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30 May 2017

Old is gold for founder of investment start-up

While working in the mortgage department of an international bank here in 2007, Mr Eugene Huang was privy to the workings of the property market in Singapore which was getting hotter by the day.

Investors were snapping up new properties by the floor, sub-selling them or buying resale properties and flipping the options, he recalls. Inspired, the then 26-year-old took the plunge, hoping to make a quick buck, but nearly got burned.

The three-bedroom, 1,119 sq ft apartment he bought in Tanjong Rhu for $1.23 million found zero interest from buyers during the two-week option period. Around the same time, news of the failure of Lehman Brothers did not ring any alarm bells for him, and he went ahead to exercise his option to buy the property with a hefty mortgage payment.

Soon after, global markets crashed, and within two years, the condominium's value tanked to almost half the purchase price. A similar-sized unit in the same development was sold for $740,000. He said he made a paper loss of $500,000 within two years.

This early experience was an eye-opener for Mr Huang, who vowed never to repeat the mistake of making impulsive investments.

Property markets, he realised, may seem like a conservative, long-term investment, but the calm on the surface does not always reflect the volatility inside, he said.

Mr Huang is happy living with his wife in his two-bedroom unit in Chuan Park condominium (above), even though he owns five other properties.

"It's not just about location, it's also about timing and keeping an eye on the macro economy," he said about property investments.

Mr Huang, 36, worked doubly hard at his job to pay his mortgage. Later, he left his job, together with his then colleague and now wife Landy Lan, 36, with the idea of a start-up which would power price comparisons for property investors.

Co-owned by the couple, Redbrick Mortgage Advisory seeks to be for property investments, what Trivago is for hotel bookings - finding customers the most competitive mortgage interest rates for their property investments.

I believe that the value of a brand-new building starts depreciating steeply once it is completed, compared with a more gradual depreciation curve an older building experiences. Land prices do not depreciate and I would rather have a larger proportion of my investment dollars going into the land than in a building.'' MR EUGENE HUANG, on his property investment strategy.

Mr Huang now gives advice to property investors on what package to opt for while buying residential or commercial property, and how to mortgage their properties. The firm now structures more than $1.5 billion in loans a year and counts nearly 1,500 recurring and new customers annually.

Even then, I tend to favour older properties to new ones. I believe that the value of a brand-new building starts depreciating steeply once it is completed, compared with a more gradual.

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