Me&MyMoney

Real-estate investor and ex-Cantopop singer invests in a home app

Ex-Cantopop star's Ohmyhome helps people sell, buy and rent HDB flats - of whatever value

Even when Singaporean Race Wong was a glamorous young Cantopop singer on the cusp of stardom in Hong Kong, her businessman father made sure she never wasted time. He would even check on her all the way from Singapore.

He would call at 9am to ensure that Race and her elder sister Rosanne were training hard, and at 10pm again to check that they were not partying their time away.

The Malaysia-born, Singapore-raised siblings were talent-spotted at a singing competition in Hong Kong in 2000, and were signed on by Universal Music to form 2R.

That work ethic her father instilled kicked in again when Ms Wong, 34, retired from showbiz eight years ago. She joined Kim Eng in Hong Kong as a marketing manager before moving into equity sales, while pursuing her MBA and financial licences at the same time.

Ms Wong returned to Singapore when she was 30, investing $200,000 to start Anthill Realtors with younger sister Rhonda and two other partners.

She recalls: "When clients know you're new, they trust you less and it was a 'loss-making' experience in the first six months. It wasn't easy to be confident either, and I'm not a very good sales person unless I truly believe in the product."

And that product today is her app Ohmyhome, which simplifies the process of selling, buying and renting a Housing Board flat.

Ms Wong, who invested $300,000 in the app, says: "Property agents would rather work on flats of a higher quantum, because it affects their commission. We're trying to get rid of this unequal service which makes it difficult for those who may not be well-to-do."

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A We moved house a lot, about 20 times. Every time my parents had a bit more money, they would buy a nice condo and I would live there for a year before they needed the money for a new business, so they would move to a place half the size of the previous one.

We were raised to be independent in a close-knit family. We had to work every Sunday and public holiday, so we never had Christmas celebrations. My dad was a natural born entrepreneur who always had something to sell.

Back then, there was no 7-Eleven so we sold soft drinks, film and Christmas knick-knacks. It taught us how difficult it was to make money. Selling soft drinks was the worst. I had to keep dipping my hand into the cooler, and would get rashes and swollen hands. We made only 50 cents for each can sold, so for 100 cans sold, we got $50. I wasn't going to spend this money carelessly.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A When I was in the entertainment industry, I heard stories about rock stars who couldn't manage their money.

When I was 23, I teamed up with my parents to invest my first large sum of savings of about $200,000 in real estate.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A Listening to market rumours. About 10 years ago, when I was still an artist, I knew nothing about stocks. My friend, who was an accountant, told me a stock was really good and would go up in value.

    I put in a few hundred thousand dollars and bought it in my friend's name as I didn't have an account then. In the end, it all became about HK$10,000.

    When I went into stockbroking, I realised you should always do your own homework. Apart from the fundamentals, you also have to study the technical charts. It helped that I had a few mentors in the company.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A Ohmyhome. In terms of return on investment, it's not just the monetary reward, but how the business reaches out to and benefits other people.

    In a short few months, we have testimonials from clients who wrote them willingly and it's so rewarding to know we helped them save a lot of money.

    We're ramping up marketing activities and learning from scratch. Most of the work, including design, is done in-house.

    Always invest in something you can keep a close watch on and you're passionate about.

    I also learnt a lot when the four of us first started Anthill Realtors.

    Going to countries to understand the market is so different from visiting as tourists.

    I've had a chance to visit places that I'd never been to before, such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

    Rachael Boon

In 2006, we bought two units at The Esta near Mountbatten Road. The first unit was bought at $1.13 million and sold at $2.19 million in 2014. The second one was bought at $1.13 million and sold at $2.45 million in 2015. The deposit was only 5 per cent, which was less than $60,000 per unit.

I invested because I like to think ahead. In entertainment, you don't have full control of your career and I knew it wasn't going to be permanent. I started investing in the stock market only when I started doing equity sales in 2012.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A I have some China-based stocks. One of them is the stock of a top-three brokerage in China which was going to restructure. My friends who are in stockbroking told me about this. But you should never invest based on this kind of information.

I have less than $500,000 worth of China-based stocks and I'll keep them until they recover. I still have faith in the China market.

Rhonda, Rosanne and I bought a 667 sq ft eCO condo unit in Bedok South for $789,000 in 2012.

We have two commercial properties in Malacca and two in Johor, besides a residential property in Johor. The two commercial properties in Johor are doing well. We bought them at RM900 per sq ft and the price is about RM1,800 (S$582) per sq ft now. I bought a condo in Melbourne last year for about A$900,000 (S$960,000).

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I hardly invest in stocks any more. When I was a stockbroker, I had a lot of information and time to look at the charts. Without those, I feel like I'm "blind".

I buy property for passive income and to stash some cash as I don't like to keep too much spare cash.

People think investing in property in Singapore is safer than in other countries, but I beg to differ. There's no allowance as government policies are implemented as soon as they are announced.

Melbourne is one safe place to invest in. It has had 23 years of uninterrupted growth, rental yield is stable and the city has a huge influx of new migrants. When there's a surge in population, there's demand.

And whatever business we do or invest in must be relevant a decade from today.

Q What does money mean to you?

A When you're focused on your goals, you focus less on material things. People are always chasing after a new bag or jewellery and feel awful. But I've always preferred to save.

WHY PROPERTY

I buy property for passive income and to stash some cash as I don't like to keep too much spare cash.

'' MS RACE WONG, on why she owns several properties.


STAYING GROUNDED

People are always chasing after a new bag or jewellery and feel awful. But I've always preferred to save.

'' MS WONG, on why she does not focus on material things.

As a celebrity, I didn't have to buy anything. There's a misconception, for example, that celebrities spend a lot on our beautiful gowns but there was no need to. I used to give Rhonda so much stuff.

People think they can retire comfortably on their Central Provident Fund savings but we must invest wisely.

Rhonda recently advised a friend who bought a condo when he first made a bucket of money and moved in with his wife and kid. It sounds like a logical thing to do, but we told him that when our parents had money, they rented a small flat because the money could be invested in something else.

He could have lived in a cheaper flat and rented out the condo for about $3,000, which could have been his savings.

The economy took a downturn, he lost his job and had to sell his car.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A Investing RM900,000 to support a friend's property. Other than that, I'm not someone who overspends even though my lifestyle as a celebrity was extravagant.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A To invest everything into Ohmyhome.

Q Home is now...

A A bungalow in Bukit Timah with my husband. He drives me around in a Mercedes S class.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Real-estate investor homes in on home app'. Print Edition | Subscribe