Bhd.

Born in 1930, Tiong Lay took an interest in his father’s business, particularly during the Japanese Occupation.

He eventually secured his first contract to build two police explosive magazines in Pahang and Selangor in 1950, going on to establish Syarikat Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay Sdn Bhd in 1955.

From there, he grew the company’s scope into the construction of army housing, schools and commercial buildings, including the head offices of Citibank, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp and Sime Darby in Kuala Lumpur.

By the 1980s, it had expanded into infrastructure, industrial facilities, hospitals, universities and more.

However, the turning point for the group came in 1992, when the government awarded it the nation’s first independent power producer licence, worth RM2.5 bil.

“The power sector’s privatisation followed a series of major blackout events, particularly the Sept22, 1992 incident,” says Seok Kian.

“We came in and advised the government on how to go about privatisation, and the rest is history.”

YTL Power Generation Sdn Bhd supplied a reported 15% of Malaysia’s total energy requirements once its stations in Pasir Gudang, Johor and Paka, Terengganu were completed.

This provided the group with a recurring income of RM1 bil for the duration of the contract, facilitating its diversification into other sectors such as property and hospitality, and indirectly leading to the rise of YTL Land.


Leveraging blue ocean strategies

YTL Land & Development Bhd’s strategy to maximise underutilised land in key locations has reaped handsome dividends over the years, with its developments often catalysing price growth in surrounding properties.

Condominium units in Pantai Hillpark Phase 1, for example, transacted at a median price of RM113.33 psf upon launch in Q1 1991.

It rose to RM392.21 psf in Q1 this year, according to Brickz property portal, based on data from the Valuation and Property Services Department.

In contrast, residential prices in the area were markedly lower prior to its introduction, going from RM38.70 psf in Q1 1987 to RM82.38 in Q1 1990. As of Q1, this figure has risen to RM414.55 psf.

Similarly, the developer’s debut project in Sentul, The Tamarind, saw condominium units transacting at a median of RM216.58 psf on launch in Q1 2002, rising to RM549.33 psf in Q1.

Residential prices in Sentul ranged from RM21.78 psf in Q1 1982 to RM130.75 in Q1 2002, rising to RM401.14 in Q1.

“Residential offerings in Sentul like The Fennel have been doing well, but things are more challenging for commercial launches such as d7, due to an oversupply of prime commercial space across the central region,” says SkyBridge International Sdn Bhd CEO Adrian Un.



This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 257.