Jean Yip’s hair-raising foray into property development

By Cecilia Chow/ EdgeProp Singapore|January 10, 2020 10:00 AM SGT

SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) – The beauty mogul’s childhood passion for lifestyle ventures into beauty, haircare, interior design, and property investment and development has blossomed over the past three decades. She is now tackling the overseas property market.

Jean Yip with (from left) son-in-law Roy Fong, husband Mervin Wee and younger brother, Oliver Yip (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Since the 1980s, Jean Yip has been a household name synonymous with hair and beauty salons. What is lesser known, however, is its association with real estate — the eponymous chairman of Jean Yip Group has been steadily adding property investment and development to its portfolio. Yip’s fascination with hair, beauty and property began from her childhood days. Accompanying her grandmother to the hair salon sparked her fascination with coiffure. She was engrossed in watching the hairdressers at work, she recalls. “I was about seven years old then.”

When her grandmother decided to convert the family’s three-storey shophouse home along Malabar Street (now an air-conditioned indoor street within Bugis Junction) into a five-storey one, the precocious Yip insisted on being included in the discussions with building contractors. After her grandmother moved to a corner terraced house on Jalan Senyum in the Kembangan area, Yip used to walk around and check out the other houses in the neighbourhood.

Jean Yip grew up in the Bugis area, and her home was on Malabar Street, which is now an air-conditioned enclosed street within Bugis Junction (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

“I’ve always had a love for anything lifestyle-related: hair styling, beauty, cooking, baking, interior design and property,” she says. “It was a passion that started when I was very young.”Yip hails from a family of entrepreneurs. She grew up in the Bugis area, where her grandmother was famous as a porridge seller and her father owned a hardware business.

“Many of the shophouses along Malabar Street had a courtyard in front, very much like those on Emerald Hill Road,” Yip relates. “I used to love running up and down the street, pretending that I owned them.”

Shophouse investments

Conservation shophouses owned by Yip include those along Liang Seah Street and Seah Street (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

These days, Yip does not need to pretend-play. She owns a string of commercial properties, from the conservation shophouses along Liang Seah Street and Seah Street in the Beach Road area, to Club Street and Pagoda Street in Chinatown. She also owns shop units on East Coast Road, Bedok Reservoir and Hindoo Road.“Many of our shops are prominently located,” she observes. “We buy not just based on price but on the potential of the area and whether we can add value to the property.”

Yip’s younger brother, Oliver, the group’s director of business development, adds: “Choosing the right tenant is also key.” For instance, the row of shophouses along Club Street, known for 19 years as Italian fine dining restaurant Senso, belongs to Yip. Senso was a tenant until it closed last April. The tenant today is UFit Health and Fitness, which opened its flagship 16,000 sq ft integrated fitness studio there.

Yip owns four shop units at East Coast Road, which is currently tenanted to NineThirty by Awfully Chocolate on the first level and 9Round Fitness Gym on the second level (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

In the popular East Coast F&B enclave, a landmark of sorts is NineThirty by Awfully Chocolate located at the corner of East Coast Road and Joo Chiat Road. What is lesser known is that Yip is the landlord of the F&B outlet, and the space is an amalgamation of four adjoining shop units. Located above NineThirty on the first level is 9Round Fitness Gym on the second. In this case, Yip is not just the landlord, but also holds the 9Round master franchise in Singapore. Yip established Jean Yip Holdings in 2002 as the holding company for her real estate portfolio. She started investing in commercial units close to 20 years ago, but has expanded into industrial and residential property development over the past decade.

The shophouses along Club Street where Italian restaurant Senso had occupied for 19 years before closing in April 2019. The units are now occupied by UFit which opened its flagship integrated fitness hub (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

‘Only freehold residential’

When it comes to residential property, Yip believes in “buying only freehold”. Her first purchase was a unit at The Hacienda, a 109-unit, freehold condo on Hacienda Road, just off Upper East Coast Road. It was situated near her first hair salon at Katong Shopping Centre which opened in 1982. “I was only 23 years old then, so I could only afford to buy one unit,” she says. She demonstrated her flair in interior design by adding a mezzanine floor to the unit. “I loved looking at interior design magazines and I used to buy a lot of these magazines when I was studying in London,” she recalls. When Yip and her husband Mervin Wee were expecting their first child, Cheryl, they decided to buy a bigger house. It marked Yip’s first landed property purchase: a single-storey bungalow sitting on a 6,000 sq ft freehold site on Tosca Street, in Opera Estate in the east.

Fong (extreme left) is general manager of Jean Yip Holdings while husband Mervin Wee is group managing director of Jean Yip Group and brother Oliver (extreme right), business development director of Jean Yip Group (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua)

“Property was more affordable then and we got the land at a cheap price,” she says. Instead of tearing down the old house, Yip kept the structure but did extensive addition and alteration (A&A) works to create her Spanish-style house. They moved into the bungalow on Tosca Street after their second daughter, Rachel, was born.

