Richard Jany: Weathering the ups and downs

SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Before arriving in Singapore from Poland in 1978, Richard Jany had a rather exotic vision of the city state. “I envisioned I would be living in a bungalow in the middle of the jungle, and sleeping with a gun next to me in case I was attacked by tigers,” he relates. “But when I arrived, I thought, ‘This is like New York.’” He was 16 then.

Richard Jany and his daughter, Sharon (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Jany attended Singapore American School and had hoped that he could go to the US for his tertiary education. “Because of the political sensitivity as Poland was still under communist rule, my dad said I should study in Singapore,” he says. Jany became one of the first Caucasians to enrol at the Singapore Polytechnic, where he majored in mechanical engineering and sported a moustache.

Hopes of entering the Singapore Air Force were also stymied by “political sensitivity”. Hence, he joined the Singapore Fire Service and was based at the Central Fire Station on Hill Street. Again, he was one of the few Caucasians in the fire service – “probably not since the colonial days”, he reckons. “I slept on the third floor of the building and there was a fireman’s pole where we used to slide down.”

He believes his term at the fire service was “very good training”. He says: “After that, whenever you face difficulty, you think, ‘What is this compared to being in the fire service?’”

Jany, his wife and his mother returned to Poland in 1991 (Photo: Bloomberg)

Career switch

When Jany’s father passed away, his mother decided to return to Poland in 1991, and he went with her. He brought along his Singaporean wife. “The iron curtain had lifted [in 1989], and there were many business opportunities in Warsaw,” he says. He became involved in a company that manufactured telephones, and the business took off.

A year later, Jany’s wife was expecting their first child. After visiting the hospital in Warsaw, she decided not to have her baby there. Jany’s mother-in-law had a recurrence of cancer and his wife was anxious to return to Singapore. “I knew that when we came back to Singapore, we would be here for some time,” he says. “And I decided that it was time for a career switch.”

Having just turned 30, he contemplated his options by asking himself what he had always wanted to pursue but did not. “One was to be a pilot and the other was to be a realtor,” he says.

Jany interviewed with Singapore Airlines and was successful but he would have to go to Australia for training to be a pilot. Being away from his family was not ideal for the father-to-be. His daughter, Sharon, was born in Mount Elizabeth Hospital in 1992.

Expatriate woman at the Singapore Botanic Gardens (pictured). When Jany first started as a realtor, he focused on the expatriate rental market (Photo: Bloomberg)

Expat realtor

While visiting the hospital one day, Jany was enticed by a commercial by ERA Realty Network, advertising its structured approach to training in real estate. “I attended the seminar and signed up on the spot,” he says.

A Singapore permanent resident, Jany joined ERA in August 1992, and spent 10 years with the firm. He had obtained his agency licence in 1996 but only left in 2002 to start his own sole proprietary agency, called Certified Realtor Property Services. “I didn’t really like doing HDB sales that much,” he admits. “I didn’t like doing showflat duty in those big condominium projects either. And I’ve always preferred doing sales to building teams.”

When he first received his realtor’s licence, Jany focused on the expatriate rental business. The best way to learn about the real estate market is to do rentals, he says. “When we take the expatriates to view houses, a lot of them, especially when they are new to Singapore, get very excited by the garden and all the greenery,” he says. “But we have to gently invite them to go inside the house before they get eaten alive by mosquitos.”

During the Asian Financial Crisis, property prices plunged and Jany's own bullish sentiment cooled (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore) 

The Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 was also something that Jany will not forget. He remembers a client who purchased a three-bedroom unit at the 99-year leasehold condo, Cavendish Park at Pine Grove, which was completed in 1996. He bought the unit for $980,000 then, but in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis, the valuation plunged to $650,000.

The monthly rental rate, which started at $4,800, was down to $2,200 when the next tenant moved in. “I remember bringing my clients to banks and all kinds of financial brokers to refinance their properties,” he says.

The owner of the condo unit at Cavendish Park also owned another private property as well as an HDB flat in Bishan. Jany managed his client’s property portfolio on his behalf when the latter moved to Canada. Over the course of the next 10 years, Jany managed to sell all three properties.

Jany’s own bullish sentiment also cooled, after having seen the effects of the Asian Financial Crisis first-hand, especially the toll it took on relationships between husband and wife. He now tells himself: “Don’t overstretch; don’t take on too much debt.”

Bumpy ride

The Asian Financial Crisis was a double whammy for Jany. He had left his business in the hands of his partners in Poland when he returned to Singapore. He had even given them the power of attorney. “But what I didn’t expect, was that they would use my power of attorney to sell my shares away,” he recounts.

On the Christmas eve of 1997, he returned home from work to find a fax from his business partners in Poland that essentially said, “Thank you for your contribution, and you’re no longer part of the company”, he says.

Jany considers himself fortunate. “There was a moment when I was seriously contemplating suicide,” he confesses. “But I looked at my children who were so young then and it was tough.” He likens the scenario to an F1 driver after a crash: “You lose confidence; you become more fear-driven rather than desire-driven.”

