Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?
A My father was a college lecturer and my mum, an accountant. I have a younger brother who is a doctor and a younger sister who is an auditor.
We have been quite comfortable, money was never really a concern.
My father is a very frugal person – I’m the opposite, I’m a spendthrift – and he’d want me to have better control over my finances. We just share different philosophies.
He believes in saving, whereas I believe in earning more, to allow me to spend more.
Q How did you get interested in investing?
A I was inspired by a Cantonese movie about the stock market and thought investing in stocks would bring me good money.
I later realised that stocks are quite risky. If you don’t know a company well, then don’t invest.
If you want to invest in one, it has to be a good company and something that you can hold indefinitely, not something that you speculate on.
I started thinking about a better way to invest and accumulate wealth.
Coming from Hong Kong, and with my husband from Singapore, we know the value of property, that it’ll hold its value in the long run and hedge against inflation.
Q Describe your investing strategy.
A We’re tuned in to the concepts of fear and greed.
My father-in-law always taught us – and later I realised he learnt from Warren Buffett – about the concepts.
You try to be fearful when people are greedy, and try to be greedy when you sense there is fear in the market.
It basically comes down to the point that you should buy low and sell high. Don’t follow the crowd.
When you see everyone jumping into the stock market, it’s time to retreat and cash out your gains.
During the Lehman Brothers’ time, nobody was buying anything. Even my family members and in-laws were shying away from the market. No one wanted to invest because they already got burnt.
We bought the properties low at a time when we could also borrow less, to reduce our risk. That helps with our monthly instalments, if not, we don’t have the holding power.
We invest only in certain locations. When it comes to landed properties, we invest near international schools to rent out to expatriates. We know who we want to rent out to, that we want to hold the properties and get capital and rental yield.
The condominiums that we invest in are all in Districts 9, 10, 11 and 15, which are rented out to expatriates, which I think is the only way to get a steady source of income.
At this moment, we will not invest as far as Woodlands unless we’re living there. Otherwise it’s hard to find a tenant.
Q What’s in your portfolio?
A We have eight insurance policies, eight residential properties and one commercial property in Singapore and one property in Australia. We also have enough cash for working capital purposes.
We don’t buy stocks as we don’t believe in diversification that way.
Diversification to us means that if you don’t know your goals, then you diversify, but if you have a very focused strategy, then it’s best not to.
If you choose the real estate market, then your diversification is within the asset class. It could be different locations or different types of real estate. It need not be another type of asset class.
Q What does money mean to you?
A Money means the ability to sustain a certain lifestyle that I want, bringing in the level of comfort that I want in life, and to have the freedom to do the things I like and not just slave for it.
I don’t try to stinge on myself and save every penny.
Q What’s the most extravagant thing you have done?
A My husband and I bought a gold Rolex each. That was when we realised a gain on our first property, and my husband decided to get a men’s and ladies’ version of the watch.
Q What has been one of your biggest regrets when it comes to investing?
A The regret of not seizing the opportunity to invest to its maximum. We could have bought one or two more properties, but perhaps it was the greed – that we thought the prices would drop further – that stopped us, and then the prices rose.
Q What are your immediate investment plans?
A Opportunities come once in a lifetime, like the financial crisis. That’s why we haven’t been investing here for a few years, and are actively looking overseas. We are currently looking at a property in London and hope to complete the purchase by early next year.
We won’t invest here in the short term especially with the cooling measures, but when the time is right.
The thing about investing overseas is the inherent forex risk. Your capital gain could sometimes be wiped out by the currency depreciation.
A good example would be the Australian property we invested in. The exchange was about S$1.30 to A$1 then, but now we’ve lost about 30 per cent.
Even if we can sell the property for a 30 per cent profit, it neutralises all our gains.
It’s not as good as investing in your own backyard, where you know the market well, you have control over rental and maintenance.
Q How are you planning for retirement?
A If I have a secure income base, I want to do charity, and travel around the world with my husband.
I’ve thought about doing charity for children as children have unlimited potential.
Q Home is now…
A A terraced house in the north-east.
Q I drive…
A A Jaguar XF.