Realtor-author Ceekay Soh offers a smorgasbord of real estate advice in debut book

Soh: I believe it is possible to climb the property ladder in Singapore (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Having been a realtor for eight years, Ceekay Soh has often heard these long-held beliefs: freehold property is a safer bet than 99-year leasehold; properties near MRT stations make the most profitable investments; and the merits of maximising the use of the Central Provident Fund Ordinary account rather than taking on some debt when buying property.

From his research, Soh says these long-held beliefs are not necessarily true. And he addresses these “misconceptions” in his debut 208-page book, Singapore’s Real Estate Secrets: How to create wealth and financial freedom with proven investing strategies.

“One of the reasons I decided to write this book is that I noticed a knowledge gap in the market and a lot of these common misconceptions among consumers,” says Soh. He feels that consumers should also use online information and tools to research rather than relying wholly on their property agents for advice.

Soh was a full-time Navy serviceman for six years before joining the real estate industry in 2015. The 34-year-old started as a rookie realtor with ERA Realty Network, then moved to PropNex Realty in 2018 before joining Huttons Asia last year. He is now an associate group director at Huttons, specialising in new project launches, and leads a team of 20 young agents.

Solo effort

He thought of the idea for his book early last year, and it took a year for him to write it. “I tried to find time to write daily,” says Soh. “Some days, I had writer’s block, but I could write fluently on other days. I wanted to ensure I articulated my ideas and delivered my message.”

It was a solo effort for the first-time author from start to finish. “I had people read through my book and give me feedback, of course,” he says. “I think that is very important, but so far, so good. That’s why I’m happy to be able to publish the book.”

According to Soh, he had wanted to be a writer from a young age. “It’s just that I never had a concrete idea of what to write until early last year when I conceptualised the idea for this book,” he says.

Soh’s life experiences also spurred him to write the book. As a child, he used to help his grandmother, a tofu seller, at her stall in the mornings. It was in one of the shophouses at Bugis, which has since made way for Bugis Junction shopping mall and the MRT interchange station. In the afternoons, his grandmother drove a taxi, and Soh rode with her. “She was the one who looked after me because everyone else was working,” he adds.

Soh’s grandmother was a cab driver until the age of 74. “I saw how free-spirited and financially independent my grandmother was,” he says. “And I learnt the value of that.”

His father was a travel agent who eventually founded his travel agency, focusing on the corporate travel business. “My dad inspired me to carve a path of my own,” he says.

Through the years, he saw how his father upgraded from an HDB flat in Woodlands to an executive condo, followed by a strata-titled landed property. A few years ago, his father decided to downsize; he bought a jumbo flat for which he paid entirely in cash. “He is in semi-retirement mode, enjoying the fruits of his labour — from his business and property investments,” says Soh.

“We are not ultra-rich,” he adds. “But I believe it is possible to climb the property ladder in Singapore. If my father could do it, many others could too. That intrigued me in the wealth creation process through property investment.”

He hopes to address that in his next book: the wealth mindset. “It’s an evergreen topic,” he says. “But I have seen how people in Singapore have built their wealth through property.”

‘Numbers don’t lie’

Soh believes in research and data analytics. “Numbers don’t lie,” he says. He has used Square Foot Research and EdgeProp tools since entering the real estate industry.

“I do many comparisons, looking at different estates and comparing their price trends to find a pattern,” he says. “I look at the recent deals, the top gains and losses, and the profile of buyers who have invested in the area. All this information is crucial to me when I meet my clients, especially the savvy investors who like to drill down into the details behind the facts and figures.”

He believes one can systematically study the Singapore residential real estate market and understand why some properties are more profitable investments than others in the same category.

One of the frequent questions that Soh encounters is whether the prices of new project launches are now too high, especially with 99-year leasehold suburban projects crossing $2,000 psf. Four years ago, prices of such projects hovered at $1,450 psf.

“Instead of worrying if the entry price is safe to jump in, one should just look at the land bid prices by developers today,” he adds. “And you can estimate what the selling price of the new project launch is likely to be a year from now.”

Soh’s first property purchase was a unit at a new project launch in District 19. He purchased the property four years ago and sold it in a sub-sale last year. He reaped a 20% price gain and has reinvested the profit in a resale property that now earns him a rental return.

Hence, Soh won’t follow in his father’s footsteps, nor those of most Singaporeans, where first-time buyers’ first rung on the property ladder is usually an HDB public housing flat.

Instead, Soh has skipped the first rung and gone straight to private property. “My advice to young people is that if affordability is an issue, go for a BTO (Build-To-Order) flat,” he says. “But jump into the private residential market as soon as possible. Of course, there are pitfalls. So, it’s important to identify the right property for you. Once you are in and start making money, there’s no looking back.”

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