However, having ridden the ups and downs in the real estate market for the past 28 years – from the heydays of 1995/1996, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/98 to the dotcom crash in 2000/2001, the economic slump and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or Sars outbreak in 2003, the boom years of 2006/2007 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 – Jany remains confident that “the long-term trend in Singapore is up”.

Agents and potential buyers at the sales gallery of a project on launch day (Photo: PropNex)

In 2010, he and another expatriate realtor, Pat Grennan, bought over another firm, Citystate Real Estate Pte Ltd. When Grennan obtained his own real estate agency licence in July 2014, the pair went their separate ways: Grennan went on to start Avant Garde Realty and Jany founded his eponymous Richard Jany Real Estate Pte Ltd. “I decided to use my own name for ease of reference and identification,” he explains.

Jany’s daughter, Sharon, a Singapore citizen, joined her father in the real estate business in mid-2016 after she graduated from the University of Edinburgh. However, he told her to join a bigger firm so she could benefit from the training it offered. She therefore became an agent of PropNex, Singapore’s biggest agency, in the middle of 2018.

When Sharon was young, she used to accompany her father to showflats and house viewings. “She was something of a good luck charm,” recalls Jany. “Sometimes, when a property was difficult to sell, I brought her along. The moment she walked in, and especially when she asked to use the toilet, the property was guaranteed to sell. I don’t know why.”

He remembers a property that was difficult to sell because it had a flight of 56 steps. It was an old property in the Shelford area, which has since been redeveloped. “I brought her, she was about five or six years old then,” relates Jany. “And she asked if she could use the toilet. The property was sold the next day.”

The bungalow at Sunset Square that Jany is marketing has a price tag of $8.8 million (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Bungalow at Sunset Square

At present, Jany is marketing a bungalow on Sunset Square, which sits on a regular, freehold plot of 6,371 sq ft. Sunset Square is located within the private housing estate off Sunset Way, that was developed by City Developments Ltd in the late 1960s. “The area is very quiet and the roads are wide,” says Jany. “The bungalow plots here are not overwhelmingly big, but are at sizes that are ideal for single family homes.”

Many prominent families live in the Sunset Way enclave, says Jany. He has handled a number of transactions there over the years. For the property at Sunset Square, Jany had even engaged Sator, a network of international designers and architects, to come up with various design options for the redevelopment of the original single-storey bungalow.

Artist's impression of  a new double-storey bungalow with a built-up area of 8,000 sq ft could potentially look like (Photo: Richard Jany) 

The future property at Sunset Square could be a 2½-storey detached house with a built-up area of about 8,000 sq ft. Based on the design proposed by Sator, there are  four en suite bedrooms on the second level. The fifth bedroom, to be located in the basement, can be converted into a study, home office or even a granny’s room. In addition to the living and dining room as well as kitchen, the architect has incorporated a “relaxation zone” on the first level of the house. It is an extended terrace or patio overlooking a swimming pool.

The indicative price for the property at Sunset Square is $8.8 million. For the construction of the new house, Jany reckons it could range from $350 to $800 psf, depending on materials used. Based on a built-up area of 8,000 sq ft area, that works out to $2.8 million to $6.4 million.

For price trends, recent transactions, other project info, check out these projects' research page: Sunset SquareOrchard Bel Air

Artist's impression of a new house with an outdoor terrace and swimming pool  (Photo: Richard Jany)

Orchard Bel Air

Meanwhile, Jany is also marketing an apartment at Orchard Bel Air. The 99-year, leasehold condo is one of just a handful with the prestigious Orchard Boulevard address. The existing development has 71 units in a 25-storey block. Last year, the development, which has 60 years left on its 99-year lease, attempted a collective sale which failed to take off.

Apart from a penthouse which has five bedrooms, all the typical units at Orchard Bel Air are four-bedroom apartments, with sizes ranging from 3,229 to 3,251 sq ft.

Jany is currently marketing a 3,251 sq ft, four-bedroom unit on the 13th floor. The owner is asking for $5.2 million ($1,600 psf) for the unit, which was purchased for $5.3 million ($1,630 psf) in 2011. The owner is a foreigner who had originally purchased the unit for his own use, but eventually did not move to Singapore. He has been renting it out since. “He now wishes to tidy his property portfolio, and wants to sell the apartment,” says Jany.

Besides the upcoming MRT station next door, there is en bloc potential in the future, reckons Jany. The site can be redeveloped into a new high-rise residential tower with commercial use on the first level, under the URA Master Plan.

Jany is currently marketing a four-bedroom unit at Orchard Bel Air at $5.2 million. The owner had purchased it for $5.3 million in 2011 (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)


‘Air-conditioned paradise’

There has been a spate of buying by international property buyers, and Jany is not surprised. The attraction of Singapore, he says, is its government policies. “This is one of the few nations in the world where the government plays an active role in setting reasonable guidelines to avoid wild swings in the property market that could hurt home buyers.”

Singapore is attracting many of the world’s richest as there are not many alternatives around the world, observes Jany. “Where else in the world can you park your Ferrari in any neighbourhood and still feel safe? Where else can you put your mobile phone on the table, go order a cup of coffee, come back, and your phone is still there?”

Jany adds: “If you can air-condition the whole of Singapore and reduce humidity by about 40%, this would be paradise.”

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