Editor’s note: This is the second part of DealStreetAsia’s reporting into Revolution Precrafted. The first part of our story is here.
Revolution Precrafted, the Philippines’ first tech unicorn, is under pressure for its slow progress and aggressive marketing as deals with top global architects fizzle away and angry customers gather on social media.
At least two “starchitects” told DealStreetAsia that they have stopped working with Revolution, which obtained its billion-dollar valuation on promises of building quick-turnaround luxury prefabricated homes. On Facebook, irate customers have gathered to share tales of frustration around the slow progress of their homes and what they perceive to be a lack of transparency from the company.
Revolution’s ambiguous answers to DealStreetAsia’s queries on its sales for Batulao Artscapes is throwing the authenticity of its bold claims even further into question.
Nebulous star deals
Revolution wasn’t just promising prefab homes in record time; those homes would also be designed by an international who’s who list of acclaimed architects such as the late Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind and Philip Johnson.
A check by DealStreetAsia revealed that while these starchitect partnerships did exist in the past, some of those relationships have since ceased to be.
Libeskind, known for designing Berlin’s Jewish Museum and the World Trade Centre site in Lower Manhattan, told DealStreetAsia over email that he is no longer working with Revolution. Jean Nouvel, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect who commissioned the “Simple” house from Revolution in 2016 to display at the International Contemporary Art Fair in Paris, said the same.
When asked, Revolution said that its contracts with the two architects had “expired.”
“Nonetheless, the company worked with these artists, hence, they are still part of the company’s portfolio,” a company spokesperson said.
Revolution took Libeskind’s ReCreation Pavilion off of its website some time in the evening of Thursday, Feb 27, after receiving our queries. However, the pavilion continues to be listed on Revolution’s Lazada page as a project available for commission. Libeskind did not respond to our queries on why this was so.
Apart from Nouvel and Libeskind, DealStreetAsia reached out to 10 other starchitects listed on Revolution’s website, including Zaha Hadid Architects, Christian de Portzamparc, Pelli Clarke and Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects. None responded by press time.
Revolution Precrafted may have also stretched the truth about sales.
In a 2019 Revolution sales deck seen by DealStreetAsia, the company said it had collected revenue on the sale of 415 units from January 2018 to March 2019 for its Batulao Artscapes project. Artscapes is jointly developed with Century Properties Group, a publicly listed property developer controlled by Revolution founder Robbie Antonio’s family.
However, Revolution and Century told us in separate email statements that just 249 out of a total 493 Artscapes units were sold as of the end of December 2019, not 415 units. Century even added that these 249 units comprised a sale value of about 1.37 billion Philippine pesos ($26.9 million).
To explain the discrepancy, Century Properties responded by saying that “Revolution may have different parameters from Century for booking sales.” Revolution, on the other hand, told DealStreetAsia to approach Batulao Artscapes. It did not explain what it meant by that.
It is also uncertain how much of the Artscapes project will involve Revolution Precrafted. According to Century Properties, less than a tenth of the entire Batulao Artscapes has been awarded to Revolution.
“Of the total 365,000 square meters (36.5ha) in Batulao Artscapes, Century has awarded 34,000 square meters or only 9.3 per cent to Revolution Precrafted,” Century Properties told DealStreetAsia. “About 157,274 square meters (15.7ha) will be under a different contractor while the balance is for future development.”
Century Properties did not say which contractor will be handling the 15.7ha part of the project.
Whatever the sales and whoever the contractor may be, the clock is ticking on the largely incomplete Batulao Artscapes.
When DealStreetAsia visited the site, the most complete units on the unfinished site were four showrooms, each designed by a different world-class architect. While two of the show units were fully furnished and open to the public, the other two were “already sold” and therefore not open for viewing, an on-site salesperson told us.
In separate statements to DealStreetAsia, the two companies said 124 Artscapes units were currently “on-progress” with an average completion of 67 per cent as of Jan 31, 2020. Another 68 units are underway. All those units are under the “Village 1” phase of development.
