How far will you go for your Olympic Gold?

Singapore is in celebration mood when Joseph Schooling made history after winning Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal.

The significance of Schooling’s success is much more than bagging the first gold for Singapore.

It is the touching story of a young boy who met and inspired by his idol, the reward after his hard work to compete in the same contest as him, and the happy ending of the magic moment to beat him.

He reminds all of us who are stuck in the mundane world that we can choose to do something different; that it is important to aim high in life; that we should never give up; that childhood dreams do come true.


Winning gold despite all odds

Exactly two decades ago in 1996, windsurfer Lee Lai Shan won the only Olympic gold medal for Hong Kong during the Atlantic Olympic Games.

Growing up on the island of Cheung Chau where most inhabitants are fishermen, she took up windsurfing at the age of twelve. Her childhood dream was to be world’s number one in the sports.

However, Lee’s journey to windsurfing gold was far from smooth sailing.

There was almost no funding from the Hong Kong government. Nurturing local athletes was not the colony’s priority.

She couldn’t find sponsorship from large corporations either. They would rather sponsor celebrities than athletes.

Everything had to be self-funded.

One winter, she flied to Europe for training with her coach and another national windsurfer Sam Wong (her boyfriend at that time). To save money, three of them had bread for lunch. Hot meals were only available at dinner.

They couldn’t afford to stay in hotels. Under sub-zero temperatures, a tent was set up outdoors. Every night they used rock, paper, scissors to decide who slept inside the car or on the cold floor outside.

In 1990, she represented Hong Kong to participate in Europe’s Windsurfing World Championship, the most important event of the sports. The organizer wanted to invite more non-European countries to compete. That antagonized the European contestants. One of the coaches said,

“Those athletes from Hong Kong are rubbish. They shouldn’t even enter the event.”

From that moment, she vowed to prove herself whenever she was given the chance.

But life was tough. Despite winning at many international competitions, the government’s athlete subsidy was a humble sum of HKD2,000 (SGD400) a month. Training and preparations for events required lots of money.

Lee Lai Shan and Sam Wong knew that they could only afford to have either one of them to continue pursuing the windsurfing dream.

To support Lee’s dream to be world’s top windsurfer, Wong gave up his own.

For years he did all sorts of odd jobs to raise money for his girlfriend. Day and night he would help Cheung Chau fishermen to mend their fishing nets for some extra cash.

windsurfing_goldLee finally won her gold medal at the Women’s Sailboard category at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

There was no million-dollar prize money waiting for her. But politicians and tycoons placed ostentatious congratulatory ads in local papers. Organizations showered her with sponsored gifts.

At the press conference, she told the media emotionally,

“I prove that Hong Kong athletes are not rubbish!”


Secrets of having no regrets

John B. Izzo’s The Five Things You Must Discover Before You Die is one of the best books I have ever read.

To learn the secrets of living a purposeful and fulfilling life, the author interviewed 235 wise elders aged 59 to 105 who claim that they have lived a meaningful life and have no regrets.

Izzo finds that there are only two things that humans want most: to find happiness and to find meaning.

You will find happiness if you put love as priority in your life and give more than you take in this world. You will find meaning if you can be true to yourself, follow your passion and leave no regrets.

These two things have nothing to do with money and material things.

You may have worked hard in your life to buy a BMW. But your BMW won’t come and visit you when you are in hospital or in an old folk’s home.


Pursuing your childhood dream

In early 2016, a skincare brand conducted a survey on 5,400 women in 14 countries. Results showed that one in two respondents have given up on their dreams and are unsatisfied with their current lives.

Women from Japan, Korea, and Singapore are the top three countries with women giving up their dreams. Lack of financial support, fear of leaving comfort zone, and dreams not fitting into traditional definitions of success are the main reasons for not pursuing their childhood dreams.

Compared to their western counterparts, only 30 percent of women in the US and UK have to give up their childhood dreams.

To encourage women to pursue their dreams again, the brand launched the ‘Dream again change destiny campaign’ with a heartwarming 4-minute commercial (watch it on youtube).

As a child, I don’t just have one dream. I have many.

I’ve dreamed of traveling around the world. I end up traveling most of the time for business.

I’ve dreamed of staying at my own place one day. I end up buying five properties in five years.

I’ve dreamed of being a novelist. I end up writing a book on property investment.

Do you remember your childhood dream? How far have you gone for it?

Have you forgotten how to dream?

Should we give properties to our children?

Aug11'16Time flies. My younger girl just turned five today.

Still remember my old blog post “A letter to my new born baby“? I thought I just wrote that yesterday?

Five years on, when her little hand reaches for mine; when she holds me tight and plants a big kiss on my lips; when she looks me in the eyes and says ‘Mommy I love you’, I realize I must have done something really right in my last life.

Wherever I travel, I buy her stickers printed with her favorite cartoon characters. We often review our proud collection together, recalling when, where and how much we got them.

With fellow property investors, we review a different collection – our portfolio of properties acquired over the years – recalling when, where and how much we got them.

Sometimes we talk about buying properties for our children. One would have bought a bachelor pad for the son. Another plans to set aside two houses for each of the two kids. Some are waiting for the lifting of Additional Buyer Stamp Duty to buy something suitable. A few are saving for the deposit.

When I ask people why we have to help our kids to buy properties, the three most common reasons are:

1. Property prices have climbed faster than inflation. Their children might not be able to afford one in the future.

2. We love our kids and give them only the best, including food, clothes, housing and education. Why not properties?

3. When we pass on one day, it’s good to leave something behind so that they will remember us.

If we can afford, why not?

For me, I am hesitant to give any property to my children for three simple reasons:

1. Hopefully they inherit that property investment gene from me. If not, so be it.

2. We can lead a happy life even without having the very best. Things we treasure most almost always have nothing to do with money.

3. It is far more important to impart values and wisdom to the generation. What I want to leave behind is a legacy – not a physical property, but my vision and beliefs.

I hope they remember me for who I am. Who cares about an old property? The one that has an outstanding loan and desperately need a major renovation?

You might worry about not buying any property for your children even though you can afford it. If you die without leaving anything for them, they might blame you one day.

But wait, by that time you have already died. So that’s not a problem anymore, isn’t it?

