DURING the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and barely four years after his graduation, Dato’ Neoh Soo Keat took the road less taken by agreeing to the task of acquiring 1.6ha from 46 owners in Puchong, Selangor who were served notice to vacate the land as they had years of outstanding quit rent. The task was a daunting one but Neoh managed the whole exercise by generating the finances on his own.
“I just collected the rubbish,” enthused Neoh who implied that the uphill task was disregarded by his bosses at a property development firm as it was too arduous.
His land acquisition success worked in his favour as he was then promoted from an executive to a general manager where his “land duties” continued. With his advice and planning, the subsequent land challenges the company faced were resolved. One example was when he managed to extend a land lease of 60 years to 99 years.
In hindsight, that first task was a launch pad to his subsequent career. Today, Neoh is the founder and managing director of Trinity Group Sdn Bhd, a boutique property developer that entered its ninth year this month.
Neoh, 43, attributes his venture into his own business after working in the property industry to his “entrepreneurial genes”. At only 13 years of age, he had sold plastic bags at a price lower than the local stores.
Coupled with his degree in urban and regional planning from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Johor, the establishment of his own property development company was an eventual one. Born in Kuantan, Pahang, Neoh is also a registered town planner with the Malaysian Institute of Planners and the Board of Malaysian Town Planners.
Besides plastics and property development, he previously dabbled in manufacturing, retail and transportation, the latter which he claims to be his forte. “Until today... when MPSJ [Subang Jaya municipal council] cannot solve it (transportation issues), they ask me,” he says proudly. Industry players quip that Neoh's affinity and negotiation skills with authorities give him an edge in the property business.
Neoh beams with pride when talking about the company's six developments in the Klang Valley which he is confident will record RM1.65 bil in sales over the next three years. Trinity has built a total of 3,007 units of residential and commercial properties, of which 1,093 units are completed and 1,914 units are in the pipeline. Neoh adds that a total of 1,136 units will be delivered to buyers in 2014 and 760 units in 2015.
Setting the benchmark
Its maiden development, The Heron Residency in Bandar Bukit Puchong, consists of 290 units of serviced apartments measuring 525 sq ft to 1,260 sq ft. It set the benchmark for its other projects as the units were delivered to buyers eight months ahead of schedule when it was completed in 2008. The bar was pushed further in its second project, 19 Residency, also in Bandar Bukit Puchong where 24 units of three-storey semi-detached homes were completed 10 months ahead of schedule in 2010.
Subsequently, Trinity expanded its portfolio into shop offices and retail units with the construction of The Zest @ Kinrara 9 in Bandar Kinrara, Puchong, where it made the project more attractive by building a RM7 mil ramp for the convenience of residents who no longer have to travel 8km for a U-turn at the congested Technology Park Malaysia.
According to Neoh, what makes Trinity stand out from most developers is the additional value it is willing to invest in its projects. “Conventional developers will not spend that kind of money [in building the ramp] but we were willing to because we saw the value.” And it was proven right. Before the ramp was built, The Zest's serviced apartments, with a built-up of 1,110 sq ft to 1,419 sq ft, were priced at RM210 per sq ft. After the ramp was completed in 2011, the price increased to RM240 per sq ft and it can fetch up to RM450 per sq ft today.
On its first industrial development, Latitude @ USJ 19, Subang Jaya, Neoh says the project proved attractive to end-users, leading to a positive take-up rate with only one unit left. The 2 -storey detached factories were delivered to buyers 11 months ahead of schedule.
The project has a gross development value of RM68 mil. The built-up of the units range from 7,613 sq ft to 10,622 sq ft. Neoh says the factories easily sold out as Trinity “understood the habit of a factory operator” by having facilities accommodating heavy and large equipment besides having a corporate appearance.
Neoh observes that the company is highly selective when entering a new location as “we must be confident in transforming the location”. He cited the example of the development of 1,136 units of condominiums with built-ups of 1,032 sq ft to 1,407 sq ft - Z Residences in Bukit Jalil which neighbours Bukit OUG Condominium.
According to Neoh, the area was previously a "backyard area" and the units at Bukit OUG Condominium could only garner a price of RM120,000. "By the time we were preparing to launch [Z Residences], the price [for Bukit OUG Condominium] was RM240,000," implying that the company's mileage contributed to a higher capital appreciation of the surrounding areas.
Hunger for land
Nevertheless, Neoh does not deny that the company is also faced with challenges, especially when it comes to land. He notes that either there is minimal land supply in the Klang Valley or that strategic parcels have unresolved issues. This leaves Trinity with minimal options when exploring township developments.
In 2012, the company did not achieve the targeted growth rate for sales because it had limited products to sell. This, Neoh points out, was a result of delayed approvals which he claims was also due to the impending general election. "As long as elections are over, administrators can focus on approval and get things done. So we are waiting to move forward."
Infusing the 'wow factor' in design
He says approvals are also difficult to obtain whenever the company adds a new feature in its development. Standing by the philosophy of adding a new 'wow factor' in the design of each of its developments, Neoh explains that it is difficult to share a brand new or innovative concept with the relevant authorities.
One example is the Sky Deck in Zeva @ Equine South in Seri Kembangan, Selangor. The high-rise condominium has a public area with an all-glass facade on the 28th level with a view of the city. The approval for this feature was delayed for some time before it was eventually approved by the authorities.
For a young leader who defied the odds during the economic crisis by resolving land matters at the start of his career, it remains to be seen if Neoh's affinity with working with the authorities will continue to spur the boutique developer further. Nevertheless, Neoh is not resting on his laurels. He shares that Trinity Group still has "room to achieve". “We cannot be carried away by our success.”
Trinity eyes strategic pockets of land
BOUTIQUE developer Trinity Group Sdn Bhd is eyeing strategic pockets of land in the Kiang Valley, Johor and Penang for its industrial, commercial and residential developments, says its managing director Dato’ Neoh Soo Keat. The company currently has a total landbank of 11.7ha in Sungai Besi, USJ 19, Serdang, Bukit Antarabangsa in Ulu Klang, and Johor which Neoh says is "adjacent to the Iskandar region".
Asked if the company is looking at expanding to Sabah and Sarawak, Neoh says it is not looking east despite having land offers two years ago in Sarawak. "Sabah and Sarawak are not our main target at the moment (due to the) population and purchasing power."
For expansion overseas, the company is currently negotiating to acquire land in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. As for listing on the local bourse, Neoh does not discount the possibility of this happening at a later stage but does not see the need at present. He tells FocusM that the company is able to generate funds internally and has a gearing ratio of less than 5%. Stating that the company is not attracted to the advantages of listing, he adds: "Banks are supportive. Whichever land we want to acquire, they will support us. They will grant us the loan. So it [funding] is quite comfortable."