James and Reuben

EP. 16 31 JUL 2021 | 12:02

Luxury Property Agency Owner Spills All About Buying Property Overseas

Hey guys, we're back with the latest cut of "At Home with Stacked"! 

In this month’s episode, we speak to James Kyaw - CEO of K.A.E International Co. Ltd.  

Having moved to Singapore from Myanmar at just 9 years old, James went through what most Singaporeans would call the "normal route"... Discounting perhaps a single twist that would eventually land him in the International Real Estate Industry. 

Today, we speak to him in hopes of catching a sneak peak at the world of luxury properties in Singapore, whilst learning a little more about properties in Myanmar - and why you totally need to have someone that you trust if you are looking at overseas property. 

You can contact James at minzin007@gmail.com or call him at +65 90271794.

Available on



JKJames is the Managing Director of KAE Alliance Co.,Ltd, a luxury real estate agency located in Myanmar.


RDReuben is the producer and talkshow host of the Stacked Podcast Series.


- Hey guys, welcome back to the studio. Reuben Dhanaraj here. Now I've always been quite a fan of luxury properties. After all, these are places that not many of us will get to live in through our lifetimes. And so I thought I'd invite a luxury property expert into the studio today. Coincidentally, he's also of Burmese origin and he's worked with Far East in the past. So we get a little bit of an insider peek into both of those worlds today. Now, if you want to listen to the full podcast, which by the way is full of emotions, laughter, stories. You can check that in the link below. With that, enjoy the video.

- So this is a struggle. It's a lot of gray area in Myanmar. After some time I also become grey.

- Can I ask what is one common myth that most people feel or think about luxury property in Singapore? Because I would assume that 80% of us would never own a luxury home in Singapore, that's for the elite.

- I think a lot of Singaporean will feel that when you talk about luxury property, probably they are thinking that foreigners are buying. But in some part it's true, in some part it's not, let's say for Orchard area, it's really the expats who are buying because of probably like... as I told you, a lot of tourists come to Singapore, they go for shopping, they go for medical checkup. And even in Orchard area that there's a lot of good schools. So we're talking about private schools and stuff. So they are familiar with the place. They bought it. So back in Bukit Timah area, orchard after the Newton then Bukit Timah area, a lot Singaporeans are buying.

- In Bukit Timah?

- In Bukit Timah. The reason is that in Bukit Timah, there are a lot of good schools, good government schools. You know so like, you know in Singapore, there's a regulation that you want your children to be in that primary school, you have to be within there, one click, yeah. So this is something. So it's like it depends on where that location is. So of course, as a foreigner, as an expat, like you cannot buy a landed house. There are a lot of people who want to buy a landed houses in Singapore, but you are not allowed to.

- Just to continue on that note, right? What are some things that differentiate luxury properties from each other? Because I guess at that price point, some of the normal things don't really apply anymore. Like space, you should already have space. High ceilings, you should already have high ceilings.

- So the main thing is the location. So when you talk about luxury, you're talking about you're buying in the downtown area, the Central Core Region. So this is a main part because probably like 60% of the cost of the whole project is due to the land costs. So again, we are talking about freehold land. So this is something that is really scarce now in Singapore. Because starting from 1975, Singapore government stopped selling freehold land. So the rest of all 99 year leasehold right? So a lot of people, they are looking for freehold land and because these are all private transactions, so I mean like uh, so if you're wealthy enough, you are looking for a good location, prime location, plus a freehold land. So you have this mindset that, you know, that the land will not decrease in pricing because it's not a leasehold land. So this is something that we have to look up on it. And the third distinctive we compare to we call it the mass market, is that there are not a lot of units.

- Okay Let's say like, assuming, the Lakeside, You know they're like when we talk about a, not a normal like a luxury condominium, we are talking about a neighbourhood condominium, we are talking about 800 plus units, 900 plus units. The minimum is 600 plus units. Of course there are a lot of facilities around, but there are a lot of units around. In luxury, you don't want to share that. Because you have a very big swimming pool, but you have like 600 family to share with. So in luxury, we are talking about after location, after freehold land, we are talking about maybe it's a decent size of land, but maybe there are only 150 units, there are only 200 units.

- So more privacy?

- Yeah, more privacy. Yes exclusive. So this is something that we had to differentiate between a mass market project and a luxury project.

- Interesting, speaking about 1975, right? So back when they stopped selling freehold land, you worked for Far East which is, I guess, quite well-known for owning all this freehold land, which they've then built 99 year leasehold buildings on. I know that's a big thing many people talk about. Like, these guys own freehold land. Tell us a little bit about your experience. What was your story? Did you always want to work with Far East at some point?

- I only like to do sales. Sure okay. Well my first job is not Far East I worked for this company who do AutoCad software.

- Okay. But when you are studying and just like a Singaporean, you work for somebody, you are doing part-time. You study then you do part time. So I've been doing sales all my life. And when I joined Far East we are talking about in year 2009, right? After Lehman Brother crash. Yah, correct, so... They have a lot of projects on the pipeline. And so what they do is that the hire a lot of staff, just for them, so that we will be promoting their projects only. So one of the memorable one is the funny part is that in my Far East time we do an event in Yangon city, in Myanmar. So in the end, we managed to sell three units. Again, everything is cash, right? So they are not used to paying you in check. So everything is all cash. At 5:00 PM, one guy came in and talked to us after half an hour, he went to buy the Scott Tower, which is at the Scotts Road. And what happens is that he ask his wife to go back and take the cash. You know how much he bring? Sing dollar $800,000.

