Sevens Group's Eric Cheng Has An Eye For Crafting Enduring Homes
"I make decisions very fast,” Eric Cheng tells us at one point during this interview. “That is my strength.” Friendly and easygoing in person, there is little sense during our shoot that this entrepreneur is a man in a hurry. But the evidence of his inclination for swift action is actually all around us—we are talking in a 1940s inter-terrace house along Makepeace Road, a property he decided to acquire on the spot during his first viewing last year.
“I have very strong instincts when it comes to houses; they communicate with me. And when I saw this one, my first instinct was to buy it,” he explains. Firstly, the house is located in the well-heeled District 9, where properties don’t change hands often. “In the last eight years, there have been no transactions along this entire lane. So I signed the option agreement on the spot without negotiating the price at all. I knew this was a good buy.”
He was proven right just a few days later, when a keen buyer offered him a higher price for the place. “But I refused to sell. Sometimes, good things cannot be replaced.” In fact, Eric scrapped his original plan to erect a new house on this plot of land. Instead, he lavished some tender loving care on the original property’s vintage charms, spiffing up distinctive features such as the original flooring and wooden front door, and adding contemporary flourishes such as dramatic floral wallpaper. “I wanted to keep the character of the property, while also bringing a modern touch to it.”
From The Ground Up
Paying meticulous attention to aesthetic detail is Eric’s hallmark as a real estate developer. With his experience in architectural planning, he is able to personalise his properties through conceptual planning and by matching them to concepts and designs.
Eric is also very particular about space planning—from how the shape of a plot of land should influence the design of a house, to how the size of a house should impact its flow. “Often when I go to one of my construction sites, I can feel the house communicating with me, as it gives off a certain vibe that I am able to interpret,” he enthuses. “To create a perfect home for my clients, there are many small details we need to take into consideration. Do you have enough privacy from your neighbours if I placed the swimming pool at a certain spot? If it’s a multigenerational family home, can you look down from one floor and see your child’s room, and also be within hearing distance of your parents’ living space? Understanding these things requires years of experience as a developer.”
The eldest of four children, Eric grew up in Chinatown, where his business instincts were evident from a young age. He remembers walking past money changers as a child, and being intrigued by the difference between the buying and selling prices of different currencies, and how these numbers would fluctuate over time. “I saw that there was an opportunity to make a profit there,” he recalls with a laugh.
Without a family business to inherit or access to capital, however, he had a long way to travel before he would become a full‑fledged entrepreneur. At age 20, he became an air steward, reckoning that it offered a comparatively high salary for someone his age. After eight years, he segued into real estate, making his first million within his first two years as a property agent. Steadily climbing the ranks of his new industry, he was soon managing a team of 7,000 agents.
I have very strong instincts when it comes to houses; they communicate with me.
— Eric Cheng
In 2009, he launched his own property agency. Eventually, he expanded his business into a group of companies that also dealt in real estate consultancy, valuation and asset management. Along the way, he won a clutch of accolades such as being named Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2011 Asia‑Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards, one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons honourees by non‑profit organisation JCI Singapore in 2011 and the Platinum Category Award at the 2012 Promising SME 500 Awards. He also wrote a couple of bestsellers on property investment and business leadership. After selling off his real estate group to an SGX-listed company for $45m in 2014, he took a short hiatus to spend time with his family. Last January, he listened to his heart and launched real estate development company Sevens Group with a focus on building luxury homes.
The launch of the Sevens Group marks both a consolidation of his decades of experience as an entrepreneur and a shift in his mindset. While real estate has always been a major focus, Eric was also well-known in the past for investing in a wide variety of businesses. “I have no regrets about exploring different businesses. I learned a lot from each experience, and I was able to expand my network. I always believe that your network is equal to your net worth. But I also learned that property is still my passion.”
With Sevens Group, he wants to create a brand that is synonymous with bespoke landed property. It is a niche area with a lot of potential, and one that is a good fit for his strengths in design, layout and, above all, providing the personal touch. Having worked his way up from being a property agent, Eric understands his target homeowners well and still goes the extra mile to get to know prospective buyers. The high-net-worth clientele he serves aren’t drawn to cookie-cutter developments. “They are very sophisticated. We push the boundaries of architectural creativity and incorporate technological developments, to be recognised as a premium and trusted developer of contemporary homes. We build great houses you can proudly call home. I am not here just for the short term. What I want is to create homes that everyone will love to be in.”
The Sevens Group, which currently boasts a gross development value of $135m for its existing projects, has also expanded into Australia. It is building houses in Perth and Melbourne, where Eric sees a demand for luxury houses. With a high standard of living and a relatively stable political, social and financial environment, he believes Australia’s property market has much room for growth, and is confident that homes with sophisticated design concepts will match the market’s needs. When his team of architects asked if he was concerned about the use of expensive materials, such as imported Italian tiles, bumping up his properties’ prices, the car lover replied with another analogy. “No matter what car you choose, you can still arrive at the same destination. Why do some people choose a luxury sports car? It’s because they are paying for the sophisticated finishes and the brand.”
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By focusing on tangible design and the intangible sense of ease and comfort that it can evoke, Eric is also pre-empting the short lifespan of trendy technology. This is another area where his experience has proved valuable. “We were one of the first to install touchscreens in our properties, and now everyone is doing that. If I focus solely on technology, I’ll end up selling people products of the past because technology always expires,” he explains.
That doesn’t mean that he is averse to tapping on the power of technological innovation. Quite the contrary, in fact-—Eric has a diploma in computer studies and one of his earliest businesses was a firm that developed software and hardware to improve his property business operations. These days, his interest in technology is focused on the bleeding edge of change.
In May 2018, he acquired Japanese foreign exchange trading company, FX Trade Financial Co, and its affiliate cryptocurrency trading company, BitTrade. That made him the first foreign investor to hold a 100 per cent stake in a Japanese Financial Service Agency-licensed regulated exchange, of which there are only 16 in Japan. A few months later, digital asset exchange Huobi Japan took a majority stake in BitTrade. Through this strategic partnership, both parties plan to aggressively scale BitTrade in terms of its range of services and global reach.
That same year, Eric also started a venture capital fund, CapitalX, to invest in different applications of blockchain, the technology at the heart of cryptocurrencies. A digital ledger comprising cryptographically linked data stored across a decentralised computer network, blockchain’s capabilities for providing a transparent and secure database is increasingly viewed as a potential game changer for many industries.
Many governments and corporations are now investing in research and development in this area, and Eric firmly believes that blockchain will become widely adopted. “A streamlined, connected and transparent workflow system is what most people want,” he says. “If I don’t enter this space today, I think I’ll look back in three years’ time and regret it.”
This is another instance of his penchant to make quick decisions, and while building luxury homes and investing in blockchain may seem like very different businesses, both ventures reveal an entrepreneur who is thinking long-term. With blockchain, Eric believes that a new technological paradigm will soon emerge.
With Sevens Group, he has a more personal aspiration. His two sons are aged 13 and 11, and he is already bringing them to building sites “to connect with them by sharing my experience”, he says. “I hope that one day my sons can take over this business and bring it to greater heights.”
For the present moment, though, Eric has a much simpler goal in mind. “I want to spend more time with my family. Every successful man has a loving family behind him, and I am very blessed to have their support”.