Setia Awan capitalising on Sitiawan’s property boom
EXPANSION: Setia Awan forges ahead with projects worth RM2 billion GDV within the next three years
DOH DYNASTY: The Doh brothers — Datuk JC, Marcus and Jimmy — are taking over where their father left off two decades ago and have lined up expansion plans to capitalise on Sitiawan’s upward growth momentum and move Setia Awan Holdings Sdn Bhd onto the radar of property investors.
It is probably no coincidence that when Datuk Doh Neng Chiong, founder of Yik Wang Development decided to rebrand the company, he picked a name that sounds similar to the town where it was born to reflect its roots. The pioneering and enterprising spirit of the early Foochow settlers in Sitiawan is still strong and evident.
The residents of Sitiawan are indeed very “Setia Kawan”, meaning that the community is very close-knit and loyal, says Jimmy Doh who is Executive Director of Setia Awan. “Sitiawan has come a long way since its beginnings as a settler town in the early 1900s and is now one of the fastest growing townships in Perak. Although we are expanding our business beyond Sitiawan, we are very proud of our Sitiawan heritage.”
Sitiawan has been transformed over the decades from a primarily agricultural base such as rubber, palm oil and poultry to a wider range of business activities. The main catalysts for economic growth have been prawn farming, birds nest production, tourism, transportation as well as shipping and maritime spurred by government projects such as the setting up of the Lumut Royal Malaysian Navy base and Lumut Port.
Perak’s hotspot: With some of the most expensive land prices in Perak, we can add property development to the list of growth industries in Sitiawan.
“In Manjung, the district where Sitiawan is located, land prices have skyrocketed. Valuation of land is currently very high. One of the reasons for this is that huge tracts are still plantation land, mainly palm oil plantation owned by Sime
Darby. Consequently, supply of land is scarce and holding costs for developers are also high. Shop lots that were going for RM100,000 a few years ago have increased in value to RM400,000 and houses that used to sell for RM50,000 are now worth between RM130,000 -150,000 due to the boom in the birds nest industry,” explains Jimmy.
He adds that some land have even appreciated 20 to 30 times due to improvement in infrastructure and facilities such as roads, electricity and water. It also helps that the Member of Parliament for Lumut — the coastal town 12km away from Sitiawan town and is the gateway to Pangkor island —is Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha, the current Malaysian Minister of Transport.
“Land that used to be RM600,000 per acre is now RM1.2 million per acre. Prices keep going up because nobody wants to sell. Each household in Sitiawan easily owns 3–4 acres of land. Most are very wealthy, thanks to the rise in commodity prices. They got rich planting cash crops like rubber and oil palm and these settlers accumulated much wealth that was invested back into amassing more land areas, plantations and properties. Locals normally won’t sell their property for anything less than RM1 million because they don’t need to. A lot of Sitiawan residents, especially the older generation still have the old mentality of hoarding cash and keeping their money in assets instead of banks. It is not unusual for customers to pay cash for buying properties, even if it’s a big sum. Paying RM1 million cash for a piece of property is not a big deal to some locals,” adds Jimmy, providing a local‘s insight into Sitiawan’s property market.
Demand for residential properties in Sitiawan rose sharply in the 1980s. As there were only a few developers at the time, all new properties were snapped up in no time. From just clusters of wooden Chinese villages and shop houses, Sitiawan’s residential and commercial properties sector now offer residents and investors an array of property types to choose from. Setia Awan is one of the developers who helped propel this change, not just in Sitiawan but the whole of Manjung.
Dynamic trio: Since Datuk Doh’s retirement in 2005, Setia Awan has been under the steady stewardship of the founder’s three sons — the eldest Datuk JC handles Pangkor Coral Bay Resort, plantation and the management company for strata title properties; Marcus Doh manages the commercial properties (including its mega project Seri Iskandar Business Centre which will be central Perak’s tallest commercial complex with a shopping mall, hotel, shops and the Nilai 3 northern wholesale centre) and the youngest Jimmy Doh overlooks the residential development (including Setia Residence which is Manjung’s first guarded freehold residential development with a private clubhouse).
Currently, Setia Awan has the largest number of on-going projects in the Manjung district of Perak which consists of more than 20 towns, including Sitiawan, Seri Manjung, Lumut and Pangkor Island.
Sharing more about these plans, Jimmy says, “We have key projects with a total Gross Development Value (GDV) of RM 2.0 billion to be launched within the next three years. Apart from our 80-acre Seri Iskandar project, other plans in the pipeline include expanding property development in Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Senawang and Sungai Petani within this one-year period as well the development of a new township which will be announced at a later date.”
Setia Awan will also be the first developer in Sitiawan town to have its own corporate office. Construction work is expected to commence in September 2012. The six-storey corporate building will house the company’s operations office as well as a boutique hotel. Jimmy also says that they are also mulling the option of public listing for Setia Awan in the future and are considering various options including buying over existing listed companies.