Cover Story: A stylish debut with unique layouts

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 15, 2018 - January 21, 2018.

Lim and Oh hope to make a stylish debut with AmanAra Residensi at Kayu Ara, a residential development that will comprise 12 blocks of two-townhouse villas

Sitting on a 32,000 sq ft parcel, AmanAra has a GDV of RM32 million

AmanAra’s units will feature high glass windows and open-concept kitchens

The average price of townhouses in Kayu Ara is between RM400 and RM550 psf. Meanwhile, the yields range from 2.5% to 4%.” — Toh

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A laidback late Tuesday afternoon is injected with a burst of energy when Jonathan Lim and Valerie Oh, project director and director of boutique developer SweetHarvest Development Sdn Bhd (SHD), waltz into The Edge’s boardroom.

Between sharing their experiences of developing their maiden project, AmanAra Residensi at Kayu Ara, and exchanging banter, it is clear that they have good chemistry and a passion for property development.

Dressed in a crimson shift dress, Oh describes her business partner Lim as the dreamer. “Jonathan will try to include new design features to AmanAra and is often inspired by his travels. And I would have to be the one talking numbers and be the bearer of bad news,” jokes Oh, who has a background in accounting and finance.

“I’ll be on cloud nine about certain features [that could be included] in our project and Val will just snap me back to reality. In that regard, we do have a good balance,” retorts the affable Lim, who is a corporate lawyer by profession and runs his own law firm.

The dynamic duo have known each other for over 20 years, says Oh. “We became good friends during our college days in the UK.” 

After graduation, their respective careers fell into place. An opportunity for a partnership presented itself in the form of a parcel on which AmanAra will be built.

Located at Taman Kayu Ara Indah near Bandar Utama, the residential development will comprise 12 blocks of two-townhouse villas. Every two blocks will share one lift, a roof garden and access to a suspended garden. 

Sitting on a 32,000 sq ft parcel, the project has a gross development value of RM32 million. “We worked closely with both our in-house and hired architects to come up with a design that fits this small piece of land,” says Lim. “Groundwork started last August.”

Estimated to be completed by end-2019, AmanAra had its soft launch last October. “Ten units have been taken up,” reveals Lim. “The units were purchased mostly by couples and young families in their thirties who live and work in the area.

“So far, we have received positive feedback from our purchasers, especially in terms of AmanAra’s design, spaciousness and location.”

SHD’s marketing approach is rather hands-on and unconventional. “We held a couple of private soft launches and invited friends [and friends of friends]. We even manage the social media and marketing of the development ourselves,” says Lim.

Oh describes the journey of developing AmanAra as “surreal”. “We first acquired the land in 2011. We received the APDL (advertising permit and developer licence) approval in July last year but it is only now that we are able to fully introduce the project to the market. It has been quite a ride and we are now excited to share it with everyone.”

The uniqueness of AmanAra

SHD hopes to make a stylish debut with the development. The townhouses will have sleek, boxy façades with flat roofs, and have untypical designs for such projects, especially in terms of the layout.

“Part of the reason why the project was delayed for quite some time was due to its layout. The authorities took a while to grasp our concept (a duplex townhouse on top of another townhouse) with two blocks sharing a lift, and a basement car park. They claimed that these were low-rise apartments instead, and there was a lot of back and forth,” says Lim.

“We stood our ground because our development is made up of townhouses, not low-rise apartments. Although it took us a while, we managed to negotiate with the authorities. In the end, they created a new classification for our type of development called ‘Rumah Bandar Jenis B’, a first of its kind in the market,” he reveals.

The boutique developer maintains that AmanAra is an “affordable luxury” project. “It has features of a luxury development, with plenty of natural light and ventilation,” says Lim.

According to him, the units will be quite spacious, considering their price points and strategic location. “All in all, we will have 24 units. Two are single-floor, two-bedroom units (1,000 sq ft), while 22 are three-bedroom units (2,000 sq ft).”

The price range is between RM750,000 and RM1.5 million, or RM750 psf. “As it is our maiden project, we have priced AmanAra differently from similar products in the market,” says Lim. “Our target market are owner-occupiers made up of couples, families and professionals who are in their twenties to forties.”

Oh says, “We would like to ensure the longevity of AmanAra. One of its unique features is that all the units will be columnless to provide residents with the flexibility to knock down walls and design their own space for the long term.”

In terms of design, the units will face inwards and have access to roof gardens, a suspended garden and courtyards. “This is to bring in natural lighting and allow residents to enjoy the gardens from their living room,” says Oh. “We plan to use a lot of glass blocks to bring in more natural light.

“We will also have louvres around the units. So, while our residents can look outside, outsiders will not be able to look inside. It is a balance between promoting communal living and having privacy,” she adds.

AmanAra will have features specifically curated for its target market. The units will have high glass windows and open-concept kitchens with their own peninsulas (although not fitted). There will also be powder rooms and maid rooms with en suite bathrooms. The upper floors will have laminated floors while the ground floors and main living rooms will be tiled. Each unit will come with two basement parking bays.

“In terms of security, there will only be one entrance and exit. And you will only be able to access the lifts through the basement car park. The parking spaces will be next to the lifts. Visitor parking will be on the ground floor, which means that visitors will require the residents’ permission to use the lifts in the basement. This creates another level of security buffer,” says Oh.

Facilities include a suspended garden with a children’s playground, a gym, a multipurpose room and 12 courtyards at the basement. AmanAra will also have a special lift to the basement car park for the disabled.

