This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on April 25, 2022 - May 1, 2022
After a short tour of the sumptuously outfitted One Eleven Menerung show units at the BRDB Gallery in Bangsar, we settle into our seats around the marble island for an exclusive interview with BRDB Developments Sdn Bhd CEO Christopher Manivannan.
“I think we’ve just been doing things quietly over the last few years. One thing [that’s] good about BRDB is that we are not listed. Because we are not listed, we don’t have a lot of pressure to keep up with numbers or come up with run-of-the-mill projects. Therefore, we have a little bit more time to consolidate and plan,” he says.
Formerly Bandar Raya Developments Bhd, the company was incorporated in 1964 and was one of the earliest property development companies to be listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange in 1968. BRDB was later taken private in 2012 and has since kept a rather low profile.
“As we are not in a rush, we used the time to clear a lot of unsold stock. The idea is not to produce more stock, which will really destroy the real estate, the lands that we have. It’s been a blessing in disguise for us as well because had we [launched more products], we would probably have been stuck with unsold stock in the last two years when the pandemic hit,” says Christopher, who has sat on the company’s board since 2014.
An accountant by training, he has been with BRDB for 15 years and in the property industry for 25. He started off as a senior manager in finance before moving on to other roles at the company as chief financial officer, chief operating officer and, most recently, CEO as of last year.
“At the end of the day, real estate or any land for that matter has got unlimited useful lives. In other words, it will never depreciate. So even if we don’t do anything to any piece of land, its value will still remain,” he says.
“We have also been planning. There have been delays due to bureaucracy and all that stuff because we want to create better homes and our designs are a bit different from the run-of-the-mill project types. So, we have been busy proposing our plans to the authorities.”
BRDB launched One Eleven Menerung early this year. The 0.83-acre freehold project with a gross development value (GDV) of RM292 million is strategically located on one of the last parcels in Bangsar next to the Pusat Bandar Damansara MRT station. It will comprise 111 serviced apartment units with built-ups ranging from 1,001 to 3,714 sq ft at prices starting from RM1,800 psf. Since its launch in February, the project has been 30% taken up.
“One Eleven Menerung is actually a three-piece-bungalow land. We could have just gone in and sold three bungalows but because of our persistence and design planning, we’ve now got 111 units,” says Christopher. The project is slated for completion in 2026.
“As this project is on challenging terrain — because there’s a valley and it is next to the MRT, which will take us 18 months to finish foundation works — we have applied for an extension of time of five years because we want to take our time to make sure the foundation and development is done properly. We are not rushing into it.
“At the same time, this gives younger purchasers the opportunity to punt on their investment as they will only be serving a small amount of progressive interest on their loan over the first five years, during which they can build up their income,” he adds.
In addition to being one of the pioneer developers in Bangsar, BRDB is known for its portfolio of high-end developments. Notable ones include One Menerung, Bangsar Shopping Centre, The Troika and Serai Bukit Bandaraya.
Now that Bangsar is almost fully developed and available land is getting scarce, BRDB has been moving on to other areas of opportunity in recent years. “Bangsar has been our turf since 58 years ago and we are still here after all these years. Now that land bank has depleted and we have finished most of the development, we’re moving outwards from Bangsar,” says Christopher.
Nonetheless, he assures that the BRDB brand will remain the same wherever it goes. “We are still bringing premium developments and a similar quality of life [as our past projects]. The difference could just be in the price points, though our developments would still be typically priced higher than most of the surrounding developments, as we won’t do run-of-the-mill products.
“We aim to elevate the quality of life at prices that are reasonable for that particular market segment. Just take Tamansari in Rawang, for example. The design of our products is very different from the surrounding developments and people know that we will elevate the place,” he points out.
This year, in addition to One Eleven Menerung, BRDB is planning to launch two new projects, namely Miranda Hill @ North Kiara in Segambut, Kuala Lumpur, tentatively in July and Allen & George in South Hurstville in New South Wales, Australia, in June.
The former is considered the next phase of the developer’s successful Verdana development in North Kiara, which was completed in 2014. “We have got an adjacent piece of land that we have now decided to launch. This development has a very good location near Publika, it is near town, and enjoys easy connectivity to highways via the main Mont’Kiara access as well as a second access via Jalan Segambut,” says Christopher.
With a GDV of RM520 million, Miranda Hill will tentatively comprise 552 condominium units spread over two 35- and 37-storey towers on eight acres. Units will come in typical 2- to 3-bedroom layouts with built-ups ranging from 858 to 1,998 sq ft, as well as penthouses of 2,700 to 3,600 sq ft. The indicative average selling price will be RM750 psf.
According to Christopher, Miranda Hill is unique as its facilities will be in a separate building than the residential ones. “The land is also on the hilly side so the topography will give it height. We have dedicated three acres for greenery and landscaping.”
The development, he adds, is ideal for young families and young professionals who want to live in KL. “The units are spacious enough for families, the development is freehold, very low density and will also give you security and facilities. We are targeting the same kind of market as Verdana, which has a similar price point. As you can see, we are not really trying to increase the prices, so this is a really good opportunity.”
