(Kap is a motoring columnist for STAR and PeopleAsia. He is also a TV presenter and radio host.)
What he did for house-and-lot developments, he promises to do for residential condominiums.
And it’s understandably hard to doubt former Senator Manuel “Manny” Bamba Villar when he makes pronouncements like this. The recent news that he is now the country’s richest man with an estimated net worth of US$5.5 billion — due largely to his real estate empire — comes at an almost serendipitous time when his Camella brand trots out a shiny new product line dubbed Condo Homes (or CoHo). The CoHo name collectively refers to Camella’s high-quality condominiums situated in central urban locations across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
The man knows what he’s talking about — and how.
“I was the first to introduce (through Camella Homes) affordable housing in fully fenced-in, gated and landscaped communities with guards, swimming pools, a clubhouse and nice European-style homes,” said Villar at the CoHo brand’s launch held at Mella Hotel in Las Piñas. Incidentally, it’s a hotel owned and operated by his Vista Land and Lifescapes, and represents a decisive foray into the hospitality industry. “What if I could do that for condominiums?” he asks aloud.
In a release, Camella Homes makes mention of its 40-year track record in real estate development and status as a trusted brand in the industry. “As we continue to understand the evolving needs of the market, we have identified the necessity and the opportunity to expand through vertical developments,” continues the statement. Villar adds, “We’ve always been the number-one horizontal housing builder in the Philippines. We operate in 144 cities and municipalities… we’re going up to 155 shortly.”
He shares that that investment analysts often ask him how he could claim to be the “biggest housing builder” when they don’t see any vertical developments. “It’s because our vertical projects are in the provinces, which they don’t see,” he explains with a smile.
In the last few years, his company has received “a lot of inquiries about condominiums nationwide. We’ve heard that and we’ve been studying this.” Replying to a question from Property Report PH, the former Senate President says, “OFWs today and a lot of millennials are looking for condos. Just to put this in perspective, a lot of them still want houses. But a growing percentage like condo living even if there are houses available because they like the convenience. It’s easier to maintain and they can come and go anytime.”
Still, Villar insists they are merely offering choices for the discriminating market. “Do you want to invest in a house and lot or a condominium unit?” he says. “Our horizontal portfolio is getting bigger and bigger. So we have to move faster than the horizontal to gain a bigger share of our revenues.”
Indeed, 85 percent of Villar’s real estate income today comes from horizontal developments, with the remainder from vertical projects. So there’s much left to be desired in terms of parity. “We do not have a specific target for the vertical but in the very long run it may reach 50-50. But initially, 25 percent will be good.”
While many people do not want to live far from the city and their places of work, skyrocketing prices of centrally located pieces of real estate have made the typical house-and-lot solution very untenable. “This has become a serious challenge for many Filipinos who desire to live close to the city given the opportunities that it presents in terms of business, education, and lifestyle among others. This is where Camella Condo Homes steps in,” the company reports.
Camella CoHo now becomes not only a centralized brand subsuming Camella’s vertical developments but, indeed, a poster child for a heightened way of condo living; for people who want to stay in the city, and have the lifestyle to boot. “CoHo is the epitome of a vertical village. It offers the tranquility and the relaxing vibe of a suburban community that is sprawling, surrounded by greenery, and has generous open space to provide the busy city-dweller with an environment that promotes well-being and is conducive for nurturing a family. Complementing this relaxing vibe is CoHo’s strategic location in highly urbanized communities,” the CoHo writeup continues.
Offering affordable 30-sqm. single-bedroom and 40-sqm. two-bedroom configurations (we got a quote for a 37-sqm. one-bedroom and a 40-sqm. two-bedroom at The Hermosa in Las Piñas for P2.7 million and P3.4 million, respectively), CoHo projects are master-planned sprawls with a slew of central amenities: clubhouse, swimming pool, function hall, landscaped gardens, jogging paths, and a fitness gym with modern equipment. In a presentation, the company revealed the following project names and locations: The Courtyard, Taguig City; The Hermosa, Las Piñas; The Meridian, Bacoor; The Orchard, Lipa; Pine Suites, Tagaytay; The Valencia, Mactan; The Verdant, Palawan; The Olvera, Bacolod; COHO, Bohol; The Acropolis, Lanang, Davao; The Frontera, Buhangin, Davao; The Terraces, Ma-a; The Crest, Cagayan de Oro; The Loop, Cagayan de Oro; and Northpoint Davao. More areas will be appended to the list soon.
Villar reveals a single project would ideally have a cluster of at least 10 buildings. The developments are pillared on the same values that made Camella Homes successful, namely, “excellent location, safety and security, value for money, and a smart investment.”
What’s also becoming a unique value proposition for CoHo is its proximity to leisure and shopping facilities that Villar and company curate in search of the aforementioned elevated experience. “Synergizing with our affiliate All Value Holdings’ homegrown retail brands in Coffee Project, Bake My Day, All Day Supermarket, All Home, and Vista Cinemas, Camella Condo Homes redefine what it means to live in the city by having an allocated space for retail in all of its developments. It can be a commercial strip or a full- fledged Vista Mall that houses all these ground-breaking lifestyle amenities,” reveals the company.
All told, the new brand is about giving more bang for the buck, really. “We are creating a better lifestyle. CoHo brings closer the lifestyle that we have created to more affordable levels,” Villar explains.
“What better way than to combine it with (our concept of) Camella Homes? It’s a work in progress, but we really want to bring the future of lifestyle retail to housing and not just in Metro Manila, which has long been the beneficiary of condominiums, but to the regions as well.”
And Villar is losing no time with dillydallying either. “We feel we are ready to launch CoHo in a big way,” he maintains. “We’re launching in 25 areas with 32 buildings. (With) just the land that we’re making available, we can already build up to 150 buildings.”
Manny Villar repeats, “We do know how to build condominiums — Vista Residences, Crown Asia. And we hope to be a major condo builder in a year or two from now; hopefully even this year. We’ll be a regular player… I enjoy it, it’s like shooting the rapids. This is like rapid chess. I love it. Before, the Philippines could not take off or we were taking off slowly. Now, we’re moving a lot faster. “
The group is ready, he posits, and it would just be a matter of putting in the projects atop the existing inventory. There will be some shuffling of talents within the group, and there will be new ones as well.
Villar snickers as he recalls the times people ask him to rejoin politics. “If you only knew my dreams in business you’d probably advise me to just stay here… It’s not just about condominiums; it’s a way of life. And we want to bring it to the masses.”