‘A feel for property’

From there, Yip began to develop “a feel for the property market”. Every time she bought a new house, she would rent out her last property. “Over the years, I must have moved at least 12 times,” she says. Just as she enjoys the bonhomie of friends and family at her annual Christmas Eve parties, Yip is equally enthusiastic at mobilising them to attend weekend property exhibitions with her. “Now they are all scared [of my invitations],” she says. “I love attending open houses, new project launches and property exhibitions.”

The first bungalow development for sale was along Kheam Hock Road (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

When it comes to identifying suitable properties or development sites to purchase, “I’m always the one who chooses”, says Yip. But she ropes in family members to join her in the various businesses. For instance, her husband Wee is the group managing director of Jean Yip Group, while her son-in-law, Roy Fong, husband to her daughter Cheryl, joined Jean Yip Holdings as general manager two years ago. An architect by profession, Fong was previously with DP Architects before joining his mother-in-law’s business empire. There is also Oliver, who has been a constant collaborator in all his sister’s business ventures – from the salons to manufacturing of her own line of beauty and haircare products, and property investment and development. As the director of business development at Jean Yip Group, Oliver spearheads market research, feasibility studies and does the number crunching before the company embarks on a new business or property venture. “Oliver does the calculations and Roy focuses on the design aspects,” says Yip.

Oliver spearheaded the development of Good Class Bungalows by developing a GCB on Olive Road in Caldecott Hill Estate (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

Bungalow developments

Bungalow development began very much like Yip’s other businesses, with Oliver spearheading, by developing a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) on Olive Road in the Caldecott Hill Estate in 2010. “It was a very challenging site as it was situated on Caldecott Hill, and required a huge retaining wall,” relates Oliver. It has since become his home. This was followed by the development of three bungalows on Kheam Hock Road, and the redevelopment of Yip’s GCB on Old Holland Road in 2011. “I bought a house that I refurbished 20 years ago, and I decided to rebuild it because the whole family wanted something more contemporary,” says Yip. Next was the redevelopment of her former home at Greenleaf View, off Holland Road. The land was subdivided into two for the construction of two smaller detached houses for sale.

Yip’s former home at Greenleaf View was torn down by the group to be redeveloped into a new bungalow for sale (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

As prices of bungalow land soared over the past decade, Yip switched her focus from buying GCB sites to bungalow parcels of 10,000 to 20,000 sq ft with the potential for subdivision into smaller bungalows or mixed-landed developments for sale. This led to recent developments such as the three detached houses along 8 Dyson Road; two detached houses at 33 Shelford Road; and five houses (three terraced and two semi-detached) at 51 Chancery Lane.“We like to develop property in locations that are within 1km of a good school,” says Fong. The detached houses at 33 Shelford Road, for instance, are located within 1km of Nanyang Primary School and Raffles Girls’ Primary School. Completed in October, the two houses have 3½ storeys and a basement. The house at No 33 has a built-up area of 11,639 sq ft and land area of 5,528 sq ft, while the one at No 33A has a built-up area of 11,049 sq ft and land area of 5,227 sq ft. Finishings include Italian marble flooring, quartz kitchen and bathroom countertops, top-end bathroom fittings and built-in wardrobes. The asking price is from $13.98 million apiece.

The two detached houses at 33 Shelford Road have 3½ storeys and a basement, and are on the market and priced from $13.98 million each (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

Another landed housing development to be completed in the middle of this year is at 51 Chancery Lane, located just off Thomson Road. The three terraced houses and two semi-detached houses will be offered for sale upon completion.“We provide generous built-in spaces and where space permits, we try to fit two kitchens including a professional gourmet-style kitchen with two ovens,” says Yip. “We also include a swimming pool and a roof terrace for the house.”Of the three completed bungalows at 8 Dyson Road, one has been sold and the remaining two have been tenanted. Each house sits on a land area of 4,500 to 5,000 sq ft. “We will hold the property for rent if we can’t sell it,” says Yip. “Freehold sites are becoming rarer, especially bungalow sites.”

Of the three bungalows at 8 Dyson Road, one has been sold and the remaining two have been leased (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

Oliver agrees: “You can always tear down the house on a freehold site and rebuild it. And it can be passed on to the next generation.”

