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2nd April 2014

Singapore Real Estate

Home prices continue slide in Q1

Declines expected to set tone for rest of the year, say industry players

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] Prices of both private homes and HDB resale flats continued their slide in the first quarter of this year based on the government's flash estimates, and this is expected to set the tone for the rest of this year.

The drop in resale flat prices - by 1.5 per cent, for the third consecutive quarter, according to HDB's Resale Price Index (RPI) - is starting to be seen as holding HDB upgraders back from taking the leap into private property.

But it is still the current cooling measures and more competitive pricing by developers that have been the main drag on private home prices.

URA said yesterday that its private residential property index fell 1.3 per cent islandwide over the first three months, after a 0.9 per cent decline in the fourth quarter. This was in tandem with the decline in sales transactions, with just 1,676 caveats lodged in the first quarter, down from 4,260 a quarter earlier.

-By Lynette Khoo

HDB resale, private home prices fall in Q1

Singapore home prices fell in the first quarter of this year from the last three months of 2013, flash estimates released by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Tuesday showed.

Source: Channel News Asia / Singapore
SINGAPORE: Singapore home prices fell in the first quarter of this year from the last three months of 2013.

This is according to flash estimates released Tuesday by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

It is the third straight quarter of decline for HDB resale prices.

The numbers show a 1.5-per cent decline from the last quarter of 2013.

There was also a 1.5-per cent drop recorded in the fourth quarter of 2013.

And in the quarter before, there was a 0.9-per cent fall.

Nicholas Mak, executive director of SLP International Property Consultants, said: "Some of the property curbs the government has implemented, for example, the mortgage servicing ratio, tightening debts for the HDB purchasers...that has also contributed to the decline in demand and prices.

“Another main factor is the steady supply of new HDB flats the government is offering to potential buyers. This has for the past two years been drawing steady demand from the resale market to the HDB primary market.

"Hence we find ourselves in today's situation, with HDB transaction volume at a low level as well as prices weakening."

As for the private residential market, prices fell for the second straight quarter.

Preliminary figures showed prices declined 1.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2014, after a 0.9-per cent drop in the previous quarter.

Prices also dropped across all market segments for non-landed private residential properties in the first quarter of 2014.

In the Core Central Region, prices fell for the fourth straight quarter, dropping 1.3 per cent after declining 2.1 per cent in the previous quarter.

The Core Central Region comprises districts 9, 10 and 11, as well as the downtown core region and Sentosa.

At the Outside Central Region, prices fell for the second consecutive quarter, by 0.3 per cent, compared to the 1.0-per cent drop in the previous quarter.

For the Rest of Central Region, prices dropped 2.8 per cent, compared with the 0.4-per cent increase in the previous quarter.

Lim Yong Hock, key executive officer at PropNex Realty, said: “The cooling measures, especially the TDSR (total debt servicing ratio), have this impact across the board, whether it is the OCR (Outside Central Region), RCR (Rest of Central Region) or CCR (Core Central Region).

“For everyone who wants to buy a property, the greatest challenge now is the loan issue. If they are not able to take up the loan, I believe there will be more people who are not able to afford the prices."

Director of Research & Advisory at Colliers International Chia Siew Chuin said the numbers also show that buyers are drawn to the relatively more affordable mass-market homes.

She said: "Given homebuyers' persistent price sensitivity and the reduction in their purchase budget under the strict financing rules of the TDSR, prices of mid- to high-end homes in the Rest of Central Region and Core Central Region showed marked declines amid thinning market activity."

Analysts expect prices in both the private and HDB resale markets to continue to soften.

Some added that the HDB resale market is likely to be affected by the new resale price negotiation procedure, as buyers will tend to be more cautious with their purchases. 

- CNA/nd/xq

Weak property market to further drive down prices

Analysts warn that there is no end in sight as long as cooling measures are in place

Source: Today Online / Business

SINGAPORE — After a tumultuous final quarter last year, Singapore’s housing market continued to weaken in the first three months this year as prices in both the private and public sectors fell and analysts warned that there will not be any reversal in fortunes as long as the Government’s cooling measures stayed in place.

Private home prices slid 1.3 per cent in the January-to-March period from the previous three months, accelerating from the 0.9 per cent fall previously, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said in its preliminary first-quarter report yesterday.

In the public segment, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) flash report showed the resale market extended its decline to a third consecutive quarter, with prices falling by 1.5 per cent in the last three months, matching the pace in the final quarter last year. This comes at a time when the demand for Build-to-Order (BTO) flats has weakened, with the overall application rate falling to 2.8 in the latest exercise, down from January’s rate of 4.1.

