Me&MyProperty

Start-up owner knows how to flip properties

Ms Olive Tai and her husband bought a five-storey cluster house for $1.3 million in 2008, and sold it for $2.3 million in 2011. Ms Olive Tai at her home in Serangoon Gardens. She co-founded Beautiful.me, an online shopping platform for beauty, body c
Ms Olive Tai at her home in Serangoon Gardens. She co-founded Beautiful.me, an online shopping platform for beauty, body care and baby care products. She also developed Synagie last July. It is a website that leverages data analytics to help brand owners grow their company.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Ms Olive Tai and her husband bought a five-storey cluster house for $1.3 million in 2008, and sold it for $2.3 million in 2011. Ms Olive Tai at her home in Serangoon Gardens. She co-founded Beautiful.me, an online shopping platform for beauty, body c
Ms Olive Tai currently owns a landed property in Serangoon Gardens which has three bedrooms and a swimming pool. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Ms Olive Tai currently owns a landed property in Serangoon Gardens which has three bedrooms and a swimming pool.
Ms Olive Tai and her husband bought a five-storey cluster house for $1.3 million in 2008, and sold it for $2.3 million in 2011. ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

Tidy profit from selling shoebox apartment and cluster house

The secret to staying energetic at work every day is to be passionate about what you do, according to start-up entrepreneur Olive Tai.

Hong Kong-born Ms Tai, 42, migrated to Australia at 20 and studied marketing at the University of Wollongong before coming to Singapore in 2003 as a regional analyst for Johnson & Johnson.

After spending 18 years in the retail and consumer goods market, Ms Tai, who is now a permanent resident, decided to leave the corporate world and strike out on her own.

In 2015, she co-founded Beautiful.me, a shopping platform that consolidates beauty, body care and baby care products from existing brands and other e-commerce sites. It has 30 staff members.

"I didn't feel satisfied working in the corporate world as I wasn't in control of what I wanted to do," says Ms Tai, who manages Beautiful.me's day-to-day operations at a warehouse at Tampines LogisPark.

"I decided to start my own business as I could make a difference... and do what I believe in."

Ms Tai spends up to 12 hours a day at work daily but still finds time for her 44-year-old Singaporean husband and children.

"Every afternoon, I leave work to pick up my daughter from kindergarten, and then I return to work," says the mother of two girls, aged five and 15 months.

"Before I started Beautiful.me, I realised that the retail market was evolving, with more online players coming in aggressively.

"However, the local e-commerce sector was still underdeveloped. I was inspired by overseas e-commerce sites like Tmall, and I felt that I could contribute to the Singapore market and local consumers."

Ms Tai is constantly finding opportunities to improve her business model. Last July, she developed Synagie, a website that leverages data analytics to help brand owners grow their companies.

"Synagie offers knowledge to merchants on managing e-commerce and back-end operations. We provide software to help start-ups build strong foundations," Ms Tai says.

Q What is your property like?

A My home is a landed property in Serangoon Gardens. It has three bedrooms and a swimming pool, with a land size of 2,800 sq ft and floor size of 4,500 sq ft. We spent $250,000 to renovate it for 11/2 years before we moved in, in 2015. I had bought it for $3.85 million in 2012. The down payment and stamp duty were about $1 million. The monthly mortgage is $13,000. I have already paid 21/2 years out of my 25-year loan.

We chose Serangoon Gardens as it is my husband's and my favourite estate. It was where we first met and frequented. This place is very lively at night. There are also many amenities within walking distance.

It is very convenient to visit eateries like Chomp Chomp, 24-hour operational supermarkets and almost any major bank outlet. It is a very self-sufficient estate.

There are no high-rise buildings surrounding our estate, which gives it a cosy, laid-back setting.

I chose to buy a landed property as I believe its price is unlikely to decrease, hence it is a good asset.

My property is worth $4.5 million now. I have no plans to sell it, as I wish to pass it on to my daughters.

Q What other properties have you bought?

A My husband and I bought a five-storey cluster house called Jewel @ Chuan Hoe for investment purposes in 2008.

We bought the 4,500 sq ft property for $1.3 million, and sold it at $2.3 million in 2011. This gave us a substantial amount for the down payment for our current home.

We bought it as the price per sq ft was very low. Its down payment was 10 per cent at $140,000, and stamp duty was $36,540. The monthly mortgage was $3,000.

In 2010, I bought Centra Studios, a condominium in Geylang, for investment too. It was a shoebox apartment of 400 sq ft. I bought it at $400,000 and sold it for $600,000 in 2012. The down payment was 20 per cent at $101,000 and stamp duty was $9,870. The mortgage rate was 1.25 per cent.

I bought this unit as Geylang was a popular place for property investment and home stay. From putting it up for sale and finishing the transaction, it took less than a month. Moreover, shoebox apartments were getting very popular. It was also a convenient location, just a two-minute walk to the MRT station.

Q What are your property investing strategy and market view?

A My main consideration is the price per sq ft based on land size. Depending on the market situation at a particular time, the price range I consider will vary.

Other factors I consider are location and nearby amenities. It should be located near supermarkets and wet markets, for everyday convenience. It should preferably be in close proximity to schools as well.

We plan to buy another landed property for home stay within the next three years to five years, probably in Serangoon Gardens. We hope to buy another three-storey property of about 6,000 sq ft to 8,000 sq ft. Our budget is $10 million.

The property market is stable and there are more varied choices, in terms of unit size and finishing. The quality of finishing is also improving. Developers are now moving towards bigger-sized units. These changes will bolster the market.

In addition, with government efforts to boost employment, Singaporeans will maintain a median income that is high enough to invest in property. I do not foresee any downturn in the property market in the next three to five years.

My financial and asset-holding decisions are planned for long-term succession. Landed property is a good long-term investment.

Q What is your financing strategy?

A When getting a mortgage, the property agent usually recommends to the client a banker who offers different loan packages.

For my home, I took up a 25-year floating-rate package from UOB. It has a 2.1 per cent interest rate. I chose UOB as it offered flexible rates and its services were very good.

I did not refinance or reprice, as the rates are sufficiently attractive. I do not usually opt for packages with fixed interest rates as I don't refinance. Moreover, the rates are typically quite low.

I believe I am able to cope with higher interest rates for my mortgage payment. I may also consider refinancing with lower interest rates. My savings are either invested in my firm or property.

Q What is your overall investing strategy?

A After starting my own company, I placed all the money I gained from my investments - a total of $1.5 million - into the company.

With Synagie and more partnerships with other e-retailers, I expect revenue to be 200 per cent higher than last year. I have about 1,000 transactions daily from all the platforms I operate on now, compared with 10 customers daily last year.

I aim to expand to other South-east Asian markets, like Malaysia and the Philippines. I also plan to launch Synagie globally.

I target to invest $5 million for technology development, overseas expansion and improving human resource capabilities within the next year. Refining our operations will generate profits. This is the most meaningful form of investment.

In the future, I may invest in SMEs or start-ups with a good cause and have growth potential. I understand the challenges of operating a small business.

It is meaningful to put my money into these businesses.

Q What insurance coverage do you have?

A I bought a home insurance plan for $672 per year. It covers loss of or damage to contents caused by fire and other disasters.

Q My dream home is…

A The next landed property that my husband and I are planning to buy. My dream home is not something extravagant or unrealistic, but a simple dream that is achievable as long as we work hard for it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Start-up owner knows how to flip properties'. Print Edition | Subscribe