Building a new image

IJM Land Bhd is now one of the largest property developers in the country with some 10,000 acres of land which, the developer says, has a potential gross development value (GDV) of RM20 billion to be realised over the next 20 years.

In the next six months, some RM600 million worth of properties are ready to be put on the market, the most significant of which would be The Light, IJM Land's flagship waterfront development in Penang.

Unless market conditions deteriorate further, the inaugural residential launch of the RM5 billion freehold project can be expected sometime next month or in December, IJM Land managing director Datuk Soam Heng Choon tells City & Country.

IJM Land, the property arm of IJM Corp Bhd, and listed on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia, is a merger of IJM Properties Sdn Bhd and RB Land Holdings Bhd.

For Soam, the former managing director of RB Land, the merger could not have come at a better time. With an enlarged pool of resources, expertise and locations, the merged entity is thus better prepared to face the current slowdown. "There's a lot of synergy in the group because we now have a geographically diversified landbank as well as a variety of products that allow us to offer specific products in specific locations based on market demand at different times," he explains.

RB Land and IJM Properties had stamped their respective brands on different states. While RB Land had a strong presence in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, IJM Properties had been building its name in Penang from 1988. With a diversified property portfolio, both in terms of type and location, the developer has flexibility in meeting market needs, something which may stand it in good stead during a slowdown.

"For example, if the market is not so good for mass housing and margins are squeezed, we can move to the high-end products and when times are better, we can move to the rest. We push different products at different times," says Soam of the company's strategy.

IJM Land has embarked on a rebranding exercise which began with the launch of a new corporate identity on Sept 11.

The developer wants to be known as a company that delivers quality products. It wants to discard its image as a mere contractor or a construction player building projects for others. "We want people to know that IJM is a serious property developer and a good one at that," says Soam. The developer currently has more than 60 ongoing projects.

For a start, to improve quality, site supervisors have to undergo a training programme drawn up with the help of an Australian skills training group. The programme began early this year. This is in response to complaints often heard from homebuyers about basic quality such as wavy walls and crooked doorways.

"Our construction sector expanded so fast that we do not have enough professionally trained skilled workers. Many of those who are trained end up overseas. We now depend on less skilled foreign labour. So at IJM, before we start construction, we train our site supervisors who will be able to tell the workers what's right and what's not," says Soam. The greater emphasis on quality is also to meet the increasingly high expectations of consumers today, he adds.

The Light's first launch

The Light, IJM Land's crown jewel, spans 152 acres on reclaimed land along the eastern coastline of Penang island, stretching from the Penang Bridge to the city centre. The eastern coastline, says the developer, is protected by the mainland which reduces the risk of it being affected by a tsunami.

The project site is 10 minutes away from George Town via the Jelutong Expressway, 20 minutes from the Penang International Airport via the coastal highway and 20 minutes from the mainland via the Penang Bridge. "Of course, from The Light, we will have a view of the Penang Bridge and the lights across the mainland at night," says Soam.

Phase one is a 42-acre residential precinct which include The Light Linear and The Light Point condominiums. The Light Linear, on a 7.66-acre site, offers 328 units housed in two 17-storey blocks with a GDV of RM203 million. These are sea-view condominium units with built-ups of 1,475 to 1,561 sq ft and a modern contemporary design. The indicative average price is RM410 psf.

The more exclusive The Light Point condominium offers 88 units with wide ocean vistas in a single 28-storey tower on a 2.87-acre site. Built-ups are from 1,830 to 2,300 sq ft. There are also two penthouses of 4,090 sq ft. The Light Point has a GDV of RM110 million with an indicative average price of RM550 psf.

Both The Light Linear and Light Point will be built according to green standards. This is in line with the developer's commitment to develop The Light entirely as Penang's first green development. "We will apply for LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certification for our projects here. Besides solar panels, wind turbines will also be used to create electricity for the common areas. A rainwater harvesting system will be in place while recycled materials will be used where appropriate," says Soam.

LEED is a green building rating system established by an international sustainable building movement. "It is especially important now for developers to build green buildings as the cost of energy is on the rise. There is also a rising demand for such projects as people become more aware about the effects of climate change. Not only will our buildings be energy-efficient and sustainable, we would also be creating a seven-acre seafront park under phase three of The Light," says Soam.

There will also be a breeding programme for corals and fish at The Light. The developer is working with a marine biologist to culture coral and reefs in the waterways that surround the residential properties. The objective is to create a self-sustaining eco-pond that not only breeds marine fish but also allows for coral and reef harvesting. These self-sustaining waterways will further enhance the ambience and value of the property, the developer says.

Piling works on The Light Point and The Light Linear have begun. In all, The Light residential precinct (phase one) will offer 1,186 homes, including condos, townhouses, villas and waterfront homes with private jetties. Phase two, covering 103 acres, will be the commercial precinct with a marina. It will comprise, among others, the Gateway Tower offices, signature offices and showrooms, a waterfront ampitheatre, hotels, an exhibition centre and several malls. The Light is expected to take 12 to 15 years to be built.

The Light sits on reclaimed land. In the 1990s, Jelutong Development Sdn Bhd, developer of The Light and a subsidiary of IJM Land, was granted the right to reclaim 325 acres by the state government as part of the privatisation agreement for the construction of the Jelutong Expressway. Of the 325 acres, IJM is developing the 30-acre MetroEast (see next story), the 82-acre Bandar Sri Pinang offering low and medium-cost properties and now The Light, with the remainder of less than 100 acres for future development.

IJM Land is not the only developer in Penang building on reclaimed land. The E&O Group is also building Seri Tanjung Pinang on reclaimed land. Asked about the competition, Soam says the two projects are different in many ways, including approach and design concept. He says The Light is poised to be a dynamic and modern integrated iconic waterfront development consisting of residential, retail, entertainment and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) facilities, whereas Seri Tanjung Pinang has a more colonial design, with emphasis on landed residential and commercial properties in a resort setting.

IJM Land is not a new name in Penang. It has been active on the island since 1988 and has a total landbank of about 530 acres there, including land that has been developed.

Soam remains bullish on Penang. "Penang is a vibrant and resilient market. There are a number of multinational companies here and many local self-made businessmen with lots of disposable income who seem to prefer to invest their money in properties even during an economic slowdown. Moreover, a number of Penangites who leave the state to work somewhere else often like to buy a home back in their hometown."

Among IJM Land's ongoing launches in Penang is the 228-unit Platino condominium in MetroEast, a freehold development opposite The Light. The Platino units, with built-ups from 1,800 sq ft, are sold at an average of RM400 psf. Take-up has reached 60%.

By Sharon Kam (The Edge Daily)

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