In my book No B.S. Guide to Property Investment, I have touched on the legal implications for you and your children if you are buying properties for the next generation.

One of my favorite Taiwanese writers Liu Yong (刘墉) has just published his latest book to share his advice for the elderly.

He has been staying in the US for some time now. He says if you tell a lawyer that you want to put your property under your child’s name, the lawyer will ask you to add one special clause – you no longer own the property but you always have the right to stay there.

One day your child will get married. You have no guarantee that you can get along with your son or daughter-in-law. With that special clause, at least you won’t end up in an old folk’s home.

Another advice: if you want to share your wealth with your children, do it early and timely. Our life expectancy is getting longer. By the time we pass on, our next generation are most likely in their 60s. They no longer need that wealth in their retirement years. But they wish they had that when they were struggling to pay bills while supporting a young family.

Another dilemma: You tell your children to study hard, get a good job and they will be able to enjoy what they have later in life. Don’t be surprised that they will ask you why. If you have already bought them a nice place to ensure that they will have a good life, why do they need to study hard and get a job?

Lastly, you might want to take some hints from the book The Millionaire Next Door to understand how the millionaires manage to raise successful adult children.

1. Never tell children that their parents are wealthy.

2. No matter how wealthy you are, teach your children discipline and frugality.

3. Assure that your children won’t realize you’re affluent until after they have established a mature, disciplined, and adult lifestyle and profession.

4. Minimize discussions of the items that each child and grandchild will inherit or receive as gifts.

5. Never give cash or other significant gifts to your adult children as part of a negotiation strategy.

6. Stay out of your adult children’s family matters.

7. Don’t try to compete with your children.

8. Always remember that your children are individuals.

9. Emphasize your children’s achievements, no matter how small, not their or your symbols of success.

10. Tell your children that there are a lot of things more valuable than money.

Really, you don’t have to leave your children a legacy. They are your legacy!

4 things buyers wish they knew before buying a property


regretThe radio is playing Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” when an email from a blog reader popped up on my screen,

“Property Soul You’ve Got Mail.”

It’s another message about a home buyer’s remorse.

Every week there are so many messages on disappointment and regret after buying properties. They all go like this:

“I wish I had … before I bought …”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me …”

“If only we knew …, we wouldn’t have …”

“We should have … but we had no idea …”

So many look-backs. So many regrets. What’s the use of crying over spilled milk?

The killing part is that these messages all end with an inevitable request for advice like “What do you think I should do now?”, or “Do you think I should … or … “.

How do I know? I am not you.

I have been advocating for prudent investment in private properties in my blog since 2010. I am doing my job as a nutritionist, not a surgeon. I take preventive measures, not remedial actions.

Why don’t buyers do some research on the market? Why can’t they check with the bank first before placing a deposit? Why do people let their impulse and greed take over?

If only they knew the 4 facts of property investment before taking the plunge, there would be less home buyer remorse, and I would have received far less regret purchase messages.


1. Showflat is for display. Bare unit is for your stay.

You said the showflat in the sales gallery was so nice. You couldn’t help but imagining yourself staying there too.

There is nothing wrong visiting new launch over the weekends. There is also nothing wrong dreaming about the high life staying in a posh condominium. But please wake up and get back to life after you step out of the showflat.

“The truth is like an alarm clock. You might not want to hear it … but it will wake you up from your dreams and bring you back to reality.”

– Anonymous

Look beyond the bells and whistles. Things that are glamorous on show are often humble in reality.

After you collect the key to your bare unit, you suddenly realize that all the nice views and for display only ID designs at the showflat are all beautiful misunderstandings. The space constraint, developer defects, poor workmanship, etc. are the reality you have to deal with.

Like lovers when they first met, they show their best to impress. But after they sign on the dotted line, they begin to show their true colors with eyes wide open.

You get the picture?


2. Properties are not safe investment. Fixed deposits are.

You said you want to develop a habit of regular compulsive savings by putting your money into a property and paying the monthly mortgage.

All adults should have no problem training themselves to put aside money for a rainy day. If you lack that discipline, consider giving a considerable monthly allowance to your parents or better half.

Forget the BS saying that money left in saving accounts will be eroded by inflation. Stop saying how property prices have jumped multiple times in the last decades. Singapore has long passed the exponential growth stage evolving from an emerging to a developed country.

Do your maths: Property prices have fallen 9 percent since September 2013. Singapore inflation rate is 2.4 percent in 2013. After 2013, it is hovering around 1 percent. Which side of your money is eroding faster: your property investment or your bank savings?

Just take a look at the performance of currencies in our neighboring countries, who won’t wish that they are holding the strong Singapore dollar?

Remember property prices dropped 44.8 percent from its peak in 1995? Would you rather hold cash in a low interest rate environment or jump on the bandwagon to buy overpriced properties?

An article in the Edge Property pointed out that in the last quarter 1 in 3 sellers of high-end properties incurred losses, with the majority bought in 2007 and 2010. Average loss is $1 million for units purchased in 2007.

In the city fringe, 1 out of 8 resale deals are in the red. In the mass market, 9 percent of secondary market transactions is unprofitable. A majority of the units were purchased in 2011.

It sounds ironic but how many investors can survive a property downturn or a housing bubble burst with profits higher than interest earned by an average Joe from his fixed deposit?


3. Income and appreciation are not guaranteed. But fees and taxes are certain.

You said you joined the huge crowd of buyers because it was rare for retail units in centrally-located malls for sale.

You bought a unit at Alexandra Central, a 99-year hotel and retail development next to IKEA@Alexandra, during the launch on January 21, 2013. It was just after the government introduced the 7th round of cooling measures on January 11 when Additional Buyer Stamp Duties were raised to 7 percent across the board.

Didn’t you read the signs?

Even though asking prices were a whopping $4,300 to $7,000 psf, all except 2 of the 116 shop units were snapped up on the launch day. One upper floor unit below 200 sq ft even attracted 150 cheques from eager buyers.

How much rent can you fetch from a 200 to 400 sq ft shop in a 3-storey shopping mall? How many bowls of noodles do you need to sell in a day to cover the rent? Are you aware that the mall is not even accessible to any MRT station?