This would suggest that construction has yet to begin for the other 300 units planned for Village 1, even though the Artscapes project was launched more than two years ago in December 2017.
Both companies also said that the road network in Artscapes is 97 per cent complete with a second-quarter 2020 projection for completion. Amenities are expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2020.
Unhappy property buyers have begun taking their complaints about Revolution Precrafted to Facebook. One group focused on Revolution’s Flavorscapes project includes 681 members and hundreds of bitter comments.
Andrea (not her real identity), a Filipino buyer in her late-20s, told DealStreetAsia that she started paying the monthly amortisation for her downpayment in January 2019, after her agent promised that her home would be delivered by December in the same year.
That did not happen.
A trip to Lakeshore to check on the property found little sign of development except for model houses, she said.
“The model houses were very disappointing because they didn’t look like the ones we saw in the pictures that Revolution Precrafted presented. The model houses looked low-cost and the quality is questionable,” Andrea said.
When she sent an email to Revolution asking about its role in the Lakeshore Flavorscapes project, she was surprised to learn that Central Country Estate, Inc (CCEI) was the developer, not Revolution.
In January 2020, Andrea requested a cancellation and refund but has yet to receive a response from Revolution. To date, she has paid about 99,000 Philippine pesos ($2,000) in monthly instalments and is not hopeful about receiving her refund.
Nathali Rosil faced a similar experience. A Filipino postgraduate student in Canada, Rosil decided to buy a Cocoon unit in 2018 when Century Properties marketed Lakeshore Flavorscapes in Toronto.
When Rosil visited Pampanga in May 2019, she found the site largely undeveloped and farther from the highway than she had expected. The model house she saw did not resemble marketing photos.
To make things worse, Rosil received a notice from Revolution claiming that she had missed several months of payments, even though she said she had been diligently paying her monthly amortisation for over a year.
Deciding that she had had enough, Rosil asked for a refund in November 2019, but was told that the request is still pending a review by Revolution.
Rosil pointed out that while it was Century Properties that marketed Lakeshore Flavorscapes in Canada, Century disappeared from the picture after she began wiring funds for her house. Revolution took charge of fund collection, which struck her as an opaque arrangement.
Revolution, meanwhile, asserts that construction at Flavorscapes is in “full swing,” with its 93 of its homes in “varying stages of development and completion.”
“At present, site development for our Nest and Cocoon homes is at 50 percent. Around 50 units of Nest Home are being constructed in Blocks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 with most units at 60 percent completion,” a Revolution Precrafted spokesperson added.
Revolution Precrafted and CCEI, its partner developer for Flavorscapes, are also keeping rather ambitious targets for project delivery. Both are eyeing an initial turnover — meaning that property buyers will be allowed to possess 50 Nest and 42 Cocoon units — sometime in June-July 2020.
When asked about customer complaints, Revolution said, “All real estate projects receive complaints due to a number of factors which include changes in the financial capability of buyers.”
It did say that Revolution Precrafted has sold a total of 4,000 Flavorscapes units since its launch in February 2018.
On February 28, Revolution published in Philippine media what it said was a response to media reports on its projects. In a lengthy statement carried in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, it said:
“The participation of Revolution Precrafted is limited to being the supplier of homes. We maintain an asset light business model which allows us to partner with any developer landowners, or fabricator.
We originally offered prefabricated homes, pavilions and related structures designed by global and local architects, designers and artists. However, as early as 2018, we have announced that we are expanding our product portfolio to include traditional structures in order to increase our customer base.”
The company also sought to place responsibility for the progress of its projects on its business partners.
“As the developers, Century Properties and CCEI are responsible for the land and site developments of the projects. Only after being paid by the developers will Revolution Precrafted and its partner contractors build the homes. Construction of homes is anchored on timely payment of clients,” it said.
Andi Haswidi contributed to this story.