Singapore Investor Shows Mettle In Rehabbing Indy Homes

By Jeff Swiatek
The Indianapolis Star.

Clara Tan Lisin is funneling Asian money into Indianapolis to repair dozens of homes in some of the city’s most down-and-out neighborhoods.

It’s been a difficult year and a half for Lisin, who heads a Singapore company called CTL Global Holdings. She’s lost $500,000 or so to contractors for disputed work. Her assistant had a gun pointed at him. And on one of her visits to Indianapolis, she says, someone tried to snatch the necklace from around her neck.

“I was just in shock,” she says. “There are dangerous people.”

On a fall afternoon, Lisin stands on the porch of an Eastside house, wearing a turquoise jacket, black miniskirt and high heels with over-the-knee black socks. CTL recently finished renovating the two-story house, but it wasn’t easy.

Her employees found an elderly woman and her adult son living there as squatters. Inside were 17 cats and dogs. Trash filled every room of the three-bedroom house, and Lisin points to a living room ceiling that was blackened from indoor barbecuing.

“A lot of things were in extremely bad shape,” she says. “I don’t understand why they were living in such bad conditions. There were dead cats in the basement. Is it dead cats or dead dogs?”

One of her construction team leaders, Norman Williams, is listening. “Both,” he says, “and there were dead rats down there.”

It’s safe to say that Indianapolis’ street scene has never seen an investor quite like Lisin, whose naivete about the city, American culture and urban problems hasn’t stopped her from plunging into the risky business of housing redevelopment.

The 30-something businesswoman says she grew up in Malaysia, went to college in London and worked 10 years for the German software and services company SAP before starting CTL in 2010 in Singapore, where she now lives. CTL’s Asian investment brochures describe her as having “the Midas touch” and the ability to help investors “invest in property without laying a hand on it.”

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