Despite the declines, prices of both HDB and private homes are about 37 per cent higher than they were when the current round of cooling measures was first imposed in September 2009.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, Chief Executive of real estate agency Century 21, said: “I don’t think we are at the bottom yet. There’s still room for falls because the property curbs have taken out a lot of demand since late 2009 when they started.”

“Over the last four years, we have seen big and small changes to the policies, so I think we are probably seeing some fatigue in the market now,” he added.

In the private housing market, condominium prices in the Core Central Region (CCR), or city centre, fell 1.3 per cent in the fourth straight quarter of decline. In the Rest of Central Region (RCR), or city fringes, prices declined 2.8 per cent, while those in the Outside Central Region (OCR), or suburban areas, dipped 0.3 per cent, the URA data showed.

“The decline in private home prices for two successive quarters is in line with the slower transaction activities … and is an evident sign that the multiple dosages of the Government’s cooling measures and particularly the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) have been effective in arresting price growth,” said Ms Chia Siew Chuin, Director of Research and Advisory at property firm Colliers International.

She added that the TDSR framework introduced last June resulted in tighter financing rules, which restricted potential buyers’ budget and led to steeper price declines in the CCR and RCR.

The framework requires lenders to ensure that the mortgage does not push a borrower’s total debt repayments above 60 per cent of his or her monthly income.

Mr Mohamed Ismail, Chief Executive of PropNex Realty, said the weakening HDB resale market might also hurt demand for private housing.

“The demand for private homes might also be affected by the drop in HDB resale prices. The smaller gain achieved from the sale of their HDB flat will limit their budget for their new private property and may cause some to put their plans on the back burner because the potential profit is insufficient to allow them to upgrade,” he said.

And the HDB resale market will continue to come under pressure as buyers are constrained by the tightening of the Mortgage Servicing Ratio to 30 per cent last August and the reduction of the maximum term to 25 years for HDB loans and 30 years for bank loans. Rules requiring new permanent residents to wait three years before they can purchase public housing, introduced at the same time, are also expected to curb demand.

The PropNex CEO expects HDB resale prices to fall by 6 to 8 per cent this year.

The private residential market will likely see a smaller decline of not more than 5 per cent, said Ms Christine Li, Head of Research and Consultancy at property agency OrangeTee, as developers may not cut prices of new launches soon.

“Prices of new launches will still hold because developers are not in a hurry to cut prices significantly — they still have time to market the projects. And they paid high land costs, there’s no reason for them to sell at a loss yet,” Ms Li said.

“But overall, I think the market has just started tapering off. We feel that because the measures are not tweaked or removed, financing is still very much restricted, the pool of eligible buyers is shrinking so liquidity in the market is a problem. If the new rules are not relaxed, I think there’s further downside to the prices,” she added.

-By Lee Yen Nee

HDB resale prices fall for third quarter in a row

First time Resale Price Index has dipped below 200 since the third quarter of 2012

Source: Today Online / Singapore

SINGAPORE — Resale flat prices have fallen for the third consecutive quarter, as various measures, including loan curbs and the strong supply of new flats, continue to weigh down on demand.

The Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) flash estimates showed the Resale Price Index (RPI) in the first quarter fell to 198.6, the first time it had dipped below 200 since the third quarter of 2012.

The index has also slumped 1.5 per cent in each of the last two quarters, which is the sharpest decline in close to nine years.

The RPI hit a historic high of 206.6 in the second quarter last year, but has since tumbled by 3.9 per cent.

ERA Key Executive Officer Eugene Lim said the large numbers of Build-To-Order (BTO) flats released, which throw up more choices for buyers, as well as the Government opening up new two-room flats in non-mature estates to singles have dampened demand in the resale market.

But resale flats could regain their appeal “as prices continue to moderate, and buyers and sellers get used to negotiating based on price and not COV (cash-over-valuation)”, he noted.

Mr Lim was referring to the changes to the resale procedure announced on March 10, requiring buyers and sellers of resale flats to agree on a price before getting an official valuation. Previously, prices could exceed valuation figures if the buyer was willing to fork out extra.

Since the change, housing agents have been unable to capture COV figures because the HDB releases the valuation figure only after the buyer and seller agree on a price, said PropNex Realty Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Ismail.

Figures from his firm and the Singapore Real Estate Exchange, which TODAY understands are up till March 15, showed that median COV has fallen for five consecutive quarters, from S$33,000 in the last quarter of 2012 to zero in the first quarter of this year.

Data from the first quarter showed that HDB resale flats in Sembawang, Punggol and Sengkang saw negative COV of between S$5,000 and S$10,000. Estates which recorded the highest COVs are Bishan (S$15,000), Bukit Merah (S$12,000) and Queenstown (S$10,500).

