Man who made ‘shoebox apartments’ a lifestyle to venture overseas

Mr Ching Chiat Kwong, the man who made shoebox apartment living a new lifestyle, is now thinking big.

The policeman turned entrepreneur is planning to build similar apartments abroad, especially in China and neighbouring countries like Vietnam.

For Mr Ching, the developer of about a dozen projects with apartments as tiny as 258 sq ft at Suites@Guillemard, small is beautiful.

But to go abroad he needs access to cash and to be better known. He is, therefore, listing his company, Oxley Holdings, on the second board, SGX Catalist. He is inviting the public to subscribe to between 224 million and 264 million new shares at 38 cents each to raise some $85 million.

According to him, despite the relatively high price/earnings ratio and recent mega issues like those of government-linked Mapletree and Global Logistic, the indicated response has been more than encouraging.

Apart from venturing overseas, part of the money will go towards building up his land bank to support a three to five year development pipeline. He also wants to expand into industrial, commercial and/or integrated projects. But he is not averse to taking on partners for his new projects and is also open to making acquisitions or going into strategic alliances.

Contrary to popular belief, he did not get the idea from Hong Kong, where most people live in tiny crowded flats but during a visit to a friend in London who was living in a flat that was less than 200 sq ft.

“With more and more young professionals wanting to move out from their parents to live on their own, such flats are ideal. They are easy to maintain and more affordable,” he said pointing out that most of his flats were fitted with the amenities needed to move in.

“The flats cater to the growing trend among young home buyers, especially to singles and newlyweds, who value quality living and a finer lifestyle and are built at well located prime sites which are easily accessible to public transport,” he adds.

While the Government has discouraged the building of flats smaller than 300 sq ft, Mr Ching continues to see small apartments of between 300 and 1,100 sq feet as his niche market.

And demand is still good. As at Oct 1, the company’s portfolio of developments which includes Suites@Katong, Parc Somme and Loft@Rangoon, had been fully sold for a total of $77 million. Viva Vista, which has a gross development value of $153 million, sold about 94 per cent of its units.

At 38 cents apiece, Mr Ching, who will have a 40-per-cent stake in the listed company, will be worth over $200 million, a far cry from his childhood, when he was the only son of five children of a poor seaman from Shanghai who married a woman here, also of Shanghainese origins.

He joined the police force in 1984 and obtained an honours degree in Social Sciences from the National University of Singapore in 1990.

“But I always wanted to strike out on my own, so that I could provide my family with a better life,” he said.

So, in 1993, he left the police force and took on various sub-contracting jobs, including cleaning of sewers, wet markets and the turfing of his alma mater, Queenstown Secondary School.

He ventured into construction in 1996 and built some of the properties for the Macly Group and listed budget hotelier Fragrance Group. Looking at the tiny rooms of those hotels, Mr Ching said: “Why not build affordable homes, perhaps not so tiny but with space consciousness in mind?”

His first foray into property development was in 2006 when an architect friend invited him to be a sleeping partner of CSA Venture.

He only became actively involved in development in the building of Tyrwhitt 139, a 48-unit project in Jalan Besar which was completed last year and set a new price benchmark for that area by breaching the $1,000 per sq ft mark.

Since then he has been involved in a dozen projects and projects in the pipeline include a 92-unit freehold apartment complex in Devonshire Road and a 60-unit residential project in Upper Serangoon Road.

The man who is now thinking big has a number of catchphrases for his tiny abodes: “Finite Space, Infinite Possibilities; Small in Size, Big on Style; and Fitting Big Ideas into Small Spaces.”

Source : Today – 19 Oct 2010

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