Home mirrors his travels, successes

Top financial planner's waterfront condo is a far cry from the tiny flat that was his childhood home

Financial planner Apelles Poh's three-bedroom condominium in Reflections@Keppel Bay is a dream home by any standard.

The spacious white interiors, designed by his wife Linda, are showcased by the natural light pouring in through huge French windows.

An extensive collection of souvenirs from around the world adds to the charm, as do Mr Poh's collection of guitars, Elvis Presley memorabilia and other musical artefacts, as well as wall hangings.

The 15th-floor home offers stunning views of Keppel Marina, Sentosa and Keppel Golf Course from the windows and the sky terrace that starts outside the front door.

It is worlds apart from Mr Poh's cramped childhood home in Tiong Bahru - a two-bedroom HDB flat he shared with 10 family members.

Mr Poh and his wife Linda in their Keppel Bay condo. The bright sunshine streaming in adds to the sense of spaciousness in the living area, which is filled with souvenirs gathered on Mr Poh's travels around the globe. PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

One bedroom was always occupied, used to store packets of dry noodles for his father's small business. Daily meals comprised porridge and soya sauce, and every male member of the family had to help their father load and unload the dry supplies for 30 to 40 cents a day.

An iconic structure with its distinctive glass towers, Reflections@Keppel Bay (above) offers the Pohs a premium location where they can relax and reflect, with panoramic views of the waterfront and harbour.

At night, after the day was done, they would sleep on the floor of the remaining bedroom, squeezed together "like sardines in a can".

An iconic structure with its distinctive glass towers, Reflections@Keppel Bay offers the Pohs a premium location where they can relax and reflect, with panoramic views of the waterfront and harbour (above).

As a young adult, Mr Poh enrolled in the air force during his national service and served for six years. Things changed when, at age 28, he joined the life insurance industry. He passed the relevant exams and obtained a master's degree in financial planning.

Church activities had already honed his people skills.

Over the following two decades, a combination of his degree and his skills saw him scale the ladders of success to become a Top of the Table producer, representing the leading 1 per cent of the world's financial planners.

Linda has worked by his side as a para-planner and personal assistant. Now in their early 50s, the couple, who do not have children, are giving back to society by sponsoring many needy kids in a number of developing countries.

Q Describe your property

A My home is in Reflections @ Keppel Bay. The iconic structure stands out along Singapore's skyline, nestled amid nature havens on the shoreline opposite Sentosa Island.

But a house becomes a home only when it offers rest and respite from the everyday hustle and bustle of life. By that definition, my home is a place where I share home-cooked meals with family and meaningful conversations with friends, and a place where I can relax and reflect.

Q Why did you choose this property?

A Billionaire investor Warren Buffett once said: "Price is what we pay, value is what we get."

Likewise, a house is what we pay for and, hopefully, a home is what we get. To me and my wife, this property is everything that we had envisioned in a home.

The location is excellent - within walking distance of the HarbourFront and Telok Blangah MRT stations as well as VivoCity mall. It is surrounded by family-friendly green spaces including Labrador Park and the Southern Ridges. On my regular walks, I can indulge in some quiet time amid vibrant greenery. It is also a very short drive to my workplace in Robinson Road, which makes it very convenient.

Q When was it bought, and how much did you pay?

A We bought this property back in 2007 for $2.9 million. It is 2,002 sq ft in size.

Q What properties do you have in your portfolio?

A My wife and I have invested in a number of residential properties as well as office units. Most of our real estate was bought for capital appreciation and rental income. The residential properties were purchased before the latest rounds of cooling measures.

The properties generate a meaningful stream of six-digit passive income for us, which can enable us to retire comfortably.

Q Describe your property investment strategy and market view

A I think buying a property should be a blessing, not a burden.

Investors must ensure that the property they choose is affordable and sustainable, which means that they should have enough cash and savings to cover the mortgage even if they find themselves in between jobs.

In the case of those holding a rental property, that means a prolonged vacancy should not deplete their resources.

The location, size, height, facilities and amenities will also come into play when buying or investing in a property.

If they are going to be living there themselves, they should like the property they choose, and it should be affordable as well.

For investment properties, it is good to choose ones that are close to public transport, amenities, good schools and so on, because such units will be easier to rent out.

However, over the past three years, overall property prices and rentals have dipped, partly because of the economy and government cooling measures. Now, prices seem to be stabilising.

Even so, the raising of interest rates by the United States Federal Reserve this year, as well as market expectations of two more increases by the end of the year, could put a damper on property purchases, because mortgage repayments will increase with higher interest rates.

Q What is your financing strategy?

A Amid economic uncertainties and downturns, I tend to opt for open market rates on my mortgages, like Sibor or SOR, because they tend to stay low to encourage economic activities.

When the economy, especially in the US, is improving and interest rates are likely to go up, it might be wise to switch to fixed rates.

I avoid loans pegged to banks' internal rates as they are not transparent and are subject to change at the banks' sole discretion.

Investors should ensure that they have mortgage insurance to cover the property loan, as well as fire and home insurance.

Q Will there be a next property purchase for you? If so, what kind?

A Unlikely. Even though properties generally form the bulk of an average Singaporean's assets, I think that the cooling measures, such as the additional stamp duty for a second property, make it unattractive for me to invest in properties right now.

It is also good to diversify. I am increasing my holdings in unit trusts and shares. In addition, I have a good portfolio of insurance and retirement-income products.

Q What are your best and worst property investments?

A My best investment was the property that I bought at Greenacres condominium in the West Coast. It went en bloc after a number of years and fetched good returns.

My worst investment would be a condominium that I bought in Malaysia many years ago. The distance made it difficult to monitor rental income and maintenance. When it was finally sold, the unfavourable exchange rate turned it into a poor investment.

Q Your dream home is …?

A My current place at Reflections. It mirrors my achievements, and it will bear witness to my dream of visiting a hundred countries during my lifetime.

I have made my way to 60 countries so far, and I bought all these souvenirs at each stop. That means I still have 40 countries to go!

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Home mirrors his travels, successes'. Print Edition | Subscribe