The Enclave

In January 2015, Yip acquired two adjoining detached houses sitting on freehold sites of over 7,000 sq ft each on Holland Road. The sites were amalgamated, and the houses were torn down and redeveloped into a 26-unit, freehold condo named The Enclave at Holland. It was completed in 2018 and launched for sale in June that year. To date, about 40% of the units have been sold at an average price of $2,543 psf, based on caveats lodged as at Jan 8. The Enclave is located within walking distance of the eateries at Chip Bee Gardens, Holland Village and the MRT station. The latest property cooling measures have been particularly difficult for property developers of boutique residential projects. From 2013, developers of a landed housing project with four houses or fewer have to complete and sell all the units within three years of purchasing the land. Otherwise, they would not be eligible for the clawback of the 15% additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) which has to be paid upfront. From July 2018, the ABSD for property developers has doubled to 30%, of which 5% is non-remissible.

The 26-unit The Enclave at Holland is 40% sold to date (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

Going abroad

Like other property developers in Singapore, Yip has started looking at development opportunities abroad with better returns. Her younger sister, Dawn, group operations and marketing director of Jean Yip Group, went to Japan to learn Japanese and incorporated Jean Yip Japan in 2016. Yip started acquiring properties in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Kanazawa.“In Japan, we purchase property for rental,” says Fong. “Some of these are serviced apartments while others are apartments that are rented out on Airbnb. The plan is to accumulate about 300 to 400 keys and create our own brand of serviced residences.”The latest acquisition is a development site in Perth, Australia, which was snapped up earlier last year. The site is located in Cannington, across the road from Westfield Carousel, the largest shopping mall in Perth.

The group started investing in Japan three years ago, and intends to accumulate up to 300-400 serviced apartments and rental apartments (Photo: Shutterstock)

The site has approval for the development of Elements at Carousel, a nine-storey building with commercial space on the first level and a total of 114 residential apartments spread across the other eight floors. The apartments are a mix of one- to three-bedders, with internal spaces from about 538 sq ft for a one-bedroom unit. Prices start from about A$280,000 (S$259,410). A higher plot ratio was given to the upcoming development on the 27,000 sq ft freehold site as it provided additional communal areas and facilities for residents as well as spaces for public art. “It’s going to be a new landmark in the Cannington area,” says Fong. Fong anticipates that the gross rental income is likely to be about 6% as the property is located within a short distance from Curtin University, which is very popular with international students. The demographics of the population in Cannington is “about 70% foreigners”, he adds.

Elements at Carousel, a nine-storey building with commercial space on the first level and a total of 114 residential apartments on the upper floors (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

Confident of the prospects for rejuvenation in the Cannington area, Yip bought a second site across the street from Elements at Carousel. The site is double in size and could yield 250 residential units when redeveloped in seven years, estimates Fong. The site is now tenanted to a government-appointed dialysis centre and a college centre. Hence, the property is enjoying stable rental returns.“We chose Perth because we could see its potential,” says Fong. “The property market there is countercyclical to Sydney and Melbourne. The Singapore dollar has also strengthened against the Australian dollar, and is at about 0.93 compared to a high of 1.3 some years ago.”The plan is to launch the project in Perth in late February, with a weekend property exhibition in Singapore. “Perth is just a five-hour flight from Singapore,” says Yip. “It’s very popular with Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians.”Even more attractive is the fact that the government has increased spending in modernising the city’s infrastructure, adds Oliver. Reputable universities that are globally recognised are also located in Perth. He believes it is a good time for buyers to capitalise on the “attractive stamp duty and additional foreign buyer stamp duty rebates of 75%, for brand-new, residential units purchased off-plan”.

Jean Yip Building was the first development project undertaken by Oliver (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

Development origins

The group’s flagship property development was the eponymous Jean Yip Building at Kaki Bukit Place where its headquarters is located. The building was completed in 2007 — within one year of acquiring the 25,000 sq ft industrial site on a 60-year lease. The next development was the Jean Yip Loft on New Bridge Road, a seven-storey building that houses various beauty, hair and wellness spas, with a rooftop spa pool, a café and a multi-purpose hall. The building was completed in 2011. “That was when we got addicted to [property development],” says Oliver. These were followed by the development of a commercial building at 285 Beach Road. It has since been leased to RedDoorz Hostel.

The seven-storey Jean Yip Loft was also developed by the group and completed in 2011 (Photo: Jean Yip Group)

However, Elements at Carousel in Perth is the biggest residential development undertaken by the group and its first overseas development. “I guess we are very daring,” reflects Yip. “From building our own homes, investing in shophouses, doing A&A of bungalows to buying property in Japan — and now developing a project with more than 100 units in Cannington, Perth.“Despite her local and overseas property ventures, Yip is still active in growing her beauty empire. There are 71 outlets, including salons, spas and wellness centres across Singapore under the Jean Yip Group today, many of which are located in shopping malls. Jean Yip Group has another seven outlets in Malaysia. Yet, she still finds time to bake cakes for staff at the office and “I’m still very busy going around to visit my outlets”, she says.

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