More than a decade in the making

17 July 2023

by The Edge

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One of the earliest and biggest precincts in the Horizon Hills township, the 106.26-acre The Hills comprises 1,136 link houses, cluster homes and bungalows. Launched in 2007, the precinct has had a high standard of maintenance and upkeep over the years.

“Our goal is to ensure a well maintained and sustainable living environment for the residents [of The Hills and other precincts]. So, it has always been about taking care of the people and environment and for the residents to live peacefully,” says Horizon Hills Development Sdn Bhd general manager Jim Woon.

Located in Iskandar Puteri, Johor, Horizon Hills was jointly developed by Gamuda Land (property arm of Gamuda Bhd) and UEM Sunrise Bhd and. The 1,228-acre township has residential and commercial components as well as a golf course.

Managed by Horizon Hills Property Services Sdn Bhd (subsidiary of Gamuda Land), the property management team won the Silver award in the 10 years and Above — Non-strata Residential category at The Edge Malaysia Best Managed and Sustainable Awards (BMSPA) 2023.

This is not The Hills’ first award at the BMSPA. The precinct previously received Special Mention in the Below 10 Years — Non-strata Residential category in 2018.

Other precincts in the township have also won awards at the BMSPA. D’Suites bagged the Gold award in the Below 10 Years — Multiple-owned Strata Residential category in 2019 and The Cove received the Gold award in the Below 10 Years — Non-strata Residential category in 2020. The township also struck gold at The Edge Malaysia-ILAM Sustainable Landscape Awards 2020.

Creating vibrancy
For the residents, being the heart of The Hills, having a vibrant community not only elevates the liveliness of the neighbourhood but also creates a sense of security.

“Every morning and evening, we can see residents running, jogging, cycling or walking their pets around the neighbourhood. Some even jog at night,” says Woon, pointing out that there are 5km of cycling lanes and walkways around the precinct.

To him, seeing residents around the neighbourhood at night is a sign of a safe environment.

“You can see people are encouraged to come out and walk, even in the middle of the night, because they know the place is safe,” he says, adding that the management places an emphasis on making sure all the streetlights in the precinct are functioning properly.

Woon says the shaping of this environment did not happen overnight.

“In the initial years, we had a lot of foreign buyers investing in properties in this precinct but we could see that the units were empty,” he recalls, adding that most of the units owned by foreigners were for investment purposes or who stayed there only on weekends.

Woon reveals that prior to the pandemic, the ratio of local and foreign residents stood at 80% and 20% respectively. However, some foreign buyers were unable to enter the country during the pandemic and 10% had to dispose of their units.

He observes that more Malaysians are moving into the township and the precinct, living there full-time and making the neighbourhood livelier than ever. The Hills currently has an occupancy rate of 76%, of which 90% are locals.

To further boost the vibrancy of the The Hills, the property management team is in the midst of constructing two basketball courts. “These are some of the enhancements we are putting in place for the use of residents’ to [boost the vibrancy of the neighbourhood].”

Investing in enhancements
The team has also undertaken enhancement projects over the years. Some of the enhancements include digitalisation initiatives such as the GL Lifestyle Mobile app, strengthening the security system and investing in advanced machinery for upkeep efficiency.

To tend to the residents’ needs swiftly and ensure they are aware of the actions taken by the property management team, the GL Lifestyle Mobile app was introduced in 2019. Its broad functionality includes visitor registration, facility booking, food and grocery delivery from nearby shops, payments and fees, feedback forms, emergency button and access to notices and circulars.

“The residents are able to forward their needs or feedback to us on anything, from the common areas to things that may affect their house,” says Horizon Hills Property Services township manager Eric Kee.

This allows the property manager to keep track of any issues that arise in the neighbourhood and swiftly address feedback and complaints. Woon points out that there is a high usage of the app among residents, especially during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

“The residents were not familiar with the [app] when it was introduced. However, due to the MCO, they began to familiarise themselves with the app,” says Kee.

Safety and security is paramount and constantly needs reviewing and enhancement to make sure there are no blind spots in the security system.

“We have had incidents of house break-ins and domestic workers running away in the early years. So, we decided to strengthen our neighbourhood’s security tier,” says Woon.

The Hills initially had a three-tier security system. Over the years, it has been strengthened to a five-tier system — 24-hour security patrols, perimeter fencing, home security alarm system with panic button, electric fence, and solar and WiFi-operated CCTV, which was introduced in 2022.

There are also body cameras attached to security guards as an additional feature to deter crime, as these would be able to record footage for evidence when needed.

Other investments included the purchase of an industry-grade road sweeper and an electric-powered vacuum machine. The purpose of purchasing such machinery is to hasten work efficiency when it comes to the cleanliness of the precinct.

“We used to receive complaints of dry leaves not being swept away by workers or that the cleaning was not done on time. After we started using this machine, we have not received as many complaints as before,” says Kee.

Cost savings
All the initiatives implemented by the management are to ensure lower operational and labour costs.

“We could foresee that the labour cost would be a challenge to maintain the landscape and environment. So, we purchased this machine to cut down on the headcount, and the machines are more efficient than workers,” says Kee.

The solar and WiFi-operated CCTV requires minimal maintenance, thanks to the solar cells that fully charge the battery to be used for night-time operations. The management team also reduced the number of security guards to 30 from 34.

In all, there has been an annual operational cost savings of RM187,464. The use of the industry-grade road sweeper and electric-powered vacuum machine alone has allowed the team to reduce five workers, with a yearly savings of RM31,200.

“These are the lessons we learnt during the MCO. We faced a shortage of manpower and increasing labour cost. We tried to find a balance between workers and machinery,” says Kee, adding that they are moving in the direction of being less reliant on manpower.

Communication forges strong relationships
Unlike a strata development, where the maintenance is only between the property manager and management committee, the maintenance and upkeep of a non-strata development is under the purview of the local council. Though the property management team is still very much involved in the maintenance of The Hills, it also has to engage with the local council when it comes to the maintenance of common areas.

To make sure there is active engagement with the local council, the team took the initiative to form a 24-hour WhatsApp group with the local council in 2020.

“We work very closely with the maintenance team and subcontractors from the local council. We also have the personal contact number of the person in charge of the maintenance department at the local council. This way, we can update them on any issues that arise and follow up on any pending issues,” says Kee.

Woon and Kee effectively act as a bridge for the residents to communicate with the local council. “We make sure to keep the residents informed on what is going on and what actions we will take to resolve problems,” says Woon.

The challenge ahead
A non-strata development requires the formation of a residents’ association (RA). This is a challenge that the team is still facing, even after 15 years.

The residents are not willing to form the RA just yet, says Woon. Even though most are still reluctant, some are beginning to be more open to the idea.

Kee explains that the Horizon Hills team had previously pushed the idea of forming an RA among the residents.

“We are more than willing to hand over the maintenance of the precinct to the residents if they wish to take over and form an RA. They do understand the importance of an RA. However, with development still ongoing, they are not going to form one. Maybe when the project is completed, they will consider forming one,” says Woon.



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