I went there for dinner last month on a weekday evening. A year after the mall was opened in 2015, far more than half of shops at Alexandra Central are still vacant. There are more shopkeepers than visitors. It is that kind of mall that, after you see how quiet the ground floor is, you don’t bother to go up the second and third floor.

Supposedly you bought a 400 sq ft shop at $1.8 million and pay a monthly loan of $3,200, if you are lucky to find a tenant to pay a rent of $3,200, your return is close to zero.

But wait, you haven’t taken into account the high monthly maintenance fee and property tax, on top of the stamp duties and legal fee you already paid.

In this market, it is also not easy to find a buyer to take over a vacant unit in a quiet mall. Above all, commercial properties are subjected to a 5 to 15 percent Seller Stamp Duty in 3 years.

Honestly I don’t think any buyer benefited except Chip Eng Seng Corporation. Because of their best-selling project Alexandra Central, the property developer’s quarterly net profit jumped $167.6 million, a 383.9 percent increase from the preceding year.

Think about generating income and capital appreciation from property investment? Think again.

In properties, nothing is certain except fees and taxes.


4. No Freehold is not a problem. No holding power is.

You said you pay more to buy a freehold property because the value of freehold properties can hold.

Have you over-estimated the investment value of freehold properties? Just because developers bought the freehold land at higher prices doesn’t mean that it is justified for you to pay a premium too.

Afterall, the property game is all about affordability and holding power. And did I not mention enough buying the right property at the right time at the right price?

Don’t complain that you can’t finance or refinance your properties because of the restrictive Total Debt Servicing Ratio. Before you place a deposit, read my 3-3-5 rule again please.

Both freehold and leasehold properties appreciate in value during good times. The reverse is also true.

Tenants rent a place for its location, quality and value. They don’t give a damn whether your property is freehold or leasehold.

No freehold tenure is not a problem. No tenant is.

How long can you continue paying mortgage, maintenance and taxes when you can’t find a tenant? If you have no holding power, you’ve got to cut loss at certain point of time and let it go.

Regardless whether your property is leasehold or freehold, it is not ‘free to hold’.


Don’t buy anything before you attend my Buying My First Private Property Workshop on July 31 or you’ll regret it (again?). Learn all the tips and traps of buying properties from presentations, exercises and group discussions. See you on Sunday!

Is No Indian No PRC rental discrimination?

Despicable-Me1
Right after settling a social media boo-boo created by an Aussie employee, 99.co’s CEO Darius Cheung was quick to divert the media’s attention to another sensitive topic – the alleged discrimination of Singapore landlords on Indians and PRC tenants.

Telling his story in a blog post, Darius shared how they had been rejected by 20 percent of the landlords just because his wife is an Indian. At the end, they had to pay 15 percent more to rent a place.

After the unpleasant personal experience, Darius launched a ‘Say No to Racial Discrimination’ campaign. From now on, listings with ‘All Races Welcome’ rather than ‘No Indian No PRC’ will be prominently featured on the property portal.


Can landlords choose their tenants?

Frankly, I am surprised by the initiative of 99.co.

No one can deny the importance of racial equality. But is the local rental market a right platform to fight for the cause? Or has 99.co just opened a can of worms?

We are not discriminating against any race here. This is locals versus foreigners (or foreigners from certain countries). In Singapore, most landlords are locals and majority of tenants are foreigners. With our HDB home ownership scheme, we have far more owners and landlords than tenants.

Article 12 (2) of Singapore’s Constitution states that ‘no discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth’.

Unfortunately, this only applies to ‘citizens of Singapore’, not non-citizens residing in Singapore.

Racial harmony is a core value in multi-cultural Singapore. But political propaganda and personal preferences are two different things.

In fact, nationality is only one out of many leasing criteria. Singapore landlords also have concerns over pets, smoking, profession, family size, sexual orientation, relationship of a couple staying together, etc.

The question is: When I am investing my money in a rental property, and I am paying the housing loan, management fee and property tax, do I have the right to pick my tenant?

If my exclusion list is discriminatory, what about those resorts that are not accepting tour groups from China, or only accepting those from China’s tier 1 cities? Aren’t these also discrimination?

What about the taxi driver who refuses to drive me home, or that store owner who doesn’t want my business?


Johnny-English
What’s wrong with that curry smell?

Do you know what they call Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, etc. in Hong Kong? They just give them one name: South Asians.

Due to the legacy of British colonial rule, Hong Kong has 61,400 South Asians. Despite being the third generation and speaking fluent Cantonese, they still face a lot of discriminations in education, employment and housing.

It is almost impossible to find any local Chinese landlord who is willing to rent to a South Asian. A recent documentary interviewed landlords who claim that the strong smell of curry South Asians prepare is a source of neighbor complaints. It is also impossible to get rid of that smell after they move out.

Sounds familiar? Remember the curry war between two neighbors and the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” campaign in 2011? We even have a story on BBC News.

I like to cook different types of Thai curry too, especially panang curry, massaman curry, green curry and red curry. Once I even bought the authentic small garlics, green and red chillies from a Bangkok wet market to prepare the real thing. And I like to open the kitchen doors to let the smell notify my two little ones who can’t wait to taste their favorite dish.

Can you imagine the strong smell coming from my house? My neighbors can enjoy my curry smell for free and no one ever complain.

Is strong smell a personal preference, or just an excuse out of discrimination?


What are landlords and tenants looking for?

Being a tenant for 7 years and a multiple-property landlord since 2002, I can empathize and understand the concerns of both parties.

It is not the just the landlords who are picking the tenants. The tenants are also choosing the landlords.

As a tenant, I am looking for a nice and reasonable landlord.

Reasonable means my landlord does not come over to spot-check all the time and let me stay in peace. Reasonable means my landlord does not give me old furniture or appliances that he wants to dispose them. Reasonable means my landlord understands the kitchen is not for display only but can be used for cooking.

As a landlord, I am looking for a good tenant.

Good implies my tenant always pays his rent in time and in advance. Good implies my tenant doesn’t give me any trouble during his stay in my property. Good implies my tenant will return the unit in its original condition at the end of the contract.

When I first started as a landlord, I didn’t mind any race and nationality. My preferences are gradually formed after years’ of experiences, both good and bad ones.

Now I know exactly which nationalities and what profiles of tenants will give me peace of mind, and vice versa. And I can tell you that the background of the tenant is more important than the nationality.