Mr Ismail said the data was able to include some deals that were closed after the new rule kicked in because the buyers and sellers had relied on HDB valuations released just before the change.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the HDB said COV data will be published in the Public Housing Data report for the first quarter that will be released on April 25.

-By Xue Jianyue

JTC looks into building above major roads

Source: Straits Times

In what would be a first for land-scarce Singapore, industrial landlord JTC is exploring the possibility of erecting buildings, walkways and communal spaces above major roads. This could be cheaper than going underground, it says of the unprecedented idea to intensify land usage.

Divestment helps JTC add value: CEO

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] While acknowledging gripes by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over JTC Corporation's divestment of its industrial land, JTC chief executive Png Cheong Boon maintains that the divestment allowed JTC to turn its attention to areas it was able to better add value to.

This is part of the landlord and developer's four- pronged strategy, which comprises the development of specialised land and innovative space to support clustering; the creation of new land and space to catalyse new industries; the promotion of a stable and sustainable market; and the driving of innovation, sustainability and construction productivity in industrial infrastructure development.

As of 2013, JTC's market share of the available 9.4 million square metres (sq m) of multiple-user space stood at 3.5 per cent, compared with its pre-divestment stake of 18 per cent out of 7.96 million sq m in 2008.

"(We have) freed up our resources to go into (the development of) innovative space. We can develop new facilities . . . such as those that focus specifically on clusters, those that require common and shared facilities that will give a competitive advantages to companies," said Mr Png.

"Private developers are probably not willing to do this because of the upfront capital investment that is needed. So the divestment, on one hand, affects tenants in (previously JTC- owned) facilities but, on the other hand, allows us to focus on other aspects where we can add more value to industries," he said.

Yesterday, JTC unveiled a host of ideas stemming from its four key strategies. These ideas include the development of more innovative spaces and decking over major roads and highways.

For the former, innovative spaces for other key clusters identified include a poultry processing hub, a furniture/timber hub and a chemicals hub.

JTC is also looking at integrated multi-user factories for the oil and gas sector which could feature flatted factories for heavier manufacturing, warehousing space, offices and even dormitories for foreign workers.

"By co-locating (smaller players) into a single location, it fosters greater collaboration, reduces a lot of inefficiency and hopefully raises the productivity of the industry. For us, it helps optimise land use as well," said Mr Png.

A total of 16 Innovative Space projects are in the works - seven under development and nine on the drawing board. They are expected to add 800,000 sq m of multi-user space by 2017, said JTC.

Separately, JTC is looking at ways to deck over highways and major roads in its quest to create new land and space. This is in addition to other means such as land reclamation and the creation of underground spaces like the Jurong Rock Caverns.

"If you take the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), NUS Science Park is physically separated from One North by the AYE. We want to build an integrated, connected community where the academia work closely with the industries . . . this physical separation prevents it from happening," said Mr Png.

If, however, there is a way to deck over the AYE, it would create a contiguous space for people to interact. While JTC is still studying the feasibility of such a deck, Mr Png said that it hopes to introduce offices or al fresco dining on the deck rather than an overhead bridge.

Mr Png also said that he expects industrial property prices to moderate further in light of the cooling measures and increased supply of multi-user space coming into the market.

Based on the average of 28 hectares of space released per year from 2010 to 2013, JTC estimates that from 2014 to 2016, two million sq m of space, including 500,000 sq m of multi- user industrial space, will be added annually.

This compares with an average annual demand of one million sq m of space.

-By Mindy Tan

Sengkang project most popular in March BTO

Source: Straits Times

The second launch of new Housing Board flats this year has met with a generally cool response, continuing last year's trend. The exception: Sengkang's Anchorvale Parkview project, and two-room flats which remain highly sought after by singles. As of 5pm yesterday, there were 1.3 first-timer applicants for each unit in the Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise, which closed at midnight. This compared to 1.7 in January and 1.3 in November.

Real Estate Companies' Brief

Reit benchmarks seen pulling up rents elsewhere

They own only 20-22% of retail assets: further studies urged

Source: Business Times / Top Stories

[SINGAPORE] The argument that real estate investment trusts (Reits) are responsible for hiking up retail rents is often made, but the more difficult part is to say how.

Statistics show that Reits do not own the bulk of retail space here, debunking the common perception that they are market leaders in an oligopolic structure. Neither do they hold a majority of the prime malls, so the idea that their ownership of the highest-demand locations gives them pricing power doesn't quite hold.

Property consultants say the likely explanation then is simply that other landlords are benchmarking their rates to Reits, given the market transparency that the listed Reits practise - an effect they called "herding".

