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J#5: God’s Money (nothing to do with religion) and The 30-minute Investing Decision Process

Before some of you run away, no, I am not religious but I do believe there is a God.  For many others, they may call it “luck” or call it being “pre-scripted”.  Whatever terminology you use, I call it “God’s money”.  Let me explain what transpired and the many lessons learnt in shaping the investment decision process.

One of my best investments was the purchase of a shop-house in Singapore in 2004.  The decision took 30 minutes, and it delivered a “triple bagger” district 9, award-winning free-hold property.  In Singapore, district 9, 10 and 11 are home to the coveted properties as they are considered to be in the prime location right in the heart of the city.  

A “triple bagger” is an investment term borrowed and modified from that legendary investor, Peter Lynch. In his book “One Up On Wall Street”, Lynch coined the term a “Ten Bagger” to define an investment that returned 10 times its initial investment.  In my shop-house investment I got three times my money back, hence a “triple bagger”.

It was a Wednesday night when my then wife and I attended a friend’s dinner party.  We were discussing with the hosts, Robert and Martha, wouldn’t it be wonderful to own an old freehold and landed shop-house, renovate it and live in it. 

Landed property and freehold property in Singapore is considered to be a premium possession.  The majority of people in Singapore live in condominiums with a 99 or a 999 leasehold ownership basis (as distinct from a freehold property which has no lease renewal), or in government-built housing flats and condominiums called HDB and Executive Condominiums.  

Landed freehold shop-houses are even rarer.  A shop-house is a historical timepiece from when small enterprise business owners used to have their shops/businesses on the ground floor, and would live on the second floor of the same building with their families.

When my then wife and I returned from the evening out, I cleared the letter box and noticed a flyer.  A small shop-house in district 09 was put up as a foreclosure auction the next day.  Next morning, I called up the real-estate agent and had a viewing. 

The property was small, with a landed footprint of just 400 sq feet.  It was derelict.  The roof was falling in.  Its prior owners were a car service garage business, followed by a place of business for a Chinese clan association.  It was sandwiched between a curtain/fabric shop (owned by a super nice Bengali gentleman called Mr Din) and, on the opposite end, by a general warehouse selling Indian spices.

Nobody was interested in it.  It was too hard to renovate given its size.  It was sandwiched between “commercial” premises and, therefore, was viewed as not being located in a friendly residential location.  It was also designated a heritage building and therefore any renovations had to strictly adhere to the government’s building code which made any renovations even more challenging.

That afternoon, along with other properties auctioned in foreclosure, I bought the property at auction for what I believed to be a “song”.  I was the only bidder and purchased it at the reserve price.  

I did the analysis in 30 minutes.  It was in a district 09 location (smack dab in the heart of the city).  It was 200 meters walk to an MRT (Singapore’s subway) station.  It was derelict and offered me an opportunity to completely rebuild it to my specifications (but within the heritage requirements of the building code).  It was landed and freehold. Even rarer, it was a shop-house.  Price computation was easy, it was cheaper per sq foot than a condominium and I was the only bidder.

The property went on to win, one of less than half a dozen, Singapore government architectural heritage awards for 2007 (refer to https://bit.ly/39zPiLM)

It also received a full-page write-up in the Business Times in 2006 (the Business Times is a Singapore newspaper publication along the lines of the Wall Street Journal). To this date, I keep the newspaper clippings and I should perhaps frame it one day. 

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In the upcoming weeks I would like to share with you:

  • How the property became a “triple bagger”?
  • What are the lessons in the investment process?  
  • What has it got to do with “God”? and
  • What has all this to do with Double Digit Dividends?