Leasing a property is based on mutual agreement. We can’t avoid the fact that landlords have stereotypes of different nationalities, their living habits and ways to upkeep their house. We can educate the public to understand and accept foreigners. But landlords also reserve the right to sign contracts with tenants that they are comfortable dealing with.


Is it nationalities or personalities?

You want to know the nationalities of my ex-tenants? I have had Americans, British, Danish, Japanese, Koreans, Canadian Chinese, Hong Kong, Indians, Singaporeans, you name it.

Which is the worst tenant I ever had? Sadly, it is a local Singaporean.

I had two properties that were very popular with Japanese and Koreans who, in my opinion, are good tenants and great housekeepers. I always marvel at how they master the art of tidying and organizing the house.

But there are exceptions.

Once I was working nearby and decided to DIY for a flat viewing. My tenant was a single Japanese guy on company lease. He was out of town and asked me to go any time. There was a single guy coming for viewing that evening.

I opened the door and was choked by the cigarette smell. I immediately knew that I need chemical wash of all the air-conditioners and whole house cleaning to get rid of the smell as soon as the contract ended.

There were household items lying all over the floor. We had to hop around the mess to avoid stepping on anything.

When I finally reached the living room, I was shocked to see a full collection of porn videotapes, VCDs, DVDs and Blurays with international cast – all proudly and orderly displayed on the TV console and the sofa.

I suddenly realized why my property agent told me that the tenant was very happy I could find him a VCR player “to watch cricket match videotapes”.

Despite that incident, I don’t have rental discriminations against single Japanese tenants because I know that this is an exceptional case. But from then on, I let my property agent handle all the flat viewings and handovers for me.

Crave for more tenant stories? Share yours with me and tell me what you think about rental discrimination in Singapore.

Property Tool Review: PropertyGuru’s Virtual Reality Showroom

VR_showroom
On June 27, PropertyGuru showcased its latest technology of showflat viewing using virtual reality (VR). In the bustling CBD at Raffles Place, an ordinary truck was converted into a PropertyGuru VR Showroom for passers-by to test the VR demo.

A few months back I just had an amazing ‘virtual theme park roller coaster ride’ at the Samsung Galaxy Studio in front of Ngee Ann City. Wearing that heavy Samsung Gear VR on my head, it was a thrilling 5-minute sitting in the 4D Theatre plunging down at high speed during the virtual ride.

So when I read that the PropertyGuru VR roadshow would be in Jurong Point, I couldn’t wait to have my first-hand experience viewing a showflat through virtual reality.


Virtual Reality for Properties

Allow me to talk about virtual reality in properties in less than 150 words.

Virtual reality is a concept developed in 1968; though the world only started using VR technology in buildings in the 1990s. I first learned about VR in the early 2000s when Second Life created a software that allowed users to live, make friends, rent and buy properties in a virtual world.

There are also virtual events that can save costs in travel and venue booking. Say there is a seminar or exhibition marketing overseas properties. Buyers attend the sessions or visit the virtual booths online. Developers and marketing agents interact with prospective buyers using online technologies like webcasts and live chats.

Start VR, a virtual reality studio based in Sydney, offers Virtual Reality Real Estate service for developers selling off-plan projects. The technology offers prospective buyers with a VR headset the experience of a virtual tour of the actual property by simulating the scenes inside the property.


Verdict of PropertyGuru VR Showroom

It took me some time to find the exact location of the VR Showroom outside Jurong Point. Because the demo was installed in a vehicle, the truck could only be parked along the roadside instead of inside the shopping mall.

Although PropertyGuru hired a professional emcee and a few promoters, there was almost no traffic on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe it was the location. Or perhaps people didn’t like the hassle of walking under the hot sun to see something they have not heard of.

I took a few photos of the truck, the demo and the promoter. The emcee announced that they managed to attract a ‘tourist’ to the VR Showroom!

The VR headset was too heavy for a wearable gadget. I was surprised to find that the simulated scenes of the showflat were utility area and a tiny toilet next to it. I was expecting to see scenes of the living room or the master bedroom with fancy interior design concepts.

There was a game to find 3 vouchers hidden in the 360-degree showflat in 5 minutes. I found them within seconds and was rewarded with a $50 furniture/decor voucher.

PropertyGuru probably gets the idea of VR Showroom from the pop-up stores along Orchard Road marketing all sorts of stuff such as popular toys, new fragrances, sexy lingerie and local designer collections.

One suggestion is to show the VR Showroom in a mobile cart so that it is flexible to showcase in a booth at the shopping malls or at tradeshows.

Instead of giving away vouchers with minimum purchase, PropertyGuru can consider what Samsung Galaxy Studio managed to draw the crowd – free gelato for everyone and lucky draw to walk away with a Galaxy S7 edge 4G+ Injustice edition!


Do we need virtual reality showflat?

Steve Melhuish, CEO of PropertyGuru, told the media that their VR products and services will be ready in 12 to 18 months’ time. And in 5 years, some developers might want to save a million to build a showflat. It is a more cost-effective way to help developers to do concept testing for consumers on new architectural designs.

Is Singapore’s property industry ready for VR?

Yes and no.

With declining profit margins, developers are trying to find ways to minimize cost. A sales gallery with a showflat needs close to $2 million to build. In a slow market, it takes months or more than a year to clear all the units. It is not cost-effective to continue paying rent, utility bills and staff to maintain the sales gallery. A Virtual Reality Showroom truck is much cheaper to maintain and more flexible to reach out to prospective buyers in different parts of Singapore.

However, a big constraint of VR Showroom is that buyers cannot touch, measure or take photos of the simulated scenes.

Above all, we know that most things in the showflats are ID concepts only. It is more practical to use VR to see the actual unit or the bare unit – minus all the ‘artist impression’ and ‘for display only’ bells and whistles in the showflat. If only developers can be honest with buyers and be transparent to the point of WYSIWYG.

Afterall, buyers are not playing Pokémon Go location-based mobile game here. What’s the point of using augmented reality to enhance our perception of our future home when we are paying for something totally different in the real world?

See more photos of PropertyGuru’s Virtual Reality Showroom in PropertySoul Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/propertysoulblog. Remember to give me a ‘Like’ if you can spot me there!

