HSR's Donald Han made a pile when he sold his holdings before the Asian crisis
Property adviser Donald Han (second from right) with his family (from left) Rae Ann, 14, Madam Julianne Lee,47, Ryan, 18, and Randall, 16, at their condominium estate’s pool.
-- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
By Magdalen Ng
Most property investors think location is the most important factor but real estate executive Donald Han, puts his money on "timing, timing, timing".
Mr Han, 48, made a tidy seven-digit sum when, just before the Asian financial crisis, he sold off the properties he had co-bought with his friends in 1995.
But he added a note of caution: "When timing becomes unclear and whenever in doubt, always invest in prime location properties as these are always the last to suffer a drop in prices during bad times and the first to rise in good times."
The Malacca native moved to Singapore in 1984 to take up a degree in estate management course at the National University of Singapore, financed partially by a study loan. This set into motion his more than two-decade-long career in property.
He is now the HSR Property Group's special adviser, helping the firm to identify markets for expansion into the region.
Mr Han had previously spent 15 years at Cushman & Wakefield Singapore, eventually serving as vice-chairman.
His wife Julianne, 47, is a housewife. The couple have three children: Ryan, 18; Randall, 16; and Rae Ann, 14.
Q: Are you a spender or saver?
I am more of a spender than a saver, probably a typical case of "asset-rich and cash-poor".
I don't keep track of my savings pattern but a 10 per cent savings of monthly income would be an achievement.
My savings mainly take the form of liquid investments such as stable high-dividend stocks such as real estate investment trusts (Reits) and blue-chip property counters.
Keeping cash in the bank is simply not an option now as interest rates are near zero and inflation is about 4 per cent a year.
One is better off buying bank shares than keeping cash in the bank.
Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?
I charge between $8,000 and $10,000 per month using a range of credit cards to access priority points and perks.
Even my income tax goes by the plastic charge under an instalment scheme which accumulates bonus points that can be redeemed for service and product rewards.
It's the best way to stretch your dollar or, in this case, shrink expenses. The key is to be disciplined in credit card payments.
I usually withdraw $1,000 every week from the ATM for petty cash.
Q: What financial planning have you done?
I have sufficient life and medical and hospitalisation coverage.
It's hard to do financial planning within a dichotomy of higher cost of living and ever-increasing lifestyle aspirations.
Even the best long-range financial plan or insurance policy set up say, 10 years ago, will now be deemed as insufficient.
To me, the best insurance coverage is via real estate investments.
Despite cyclical ups and downs, if one charts the property price index over say, a 30-year period, you will see a clear distinct uptrend line. Hence it doesn't really matter at which point of time you invest.
Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like? What did your parents do, where did you live? What did your family teach you about money?
Life in my early childhood days was tough. I was raised in a small town in Malacca living at near-sufficiency level.
My mum was a housewife and my dad was the sole breadwinner, earning RM800 a month and supporting five children.
There was a lot of sharing growing up - the sharing of rooms, beds and hand-me-down clothes.
Birthdays were celebrated with rare tickets to the cinema or a durian shared among the seven of us.
Looking back, those were precious moments. Your roots are not to be forgotten.
Q: How did you get interested in investing?
My degree in estate management provided me with a rock-solid foundation and a desire to invest in real estate.
In 1992, I made my first investment - a tiny built-in 1,200 sq ft, two-storey terrace house near Windsor Hotel.
I sold it two years later, making a tidy $200,000 profit. It had been bought with a combination of cash and CPF savings for $550,000.
With some seed money, a few of my good, like-minded friends and I decided to co-invest in properties in 1995.
These included freehold properties in District 9 such as Aspen Heights, St Martin's Apartment and a flatted factory at Hillview Avenue.
We were lucky to have liquidated our investments just prior to the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
Q: What property do you own?
I own three properties in Singapore and one in Malaysia.
One is my condominium apartment in Cairnhill Road where I live. I bought it in 1997 for $1 million.
I also have a condominium apartment in Newton Road and another in Ang Mo Kio.
The fourth property is in Malacca and is leased out to a hotel operator. I'd prefer to keep their values confidential.
Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?
Like most men, I spend the least on myself other than the occasional shirt, tie and cuff links. My bigger-ticket items are usually cars.
My first brand-new car, a Mitsubishi Lancer, was bought for $25,000 with COE of $1 some time in August 1991 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Two years later, I sold it and made some pocket money. That was probably the only time when you could have deemed buying a car an investment.
My current car is a seven-seater SUV which cost me $200,000.
It's big, strong and sometimes unfriendly to other road users because of its intimidating size. What I love about this car is that it gives me the height advantage on the roads, especially during long drives to Malaysia.
Q: What's your retirement plan?
I don't think I will ever retire as property is in my veins and part of my DNA.
Retiring in Singapore is an option, provided one is prepared to put a lid on lifestyle aspirations and expenses. Malaysia's Iskandar region is looking very interesting for potential retirees - providing an eclectic mix of lifestyle, space and a hub for medical and wellness - at a fraction of Singapore's cost.
Q: Home now is...
Home now is a cosy 14th-storey apartment at a block in Cairnhill called Cavenagh House. It's a tranquil oasis just an eight-minute walk to Orchard Road.
Q: I drive...
A Volvo XC90 SUV
---------------------------------- WORST AND BEST BETS
Q: What is your worst investment to date?
My worst investment has to be a membership in a now-defunct country club which I bought for $30,000. I hardly used its facilities and it went belly up after a few years of operation.
These days I stay away from country club investments. The irony is my credit cards now provide me with free country club access in Singapore and in the region.
Q: And your best?
The best investment is my home, which is a four-bedroom apartment at Cavenagh House with a spectacular view of the Central Business District skyline. It is right next to the Istana grounds.
I bought the property in 1997 for $1 million and it is now worth close to $3 million.