“When I first came into the industry, I didn’t know what to do,” says Datuk Seri Dr. LeeVille, recalling his foray into property development some 14 years ago.
It was a big pivot for the then-25-year-old; he was a medical doctor in Penang for a year before deciding to ‘give it a shot’ in the family business.
Now, helming the role of Managing Director of Georgetown-based New Bob Group of Companies, Lee double hats as chairman of Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (REHDA) Youth, which brings together young developers – under-40 second generation entrepreneurs – to network amongst peers and other industry players.
We brought each other on to our projects and shared what we’ve learned, the painful mistakes and what to avoid
“Until it was announced today, we never had a course for property developers,” says Lee at the REHDA Institute’s Housing Conference.
“Back then, there was no such course. So, where do you go as a young developer?"
“I think being similar in age and mindset, it was easy for us to cross share knowledge and ideas. There were only five developers when REHDA Youth first started,” says Lee of the group, which has grown to 190 members nationwide.
“We brought each other on to our projects and shared what we’ve learned, the painful mistakes and what to avoid,” says Lee with a smile, as he recalls having to face up to angry locals in one of his earliest projects in Penang.
My Most Memorable 'Painful' Experience
As chairman of REHDA Youth, Lee sees the opportunity to inject fresh ideas from young developers into an industry where systems and policies tend to be rigid and slower to innovate.
Currently, REHDA Youth do not focus on policy matters. Engagement with government and policymakers falls under the purview of REHDA.
Sometimes, there is lack of stakeholder involvement before policies are formulated. At times, they are very ad-hoc, piecemeal kind of policies
“I think our biggest issues, not just for youth but for developers in general, is dealing with authorities. Sometimes, there is lack of stakeholder involvement before policies are formulated. At times, they are very ad-hoc, piecemeal kind of policies.”
“So, we as Youth try to engage more – not with authorities – but with existing developers to bring those issues up.”
One of the key areas that REHDA Youth – and Lee – is strongly advocating is green sustainable developments.
New Bob’s Seberang Perai condominium project River Tropics, launched last December, is the company’s first green condo project; it received the Green Mark of Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority and the GreenRE Gold Certification from REHDA.
River Tropics features various passive and active green features such as cross ventilation, heat-reflective paint, rainwater harvesting, waste-recycling, energy-saving and water-efficient systems.
“We don’t have windows facing east or west to avoid heat.” All 148 units are positioned to let in maximum natural light and ventilation.
Developers Need More Incentives to go Green
It was not an easy decision to ‘build green’, says Lee, as there aren’t any incentives to entice developers to do so on the mainland of Penang. (New Bob’s projects are mainly located in Penang and Kuantan)
“On Penang island, the Pulau Pinang City Council charges on RM5 out of the RM15 per square feet if you go green. So, there’s a RM10 savings on your project. There’s no such in on the mainland.”
Despite the lack of incentives and higher costs (“It is five to ten percent is costlier to build green.”), Lee decided to be the first developer on the mainland to take on the challenge.
Studies have shown that projects that go green tend to appreciate better compared to non-green ones
“It is a conscious effort on our side to be more environmental friendly,” says Lee.
“Yes, it does eat into our costs but we would like to add more innovation into our products. Studies have shown that projects that go green tend to appreciate better compared to non-green ones.”
While high upfront costs is the greatest area of concern to go green, developers also have to contend with the demand risk.
“We sell at a similar cost to non-green products. But at the end of the day, we find that customers would look at the absolute figure, not so much the features (of the building). Education plays a big role,” he says, adding that both the private and public sector must do more to increase awareness on the environmental and social benefits of being eco-friendly.
To move forward, Lee urges the government to be serious in incentivising developers to go green.
“Housing is a state matter, so every state has their own incentives. But we are still very far behind. In some countries, if you go green, you are given incentives to build more - you are given a higher plot ratio to recover the extra cost (for going green). So, maybe you get ten to 20 more plot ratio.”
“In some countries, if your project is green certified, the authorities will approve your housing application faster. So, that cuts down the holding costs, says Lee.
The Future of Homes