Property Tool Review: SRX’s Sevi Chatbot

SeviLast Saturday, I decided to try out Sevi, a new property tool newly launched by StreetSine Technology Group . It would be good to know whether it is useful for a first-time buyer or an ordinary property investor.

For your information, Sevi (Search, Evaluate, Valuation, and Initiate transactions) is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) chatbot that answers property questions from property agents and end users. It helps to find the exact information the users are looking for, without the hassle to comb through the site looking for answers.

Similar to chatting with someone on instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp and WeChat, Sevi can interact with humans using common English text (also known as NLP or Natural Language Processing).

By coincidence, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-In-Charge of Smart Nation, revealed to the media this week that IDA (Infocomm Development Authority) will also be using chatbots as virtual assistants to answer questions from the public in the government websites.


The green hair girl avatar

Sevi can be easily located on the homepage of SRX.com.sg, right at the bottom right hand corner.

The avatar of Sevi is a girl with green hair and green eyes. Although it is far from the typical Singapore property agent look (dressed in white shirts black jackets, with the face heavily touched up by Photoshop), it has the future potential to become a Singapore mascot like the Courtesy Lion, Bobo the Elephant and Captain Green. (Maybe they should consider Professor Owl?)


An interesting conversation with the robot girl

I started testing the property tool with questions often raised by my blog readers. If Sevi can come up with good answers, next time when someone asks a similar question, perhaps I can direct the person to the SRX website.

Below is an abstract of my conversations with Serv the chatbox.

Sevi: I’m Sevi, your personal assistant.
You can ask me basic property questions about transactions, listings, project info and X-value. Some Examples: … Type RESET or HELP whenever you need.

Me: Is it a good time to buy now?

Sevi: Location is required for Project Information. Please enter a location.

Me: Should I buy overseas properties?

Sevi: What would you like to know about the following?
Sale

Me: Do you think GEM Residences is a good buy?

Sevi: GEM RESIDENCES is the latest residential condominium set to redefine the skylines of Toa Payoh. Conveniently located in the Central Region of Singapore, various amenities such as prestigious schools, community clubs and stadium in the area offer great conveniences to residents.
Gem Residences’ In…
View details

Me: Should I go for HDB, Built-to-Order or EC?

Sevi: I have some suggestions for your location “EC”.
Please choose one from below by replying 1, 2, 3, etc.
1. ECO
2. ECO SANCTUARY (CONDO)
3. ECHELON (CONDO)
4. PARKVIEW ECLAT (CONDO)
5. ECOVILLE (CONDO)
6. None of the above

Me: Where are the good deals in the market?

Sevi: What would you like to know about the following?
cheap, market

Me: When will the government lift the cooling measures?

Sevi: Are you switching topic on me? A simple Yes or No would be helpful.


Tips of using Serv chatbox

Oops, I think I am not asking the right questions or talking in the right robotic language. I should have followed the instructions to ask “basic property questions about transactions, listings, project info and X-value” only.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of following instructions and standard operating procedures. I should have learned from the recent bank robbery case: If an unarmed and muted customer gives the bank teller a written note to demand for money, the standard procedure is to ask him for his IC and to fill in the account withdrawal form – not to offer S$30,000 in cash.

Anyway, below are the type of queries that you can or cannot rely on Sevi to give you the answers:

1. The Can Do list

– The basic info of a project
– Project location and nearby amenities
– Project floor plans and photo gallery
– Latest transactions and valuation
– Monthly loan repayments using mortgage calculator
– Related sale and rental listings in the SRX portal
– List of projects available for sale/rent in a location
– Market data released by SRX
– Topics that have been covered in the site previously (e.g. cooling measures)

2. The Can’t Do list

– Project comparisons
– Return on investment calculations
– Market forecasts in property sectors
– More in-depth analyses
– Recommendations on good buys
– Qualitative questions


A casual conversation with Sevi

What I like about Sevi is that it stores my questions in the cache and always brings me back to focus on ‘property questions’ whenever I am distracted.

Me: Why are you called Sevi?

Sevi: Fantastic! Except for the fact that I don’t understand what you’re trying to say… I do understand Property though🙂 Type “Help” if you need assistance.

Me: I think your green hair is cool.

Sevi: Hmmm.. What would you like to know about property? Choose below.
1. Listings
2. Transactions
3. Home Value
4. Project Information
5. More Options
Type RESET at any time to start a new conversation.
Type 1, 2, 3, etc. to reply.

Me: Can we go for coffee one of these days?

Serv: What would you like to know about the following?
Let me clarify. Do you mean you want to know about project information?

Me: What about next Saturday afternoon?

Serv: Sorry, I don’t quite catch you. What would you like to know?
1. Listings
2. Transactions
3. Home Value
4. Project Information
5. More Options
Type RESET at any time to start a new conversation.
Type 1, 2, 3, etc. to reply.
   :
   :
Here are some rent listings for condominium.
View details
Show 10,247 condo properties for rent
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Buying My First Private Property 1-Day Workshop (July 31, 2016)

Buying My First Private Property 1-Day Workshop
A workshop by Property Club Singapore


Synopsis

First-time property buyers often ask questions about ‘when can I buy’, ‘what to buy’ and ‘how to buy’. When you are about to buy the most expensive item you pay for in your life, you better get it right. This one-day workshop offers you countless smart tips to buy your first property, saving you tons of money from making costly mistakes in property investment.

“Rich people constantly learn and grow. Poor people think they already know.”- T. Harv Eker

Workshop details

Date   : July 31, 2016 (Sunday)
Time   : 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
Venue : National Library
Trainer: Property Soul, Author of No B.S. Guide to Property Investment
Fee     : Member – $299 (1 pax), $549 (2 pax)
             Non-Member – $449 (1 pax), $849 (2 pax)

Target Audience

1. First-time buyers of private properties
2. Aspiring property investors

Participant Feedback

Below are the feedback we received from participants who attended this workshop held in January 2015.

