Still searching for her beachfront dream home

Restaurant owner Sofi Sui has always been drawn to nature and would love a home filled with flourishing flora.

"I love gardening, especially growing flowers and my own organic vegetables and fruits. I love flowers more than diamonds. It's silly, I know, but flowers make me happy," says Ms Sui, who is in her 40s.

The investor runs the 25-year-old Italian restaurant Pasta Brava, which sits in a quaint 5,000 sq ft shophouse, in Craig Road. Chef Rolando Luceri, a partner there, is her godfather.

One of her properties, a condo in town, has a lush garden by the pool and overlooks ample greenery.

Ms Sui, who also dabbles in designing, has strong views about the property market: "There will be quite a few challenges for home or property owners in the near future. That said, in adversity, there will always be opportunities, or a diamond in the rough, to be found."

Q What's your property like?

A It has a mostly unobstructed view, and gets lots of wind with no afternoon sun. I also like that it's in quiet surroundings, and within walking distance of malls, the beach and great eateries in the east.

I bought the 2,200 sq ft, four-room apartment for $3.5 million in 2012. It comes with a huge sheltered balcony that has a view of the sea and Marina Bay Sands.

Q Tell us about your property portfolio.

A I once had four properties at the same time in Singapore, including units at Sentosa Cove, Waterfront Waves and Urban Suites in Orchard.

In Vancouver, I have a five-star bed-and-breakfast in a 120-year-old house in the central business district area that is worth C$4.5 million (S$4.7 million), as well as a luxury condo under construction.

The 2,000 sq ft freehold unit at Urban Suites got its temporary permit only two years ago, and the market has been soft. The yearly rental averages $132,000.

I also plan to invest about $2 million in a landed property at a Niseko ski resort in Japan that I just visited.

I don't have a property investment that was the "worst". I invest only after doing adequate research, and base my decision on the vibes, or what I call love at first sight.

God has been great to me so far... I did invest in Urban Suites at a high price, but it's in the heart of Orchard, so I'm confident that the returns will be great.

Q Describe your property investing strategy and market view.

A I first decide which property segment, then the area to invest in and the investment quantum that's within my financial means. I also study the specifications, including size, tenure and whether it's a sub-sale or resale home.

An investor must have holding power when it comes to property, and I never over-leverage.

I believe there are investment opportunities, especially in a downturn. I'd look at freehold properties in Districts 9, 10 and 11, which are still attractive as prices have dropped the most in terms of percentage in the past few years.

Some projects in these areas have gone to a level that's similar in terms of price point to top projects in suburban areas.

Food and beverage (F&B) is another category I'd look into. I expect the F&B industry to outperform retail because of greater demand from consumers for online retailing platforms.

There'll be a big challenge for retail shop owners, which means that the rental yield for retail shops will not be appealing.

With interest rate hikes and a continued oversupply of residential properties over the next few years, I expect to see dampening demand and probably more mortgagee sales.

It will become a lot more difficult for owners to service their mortgages. It should be a good time for investors to take advantage of "fire sales" that are below conservative bank valuations.

As I see it, because of rising office supply levels, a surge in completions at the end of last year and early this year, and weak demand from the financial sector, commercial rental rates will continue to face downward pressure over the next 12 to 18 months.

Singapore is unique as its suburban shopping centres are become increasingly sophisticated and have gradually emerged as contenders for investment, compared with prime retail space.

Well-located retail spaces in suburban areas are likely to be a strong investment option as the catchment income is more resilient and sustainable.

The near-term economic outlook for Singapore is expected to remain soft, largely because of headwinds in the manufacturing and export sectors, so the industrial property segment is likely to remain weak.

Q What's your overall investing strategy?

A I invested in the food and restaurant business simply because I happen to be a very passionate cook and baker and I live to eat.

I also invested heavily in mutual funds and stocks in Asia, including China, and the United States. With investments, if you can't afford it, it's best not to spend what you don't have. Most millionaires got rich through real estate, but I realised this only 15 years ago.

Q My dream home is...

A A beachfront house with a land size of about 5,000 sq ft and a built-up area of about 3,800 sq ft across two storeys, with a huge sitting and dining area for parties at home with great friends - that's what I'd really love. Since I have yet to find this dream home, I mostly work and hold dinner parties at my restaurant Pasta Brava instead.

I'd love to have my dream home in Singapore - I see so many undeveloped areas with the potential to be transformed into great beachfront properties. I wonder why no developers are working on that - they can call me for some great ideas!

This article was first published on March 19, 2016.
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