A multi-millionaire at the age of 29, Harj Uppal has a portfolio and personal fortune that would make many green with envy.

Being the co-founder and director of Regency Real Estate, which is touted as Sydney’s leading real estate consultancy, Harj Uppal is already a multi-millionaire at the age of 29, an achievement that can be attributed to a combination of work ethic, an aptitude for business and a deep love for what he does. 


From hospitality to high-end property


Uppal has nearly a decade of real estate experience behind him, but he wasn’t always in this business. “I was an operations manager in the hospitality line (before going into property), and before starting Regency Real Estate, I was working for other property companies.

“I wasn’t happy with how those businesses were being run; there was no real hands-on approach to the market, and I wanted to create something all-encompassing.”

And that was how, in 2012, Regency Real Estate was born. The firm specialises in high-end commercial and luxury residential property, assisting its clients in areas such as leasing, buying and selling properties, as well as estate and asset management, property valuation and maintenance, vacation rental, and interior design.

And in line with his vision of setting up an all-encompassing business, the firm targets different demographics from India, the Middle East, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.


The personal approach


Uppal certainly isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He says of his involvement in the company: “My role essentially includes creating larger networks, and the day-to-day running of the company. We have 12 agents, 12 salespeople, two administrative staff, one office manager, and a couple of interns to help put together sales material. But I’m still pretty hands-on, and I go to open houses with the staff if they require me to do so.”

He also places a strong emphasis on building his network and attests: “I think the personal approach is very important, especially in this business.”

As proof of his commitment to practicing what he preaches, he has chosen not to hire any PR staff. “I don’t think I need a PR person. I prefer to handle my correspondence myself, and there’s no call I won’t take.

“Take the call. Is it going to hurt you? No. Many a time, I’ve taken a call that has had no fiscal value, but in terms of reputation, it’s beneficial.” 


Predictions and ambitions


When it comes to further growing his business, Uppal has his sights set on Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

He also says, “We are currently in talks with Los Angeles and the United Kingdom. We have a list of more than 40 development sites for sale, with 112 units coming up in Sydney, which will attract the Chinese demographic there.”


A family affair


On the topic of mentors, in or out of the real estate industry, without hesitation, he replies: “My family. We’re all in different industries, but my parents have always pushed my siblings and me to be successful in whatever we do, to thrive in our environments.”

He reveals that his parents were by no means wealthy immigrants to Australia, where he was born and grew up. He, therefore, had to work doubly hard to reach his current status and credits his family’s support in helping him to succeed.

“Starting a business is mentally and emotionally draining. When you’re dealing with someone else’s money, there’s a lot of pressure. You need a support system, be it a partner or your family.”


Giving as good as he gets


The one thing he readily admits: “I’m very capitalistic.” Indeed, when one considers the almost AUD600 million (RM1773.11 million) in sales Regency Real Estate hit last year and the 2,000 units it sold in 2014, this revelation comes as no surprise. He also reveals that the firm is working on three boutique developments in Sydney alone.

But it’s not all business and profit for Uppal. Regency Real Estate has created a company called Click Projects, which specialises in pre-fabricated housing solutions. This has in turn given birth to Earth Houses, an initiative that “gives governments an opportunity to provide affordable housing to those who need it”.

He says: “We believe everyone deserves shelter. This is necessary even in countries with extreme wealth, such as Indonesia. There’s no reason someone should sleep on the street.”

The pre-fabricated aspect also bodes well in extreme weather conditions, especially for victims of natural disasters. The excitement is evident in his voice when he talks about the possibilities: “We can create a 60 sqm dwelling within four to eight hours, which would be fantastic for countries hit by natural disasters, like Nepal. We can build a 250 sqm dwelling with high-end finishes within 12 weeks. We’re currently discussing three major contracts, and are in the middle of building houses in Australia.”

Eager as he is about Earth Houses, however, PropertyGuru is the first news outlet he has spoken to about it. He says he wants to take care not to turn this charitable initiative into just another PR opportunity.

“We’re not profiting from this in any monetary way. The profits are intangible, and we’re doing this because we can. Personally, I prefer to do something concrete instead of simply donating money, because I wouldn’t know where the money will go. I’m definitely very excited about Earth Houses.”


The learning process


As someone who started his own real estate consultancy after just five years of being in the industry, Uppal has had his share of challenges. Being the new kid on the block in an industry dominated by large players who had been there for decades, he had to educate himself on every aspect of the game.

In the process, he familiarised himself with planning systems, architectural knowledge, essential knowledge for developers and builders and even back-end feasibility for developers. Doing so proved instrumental in helping the company weather its unfavourable beginnings.

“We opened in 2012 when the global financial crisis was at its peak in Sydney, so it was tough. But thanks to our resilience and know-how, as well as betting on ourselves instead of on the market, we are now prepared for a possible downturn. Many businesses start when the market is good and they don’t know what to do when it goes bad. We did the opposite.”

When asked about what he has learnt so far, he replies, “Always know your product and environment: demographics, zoning issues, etc.

“I treat my clients the same way I would like to be treated. Service is the biggest key to this business. Because we’re in an IT age, don’t try to swindle a buyer. Just be honest. Buyers know what they want, and if you cheat them and they find out, it costs you and your company your reputation.”

Ultimately, it comes back to the personal approach for Uppal. “Always be personal and go that extra mile for your clients. If it’s their son’s birthday, send them something small. Create a relationship; not everything has to be about business.”


Read the full interview by Cheryl Marie Tay in the print version The PropertyGuru News & Views. The online version appears on PropertyGuru.com.sg.