Developer Jose Antonio Brings Glitz and Glamour

Walking into a marketing event for the new Milano Residences in Manila, it’s easy to wonder whether they’re selling perfume, fashion or real estate. Gorgeous women in black cocktail dresses greet you on a red carpet and lead you to a room decked out in sleek black drapery. Waiters ply you with plates of gourmet hors d’oeuvres. As you leave everyone is handed a small plate designed by Versace.

Jose “Joey” E.B. Antonio has been building and selling houses and condominiums for 26 years. But now—as he puts up thousands of units around Manila—he’s betting that Filipinos are ready for the sort of high-rise luxury homes found in Singapore and Hong Kong. And to close the deal on what can be a $3 million purchase, his Century Properties Group deploys a combination of glamour, glitz and brand names never before seen in the Philippines nor even in much of Southeast Asia. He lined up Versace Home to design the interior of the 53-story Milano Residences, the first time Versace had done a project like this in Asia. He added another bit of Milan to Manila when he hired fashion house MissoniHome to design the amenities at his 52-story Acqua Livingstone.

Antonio also made a splash when he signed hotel heiress Paris Hilton to design the beach club at his Azure Urban Resort Residences. A huge lit-up billboard at Manila’s domestic airport shows a relaxed and happy Hilton pitching the nine-building project. She hit town last August, laying out her design ideas at a meeting with Antonio and two of his sons, Robbie and John Victor. “Her knowledge of quality real estate is one that no other developer has been able to tap, despite her heritage and her travels,” says Robbie, noting that she has 17 luxury and lifestyle product lines.

But Antonio’s biggest publicity coup was doing a deal with billionaire showman Donald Trump. The New York real estate mogul is licensing his name for the 55-story Trump Tower Manila. Construction is set to start early next year and expected to be finished in 2016.

There’s a method to all this marketing. Antonio, 65, is certainly changing the landscape of Manila, but he has a larger mission in mind: He wants to change the way the world sees the Philippine capital. “My dream has been to position Manila as an international city, because we lose by default against cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, where all the brands go,” he says. “Our tie-up with brands like Versace is a conscious effort to position us as a city with good service, restaurants, luxury brands.”

Like any good real estate man, Antonio’s selling more than four walls. “Behind the brand name is quality—people pay more for certain bags because they perceive they’re made of quality leather,” he says. “And many products are aspirational. It’s the same in real estate. People want properties in certain areas because it tells people, ‘I have arrived.’”

The formula is working. Century has taken deposits on 70% of the 400-unit Milano Residences, where apartments are priced at up to $1.6 million; construction should be done in 2015. The Acqua Livingstone, part of a six-building, 2,000-unit project, got commitments for  20% of its 645 units in the first ten days after sales began in February. Century started taking deposits on Trump Tower in October and says 68% of the 220 units were spoken for as of May.

Century’s first-quarter net profits quadrupled, to $10.5 million, on revenue that more than doubled to $57.6 million. Last year the company, which went public in August by buying a company already listed in Manila, saw net profits quadruple to $20 million on revenue that rose by 50% to $86.9 million. One setback came in February: It hoped to sell $110 million worth of additional shares but was able to raise only $85 million. Century says, “We were satisfied.”

Antonio, the chief executive and chairman, who’s also called “Ambassador” because he was special envoy to China in 2005–08, owns 72% of the company along with his family. That gives him a net worth of $300 million and keeps him on the list of the Philippines’ richest at No. 25 after he debuted last year. His wealth rose 22%.

Read the full article on Forbes, Developer Jose Antonio Brings Glitz and Glamour to Real Estate in Manila

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