“It is truly the most unbiased and informative property workshop I had ever attended. With no frills or hype.” – Daniel

“I have learnt much and picked up a lot of knowledge which I did not know. Thank you for candidly sharing your wealth of knowledge with us.” – Cindy

“I feel more confident with the property buying process after the course, with useful tips, rule of thumb, and what to take note of when I buy a property.” – Alvin

“Thank you very much! I have benefited from this 1-day workshop. I have better idea about the dos and don’ts when buying my first private property.” – KC

“Useful for new investors. Good refresher for seasoned investors.” – Derek

Read also comments at valuebuddies.com

Topics covered

Morning Session
1. Understanding the key concepts of money, wealth and financial management
2. How to speed up your savings to buy that first property
3. Exercise – Improving my finances in 90 days
4. Successful tips to buy properties at a young age
5. Affordability – Am I ready to buy it now?
6. Setting your property investment goals
7. Exercise – Make your step-by-step property investment plan
8. Group Discussion – How to avoid falling prey to property scams and traps

Afternoon Session
9. Where to find properties suitable for first-time buyers
10. Why some cheap properties are cheap for a reason
11. How to spot the gems in cheap properties
12. Exercise – Calculating return of an investment property
13. Dealing with property agents of the sellers
14. Driving out competition to bag your target property
15. How to master negotiation techniques in property purchase
16. Role play – Negotiate successfully to buy at a bargain
17. What to expect from Offer to Purchase to Sale Completion
18. Getting the most of housing loans
19. Tips of engaging a conveyancing lawyer
20. Quiz – Everything you should know buying your first property
(Note: Strictly NO marketing of local or overseas properties, property-related products or services.)

About the trainer

Property Soul is a property enthusiast who bought her first condominium unit for rent since 2002. In the next 4½ years, she built up a portfolio of five private properties. By 2008, its total value had more than doubled. In 2010 and 2011, she sold four of the properties, realizing a net profit of 80 to 120 percent.

In 2010, she set up a personal blog PropertySoul.com to share her experiences as a property investor and to exchange ideas with fellow investors on accumulating wealth through properties. In April 2014, she published her first book No B.S. Guide to Property Investment. The first print was sold out in bookstores within 8 weeks’ time. The book was a bestseller in Kinokuniya and Times bookstores.

Property Soul is also the founder of Property Club Singapore – a neutral platform for the learning and networking of like-minded private property buyers, investors and owners. Seminars, talks, workshops and networking sessions are organized regularly.

Registration

Please complete the form below.



Payment

Payment can be made by one of the methods below:

1. By bank transfer to DBS Bank Current Account number 066-902-8008.
2. By crossed cheque made payable to “PROPERTY CLUB SINGAPORE PTE LTD”.
   Mail to Choa Chu Kang Central Post Office, PO Box 251, Singapore 916839.
3. By paypal (add 4% paypal service charge).

For members, please log in and make your paypal payment here.

For non-members, please make payment with your paypal account or debit/credit card here.

You can sign up for Property Club Singapore membership now to enjoy all the member benefits.

Please contact us if you need any assistance.

Who said property cooling measures may never be lifted?

good-girl2I read with bewilderment the article from Singapore Property Review titled “An inconvenient truth: Property curbs may never be lifted, analysts warn”.

“The report argued that unless property prices plunge suddenly and dramatically, buying curbs may not be lifted in order to substantially reduce Singapore’s unhealthy fixation with real estate.”

This remark from the Maybank Kim Eng property report leaves me scratching my head. While I try to digest what it really means, I notice that there are some important points that the analyst may have missed in the arguments.

There are at least four things that I hold a different view from what the brokerage firm says.


1. No one can influence the Singapore government’s housing decisions.

The efforts of industry stakeholders and market analysts to predict or speculate whether and when the government will lift the property cooling measures have proved in vain time and again. And now, someone is trying to make a wild guess that “what if buying curbs become permanent”.

Frankly, I don’t think the report has “posed a previously unthinkable question”. It sounds more like making an unfounded hypothesis on the market situation.

The ministers and relevant authorities have repeated at least nine times from February 2014 to April 2016 that they won’t be relaxing the property buying restrictions, unless prices have corrected to a meaningful level. It never says anything like property curbs are here to stay, permanently.

Isn’t the government clear enough on its policies regarding cooling measures? Why some people still don’t get it?

It is not “Property curbs may never be lifted”. It is “Whether property curbs will be lifted may never be influenced by any party”.

Please stop second-guessing what the government is planning. When in doubt, ask the government.


2. It’s dangerous betting on cooling measures to attract property buyers.

A developer told the media that the government will be smart to know that it’s time we lifted property curbs in Singapore. In other words, get ready to buy soon.

The media said that Additional Buyer Stamp Duty (ABSD) and Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) are very likely to be relaxed after the government loosened car financing. So it’s time to buy again.

Now the property agent may probably say that they know the government will never change the buyer and seller stamp duties. We can’t avoid paying 7 to 15 percent more ABSD whether we choose to buy it now or later. So no need to wait. Just get used to it. Take it as a fact of life and buy now.

We helpless buyers in the market are bombarded with messages from the media advising us to load it, cock it, aim and shoot. Then get ready to load, aim and shoot again.

Do they know that most of us have limited bullets? What if the market doesn’t recover after we have shot all our bullets? Is the advice from the industry players bullet-proof? Who are going to save us if we get shot?

In less than a week after the British voted for Brexit, UOB suspended overseas loans for London properties. A year ago we were invited to a high-class restaurant for an UOB overseas property investment seminar where a UK conveyancing lawyer talked about the attractiveness of investing in London properties. At the end of the talk, we were given high quality umbrellas as souvenirs.

Banks lend us the most when we need them the least. The reverse is also true. Remember what the main character said in Hanzawa Naoki (半沢直樹), a 2013 Japanese television drama?

“Banks will lend you umbrellas on a sunny day, but they will take them back when it is pouring.”

It is not uncommon for banks to tighten financing and ask borrowers to repay housing debts when they perceive a forthcoming crisis. Lesson learned: Make sure you have a Plan B before you fire.


3. Property investment is not economically non-productive. Property speculation is.

I disagree with the following argument in the report:

“Singapore households have SGD840b of capital or 209% of GDP tied up in residential property. This has resulted in lower disposable income which has impeded consumer spending and muzzled entrepreneurship. Another less obvious implication of property ‘overinvestment’ is that home-price appreciation fuels wage inflation, reducing Singapore’s cost competitiveness.”

