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Standing out key to sporting chance in prestige market

Cameron Johnson
6 min read
Cameron Johnson says a strong team is a big factor in creating a successful development. Photo: Sun Property Group

Standing out key to sporting chance in prestige market

Expert in Focus Cameron Johnson delves into the detail of developing prestige properties in Sydney’s top suburbs.

In a low volume, high-priced prestige property market, innovation and creativity are the tools of the trade. 

Focused on high-end boutique residential developments in some of Sydney’s top blue-chip suburbs, such as Mosman and Neutral Bay, Sun Property Group general manager Cameron Johnson is at the helm of a company producing and selling boutique residential and mixed use property developments on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. 

The luxury property market has proven not just resilient, but positively buoyant, throughout a year dominated by the social and economic uncertainty of COVID-19. 

Drawing upon the occasional sporting analogy, Mr Cameron shared with API Magazine his two decades of experience in the property industry, shedding light on the prestige market’s 2021 prospects, managing the creative forces behind SPG’s design output, and Sydney’s gradual recovery from an era of questionable urban planning.

 

Please tell us a bit about the priorities and day-to-day tasks of the General Manager of SPG? 

Every day I have the opportunity to add a positive impact to people’s lives by creating homes the way people want to live. In service of this purpose, my priority is our people. 

I have a strong sports background, and a famous quote I often refer to is “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” 

My role is to bring our team together and ensure the players are in their best positions on the field. To help each of people grow I aim to empower their decision making through context and I do this by arming and resourcing our people as much as practicable. So, day to day this includes check-ins, simply asking people how they are and if I can help in any way. We have a high work ethic at SPG, and with it an attitude of finishing what we start. This is represented in our project’s past, present and future and the responsibilities of my role, its full spectrum, no day is ever the same.      

Property development is a complex space that involves multiple inputs from skilled, creative and imaginative people. It’s also a very subjective space to work in. How are potentially differing opinions about things like design managed and decisions reached? 

Let’s take design specifically. We appoint a captain for design, and for this we are extremely fortunate to have top strategic thinker and architect Tony Leung, of A+ Design Group, working alongside us. 

Once we have given Tony and his team context and the framework of the objectives of the site, the compliance needs, quality expectations and customer profile, we empower A+ to bring the necessary parts together and to lead, create and execute. Candour and feedback are essential components of making this model work, but fundamentally this approach is highly informative towards effective decision making.  

With your focus on the luxury development market, there is a premium on originality and style to appeal to a discerning market. What are some of the aspects of construction undergoing the most innovation and evolution?

Our products are luxury apartments residing within boutique complexes. From our perspective, and in New South Wales, an evolution is the move to ‘trustworthy buildings’, an initiative of the NSW Government, led by the NSW Building Commissioner. 

SPG, along with several other developers, has been calling for some time to bring greater transparency and accountability to the industry. The legislative and regulatory changes are brilliant for consumers and when embedded will raise NSW to a level of building and development quality that could arguably be the best in the world. The innovations will follow, whereby I anticipate a move to smart and environmentally green buildings in our developments. They are generally cost prohibitive now, due to the infancy and capacity of current technology, but will become much more commonplace and act as points of difference. 

With COVID having curtailed international visits and investment, and placed a strain on home opens, has the way SPG’s marketing reaches its audience changed in the past year or so? 

Yes completely. Our customers are generally local owner occupier downsizers. The advent of COVID has pushed us to strive for personal engagement with our customers, there certainly have been some very positive learnings from the past 12 months. 

The prestige property market in Sydney has proven not just resilient but positively buoyant since the pandemic. Much has been made of the increasing inequality of wealth in Australia in recent years but are there other specific factors driving this market segment? 

Personally, I am a big believer in hard work, and there are a lot of Australians who have worked incredibly hard over their lives to have an opportunity to be able to access prestige property. 

We have got to be realistic; the prestige property market is a small segment of the wider property market, serving a small customer base. This customer base, like any other, is intuitive, observes the state of the national economy and buys for life circumstances. There is a genuine flight to quality for this market segment, however, it is location and timing that in my view are the essential drivers. 

SPG is focused on high-end boutique residential developments in some of Sydney’s top blue-chip suburbs like Mosman and Neutral Bay. Are there plans to pursue opportunities in other areas or to consolidate within your specialty market? 

We have recently acquired two properties in Toorak, Melbourne, which we plan to bring to the market late 2021. With delivery expected mid-2023, we consider this project will be a stepping-stone to nationwide SPG projects.  

We identify incredibly well with our customer, the local owner occupier downsizer. With our customer prioritised and our team framework well established, we believe our product offering, which allows our people to customise their homes, is highly transferable to other state capitals and regional centres throughout Australia. 

For 15 years you were a consulting land surveyor and town planner. How do you rate Sydney as a planned city and if you could change anything about the layout of the city, what would be your priorities? 

Haha, I don’t! 

Sydney blew it in the mid-20th century when the government of the time lost control of the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme*. Generally, the current government’s vision, along with the work of some others before it, of multiple cities within a city is very sound. 

People identify with place, when they do this they love where they live, and where they love where they live people strive to bring almost every part of their lives close to them. Sydney is blessed to have many urban villages that are unique in their own way, connecting them, old and new, and thus centralising planning around place is the way to go.    

* Released in 1948, the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme was arguably New South Wales' first attempt at a comprehensive and coordinated town plan for metropolitan Sydney. It introduced land use zoning, suburban employment zones, open space acquisitions, and the idea of a green belt for greater Sydney. The forward-thinking belt was continually attacked by developers, who saw it as an impediment to future profits. In response to these mounting pressures, the Cumberland County Council was dissolved in December 1963 and replaced by a State Planning Authority.

 

SPG says it is focused on producing quality property development projects which engender a lasting social legacy. Can you tell us a bit about exactly what this entails? 

Our purpose is to add a positive impact to people’s lives by creating homes the way people want to live. Every one of our customers has their own story and it’s our responsibility to understand this and help them on life’s journey. 

When not focused on property development, you’re an avid skier. Where are the best places you’ve hit the slopes locally and internationally? 

I’m a big Thredbo man, there is no better spot than the Bluff on a powder day! I’ve done a little skiing in Austria, and Japan and the US are on the list!

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