Over in Australia, Allen & George is a A$46 million GDV development comprising 57 apartment units and three commercial lots. “We are currently working out the marketing collateral and we plan to launch this in June. We hope to get a pre-sale of 60% to 70% by end of the year, and then we will start constructing. So that’s in Australia,” he remarks.
Meanwhile, BRDB is also busy preparing for new phase launches at its ongoing developments, namely Tamansari in Rawang, Selangor, and Permas Jaya in Johor Baru this year.
At its 245-acre Tamansari mixed-use development, the developer is planning to introduce the fourth phase or Phase 2B Jasmin, comprising 173 units of 2-storey terraced houses, in July. With a GDV of RM147 million, Jasmin will offer units with built-ups ranging from 1,852 to 2,318 sq ft at selling prices from RM780,000. “We have completed Phases 1A (Amaryllis) and 1B (Camelia). Phase 2A (Dahlia) will be completed next year,” Christopher remarks.
Over at Permas Jaya, BRDB is preparing to launch The Straits View Link in June. The phase, with a GDV of RM117 million, will comprise 142 units of 2-storey link houses measuring 20ft by 65ft to 22ft to 109ft and with built-ups ranging from 1,700 to 2,315 sq ft. Selling prices start from RM728,000.
“Permas Jaya is a big township that BRDB started in 1981. It is a very mature township today. Our previous launch was The Straits View Homes in 2018. The project, comprising 281 units of 2-storey terraced houses, was completed and handed over in 2020,” Christopher says. The Straits View Homes is 98% taken up to date.
“Of the 1,400 acres that we started with, we now have about 225 acres of remaining land bank, which is mainly for future residential developments. We do have commercial land there, which is currently leased to our major tenant Aeon,” he adds.
Another ongoing project is The Pulse Residence in Bandar Puteri, Puchong. Launched last year, the 44-storey mixed-use development will offer 579 units of serviced apartments in two towers with sizes ranging from 818 to 1,851 sq ft atop a 3-storey retail podium. Unit prices at The Pulse Residence start from RM650 psf and the project is slated for completion in 3Q2024. Of the total units, 75% has been sold.
BRDB also has developments in the UK and Pakistan, namely 40 Lowndes Square in London and Defence Raya Golf Resort in Lahore.
In Australia, BRDB has recently completed two residential developments in New South Wales, namely Parq on Flinders in Wollongong and Verdana in Miranda. Completed and handed over in 2020, both developments are almost sold out. Verdana also bagged the Outstanding Overseas Project award at The Edge Malaysia Property Excellence Awards 2021.
Since its inception, BRDB’s goal to be Malaysia’s leading property developer has not wavered. “BRDB’s vision has been the same all these years. [Adding on to that] is my personal vision, just a simple one actually, to create better homes for everyone. So, whenever we do something, I always ask, are we doing it better?” says Christopher.
To walk the talk, he adopts three strategies. “One of them is to be swift. Speed is of the essence [in this business]. As we know, the property market has a very short cycle, and the shorter it gets means we need to be fast enough. As the saying goes, the early bird catches the best worm!
“Secondly, I believe in inclusivity. Everyone is important. The human capital is an element where everybody needs to pull their weight. There is no such thing as one person who pulls [his weight] and the others just cheer on. And the final thing is to have peace, harmony and fun in all we do. We don’t want to have a tense workplace situation. With these three elements, I believe we can create a better home for everyone,” he says.
While speed is important, Christopher says that design development is a priority for the company, rather than the number of launches. “As we are not in a rush and pressured to launch, we are able to realise the full potential of a development. That is our differentiating factor.
“In a way, if you look back at the company’s past, BRDB could have developed everything in 10 years, but it took us 30 to 40 years to really harness the value [of our assets]. This is why I say freehold land doesn’t depreciate and has got unlimited useful lives. If you plan and design carefully, you can definitely harness the best value. So we learn from that and try not to rush into doing something because in that process, we lose the real value of the land, and land is so scarce,” he adds.
BRDB still has over 500 acres of undeveloped land mainly in KL, Selangor and Johor. According to Christopher, the company is still on the lookout for land in the Klang Valley and Johor as well as in New South Wales, Australia. “This is one way BRDB can diversify so we don’t depend on one geographical location, which helps us manage our costs and markets. For example, two years ago, when we were facing lockdowns in Malaysia, our Australian projects were helpful as construction there was deemed essential services and we managed to complete the project and the cash flow was strong.”
Meanwhile, Christopher is aiming for a RM1 billion top line for the company in over the next four to five years. “Sometimes, goals and vision must be quantifiable, but I don’t want us to be so numbers-oriented that we lose our vision, plans and brand. It is just a number to have in mind. To think big, start small.
“At the moment, we are touching about RM500 million and I think 2012 was the only year we passed the RM1 billion mark. Other years, we did about RM600 million to RM700 million. So I say, let’s try and do RM1 billion, but we’re starting small,” he concludes.
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