"After all, substantial information is made available publicly in quarterly reporting to shareholders, and any commercial or industrial property landlord would be savvy and numerical enough to make back-calculations to gauge possible rentals," said R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng. Reits sometimes also publish rental figures in their annual reports.

-By Lee Meixian

GIC opens office in Brazil

Source: Business Times / Companies

GIC opened an office yesterday in Brazil, as it looks for more investment opportunities in Latin America.

The new office - its 10th globally - will focus on areas such as real estate, healthcare, financial and business services, and natural resources and infrastructure.

"Our presence in Brazil will enable our partners to engage early and interact closely with the GIC team, which is very beneficial for complex and sizeable investments," said group chief investment officer Lim Chow Kiat.

"We believe our partners will gain from having access to GIC's global network of business contacts and market insights. Although emerging markets remain volatile, we are confident of the long-term Latin America growth story."

-By Andrea Soh

A-HTrust prices new stapled securities

Source: Business Times 

Ascendas Hospitality Trust (A-HTrust) has priced its $50 million placement of 73.53 million new stapled securities at the lower end of indications. The 68-cent issue price is a 3.5 per cent discount to the hotel trust's 70.5-cent adjusted volume weighted average price before the placement. Marketing indications for the deal was between 68 cents and 69.5 cents. Proceeds will be used to pay for the Osaka Namba Washington Hotel Plaza in Japan.

Suntec Reit

Source: Business Times

Suntec Reit issued 218 million units on March 19, 2014 at S$1.605 a unit, which represents a 3.5 per cent discount to its dividend-adjusted previous close price. This is in line with our expectation for Suntec Reit to raise equity to lower gearing, following its A$413 million (S$480.5 million) acquisition of 177 Pacific Highway in North Sydney in Q413.

Views, Reviews & Forum

Warehouse rental: Landlord replies

Source: Straits Times

We refer to Ms Andeline Wong's letter ("No room for negotiation"; Monday). All 15,500 sq m of the Jalan Buroh Warehouse is leased to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Reflecting SMEs' strong demand for good and accessible warehouses, the occupancy has remained at 100 per cent.

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

Blackstone Said in Talks to Sell Offices for $2.5 Billion

Source: Bloomberg / News

Blackstone Group LP (BX) is in talks to sell six prime office properties in the Boston area for about $2.5 billion as the buyout firm continues to dispose of assets from its 2007 takeover of Equity Office Properties Trust, said a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

The properties total about 3.6 million square feet (344,400 square meters) and are located mostly in downtown Boston, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The assets include 225 Franklin St. and 1 Memorial Drive in nearby Cambridge, where Microsoft Corp. has its New England research and development center, the person said.

Blackstone, based in New York, is holding discussions with several potential buyers, including MetLife Inc. (MET), Singapore’s GIC Pte, Norges Bank Investment Management and Oxford Properties Group, the real estate unit of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, the person said.

Peter Rose, a Blackstone spokesman, and Claire McIntyre, an Oxford Properties spokeswoman, declined to comment on the plans. John Calagna, a MetLife spokesman, and a spokeswoman for GIC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment after regular business hours yesterday. The Norges press office in Oslo also didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail sent after regular business hours.

Separately, Blackstone agreed to buy a 49 percent stake in a San Francisco office property, One Market Plaza, in the firm’s second acquisition in core and core-plus real estate, according to three people with knowledge of the investment. Core real estate refers to high-quality, well-leased buildings in major markets that offer investors a stable return with low risk. The deal values the two-tower complex, near the city’s waterfront Embarcadero, at just more than $1.2 billion, the people said.

Paramount Group

Paramount Group Inc. is selling the stake and will continue to own the rest of the property, the people said. Jolanta Bott, a spokeswoman for New York-based Paramount, didn’t immediately return a call after regular business hours yesterday.

Plans for the sale of the Boston offices and the San Francisco purchase were reported earlier by Real Estate Alert.

Eastdil Secured LLC is brokering the sale of the Boston assets, said the person with knowledge of the plans.

-By Hui-yong Yu

Chinese Investments in U.S. Commercial Real Estate Surges

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

It took just one 15-minute phone call in July to persuade Ifei Chang to join Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holding Group Co. and lead a U.S. expansion. Within three months, she was running $6 billion of projects as part of a record push by Chinese investors into American property.

Greenland reached a preliminary agreement in October to buy a 70 percent stake in the $5 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, New York. That followed a July deal to acquire a $1 billion residential-and-entertainment project in downtown Los Angeles. Chang, who took charge of that site upon arriving in the U.S., is now on the hunt for more investments.

