SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - For Singaporean Michael Wan, real estate and yacht brokerage businesses complement each other. “Most of my clients relate to both yacht and real estate,” says the 37-year-old senior associate director of Savills Residential (now part of Huttons Asia). He is also the Singapore representative for Neo Yachting. “That’s why my clients love Sentosa Cove. I’ve actually brokered yacht sales for clients who are property owners there.”
Wan’s interest in yachts began when he joined CBRE in 2009 to focus on marketing luxury homes. “I wanted to focus on waterfront homes, and CBRE was doing a lot of such properties,” he relates. At that time, CBRE was the joint marketing agency for the 1,129-unit Reflections at Keppel Bay designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind and developed by Keppel Land.
CBRE was also the joint marketing agency for Marina Bay Suites, the luxury residential tower at Marina Bay Financial Centre, an integrated development at Marina Bay by a consortium made up of CK Asset Holdings, Hongkong Land and Keppel Land. The 221-unit condominium tower was launched in late 2009.
Over a decade ago, international property consultancies like CBRE, JLL and Savills were marketing Singapore luxury property at weekend exhibitions in cities such as Hong Kong, Jakarta and Shanghai. “I was lucky enough to sell one or two units at Marina Bay Suites to Chinese buyers,” Wan relates.
He also sold a four-bedroom, high-floor unit at Reflections at Keppel Bay to a Chinese couple in Shanghai for $6 million.
Initially, Wan was one of the agents stationed at the sales gallery of Reflections at Keppel Bay. “I used to walk to Marina at Keppel Bay,” he recalls. And that was when he became interested in yachts. Wan started attending the major yacht exhibitions in Asia — the Singapore Yacht Show, Thailand Yacht Show, the Phuket International Boat Show and the Hainan Rendez-vous, China’s largest yacht show.
It was at the Hainan Rendez-vous (since renamed China Rendez-vous) that Wan met the founder of Beijing-based yachting company Martello Yachting. Martello Yachting used to bring yachts and superyachts (at least 100 ft or 30m in length) from Europe to Hong Kong and China as part of the Asian tour. The owner suggested that Wan should become the Singapore representative for Martello Yachting.
Wan took up the offer, and opened Martello Yachting in Singapore in 2012. “I got into the circle in the 2012-2014 period,” he relates. The yachts and superyachts managed by Martello began to make their way from Europe to Singapore, before heading to Hong Kong and Hainan as part of the Asian tour. “Dutch yachts are considered ‘the crème de la crème’ as they are among the biggest of the superyachts,” says Wan.
When Martello Yachting merged its operations with Neo Yachting, Wan became the latter’s Singapore representative in 2015. He operates the Singapore business of Neo Yachting together with his mother and brother. Headquartered in Nice, Neo Yachting was founded in 2009, and has representative offices in Hamburg, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Oslo, Praha, Split, Stavanger and Warsaw.
At the Singapore Yacht Show, Wan began hosting private cocktail events for VIP clients of private banks such as Julius Baer and UBS on board these yachts at ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove. Doing events was not going to pay the bills, acknowledges Wan, but it provided him with the opportunity to make friends with an international crowd. It was also then that he met his wife, a Russian expatriate working as a lifestyle writer at Elle magazine in Kuala Lumpur. “I got to know quite a sizeable community of Russian clients through real estate and via the yacht chartering and brokerage business,” he says.
It also provided him the opportunity to meet one of China’s biggest property developers, Country Garden. The Hong Kong-listed Chinese developer engaged Neo Yachting to manage two yachts that the company owns. The two yachts were used to bring their Chinese buyers on a cruise around Danga Bay when they launched their maiden project, Country Garden Danga Bay, which has about 8,500 apartments at Iskandar Malaysia.
A Chinese family based in Singapore also engaged Neo Yachting to manage their 67-ft Ferretti yacht. In addition to hiring a captain and crew members, yacht owners have to pay for berthing fees, insurance, licensing fees, maintenance costs and more, says Wan. Every two years, the yachts needed to be lifted to do anti-fouling to prevent barnacles from sticking to the boat. “There are a lot of costs associated with owning a boat,” he adds.
In addition to yacht management, Neo Yachting operates a yacht chartering business. It is a way to help owners defray some of the costs of operating a yacht, says Wan. He handles the most expensive yacht charter at US$480,000 ($634,000) per week. It is a 32-passenger cruiser that the owner had retrofitted into a superyacht with 16 cabins.
The biggest customers are the Chinese. “These are people who are willing to pay for the most expensive yacht charter and the most expensive real estate,” he says.
Over the years, Wan sold several yachts too, including a yacht of more than 80 ft and priced at EUR2 million ($3.2 million). The oil & gas crisis from 2014 to 2016 saw many yachts offered for sale at discounted prices then. “We were even given access to all the yachts seized by banks in the Italian shipyards,” he says.
Prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic last year, Wan would attend the Thailand Yacht Show & Rendezvous, the China Rendez-vous, the Singapore Yacht Show, Cannes Yachting Festival and the Monaco Yacht Show every year.
“For the past five years, my calendar was filled by these exhibitions,” says Wan. “After the Singapore Yacht Show, I would do a bit of real estate and yacht management business. After that, I would go to Europe for the yacht shows there.”
It is from his yachting business that he sees the tide of new rich coming to Singapore. “They are in the tech sector, real estate, and a sizeable group are from the southern part of China,” observes Wan. He left CBRE to join Savills Residential five years ago. Today, Savills Residential is part of Huttons Asia.
When it comes to homes in Sentosa Cove, the biggest group of foreign buyers are the Chinese, followed by the Indonesians and Malaysians, he adds. “There are definitely people who want to buy a home at Sentosa Cove because of the waterfront and yachting lifestyle, especially in the later part of their lives, when they can take their boat out anytime they want.”
In fact, some of the bungalow owners at Sentosa Cove are exploring selling their home with their yacht. A home could have 10,000 sq ft of built-up space, with a yacht parked at the private berth, “adding another 2,000 sq ft of movable real estate”, says Wan. “I’m sure there will be people who want to buy a home that comes together with a yacht.”