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Developer with an eye for bargains
Castlewood CEO does not go about looking for nice property, it's about the bottom line
By: Joyce Teo
Property developer Christopher Comer has a keen eye for real estate and what it is worth, which is why he resists the temptation to invest in bricks and mortar in Singapore.
Mr Comer, 44, who came here from Britain 17 years ago, left and then returned in 2000, sees few bargains.
"I don't buy leasehold properties and I always like to live in nice places. When I could buy, all the nice places were ridiculously priced," he says.
"Property development is: You get a bunch of materials, build it professionally and sell it at a 25 per cent profit.
"There is no value right now. Why would I pay $200 for something that is worth $100. I know how much it cost these guys to build.
"The door's open and the horse has bolted. You can't have a society where people can't invest in it, so something's got to be done."
Even Singaporeans are not buying their own story, he adds.
Mr Comer heads the Singapore-based property developer Castlewood Group, which offers buy-to-lease opportunities.
It is now developing the Nikki Beach Hotel & Spa Phuket and Nikki Beach Club Phuket. The hotel is set is open early next year, while the beach club will open this year. It also has plans to plant other Nikki Beach investment properties in Asia.
Here, he plans to open a Nikki Beach Club but not a hotel, at the end of the year. "I am here to make money, not to look good. It doesn't make business sense to have a hotel here," he says.
Nikki beach clubs, which have a wealthy clientele, are also found elsewhere, such as on the Thai isle of Koh Samui and in Miami.
Mr Comer's wife Phoebe, 43, is a housewife. They have a daughter, Kimberly, 12.
Q: Are you a spender or saver?
Both. Savings are a must. They provides peace of mind, stability and choice. Anyone who is not saving, is losing it.
I spend mostly on my wife and my daughter, anything they want. They are my two main extravagances. I won't say spoil. Lavish is the word.
I don't need much for myself but I do have a few fetishes such as watches and cars.
Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?
Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?
I have a box locked away with the sensible stuff when the baby came along. These are the insurance policies, bonds and fixed deposits.
Stock and shares are not for me. I don't invest in anything that I don't understand and I don't trust people with my money.
If I am going to make a mistake, I am going to make it myself.
Lately, I have found very little outside of my business life that interests me.
My biggest investment in terms of money, time, effort and passion is my business.
In business, opportunities present themselves all the time. Being liquid is a big part of being successful.
Q: Money-wise, what were your growing-up years like?
I was born in Liverpool to a typical working-class couple. Liverpool is a city with a great history, great people and also great poverty.
I have three siblings and was brought up near the docks there, on a council estate called Dingle.
My dad was a port superintendent for The Liverpool-based Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and my mum was a full-time housewife.
I watched my mum and dad struggle and I didn't want the same for myself.
My mum respects money so much that she doesn't spend it. She was frugal.
My dad was very shrewd with money. In 1976, he got promoted and was sent to the Middle East, where he did very well. We joined him out there regularly.
Q: How did you get interested in investing?
I will be honest with you. I like winning. I always want things to be better for my family, my staff, my clients and my business - and the way to achieve that is to win. It's not even money with me. I've to win, to get the deal.
I bought a roller shutter company in Liverpool when I was 18. I had won a grant from the Prince's Trust in a competition, and got a bit of help from mum and dad, and everyone I knew.
But I wasn't prepared for the back-office stuff.
I wasn't listening to advice from anyone.
I was very naive and very stupid and I lost that business after nine months. It was like the end of the world.
But it didn't put me off being my own boss. I am quite an opinionated person and that can be quite difficult.
After that, I went to Spain to do real estate sales and then to Switzerland, Russia and finally to Asia.
Q: What property do you own?
People form opinions based on material possessions so I will respectfully decline to answer this. Let's just say I do OK. I own properties elsewhere, including Britain. They are mostly hotel rooms.
I am waiting for bargains here.
Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?
I'm not really an extravagant person, however I will own up to watches. I do have a thing for a nice timepiece.
I have 15 watches, with the most expensive being a Nubeo, with two carats' worth of black diamonds on its face.
Q: What's your retirement plan?
Not to retire. I can't see myself not working.
Q: Home is now...
A condo at Sentosa Cove.
My wife Phoebe and daughter Kim love it there and we have been there for four years. I travel a lot and I have complete peace of mind knowing that they are in a safe place that they enjoy.
Q: I drive...
A Chrysler 300C limited edition.
*****************Background Story *****************
WORST AND BEST BETS
Q: What is your worst investment to date?
The Chrysler 300C limited edition. I need a car in Singapore but I feel sick when I look at it. In the United Kingdom, the same car would cost me 25 per cent of what I paid for it.
Q: What is your best investment?
Back in 1989, I bought three terraced houses in Liverpool for £7,000 each. They had no roofs and no floors. I invested another £7,000 in each, putting in the floor and the roof, and rented them out to an organisation which paid me a fixed rental slightly below market but it was regular. Five years later, I sold all three houses for £90,000.