“In China, you climb a ladder where everything is floating and moving so fast,” Chang, 49, said in an interview at her sparsely furnished 46th-floor L.A. office overlooking the empty lot where the Metropolis project will be built. “We come from a country of 1.4 billion people and a lot of economic growth. This kind of project and investment speed is very normal in China. That’s why we are so confident we will deliver this project.”

Greenland, like other Chinese companies, is committing to a growing number of multibillion-dollar developments outside of its home market. Chinese investments in U.S. commercial properties jumped almost 10-fold last year from 2012, with Manhattan the biggest area for purchases, followed by other New York City boroughs and Los Angeles, according to research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc.

Greenland Expansion

Greenland, the state-owned builder that’s also developing one of China’s tallest towers, has become one of its country’s biggest investors in U.S. real estate. The company’s Metropolis project, acquired from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, is planned as a 275,450-square-foot (25,600-square-meter) development with hotels, apartments and luxury condominiums. Chang, president and chief executive officer of Greenland U.S. Holding Inc., expects completion within five years, with aspirations “to graduate early,” she said.

“This billion-dollar investment not only will bolster downtown Los Angeles’s economy, creating hundreds of jobs and generating ongoing tax revenue, but it will bring the kind of world-class amenities that will enhance the appeal of our city center nationally and internationally,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in an e-mail.

Greenland agreed to buy most of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards from the site’s original developer, Forest City Ratner Cos., after a couple of phone calls, a dinner and a visit by the seller’s executive team to Greenland’s Shanghai headquarters.

Definitive Contract

“Three weeks later, we had an agreement,” Chang said. The memorandum of understanding signed in October became a definitive contract in December.

Regulatory approval for Atlantic Yards LLC, the joint venture for the project, is expected by mid-year, Chang said. The 22-acre (8.9-hectare) development was initially approved in 2006 and delayed in part by the recession. Greenland’s investment will include 14 apartment buildings in Brooklyn, where rents are surging.

“The process and the people have been intense,” MaryAnne Gilmartin, president and CEO of Forest City Ratner, said in an e-mail. “Ifei has proven to be a force of nature -- determined, insightful and highly capable.”

Chang’s international background helped prepare her to implement Greenland’s ambitions. The Taiwanese-born developer is the third of five daughters. Her father was once an anti-communist soldier from mainland China, and her mother is a “tiger mom” who set expectations high for their children, Chang said.

Childhood Fascination

She developed a fascination with architecture as a child, making mental notes of buildings and streetscapes. Her parents’ aspirations were met by her admission to Yale University after completing undergraduate studies in Taiwan. At Yale, she earned two master’s degrees, in architecture and environmental design.

“I know the freedom of thinking from my studies in the States,” she said. “No boundaries. It’s that kind of cowboy spirit.”

Chinese developers are on an expansive shopping spree in the U.S. Completed commercial real estate transactions by Chinese investors in the six biggest metropolitan areas totaled almost $3 billion in 2013, up from $335.3 million the previous year, according to New York-based Real Capital. Those figures exclude the total value of such developments as Metropolis and Atlantic Yards, where investments will span several years.

China Vanke

In San Francisco, China Vanke Co., the nation’s biggest publicly traded developer, teamed with New York-based Tishman Speyer Properties LP to develop the 655-unit Lumina high-rise towers in the South of Market area. Vanke, with investment partner Aby Rosen, broke ground in February on a luxury midtown Manhattan condominium tower for its first New York City project.

Chinese builders are seeking the stability and predictable population growth offered by major U.S. cities, and are taking advantage of the Chinese government’s loosening of rules on direct investment overseas.

“It’s a very good thing for China to grow and develop, and it’s a good thing for Chinese people to get rich,” Greenland Chairman Zhang Yuliang said at the Metropolis groundbreaking ceremony in February. “When they go abroad, they can be a driver of the economies of other countries.”

Chang, at Greenland, has become one of those drivers. After her initial 15-minute call with Zhang in mid-July, when the two discussed Greenland’s vision for expansion in the U.S., Chang received a second call from Zhang on July 25, after he came back from a trip to the country. Chang was officially appointed to her new role the same day.

‘Fiercely Intelligent’

Michael Sorkin, founder of Michael Sorkin Studio in New York City and a former Yale architecture professor, said Chang is the most prolific student he had in his 30 years teaching.

“She’s fiercely intelligent and has more energy than any average 40 people on the planet,” Sorkin said. “When you look at her resume, you’d think she’s 70 years old with all the work she’s done.”

As an architecture student, Chang had a penchant for “thinking outside of the box,” preparing her to become a large-scale developer, a role that often demands more attention to profits, timelines and regulatory obstacles than it does to creativity, said Eric Owen Moss, principal and lead designer at Culver City, California-based Eric Owen Moss Architects and another professor of Chang’s at Yale.

