Hong Kong property

Boosting DTZ's capabilities a goal for new chief Alva To Yu-hung

Alva To Yu-hung plans to expand the firm's agency businesses to catch up with its rivals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 4:59am

Demand in Hong Kong's property market is no longer purely market-driven, and since the government began rolling out measures to cool the market, it has become increasingly hard to forecast sales and prices.

But property analyst Alva To Yu-hung is using his personal insights gained from years of experience to strengthen the competitive ability of DTZ in the city following his appointment as managing director of the property consultancy's local operations last October.

Having hosted many press conferences to announce DTZ's research findings, To is now one of the best-known analysts in the industry.

He joined DTZ, formerly known as C. Y. Leung & Company, as a director when the firm was founded in 1993. He had previously worked for rival consultancy Jones Lang Wootton for eight years after graduating from The Hong Kong Polytechnic with a higher diploma in building surveying.

"I was in the valuation department when I joined the company. In 2000, I … [took] charge of the research department and started to host our property research press conferences," To told the South China Morning Post in his Central office.

To said Leung Chun-ying [the current chief executive and former DTZ chairman] wanted him to be a spokesman for the firm in promoting its public profile.

"It was difficult and in the beginning I was scared. My first media interview was on a live television programme. But my motto is 'there is nothing we can't do, it depends on whether we are willing to do it or not'. And so I took the job," To said.

Apart from mastering the language skills needed to conduct press conferences, To also felt the need to outperform rival analysts. To illustrate his point, he cited renowned horse racing pundit Bill Tung Biu for his interesting presentation and often reliable forecasts.

"It is the same in the property business. Five surveyor firms offer market forecasts based on the same data. How can we stand out? I think it depends on how to interpret the data. You have to have a keen sense for the market and your predictions have to be logical and reasonable."

And analysing where house prices are headed is subtly different from valuing properties, according to To.

"Valuations involve calculating the existing value of a property. The approach in the research department is almost the same, but we have to make recommendations as well," he said.

"Our firm is strong in its valuation and professional services divisions in Hong Kong. Now, we are catching up with other firms in agency businesses, which are retail, office and investment agency divisions.

"Our investment and retail department staff levels have doubled since October last year and staff in our office department has increased by 67 per cent. Our retail and office departments will continue to expand."

To also voiced optimism about the commercial property sector. "The worst time for the office market has come to an end," he said. "We saw the market turn active and mainland companies has begun to set up offices in Hong Kong again."