Calvin Yeo

YOU MAY BE familiar wtih Calvin Yeo, whose favourite investing instrument are REITs and whose articles on REITs have appeared on several occasions on NextInsight.

Through REITs, he derives high dividend payouts based on the REITS' income from renting out their properties. As we got to know Calvin better, he has shared with us that he has also been investing directly in properties.

He is an owner of several residential and commercial properties in Singapore and Malaysia. In the latter country, he spends most of his time, running a business operation in Kuala Lumpur (while faithfully keeping up his postings on REITs on his blog

Calvin has been running the business for the past two years since returning from New York where he worked as an investment banker. He quit in the midst of the global financial crisis when M&A deals dried up and bonuses were about to collapse for any banker who could hold on to his job.

We asked Calvin, who is 29, if he would do an email interview to share his experience and insights into how he invests in property. He kindly obliged.

Why invest in property?

Calvin: Property is one of the best assets for both income and capital appreciation. A property provides a home / workplace, so it serves a very basic purpose which everybody needs. If you do not own a property, chances are you would have to rent and that's making the landlord rich.

Property investment acts as a saving tool as you should pay yourself first; that's by owning your house and paying instalments on your housing loan. As the property serves a basic need, you can also rent out your property for rental income, so your tenant will have to work hard to make you the landlord richer.

Properties are also known as a hedge against inflation as property prices and rental value tend to go up over time due to increasing land costs, construction costs etc. Finally, property investments are also leveraged investments where you borrow money from the bank to magnify your returns.

Property investment is the only investment where a bank can readily lend you up to 80-90% of your asset value, hence increasing your returns by more than 5 times.

Calvin Yeo in his landed property which he lives in in KL, where he is currently based.

When did you start investing in property?

Calvin: I started when I was in Malaysia and looking for my first house two years ago. The fact that I was paying rental for a house made no sense to me as I could easily afford the downpayment required and the instalment amount would be lower than the rental I was currently paying.

After acquiring my first house, I invested in another house within the same development as I saw extremely good value.

What are 2 examples of solid property investments that you have made in terms of yield, capital appreciation, choice of location, etc?

Calvin: The first would be my own house, which I bought for slightly under a million ringgit in the upscale Mont Kiara location which is very popular with expats. The property has more than doubled in value in less than 2 years with some buyers asking for as high as 2 million ringgit plus. I knew this would happen eventually as the property was extremely undervalued for a landed property in this area, I just did not expect it would be this fast.

Calvin Yeo's condo at Tropics comes with upmarket furnishing to attract premium-paying tenants.

The second example would be a condo, Tropics, which I bought in PJ. It's conveniently located on top of a major shopping center and therefore I saw the potential of the condo. I bought it for about RM 350k a year ago, today it is worth at least RM 450k, an appreciation of close to 30% in a year.

The property is currently rented out at over RM 2k a month, achieving a rental yield of close to 8%, or about double of the mortgage interest rates.

I came to know of this shopping complex through a friend who asked me out to watch a movie. I was really impressed by the shopping mall.One thing led to another -- my girlfriend and I began hunting for units at the condo on top of the shopping mall, called Tropics.

We found out that older condos in the area were rented out for around RM 2k per month for studios, so that was our benchmark in calculating rental yield.

By buying a subsale unit, our risk was already decreased significantly as we know what type of tenants the shopping center would have, the quality of workmanship and also the view from the unit. Some of the units have a clear view of a cemetery! 

Are you inclined to buy completed properties rather than yet-to-be completed properties?

Calvin: Yes. There are several reasons:

a. What You See Is What You Get:  You will be able to see the actual unit before you commit to purchasing it. This is quite important actually; you will see the exact layout, the quality of furnishing, the view, who the neighbours are, occupants of the development, surrounding amenities and more. All these factors are critical factors to rentability of your unit, so it’s great to be able to see them, reducing your risk considerably.

b. Cheaper Prices than New Properties: Subsales properties are not always old and dilapidated, in fact, some are newly completed! In my opinion, those new completed properties usually represent a good buy especially if the price is still below the launching prices of new projects.

c. Instant Rental: Once the transaction is completed, you will be able to rent out the unit for income instantly. Better yet,if the purchase comes with a rental agreement, saving you the agent costs and searching costs. This is another very important factor, getting Instant Returns once you actually own the unit instead of having to wait.

d. Ability to Calculate Rental Yield:  Even if the actual unit is not rented out, it is quite easy to derive approximate rental based on other units rented in the same project. Ability to calculate rental yield is an important determinant of whether the price you are paying for the property is reasonable. The higher the rental yield, the better the price is.

There is a spread of views on the outlook for the Singapore property market but they are largely negative or at least cautious. What is your own take on the property market over the next 2 years?