“Some students want to make certain types of things or push a certain way to look at architecture,” Moss said. “Ifei was more willing to try a number of ideas with no particular allegiance, just the idea of being productive and energetic.”

Japan, Shanghai

Chang worked in Japan for architect Osamu Ishiyama for five years, then for Greenland from 2001 to 2006 as project manager for a Shanghai development. For her first interview at Greenland, she was the only woman at a long conference table crowded with the company’s general managers.

Chang favors plain black slacks and a simple black Chinese button top, keeps her cropped hair short and doesn’t wear make-up -- deliberate choices as being a woman makes her a rarity in the world of commercial construction, she said.

“It’s not about the make-up or perfume or the dress,” she said. “As long as you deliver the job, it’s not a problem.”

Only 7.3 percent of U.S. construction-management jobs were held by women last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


“The real estate and development industry has been dominated by men, but that’s changing,” Kathleen Carey, co-founder of the women’s leadership initiative at the Urban Land Institute, a development trade group, said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t have anything to do with women not being suited for development. I think it’s really the history of the industry.”

From 2007 to 2010, Chang worked in St. Petersburg, Russia, as design director for Shanghai Overseas United Investment Co., which was co-developing a $4 billion master-planned community called Baltic Pearl. She then spent a year in Hong Kong working for a European company before getting the call that led her to return to the U.S.

Representatives of Chinese companies -- even those with extensive international experience -- often experience culture shock when first faced with the U.S. legal system, approval processes and paperwork, Chang said.

“Everybody is afraid of getting sued,” she said. “In China we may step on somebody else’s feet, but so what? Sometimes somebody else will step on mine. It’s all good. I won’t sue them.”

Culture Shock

The culture shock is sometimes mutual. Rob Jernigan, a managing principal at Gensler, the lead architect on the Metropolis project, was surprised to have Chang show up in his downtown Los Angeles office as many as 10 times a week and get calls from her on Sunday afternoons.

“At first it’s a bit daunting, but once you get in sync and you understand she doesn’t have the expectation of any special treatment, you’re on board,” he said. “You realize she’s really part of the team.”

Chang’s own architecture background also has affected the way she works with Gensler, Jernigan said.

“Most clients won’t come into your office and start red-marking your drawings,” he said with a chuckle.

Greenland isn’t interested in well-developed areas such as Manhattan. Rather, it focuses on neighborhoods undergoing transformation. Downtown Los Angeles and Brooklyn fit the bill because a “developer can be a big player on the chessboard,” she said.

‘Fast Transformation’

“We want to be the early pioneer and to echo a city’s need,” Chang said. These projects “will be the prototype for Greenland to enter a city under very fast transformation with the potential still underestimated.”

Chang said she plans to ultimately return to Asia to slow down the pace of her life and spend time with friends and her aging parents. Her father is 85 years old and her mother 72. If the Metropolis and Atlantic Yards projects are far enough along, Chang may be able to return home within two to three years, she said. Single and without children, Chang said she envies people who have enough time to take care of a dog.

“Right now there is no time to think of parents, of old girlfriends, and no time to respond to personal e-mails, no time to visit friends,” Chang said.

Chang does allow herself the occasional break to throw a small office party. At one such gathering on a March afternoon, her coworkers ate cupcakes while she translated her American colleagues’ names into Chinese.

Mostly, though, she’s focused on Greenland’s U.S. projects and getting American cities to run at a Chinese pace.

“We hope the city permit procedure will pick up the speed we want, pick up the speed that businesses want, pick up the speed investors want, pick up the speed the citizens really need,” Chang said. “We should all move very fast. We should catch the moment.”

-By Nadja Brandt and John Gittelsohn

Manhattan Home Prices Jump to a Record as Buyers Compete

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

Manhattan apartment sales surged in the busiest start to a year since 2007, setting price records as buyers vied for a limited supply of homes for sale and deals were completed at new high-end developments.

Sales of co-ops and condominiums in the first quarter jumped 35 percent from a year earlier to 3,307, according to a report today from appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The median price climbed 19 percent to $972,428, while the the average price per square foot rose 24 percent to $1,363, the highest in 25 years of record-keeping.

Price gains are accelerating in a market where the inventory of homes for sale plummeted to record lows three times in the past year as buyer demand increased. Of the deals completed in the first quarter, 38 percent were at or above the asking price, up from 17 percent a year earlier, according to Jonathan Miller, president of New York-based Miller Samuel.

“We’re finally at a point where you’re seeing the chronic lack of supply push prices higher,” Miller said in an interview. “The market really isn’t fun for the buyer.”