- Oh my goodness. *laughs* Like he gave it to you, $800,000?

- He gave it to me and because I'm the Country Manager, I'm the head of the team. So I have to hold the cash. To be honest, I'm only 27 years at the time. And I never had that kind of money in my hand before, honest to life. $800,000.

- I don't think many people have had $800,000 in their hands at any point in their life.

- And the worst part is, it's not your money. It's my money, I lose it, it's my history, right? But imagine now it's somebody's money. So he went back. I don't know what to do with this money, because, we have to repack the whole thing and all those stuff. So after 15 minutes later, he gave me a call. Said, James, yeah. I'm who, yeah, I know who you are.

- You're the guy who just gave me $800,000. How can I forget you?

- He just told me that we are back home, but you don't even give me a receipt. So I told him that sir, I already ran away. Then he was like, "Really?" No, of course not. If I ran away, I would not be picking up your call, right? So what I do is, I ask one of my staff to, I wrote the receipt and I sent it back to him. So this is a really funny, yeah. So the thing is that in, especially in Myanmar, is about trust, when they trust you, especially when you are selling a foreign property, it's about trust.

- So you were never an agent to begin with, but at some point you were transferred to the market in Myanmar, which is where you started your agency, where you found that, "Hey, this is an opportunity." Tell us a little bit more about this. Why did you decide to set up the agency over there?

- I got back to know a bit more about my country of birth, so I realised that they need people like me, and there are a lot of things that Myanmar don't have. That's something that I can go there and help out, but I don't have that kind of cash, or maybe I don't even have that kind of ability. Although I'm like 27, 28 years old, I'm leading a small team as a country manager For the big company. So I say that if I do something in Singapore, is I can be agent. I can quit Far East and go and be an agent. This is a normal path that all my ex-colleague, they took it but for me I said maybe I should go back to Myanmar with the money that I have, and start my own agency. Because I know that there are some of the things that the country need me. And I also have an international experience and not only that, I can speak the language, the Burmese language.

- People trust you more.

- People trust me. And of course you can be a big player there. In Singapore, who give a damn about me?

- That is true. So you've been doing it almost eight years now, right? And what is one of the hardest parts of your journey so far?

- Myanmar is a convoy country, where anything can happen. So you don't know what to do. So if I ask an experienced person, even if their advice could be wrong. So there are a lot of things there. So first, a few years when I started my own company, I struggled a lot, in terms of business. Because again, you are born there, but you don't have any connection there. You just know that there's something that you want to do, but down there, you don't know people. In business, you need to know people. Especially in sales, it's about who you know. That's what we always say is in sales is that, if you are a successful agent, because you know people. A lot of gray area in Myanmar. After some time I also become grey.

- You look pretty black. Maybe you dyed it this morning. If let's say, they were going to buy a home overseas, what is one mistake you see that people make?

- What people they make is that, of course, when you are buying a property in a foreign country, You don't know their rules and regulation well. You don't know much. You are too excited to buy something. But after that, there's a maintenance fee, there's a community fee, so on and on. So if you buy a property in Australia, assuming, and after that, you're not going to stay there. You are just going to like, every year you go there twice.

- A summer house. Yeah and you know

- Just to have a summer house, or just a vacation home. Sometimes people cannot afford to maintain that kind of place because in a country like Australia, UK, U.S., it's quite expensive because everything is about money, right? Because when you own a property probably, is for at least 5 to 10 years, right? You cannot be there within a few months because every developed country, they have regulation. After you sell within how many months, or how many years, there's a tax to it. Sometimes, of course, in the brochure and pamphlet, everything looks very nice, so they expect like, wow, this is a place to be. But the moment they really go and look at their house. Sometimes like me after they bought it because everything is unseen. Not like Singapore, right? So that's it, you buy a project in U.S. and then New York. You're not that familiar with it, then you bought it, you already pay money. Only after completion, you go and have a look, probably you might not like the surrounding. You might not like the location. So these are the few things that a lot of clients face. So the reason why I'm decently successful, in a way because I'm very careful with all these. So because it's very easy to, bump up the location and sell it to you because they trust you, so they buy. So after that, after one or two years, when they go and have a look, it's not as they expect them to be, then there's a lot of disappointment. There's a lot of anger and stuff, because we are not talking about $1,000, $2,000, we are talking about millions of dollars and stuff.

- Speaking of property transactions. If let's say there are any of our Burmese friends who are watching today, and perhaps want to reach out to you, they want to maybe buy a property in Singapore and want to even learn more about property in Singapore, where can they reach out to you?

- My email address is minzin007@gmail.com. Minzin is my Burmese name, 007 uh well. James. James bond right? So minzin007@gmail.com or you can reach to my personal number, Singapore number, 9027-1794. So you can just give me a call, we can do a lot of consolidation, because this is needed. It's all about trust, and it's about proper guiding to make sure that they get their dream house.

- James, thank you so much for joining us today, man. Hopefully you have a good trip and we'll see you soon.

- Yeah, please give me a call. Thank you so much for arranging all this and spending time with me.

- Thank you so much. On the note, if you have any comments, any questions for James as well please feel free to leave that in the comment section below. Thanks so much for joining us. Don't forget to like, subscribe and we will see you guys in the next one.

- Bye bye.

- Bye bye

- So that about wraps up the video for today. Thank you so much for staying all the way through. Now, if you have perhaps topics or guests that you would like to see us interview on this show, feel free to leave that in a comment below. As always, don't forget to like, subscribe, turn on the notification button as well. And we will see you guys in the next one. Bye bye.

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