Calvin: I would also be cautious, if not negative for both Singapore and Malaysia properties. For Singapore properties, the persistently low interest rates are creating artificially high prices for the properties. If you look back at the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, it was the same case where very low interest rates have driven the property prices to unsustainable points just before it all blew up in the Financial Crisis.

While some people make a case where there has been a consistent undersupply in properties in the last few years, the government has responded by releasing lots of land
banks. The numbers of new properties coming on stream in 2012/2013 are tremendous and it may take the market a while to absorb them.

For Malaysian properties, the interest rates have been rising at a healthy level hence interest rates are not the key issue. The problem lies with the demand and supply; overbuilding is a real danger as the population may not be large enough or even rich enough to absorb all the new highly priced properties being sold in the market. The fact that valuers and banks also work hand in hand with developers to sell properties at overvalued prices with low downpayments like 90-95% leverage means there is substantial speculative risks in properties.

What is your current position – hold or sell - with regards to your investment properties? Why?

Calvin: I am holding all my properties as I have bought them at significantly lower prices than what they are worth. All the properties have also exciting new developments around them which have the potential to push the prices up even higher. The current secondary market is very slow, so it will be difficult to get a good price at this point of time. I am also getting decent rental from the properties, hence I have no rush to sell them.

The key is to be comfortable with your debt service ratio and leverage level. Ideally, all the investments should be at least cash flow positive or neutral, so you would not have to come out of your pocket to pay for the differences between the rental and instalments. That way, you can take your time and sell only when you believe the value is good.

Recent stories by Calvin Yeo:

CAPITARETAIL CHINA TRUST – Overlooked High Performance Retail REIT

K-REIT: "Why I will sit out this one"

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#8 Calvin 2012-01-06 04:26
Hi Temperament,

If you only have one property for rental, my recommendation is to do the management yourself. It will be quite a bit of hassle, but its good experience learning to deal with all the elements involved, the property, the tenant, the agent etc.

There are many tips and tricks that can be used to manage tenants. Most importantly, you must make sure that they pay rental on time, no excuses accepted. Make sure they understand that they can't just do whatever they like with the house without your permission. Lay down the ground rules clearly and enforce it, you won't have too many problems.

#7 Temperament 2011-12-23 16:52
Hi Calvin,
Can you share or tip us your wisdom of managing rental property and tenant. If you have only one property for rental, which is the better way of managing it. Self manage or let real estate agency manages it.
#6 Calvin 2011-12-11 09:24
Hi Chop,

You are partially right to say due to the large numbers of investors in property, property prices have been peakish. However, that's not the only reason, other factors that contribute to this are
1. ultra low interest rates
2. lack of supply initially
3. overwhelming demand from population growth and new PRs
4. free and open economy
5. lack of rules to for foreign investors (though with new ruling, its specific to target foreigners)

The government has taken steps to curb speculation, excessive overleverage, foreign investments so after taking out these factors, prices should temper somewhat.

Personally, I prefer value buys instead of speculative buys. So I like to buy undervalued properties with good rental yield as I am more of a value investor. I focus less on the capital appreciation, but on the passive income from the rental. So the party is just getting started :-)

#5 Calvin 2011-12-11 09:16
Hi Cosmic, there are not many freehold condos next to MRT, most of them are leasehold. However, if you are talking about a freehold condo beside MRT, I believe the price will still drop, but it will be more attractive value wise compared to a leasehold condo beside MRT.

As I have discussed in the previous comment, what matters is the rental. Next to MRT is definitely a significant advantage for rental, however, there are also other factors like location, age, facilities, occupancy rate, who the majority of occupants are, developments/am enities around it, distance to negative items like mosques etc.

#4 Calvin 2011-12-11 09:11
Hi Beijing_star, as you can see from my last two paragraphs, I am generally quite negative about property investments in Singapore now. With the new measures, not only will foreigners be affected, even the investors with multiple properties will be affected.

The only support for property prices are the rental yield, if the property is trading at a high rental yield, then the prices should hold fairly well as the owner still has positive cash flow from the rental income. However, interest rates can rise and will definitely rise in future, so it is important to look at average interest rates of 3-4% instead of the sub 1% currently.

I have written a post on the latest stamp duty rules and my take on the effects at
#3 Chop 2011-12-11 05:50
I read in Sunday Times today of yet another young fella who invests in property on the side. In fact, there are countless people who have been investing in property, which is why it has reached bubble proportions. Now the game is over. For the next 2-3 years at least, there is no chance of capital appreciation.
#2 Cosmic 2011-12-10 17:46
Hi Calvin - What about SG freehold condos next to MRT station in the surburbs. Do you think the price will hold as rentals are higher?
#1 Beijing_star 2011-12-10 10:49
Calvin, is it necessarily Game Over for prop investment in SG? What could support prices, if you take out the Foreign element?

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