It is true that Singapore has an unusually high home ownership rate of 90.8 percent among residents. Thanks to the Housing Development Board which provides affordable public housing for over 80 percent of Singapore’s resident population.

If most households are paying their housing loans with their CPF money for their highly-subsidized flats (rather than using hard cash to pay market rate for rent or mortgage), it is wrong and unfair to say that this “has impeded consumer spending” and “fuels wage inflation”.

The report also blames Singapore households for sitting on a cash pile of S$374b which the analyst assumes is set aside for to buy investment properties when prices are right, thus making the idle capital “economically non-productive”.

S$374b is a huge sum of savings. But that doesn’t mean all will be spent on buying properties.

Asians, especially Chinese, are well known for their virtue of saving rather than spending. What’s wrong with saving money for a rainy day?

“Singaporeans need to be weaned from their age-old aspirations of being landlords earning passive rental income. Investors also need to shed their deeply entrenched belief that investment properties are the best asset class to hold.”

There is nothing wrong with buying the right property at the right time and at the right price, either for passive income or for long-term appreciation. The only problem is buying any property in any market at any price, hoping that prices will go up in the near future. The latter is called property speculation rather than property investment. Only too much speculation in properties is “economically non-productive”.

All investments carry risk. But that doesn’t mean that we should avoid it altogether. We don’t have to give up on love just because there is a chance of heartbreak or divorce. Instead we should learn as soon as possible and as much as possible how to avoid failures. And we spend a lifetime continue to practice what we learn in order to be successful.


4. Entrepreneurship is not less risky than property investment.

The Maybank Kim Eng report advises the government not to remove the cooling measures for the sake of Singapore’s long-term survival.

“If part of the monies that has been locked away in anticipation of a bottoming of the property cycle flows towards productive assets or even consumption, we believe entrepreneurship can be enhanced and thrive.”

Is Singapore’s traditional culture or our education system encouraging entrepreneurship? Are Singapore’s cost of living, banking practices, foreign labor policy, etc. favorable for SMEs? What will happen if one day we tell our parents or our partners that we are going to give up our stable job and our HDB flat to be an entrepreneur?

Last month Switzerland had a vote on an unconditional basic monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (S$3,460) for every adult, so that everybody can now pursue what they really want to do in life rather than being confined by the salary of a stable job.

The success of Singapore’s economy is based on the provision of a skilled workforce to attract foreign investment from over 3,000 multinational corporations. Can you imagine Singaporeans quitting their jobs in droves to follow the ‘Swiss dream’?


Who just said property cooling measures may never be lifted?

Propexit versus propremain – which side are you on?

exitJune 23 marks the independence of Britain which has finally voted out of the European Union. Other European countries are pledging to stand behind the EU. But deep down they are probably guessing which country will be the next one out.

Brexit may start a chain reaction that leads to Frexit, Grexit, Luxexit, Spexit and Swexit. Sorry about my spellings but don’t forget we also have Byegium, Czechout, Finish, Goatia, Italeave, Latervia, Oustria, Portugo and Slovakout.

Perhaps only Remania and Iremand will stay.


A dysfunctional EU versus an unprofitable property investment

Nobody said it better than Cambridge University professor Christopher Hill who called the previous European Community back in 1993 a ‘capability–expectations gap’ – a gap between what they said they can do and what they can actually deliver.

Jan Zielonka in his book Is the EU Doomed called the EU an ‘embarrassment’ when the promise of prosperity becomes austerity; when an agreement of integration becomes dysfunction; and when the opportunity to overcome a crisis becomes a wasted crisis.

EU members continue to suffer worsening economy, uncontrolled immigration, loss of national identity and increased terrorist threat.

Properties bought at the peak of the market in the last few years are similar to the situation of the EU now.

There exists a ‘performance–expectations gap’ – a gap between the future prices industry stakeholders predicted and the actual prices turn out to be; or a gap between the rental return agents said owners can get and the actual rent owners are fetching now.

It is a disappointment when an income source becomes a monthly deficit; and when an asset becomes a burden.

The owners continue to suffer worsening market, uncontrolled market supply; financing restrictions and interest hike threat.


Should I hold or sell?

Back in 2011 to 2013, readers of my blog often asked me questions like “Is this a good time to buy?”; “Should I go for HDB, Built-to-Order or EC?”; “What do you think about this new launch?”; or “Project A, B and C, which one is a better investment?”.

These days my mailbox is flooded with messages from people asking very different questions:

– “I bought project xxxxx when it’s launched in 2012. The developer is now offering 15 percent discount. Should I sell now or wait for TOP?”

– “The rental return of my unit is lower than expected. With the risks of falling prices and rising interest rates, should I let go if there is a good offer?”

– The currency has depreciated 25 percent since I bought my property in this foreign market. There are talks about market oversupply and further currency depreciation. Should I hold on or cut loss now?”

I am sure that people asking me these questions are not loyal followers of my blog; otherwise, they wouldn’t have ended up in such a dilemma.

Why you can’t buy it now

Is buying properties a saving plan?

The resurrection of property prices

Tough times ahead for Iskandar and Malaysia properties

If only they have read my blog posts written in the last few years and taken the advice from a fellow property investor. And if they have already made up their mind, why do they come back and ask for advice to exit or remain?


Propexit or Propremain?

Whether you choose to hold your properties and remain in the market, or decide to sell your properties and exit the market, it depends on your financial situation, property portfolio and investment strategy.

If you are overcommitted and do not have much holding power, you fit into the profile of a typical ‘propexiter’. Since you have to deal with your loss making investment sooner or later, before the market goes further south, cut your loss and move on.

If you have bought your properties at good prices and intend to hold them for a long time, keep the faith and optimism to continue as a ‘propremainer’. It takes courage to embrace uncertainty over certainty. Nonetheless, if you have the holding power, you shouldn’t be afraid of being exposed to the unknown future.

If you are still undecided whether to remain or exit, or to enter or wait and see, the last four points below may give you some hints:

1. Before you make any investment, always have an exit strategy in place.

2. The key to an elegant exit is advance planning.

3. In times of uncertainty, there is no safe haven. Cash is king provided that you are holding the right currencies.

4. The EU may be doomed, but Europe is not. Properties bought at the last peak may be doomed, but the property market is not.

