Ashish Manchharam is the founder and CEO of 8M Real Estate, a property investment company that was born out of a passion for refurbishing Singapore's iconic shophouses. With around 55 shophouses under their belt, they have been reinvigorating these historical spaces since 2014. To date, they have breathed life into iconic areas of Keong Saik Road, Gemmill Lane, Amoy Street, Tanjong Pagar Road, among others. Two years ago, Ashish decided to venture into hospitality and launched 8M Collective. Since then, they have developed charming boutique spaces such as KēSa House, Ann Siang House, Base Residences, and Wanderlust Hotel.
The Artling had the opportunity to speak with Ashish to learn more about his journey in real estate industry as well as his passion for Singapore's shophouses. Ashish also shares his experiences of 8M's past projects as well as his exciting new developments!
KēSa House, Image courtesy of Tatler Singapore
Tell us about your journey in real estate and how you ended up forming 8MRE; What drew you to pursue a career in the real estate industry?
I’ve always been passionate about real estate from a young age. After graduating university and finishing National Service, I started my career at international real estate consultancy JLL where I ended up spending close to 14 years – focused on real estate capital markets throughout Asia – spending time in Singapore, South East Asia, and then when living in Hong Kong focusing there as well as China and Japan. I learnt a lot from this experience and met many people throughout the industry in Asia. Armed with this knowledge, I decided in 2014 to start my own boutique investment company focusing on a niche, which I found in shophouses – that’s where 8M was born.
Tanjong Pagar Road, Image courtesy of 8M Real Estate
You have a very strong focus on curation and 'placemaking'; be it with your tenants, artworks and design. How do you go about this selection process and how do you wish to position 8MRE within the property landscape?
8M tries to develop a concept of "lifestyle destinations", which essentially encompasses the best real estate locations, focusing on curating best in class operators (restaurants, bars, retail, etc.) with an eye on design to create an overall experience that is unique and highly sought after – this brings people to these locations and becomes that ‘destination’.
Ann Siang House, Image courtesy of Robb Report
8MRE has built a name for itself for revamping conservation properties - why have you chosen to focus on shophouses over other types of properties?
Shophouses have a distinctively unique architecture, are well located (for the large part), and have rich history. These elements make shophouses interesting. Also, given that they are older properties, we are reusing rather than making new developments. Hence, it’s a more sustainable use of property, which is important for 8M. However, revamping conservation properties is not easy and requires a lot of time and patience. The focus has been to bring back life to old buildings by refurbishing them and making them relevant for today through tenant curation, design, and branding.
Ashish Manchharam, Image courtesy of Straits Times
Which has been your most challenging project to date and why?
The restoration of 3 shophouses at 70-72 Boat Quay. These 3 adjoining properties were rare, well located along the river. However, they were extremely old, requiring a lot of work. The project included ripping out all the timber flooring and replacing it. At the same time, as the property was 3 ½ storeys, we added a lift. However, being on the riverbed the soil was soft and required us to dig very deep to install the lift shaft which took much longer than expected. In addition, we found concrete slabs after we started to dig, which added to the timeline further and not to mention increased the cost! We also found columns which were not on the floor plans that we needed to work around. It took over 1 year to completely renovate the property, and over 6 months to lease it out. Having said that, the satisfaction is that the property is fully leased and operates well. Whilst satisfying, it did cause many concerns along the way!
Wanderlust Hotel, Image courtesy of Boulevard
What are some of your goals for 8MRE? Where do you see the company in 5 - 10 yrs and will you diversify the portfolio?
The goal is to create a portfolio of unique properties. We are focused on Singapore, and we always will be as a company. In the next 5-10 years, I expect to expand out of the CBD into other neighbourhoods in a bigger way. In addition, we have started to look at different property types but keeping to what we know best, which is focused on curating quality tenants, design, branding, and the best real estate locations.
Amoy Street, Image courtesy of 8M Real Estate
How have you seen the property and design landscape change over the years?
Yes, it has changed in a big way over the last 10 years and more so over the last 20 years when I started my career in real estate. The Singapore skyline, for one, has completely changed in that time as new projects were developed. However, I’ve always focused on the existing, and we can repurpose/reuse what’s already there – and we start to see more property looked at in a similar way. In the design space, I think property developers and investors are more conscious of how important design plays in driving value of properties as compared to say 5-10 years ago. In addition to value, with well thought through design, we will just end up with much better properties as compared to before.
Detailed view of #AmoyAlley, the Amoy Street Mural for 8MRE, Image courtesy of The Artling
#AmoyAlley - A site-specific mural commissioned by 8MRE
You've been a big supporter for local artists, commissioning various murals and acquiring a variety of pieces by Singaporean artists for your various properties. Why do you think art and design is important for your properties?
We have used art as a way of showcasing local artists, and to have them within heritage properties further amplifies the importance that we place on not just the art but on local art. We hope that these art pieces within our properties become a focal talking point and in turn help promote the artists. It also brings a uniqueness to the properties that this art lives in.
Artworks installed at the soon-to-be-opened Base Residences at No.5 Gemmill Lane
What's in the pipeline for 8MRE? What are some of your new projects coming up?
We just finished a property on Gemmill Lane, which will be our 3rd property on the street, where we have Catfish, a seafood focused restaurant helmed by Chef Andrew Walsh on the ground floor. The upper floors are well appointed, fully furnished studio, 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom apartments that are designed by T+ and will be launched for lease in November 2020. We are in the final stages on finishing a project along Amoy Street, where 8M has its offices with several new restaurant concepts slated to open early next year. We’re also in the midst of starting renovation works on a project on Tanjong Pagar which will include a well curated row of 5-6 new restaurant concepts, targeting to open in late 2021. One of the most exciting projects slated to open in 2022 will be located at the corner of New Bridge Road and Carpenter Street. It was a 1920s heritage building that was once a remittance house. We are completely refurbishing the property and building an extension at the rear – and will be a 50-room boutique service apartment / hotel with several restaurants on the ground floor – the project is being designed by WOHA Architects.
Ashish Manchharam, Image courtesy of Portfolio Magazine
Tell us about your dream project!
Quite honestly, I am living the dream of restoring, renovation, and refurbishing old buildings – bringing new life to them.
What do you like to collect personally? What kind of art do you live with at home?
My preference are abstract pieces that focus on telling a story but requiring a lot of imagination.
To learn more about 8M Real Estate, click here.
Discover more on Ashish's Instagram: @ashishmanchharam
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