There were 4,968 apartments for sale at the end of March, up 0.2 percent from a year earlier and the first inventory increase in more than three years, the firms said.

About 50 percent of deals in the quarter were completed with cash, Miller estimated. The median price of all sales was about 5.1 percent below the peak reached in the second quarter of 2008, according to Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman.

Transactions at newly constructed buildings set a record, averaging $1,834 a square foot, the firms said. Many new condo towers have larger units and are aimed at luxury buyers.

New Towers

Completed deals at Extell Development Co.’s One57 in Midtown, as well as downtown’s One Madison and Chelsea’s Walker Tower, all averaged more than $3,000 a square foot, according to a separate report today by brokerages Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property.

The quarter’s two sales for more than $40 million were both penthouses in new developments -- a $43 million purchase at One Madison and a $50.9 million deal at Walker Tower that set a downtown record. In all of last year, only one completed transaction crossed the $40 million threshold, according to Gregory Heym, chief economist at Terra Holdings LLC, owner of Brown Harris and Halstead.

Older properties weren’t left behind. Resale prices averaged $1.47 million, a 19 percent jump from a year earlier, Heym said.

‘Real Escalation’

“There’s been a real escalation in prices,” he said. “We knew it was going to come and now we’re starting to see it. The biggest question is why it took this long.”

Stefanie Wolf and her husband put their apartment in an Upper West Side brownstone on the market after seeing how well their neighbors fared selling properties in the past year. The couple, who have a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old, had outgrown the two-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op.

The apartment was listed for sale at $1.195 million in October and was on the market for 38 days before going into contract, according to real estate website While at least two offers came in above the asking price, the couple preferred to sell for less -- $1.15 million -- to buyers who offered cash.

“It was really quick,” said Wolf, 37, an audiologist in private practice on Long Island. “They wanted it, and they wanted to start their renovations.”

Cash Buyers

Proceeds from the sale of the co-op, which the Wolfs acquired from a family member in 2008, helped them chip away at student loans and make a down payment on a five-bedroom home on Long Island, she said.

On the Upper West Side, the increase in average prices ranged from 10 percent for two-bedroom apartments to 24 percent for one-bedroom units, according to the Brown Harris and Halstead report.

“I have buyers who need to finance, and unfortunately they find themselves losing out a lot to cash deals on a regular basis,” said Scott Harris, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens who handled the Wolfs’ co-op sale.

Other reports issued today showed jumps in prices amid a decline in available homes for sale. said inventory dropped 13 percent to the lowest level since 2007. The median sale price jumped 17 percent from a year earlier to $900,000, according to the site, which is owned by Zillow Inc. (Z) Properties spent 89 days on the market, down from 137.

Corcoran Group

Brokerage Corcoran Group reported a 25 percent surge in completed deals from the first quarter of 2013. The median price of the 3,263 properties that changed hands climbed 18 percent to $943,000. The average price per square foot reached a record $1,276, up 20 percent from a year earlier.

Inventory declined 17 percent to 5,466 units on the market at the end of March, according to the brokerage. It was the 12th consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines.

“We’re seeing basic Econ 101 coming into play,” Pamela Liebman, chief executive officer of Corcoran Group, said in an interview. “When you have this much demand and so little inventory, prices will have to rise. And they have.”

On the Upper East Side, previously owned condos sold for a median of $1.35 million, up 34 percent from a year earlier, according to Corcoran. In new developments in the neighborhood, the median price more than doubled to $3.60 million.

-By Oshrat Carmiel

Darden Rejects Proposal to Sell Real Estate

Source: Bloomberg / Personal Finance

Darden Restaurants (DRI) Inc., the owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, said splitting off its real estate holdings wouldn’t increase shareholder value, rejecting a strategy pushed by activist investors.

Darden spurned the idea after consulting with financial advisers Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS), according to a statement today. The company’s board also worked with law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to assess the demands.

Darden is facing increased pressure from activists, including Starboard Value LP and Barington Capital Group LP, to spin off its restaurant properties and shake up company management. The real estate is worth about $4 billion, Starboard said this week.

“A real estate separation would not enhance long-term shareholder value,” Darden responded in today’s statement. “The company will review the latest Starboard materials and looks forward to addressing them in its ongoing conversations with Darden shareholders.”

Shares of the Orlando, Florida-based company have declined 5.3 percent this year. The stock gained 1.4 percent to $51.48 at the close today in New York.

Last week, Barington asked Darden to consider replacing Chief Executive Officer Clarence Otis, saying the company has underperformed during his tenure and that his restructuring plan may destroy value. Otis, who became CEO in 2004 and chairman in 2005, is working to separate Darden’s Red Lobster seafood chain through a tax-free spinoff or sale. Starboard has joined Barington in opposing Otis’s plan.