Have you decided to be propremain or propexit? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Can’t answer these 5 questions? Stay clear of crowdfunding

caution-sign

In barely a week’s time, two crowdfunding projects have gone wrong. Investors grieved for failure to receive the promised returns and to recover their principal sums.

An investment scheme that claimed to finance a builder known as Soilwood (listed company Soilbuild Group sound-alike) has stopped paying the guaranteed 4 to 6 percent quarterly return (“Investors cry foul over builder’s crowdfunding”, Straits Times, June 11).

Another project that promised investors a generous dividend of up to 24 percent by investing in security services firm Glen Iris has been wound up last October (“Another crowdfunding scheme goes sour“, Straits Times, June 18).

Both projects are marketed by a so-called financial advisory firm Noble Consulting Group.

What puzzled me is that the victims are not the ignorant and simple-minded, but include professionals with the capital, knowledge and experience in investment. Some even come from a finance background.


Crowdfunding schemes that went belly up

Scams and defaults arising from crowdfunding investment plans are first exposed with complaints from the victims, followed by announcements of involved companies being put under MAS alert list, before finally being covered in the news.

In case you miss them in the news, below is a list of some recent cases which have been reported in local newspapers and news portals:

crowdfunding-scams

Why these investment schemes being offered to the general public with such incredibly high returns didn’t raise the suspicion of any party? Part of the answer can be found in my book No B.S. Guide to Property Investment:

Potential buyers will find it difficult to verify what the marketers say at the sales presentation. If anyone sounds the alarm of a possible scam in a newspaper article or an investment blog, the whistleblower might be threatened with a defamatory suit by the concerned company, claiming that their company and business have been defamed — when they should be the one to deal with legal proceedings if they fail to deliver the promised return, go out of business or runaway with the investors’ money.

If the names of swindlers are protected by the law, who is there to protect the rights of victims who risk losing all their invested money?


5 critical questions to ask before taking the plunge

Can you tell a real deal from a fake one?

If you want to avoid being the next victim, take a step back and answer five critical questions before committing to any crowdfunding project, especially when it comes to chipping in to fund overseas properties.


1. Why do they need co-funding?

If companies need to expand their business, there are many sources of financing.

For instance, you have a brilliant idea to build a state-of-the-art product with ground-breaking features in demand by customers. To fund this project, you can find interested partners, approach banks, look for angel investors or government funding.

If your business has a successful track record, you can even consider board listing. But that is provided your company can meet the listing requirements, including minimum pre-tax profit and market capitalization, operating track record of at least three years, etc.

It is only when all the above methods fail, or you can’t meet all these requirements, then you have to consider approaching the general public who are laymen of your business.

Same for ‘exclusive’ property investment opportunities. You can co-own properties with relatives, close friends or business partners. Why do you want to share such profitable deals with people you hardly know?

Allow me to quote what I have mentioned in my book No B.S. Guide to Property Investment:,

“As a property investor myself, I can tell you honestly that no savvy investor will share with other people what they are buying right now.”


2. Why do you trust them?

Some victims told the media that they trusted the company because it is registered in Singapore.

What a naive statement! Do they know that it takes only 15 minutes to register a company in Singapore? Are they aware of the fact that the minimum paid-up capital is only one Singapore dollar? And just because a firm has registered itself as a Singapore company doesn’t mean that it is a trusted firm.

Many victims revealed that they were convinced by the professional presentations delivered in the ballroom of a 5-star hotel. Above all, the speakers and persons-in-charge are in respected professions (bankers, accountants, doctors, C-level executives, celebrities, etc.) Why is our society making us ‘worship’ certain professions and company titles?

Dan Ariely disclosed the results of an experiment in his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves,

“Who do you think cheated more, the politicians or the bankers? … the bankers cheated about twice as much.”

When actors dress up like dentists to market a toothpaste brand in an advertisement, do you really believe that they are real dentists and every day ask patients to use that toothpaste brand?

Other victims claimed that they invested because of recommendations from friends, family and relatives. And that person is well regarded in the community.

Past performances do not necessarily reflect future results. Everybody make mistakes. Even trusted and well-respected parties can be wrong too.


3. How do they guarantee high return?

A rule of thumb to follow is: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The best interest rate that you can get from the banks for a fixed deposit is 2 percent. That is what banks can guarantee you with almost no risk.

If an investment plan promises to pay you 10 times of that return at 20 percent, how do they do it? How do they do it continuously? How do they do it when market direction changes for the worse?

If they are unable to honor what is promised, you can be sure that they can only do it two ways: go bankrupt or run away.

The problem is that there are probably many hidden implications and risks that are not shared openly with investors in the first place.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump once said in his book Trump: Think Like a Billionaire:

trump“Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t make it a good investment … the words ‘new venture’ sound to me like a loan that will never get paid back … They want your money, pure and simple, so they’ll have a chance to make money.”

Donald Trump wants your votes, pure and simple, so he’ll have a chance to be President.

And you choose to believe that he can really make America great again? Well, it may not be totally impossible. But seriously, do you really want to bet on that?


4. How are investors being protected?

Crowdfunding, unlike financial investment products, is not governed by any regulation in Singapore. It falls under a large grey area that makes investors vulnerable to scams and defaults.

If victims approach CASE (Consumers Association of Singapore) for help, they will be told that investment matters do not come under their responsibilities. Similarly, purchase of overseas properties is not under the governance of MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore).

On June 9, MAS has finally set a new rule for all crowdfunding platforms to apply for a capital markets services licence and to set aside a capital of $500,000.

It is not difficult for any crowdfunding company to apply for a licence. And how can $500,000 settle the claims of tens of millions like the previous default cases?


5. What makes you think that it is a fortune, not a fraud?

It may sound unfair to generalize all crowdfunding projects as scams. However, in order to safeguard the interest of you as an investor, give them the benefit of the doubt. There is no harm adopting the same principle of the Singapore law to assume that all accused are guilty until proven innocent.

It is always difficult to verify the authenticity of a deal. The safest way is to take the time to gather all the facts, do your own research, calculations and analyses before making the decision.

“The best way to avoid being scammed is to focus on what’s local to you … to physically go and look at each project — to ensure that they really exist.”

– Hubert Bromme & Lisa Moren Bromma, How to Make Money in Alternative Investments

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