As a student doing her Master of Arts degree at the National University of Singapore, China-born Ms Ally Yang remembers her one dream was to own property.
Being passionate about finance, she first tried her hand in the insurance sector, but found her calling when a friend coaxed her to attend a talk on mortgage broking - a comparatively new field here in the early 2000s.
"I took to it like fish to water," recalls the 39-year-old, who was among the first batch of mortgage brokers here.
Now, with nearly 12 years' experience under her belt, Ms Yang is an expert in her field, and heads the mortgage department at HugMortgage, which advises customers on the best loans in the market.
The portal is an offshoot of HugProperty, which brings property buyers and sellers together on a single platform.
Over the years, Ms Yang, who is single, has successfully invested in commercial and residential properties, and hopes to own her dream house in the near future. She became a Singapore citizen in 2014.
Q What is your property like?
A I have an 890 sq ft, two-bedroom condominium unit at Citylights which I bought for $1.2 million in 2011. It is a five-minute walk to Lavender MRT station. The 29th-floor unit is well lit without letting in direct sunlight, and has an unblocked view of the Kallang River.
I bought it mainly for investment purposes because I wanted to get good rental returns on my capital.
Its location on the fringe of the city area means it is merely a five-minute drive from the Central Business District, and has green and quiet surroundings.
There are plenty of eateries and shops nearby. Because of this, the estate is a magnet for tenants like single professionals, couples or small families. Over the past six years, my unit has given me returns of over 4 per cent per annum.
Q What are the other properties in your portfolio?
A My first property was a commercial unit in Ang Mo Kio in 2007.
I invested my savings in a unit as an office for my mortgage brokering firm. I bought the unit after looking at the floor plan, but realised that the usable area was too small (300 sq ft) for my requirements. The purchase price was $180,000.
So I sold it as soon as I got the keys, and used my capital to make a down payment on another commercial property in Geylang.
I bought the 1,100 sq ft unit for about $600,000. It was on the second floor of a shophouse.
It was freehold, near the city, had a high ceiling and carpark space.
I loved it, but I soon realised that the address was not suitable for my mortgage brokering business.
I rented it out and got returns of 4.5 per cent a year. This was not enough to cover my monthly mortgage repayments, and I had to top up from my savings to keep it going.
I sold it six months later for a 7 per cent profit on investment.
With that money, I bought a residential property in Tianjin city, my home town in China, in 2011.
I spent $100,000 for the 700 sq ft two-bedroom unit just a block away from the Haihe River.
It was meant to be an investment as well. My parents live there and eventually, it will be my retirement home if necessary.
It is in a good location, with a park and exercise area nearby. It is also near the home of my eldest sister, which means she is always near to take care of my parents. It is also a mixed development, with shops on the first floor of the property for residents to get their daily essentials.
Q What is your property investing strategy?
A The first thing to consider is the location. Factors like the area, accessibility, amenities and so on contribute to a property's value and demand.
I also read up on the possibility of future improvements to the area. For instance, if there is an upcoming MRT station or shopping mall in the works, such improvements can add to the property's value.
Then there is the price, or the dollar per square foot. Based on the property's location and condition, I will determine if it is reasonably priced by checking out the last transacted prices and if it is worth buying.
The next thing to consider is the gross rental yield. It allows me to calculate my profit margin after deducting my mortgage repayments.
Lastly, what will be the potential capital appreciation on the property? If I wish to sell the property in the future, it is important to gauge my overall profits.
But this is an estimated figure since we cannot predict the ups and downs of the property market.
I consider whether I like the property, whether I will live there for a long time and whether it will give me a good price when I sell it.
I do not get emotionally attached to the properties.
Q What is your financing strategy?
A My strategy is to use my savings for making down payments, and then borrow from the banks.
I have followed this formula for all my Singapore properties.
My China property was financed by my family instead of a bank. Banks charge over 5 per cent interest in China, which is exorbitant.
So my family suggested I borrow interest-free from them instead. I did that and paid them back slowly.
My current home loan package for my Lavender property is pegged to the Singapore Interbank Offered Rates, which was a good choice at the time as the interest rates were very attractive - less than 1 per cent per annum.
The rental lets me pay my monthly mortgage, with enough left over to pay my rent for a smaller Housing Board flat, where I live as a tenant.
As interest rates are inching up now, I am in the process of refinancing a fixed-rate package, which will waive off penalties in case I want to sell the property in the next three years.
Q What do you think of the property market now?
A I think the market right now is a buyers' market. With the sluggish rental market, more owners are choosing to sell.
I do not think that the market will be picking up soon but I could be wrong. We cannot time the market, but as long as you have holding power, I believe properties are a good investment to consider.
The two integrated resorts gave a good jump-start to the property market in Singapore, as the influx of foreigners led to rising demand, with international investors coming in and rents also going up. But the market got too hot.
Since the Government introduced regulations like total debt servicing ratio and additional buyer's stamp duty, the market has cooled down.
I think these two rules will be here to stay, and rein in unchecked market forces, unless something big happens and an adjustment is required.
The collective sale craze could also be a turning point.
With an upturn after the last 15 quarters, the market has become excited and property firms are looking for good land to develop.
There will be new developments, and collective sale beneficiaries would feed the demand.
At such times, if rules for foreigners are relaxed, there could be a further upsurge.
Q What's your overall investing strategy?
A I am a saver. I believe that having a good cash flow is the start to all investments. My strategy would be to build multiple streams of sustainable income. The cash flow can come from having a stable job, rental yields, bonds and maybe a side job like driving for Grab.
So my overall portfolio, excluding liabilities, is a six-figure sum, of which 10 per cent is my cash reserves, 50 per cent is my properties, 30 per cent my health insurance, unit trusts, insurance plans and retirement savings, and so on.
Lastly, I also set aside 10 per cent of my income on hobbies or self-improvement courses. This is an investment in myself.
Q My dream home is...
A A resort-style studio unit that spells comfort, luxury and serenity. My ideal home would be a unit with a touch of elegance, with practical furnishings.
If it has an unblocked view of the city skyline, that would be just perfect. The location should be peaceful yet accessible, surrounded by amenities.
I am considering Bukit Timah, Bugis, Kallang or the East Coast.
The central areas are very accessible and near to the city, while the East Coast area has a fantastic sea view and surreal surroundings.