-By  Leslie Patton

London Mayor Approves Berkeley Plan to Build Almost 1,000 Homes

Source: Bloomberg / News

London Mayor Boris Johnson today approved a request by Berkeley Group Holdings Plc (BKG) to build almost 1,000 homes close to the city’s main financial district, overturning a decision by local planning officials.

The City Forum development in the borough of Islington comprises two towers with 995 residential properties, a 190-room hotel, offices, retail space and a child day-care center, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. Thirty percent of the homes will be affordable.

A surge of new-home purchases by foreign investors has exacerbated a housing shortage in London, prompting Johnson to approve residential projects even when faced with local opposition. Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., controlled by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, yesterday got approval from the mayor to build as many as 3,500 homes less than 2 miles from the Canary Wharf financial district. The City of London is the main business district.

“London is enjoying an unprecedented population boom,” Johnson said in the statement. “Building new homes and creating more jobs is absolutely crucial so that we can ensure this growth is sustainable.”

One of the towers that’s planned for the site at 250 City Road will have 42 stories, while the other will have 36.

-By Patrick Gower

Hutchison Whampoa Wins Approval for 3,500 London Homes

Source: Bloomberg / Luxury

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (13), controlled by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, won preliminary approval to build as many as 3,500 homes less than two miles (3.2 kilometers) from London’s Canary Wharf financial district.

The project known as Convoys Wharf, in the borough of Lewisham, was endorsed yesterday by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based company with interests in the retail industry, ports and telecommunications, also plans to construct offices, stores, a hotel and restaurants at the 41.2-acre (16.7-hectare) site in Deptford.

Record-low borrowing costs and demand from overseas buyers helped London home prices gain 13.8 percent to more than 414,000 pounds ($690,000) in the year through February, according to the Land Registry. Asian companies are seeking to benefit from the rising property values with the purchase of development land at sites including Battersea Power Station and Royal Wharf on the north bank of the River Thames.

“We need to build thousands of new homes in the capital and proposals to do that at Convoys Wharf have stalled for far too long,” London Mayor Boris Johnson said in an e-mailed statement today.

Hutchison Whampoa said in February that its hotels and property unit contributed to a 20 percent increase in full-year profit. Li’s companies have spent about $14.5 billion on acquisitions in Europe since July 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“We are delighted that the mayor has approved the masterplan for Convoys Wharf and that work can begin,” Edmond Ho, executive director and general manager of Hutchison Whampoa Properties, Europe, said in a statement today. The company rose 2.3 percent to HK$105.10 in Hong Kong trading.

-By Neil Callanan and Patrick Gower

Telecom Italia Sells Milan Headquarters for $103 Million

Source: Bloomberg / Tech

Telecom Italia SpA (TIT), the phone company seeking to trim its debt pile of $37 billion, sold its headquarters near Milan’s stock exchange and Piazza del Duomo, home to the city’s famous Gothic cathedral.

The six-story building located on via Negri 1 was sold to Fondo Inarcassa RE for 75 million euros ($103 million), Telecom Italia said yesterday. The carrier will remain a tenant of the building, which was renovated in 2007 and has gross floor space of 11,600 square meters (125,000 square feet).

Marco Patuano, in his first six months as chief executive officer, sold an Argentine business, put assets including wireless towers in Italy and Brazil up for sale, and scrapped a dividend to help restore finances at Italy’s biggest phone company. Telecom Italia’s net loss last year reached 674 million euros, taking the accumulated deficit in the past three years to more than 7 billion euros.

Telecom Italia joins a list of European technology and telecommunications companies that sold or tried to divest their headquarters. Nokia Oyj (NOK1V) agreed in 2012 to sell its head office, a glass building overlooking the Baltic Sea in Espoo, Finland, for 170 million euros.

Shares of Telecom Italia fell 0.3 percent to 85.4 cents at 9:22 a.m. in Milan. They have jumped 20 percent this year, giving Telecom Italia a market value of 15.5 billion euros.

Last year, Telefonica SA (TEF), the biggest shareholder in Telecom Italia, tried to look for a buyer for its Madrid headquarters, a complex known as Distrito Telefonica that opened at the height of Spain’s property boom in 2008, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

The Milan building was earlier the headquarters of Stipel, the Piedmont and Lombardy phone carrier that started operations in 1925 and whose advisers included Giovanni Agnelli senior, principal shareholder in Fiat SpA. In 1964 Stipel joined SIP, Societa Italiana per l’Esercizio Telefonico, the former name of Telecom Italia.

-By Daniele Lepido