Redbrick Mortgage Advisory is honoured to interview Mr. Dennis Chee, head of Altitude Group of ERA. Dennis is an Advisory Group Division Director who is always exploring building infrastructures, interiors and layout whilst having an eye on the potential of the properties for portfolio building – for his clients and associates. Dennis also talks about how strongly he feels about integrity and ethics in this real estate industry in order to succeed as a career.
Q: When you decided to start on your real estate journey, was there a specific dream or goal?
Dennis: My goal was to have a family-oriented lifestyle, where I could dedicate more time towards my family. I’m driven towards being self-employed where I have better control over time for work as well as with my family members.
I had always been interested in properties.
After I completed my degree in a University in Brisbane, I did not join real estate immediately. However, my passion for real estate was rekindled when I started to do more viewings for my own homestay. Elements such as building infrastructure, interiors and layout are really interesting to me, and that is why I got into the real estate business!
Q: Since you have started your career in real estate, what are some of the personal values that have stayed with you?
Dennis: I always believe in ethics and integrity. This is something that I safeguard a lot because I find that a person who may not be good in sales will still be able to achieve his goals through hard work. However, once the element of integrity and ethics is lost, all is gone. This career is a long game, and without ethics and integrity, it will be a short-lived career.
My perspectives have changed since assuming a leadership position, and one value which I have come to appreciate is learning how to lose. Sometimes, you have to lose in order to win more, and that is something I hope to win more. Not everyone can take a loss, but it is through this loss that a character of a person is being strengthened. It could be monetary loss or a loss of opportunity that trains us to be a better person.
Q: Out of the numerous awards that you have achieved throughout your career, is there one that you are especially proud of?
Dennis: I am proud of every single one of my awards. Of all the awards, I am proud of my personal ones because it shows that regardless of a leadership role or a sales role, I am still able to balance my team and my work. I think that is important because I believe strongly in leading by example. As a leader, you have to take the front seat to show your associates that it can be done! You can’t inspire them if you are unable to do it yourself.
Q: Could you share how you started building your property portfolio?
Dennis: I started building my portfolio even before I joined the real estate industry. In the past, it was not so tightly regulated, and we would purchase through entities. It was similar to co-investments, and I would invest with partners. We invested in industrial properties back in 2004 and it turned out well before we divested from these properties. It is difficult to do the same today because of the introduction of the Seller’s Stamp Duty for industrial properties.
Q: Out of all the clients whom you have worked with, was there any one client that has left a deep impression with you?
Dennis: I treat all my clients with honesty. I do not sell for the sake of selling. One of them was relatively stunned when I advised against purchasing an industrial property on the basis that the client did not have a sustainable business model which supports the rentability of the industrial property.
If you take a short-sighted view, you could just close the deal. However, in the long-term, there would always be repercussions, especially in a small country like Singapore.
Q: Have you encountered clients who want to upgrade from HDB to landed properties? How would you advise them in this scenario?
Dennis: I would always recommend some prudence. We can talk about landed properties having value for your legacy but I always share about the investment value of private properties and the ability to leverage them for strong potential growth.
Affordability is one key factor that you would have to determine in the early stages. I would not stop you because the prospective buyer would have a stronger understanding of his finances and his personal financial goals. The baseline is that affordability and sustainability are the factors that I would advise careful consideration before discussing capital appreciation.
Q: What advice would you give to a first-time homeowner versus someone who is interested in investing in properties?
Dennis: All advice would be the same and would surround prudence and affordability. No matter how seasoned you are as an investor, you would lose out to people who are directly involved in real estate who have been part of multiple transactions throughout the year.
For first-time homeowners, HDB properties are still good properties with the caveat that no wealth realisation will occur if you do not sell them. If we plan around affordability, we would be able to make clearer decisions about which residential property type we should invest in.
Q: Who do you look up to for inspiration?
Dennis: My father of course! He did carve out my aspirations through supporting my education. I do not come from a very well-to-do family but he emphasises greatly on values. He is a good mentor that I look up to!
I also look up to Marcus Chu, our CEO. I attended one of his training courses 10 years ago. I was pretty junior at that time and did not know who he was exactly, but I liked his charisma, his energy and as fate would have it, we are together back in APAC Centre once again!
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
Dennis: Being able to embrace change. For example, I am usually uncomfortable in front of the camera, but I have to embrace this change. We are in the midst of a huge shift in the industry where online media is extremely important and powerful in reaching out to clients. Once we are able to embrace the change and adapt, leaders would then be able to guide their associates effectively.
I encourage openness and tell my associates to let me know if there are any new areas that we can improve! Through this, we can stay humble and remain ahead of the trend. I welcome change with open arms and enjoy learning from my mistakes!
Most of us have been educated in a way that prioritises systematic learning, which in some cases, causes an aversion to change. These foundations are important, but if new processes are introduced in a logical manner that can be easily understood, I am certain that more people would strive to be more flexible and adaptable.
To that end, my opinion is that barriers to change are often due to a conflict of goals. A leader may see things differently from the way his associates view it. It is important to have an open discussion to understand the varying perspectives.
Q: Would you share how you started the Altitude group and how it got its name?
Dennis: I chose the name ‘Altitude’ because it signifies height and being at the top of the pinnacle, a symbol of achievement and success.
Q: After being in the industry for the number of years, how do you keep that Real Estate passion burning while encouraging the passion of your mentees?
Dennis: I have never had to ‘keep the fire going’ because it is a genuine passion of mine. If you view this as a career rather than a job, it begins to feel less like ‘work’.
Q: How would you continue to grow as a leader?
Dennis: I am always ready to upskill and embrace digital transformations. I am not a tech or media person and am not skilled at it. This is something that I am fully aware of, and I am very motivated to continuously look at opportunities to learn more about it! I find that when you do not throw yourself in the deep end, you would tend to procrastinate with picking up new skills, and this led to the downfall of many others!
Q: What is one thing that you are proudest of?
Dennis: I’m most proud of my associates who are able to achieve the lifestyle that they want through my help in improving their careers.