Navigating the challenges

Oh says the boutique developer has overcome a series of obstacles since acquiring the parcel for AmanAra in 2011.

“Since 2011, we have faced a number of challenges. But Jonathan and I have learnt ways to navigate through, and I think the wait has been a blessing in disguise. With the time given, we have been able to evolve AmanAra into something our prospective buyers would want.”

Lim says, “It took us about a year to acquire the land. After that, it took us a while to have our design signed off by the authorities. There was also a development freeze for six to seven months in 2015. That held up our APDL approvals until July last year.”

“Through it all, we received a lot of support from each other, and also from our fellow consultants. It was a learning experience. I have learnt how it really works — developing projects such as this,” says Oh.

“Throughout those years, we have had plenty of design alterations, from having rooftop pools to no pools, from link-house designs to townhouse designs, from having a multi-level car park to a basement car park,” quips Lim.

Despite the circumstances, the duo remained resolute in developing AmanAra. “The development provides plenty of opportunities for both owner-occupiers and investors,” says Lim. “It is located in a strategic area in Petaling Jaya, near Bandar Utama, Tropicana and SS2. It is near institutions such as KBU International College and The British International School of Kuala Lumpur,” says Lim.

“AmanAra is located just opposite Glomac Centro, a serviced apartment by Glomac Bhd. The new light rail transit line 3 (Damansara UPtown station) is just two roads away from our development,” he adds.

Opportunities for smaller developers at Kayu Ara

SHD recognises the potential of Taman Kayu Ara Indah, formerly known as Kampung Sungai Kayu Ara, and hopes to bank on the thriving neighbourhood with its development.

Laurelcap Sdn Bhd director Stanley Toh opines that townhouse projects will see good demand in the area. “Generally, Malaysians are accustomed to this type of properties, and several similar projects, such as 16 Sierra in Puchong South and Sri Hartamas, have townhouses that are quite sought after,” he says. “The best-selling property types in this area are terraced houses and condominiums.”

According to Toh, the average price of townhouses in Kayu Ara is between RM400 and RM550 psf. Meanwhile, the yields range from 2.5% to 4%.

“Owner-occupiers, upgraders who live within the immediate area [who have more money now and want to have a bigger family], young couples and those who work near Kayu Ara would be attracted to this development,” he says.

Developments in Kayu Ara do see some challenges. “There are too many individual smallholdings in the area. In order to create an environment on a par with the likes of Tropicana, Bandar Utama, Damansara Jaya and Damansara Utama, you need a huge piece of land to conceive wholesome, attractive developments. It would be difficult to do that on a one to two-acre parcel. In addition, the price has to be attractive enough to attract buyers to stay in the area,” says Toh.

Nonetheless, Kayu Ara has a good road network and public amenities nearby, he opines. “There will be a continuation of small boutique developments as the area is too small for big developers. However, it provides more opportunities for smaller developers to enter the market in a mature area such as Petaling Jaya.”

Redefining urban living

SHD was first established in 2011. The company stemmed from Oh and Lim’s long-term friendship and partnership.

“Oh and I became close friends during our college and university days in the UK. She was studying in Bristol while I was in Sheffield, and we had a lot of mutual friends. We also have similar upbringing,” says Lim.

“Upon receiving my law degree, I returned to Kuala Lumpur and joined my late father’s company. He was a developer in the early days. In fact, I started following him to construction sites when I was nine years old,” he reminisces.

“We developed a few projects [under different companies]. They include Taman Aik Ann at Semenyih in 1977 (with a unique cantilever, roof porch), Belair at Damansara Heights in 1982 (one of the first few apartments in Malaysia, and the first duplex), and Contessa in Bangsar in 1996 (shaped like a butterfly to ensure every unit has views of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya).

“One of the key things that I have learnt from my father — and would like to carry on with this company (SHD) — is that it is important to have unique features for each development,” says Lim.

“Meanwhile, my family runs an investment holding company called Idealforce Sdn Bhd,” says Oh, who previously worked at KPMG.

“My father has encouraged me to invest since young. He would advise me to look at stock markets, to take risks and invest. In 2006, I joined the family business and we have invested in diverse industries.”

According to her, property development seemed like the next natural progression for their investments. “Upon discovering this land in Kayu Ara, Jonathan and his father came to see us and asked if we would like to partner up for this project and we said yes. And that is how we got into this partnership.”

“Our main focus for AmanAra [and our future projects] is to create unique features for the projects, to blend old and new features and concepts such as courtyards and so on. Our motto is to ‘redefine urban living’. For example, our AmanAra project is niche and has been carefully designed [with urban features] to suit our buyers,” says Lim.

Future plans

According to Oh, the boutique developer does not have land bank and will develop as and when there is an acquisition. “We are selective. If the opportunity arises, we may consider acquiring land. But for the time being, we would like to focus on AmanAra.”

“In the long term, we would like to create more niche, low-density, practical developments for buyers and investors. We do look at areas such as Puchong and Taman Desa as potential places for our future developments,” says Lim.

“As for the type of development, we would have to see the land to determine what would be suitable for the land and the surrounding community. I admire details of developments such as The Commons in Bangkok. It offers open spaces and sustainability, and defines urban living. It is something we would like to introduce in the local property market.

“In terms of the property market, we believe there is still demand for houses and there is no oversupply, but rather an oversupply [of certain types of products]. As a boutique developer, we have the capacity to build something different for the market. We will most likely continue to develop in mature housing areas and offer unique developments.

“Lastly, for AmanAra, I would like the development to last … to see families live there for generations to come,” concludes Lim.