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The Chinese Billionaire Gilding London’s Square Mile

9th December 2014 Tara Loader Wilkinson

Self-made Chinese billionaire Yan Bin is developing the first über-luxury property in the City of London's business and tourism district

London’s neighbourhoods of Mayfair, Kensington and Knightsbridge have always been the epicentre of elite homes, while the City is for banking and business.

But now, a Chinese billionaire investor is taking a punt by developing the first über-luxury property in the City’s business and tourism district, known as The Square Mile. As London prices continue to soar, the move that could mark the start of a historic shift of the hub of luxury London property, from West to East.

Four years ago, self-made billionaire Yan Bin, also known as Dr. Chanchai Ruayrungruang, fell in love with Ten Trinity Square, a historic Grade II* listed building in London’s Square Mile. After debating for approximately five minutes, he said he decided to buy it with a vision to restore and transform it into a luxury property and hotel development. The move raised eyebrows in the real estate community for good reason: the world’s ultra high net worth (UHNW) real estate buyers have traditionally house-hunted in West London, while the Square Mile is where business and banking gets done. In a nutshell, it is not where – traditionally – the super rich choose to see and be seen.

But roll forward four years and an estimated £500-million (US$787 million) renovation, and Yan Bin is confident that he is on to a winner.

 “Money is moving from property bubbles in West London to the East,” said Yan. “We see great potential in the prime central London residential market, and spotted a gap in availability of residences suitable for UHNW individuals seeking a subtle, refined offering in the City of London.”

He added that the investment potential of residences at Ten Trinity Square sets it apart from other developments due to the surrounding area being undervalued at present, and the limited availability of similar residential developments. Estate agents agree.

Mark Dorman, partner at London agent Strutt & Parker, said: “Domestic and international purchasers of residential property in central London are now embracing the City and its surroundings as it becomes a vibrant, sophisticated place to live and work.”

He added that residential property prices are expected to have grown by 4.5 percent in prime central London during 2014, yet supply is limited in the City as opposed to the usual neighbourhoods.

Nina Coulter, sales & marketing director of residential development sales at Savills, agrees.

“Traditionally the City was perceived to be quiet at the weekends and people only saw it as a business district. But with cross rail and some major commercial developments with retail, bars and restaurants this perception is changing,” she added.

As the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority, Ten Trinity Square was a rare find, said Yan. It all started back in 2010 when Yan’s former business partner heard that Ten Trinity Square was for sale. She called him to tell him, “this building has your name on it.” Yan, came to see it, fell in love and agreed a price of around £150 million for the 415,000 square foot property.

In 2012, Reignwood announced that Ten Trinity Square would be transformed into 41 luxury residences and a 100-room Four Seasons Hotel to service the apartments. An exclusive members-only club with an exclusive Château Latour room is planned for the premises, as the only one of its kind outside of the great wine estate itself. The project is being estimated for completion at end of 2016.

The residences are, in a word, sumptuous. Apartments range between one and five bedrooms decorated with a nod to the neo-classical style of the building, with views of the Thames, Tower of London and iconic Tower Bridge. Prices range between £5 million (US$7.87 million) and £50 million (US$78.7 million), of what the company says will be superlative specifications to rival all others.

“These homes will have a specification that is as much as 20 percent higher than One Hyde Park (the Candy Brothers’ flagship in London). The material we use is higher quality as we want this to be in the top 1 percent of its kind,” said president of Reignwood Investments UK, Songhua Ni, in an interview at the development in London. “This is an extremely competitive marketplace and we cannot afford to fail.”

With Yan’s track record with heritage property investment, failure seems unlikely.

The 60 year-old billionaire has a penchant for old-school Western institutions. According to a friend close to Yan, “if you go to his home, everything is classic European, that is his style.” It comes as no surprise that some of his other investments include the Fairmont Hotel Group, of which he established the first in China, and golf courses including Pine Valley Resort, Wentworth Golf Club and most recently, The Princeville Resort in Hawaii.

“The heritage of the property for me is a key draw,” said Yan. “Ten Trinity Square certainly ticked that box. The building is listed by the British Government as a “particularly important building of more than special interest”.

Yan’s love of heritage brands may come down to his challenging start in life. Born in Shandong and only completing primary school education, Yan’s family fled to Thailand as the Civil War raged on. Reports describe how before founding Reignwood Group in 1984, Yan worked as an apprentice in Chinatown. While his peers woke up at 8am, he used to be up by 5am every day to clean the courtyard and prepare for work. In less than two months, he was appointed manager, and worked his way up through the ranks. Decades later and Yan, who has estimated assets of US$2 billion according to Wealth-X, maintains his unflagging diligence, dedicating himself to his business and his health.

“Reignwood is my passion and I spend the majority of my day, about 12 hours, working with Reignwood’s employees and contractors. I am also passionate about health and fitness, so dedicate up to two hours a day to exercise.”

London’s luxury property developers should prepare for some stiff competition.

This article has been reproduced with permission from Wealth-X.

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