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Haidilao's founder piles into Singapore's top homes

Bloomberg10/5/2022 07:42 AM GMT+08  • 4 min read
Haidilao's founder piles into Singapore's top homes
China tycoons are eyeing Singapore's top homes.
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As prices for some of Singapore’s most prestigious homes soar to records, the latest purchase by a China-born restaurant tycoon underscores just how strong demand remains among the world’s super-rich buyers.

Sean Shi, one of four co-founders of China’s largest hotpot chain, Haidilao International Holding, paid $50 million for a so-called good class bungalow in a prime area near the Botanic Gardens in September, local media The Straits Times reported. It’s at least the third such luxury residence bought by one of the co-founders — at least three of whom are now Singapore citizens — or their family members.

It shows how older money is still interested in the trophy houses — there are only about 2,500 on the island — after younger buyers emerged in the technology and cryptocurrency boom.

“In land-scarce Singapore, one of the most valuable assets is land,” said Jacqueline Wong, executive director of residential services at brokerage firm Savills Singapore. Regulations restricting foreigners and permanent residents from owning the bungalows also create a “natural demand”, she said.

A spokesperson for Haidilao did not comment on the bungalows or their prices, saying they were personal matters.

Good class bungalows are mansions or villas that can date back to the colonial era. They have plot sizes of at least 15,000 sq ft and sit in leafy grounds in the plushest districts. The house must take up no more than 35% of the land area. Although they’re called bungalows, they can have as many as two above-ground floors.

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Buyers generally have to be Singaporeans, although foreigners can apply to become citizens themselves or buy through Singaporean spouses. Vacuum cleaner billionaire James Dyson and Alibaba Group Holding co-founder James Sheng are among the owners.

Other China-born billionaires have also moved to Singapore and become citizens. Li Xiting, founder of medical-equipment maker Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics, is the city-state’s wealthiest person with a fortune of $15.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Forrest Li, chairman and chief executive officer of gaming and e-commerce giant Sea, briefly topped the rich list last year.

Three good class bungalows along Singapore’s most expensive and prestigious street, Nassim Road, are on sale for record asking prices, local media The Business Times reported in September. Home prices in the city-state continued to increase in the third quarter, and rents have been surging.

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Wealthy foreigners restricted from buying good class bungalows are willing to rent them at a premium, according to Nicholas Keong, head of the private office at real estate advisory firm Knight Frank Singapore. Two homes near the Botanic Gardens have monthly rents of $150,000 and $128,000, Knight Frank said, citing data from the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Shi and his wife Hailey Lee are Haidilao’s co-founders, along with Zhang Yong and his wife Shu Ping. Zhang, a former welder at a state-owned tractor factory, opened the first restaurant in 1994 with just four tables in China’s southwestern Sichuan province. Today, Haidilao runs more than 1,300 outlets in China and 125 others in countries including Singapore, South Korea and the US.

Zhang, the company’s chairman, purchased a good class bungalow for $27 million in 2016. His son, Hanzhi, acquired a neighboring one for $42 million in 2020, according to local media reports.

The Beijing-based restaurant chain serves a boiling soup broth with meat, seafood, vegetables and noodles. It’s known for offering free manicures or shoe-polishing services for people queuing for tables.

China’s Covid lockdowns took a toll on Haidilao, which posted a loss in the first half of the year and lowered its restaurant count by 162. Zhang stepped down as CEO in March. The four founders’ combined wealth has shrunk by US$4 billion ($5.7 billion) to US$9.3 billion since January, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index.

Tech and crypto entrepreneurs had been buying good class bungalows in recent years. Su Zhu, the CEO and co-founder of Three Arrows Capital, the cryptocurrency hedge fund that collapsed in June, purchased at least two of them, but he’s since been trying to sell. Zhu previously tweeted that he was thinking of acquiring them all and turning them into parks and farmland.

Good class bungalows “are usually bought and kept within the family”, Savills Singapore’s Wong said. “They will provide a good hedge against inflation.”

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