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City & Country: My Space - No horsing around
By Au Foong Yee of
Friday, 14 February 2014 23:30 Bookmark and Share
S P Setia’s innovative 5:95 scheme for its Setia Alam township was well-received

Brace yourself for a rough ride in the Year of the Wood Horse. Caution is thick in the air and sentiments have largely been reversed compared with a year ago. A wait-and-see mood is now the order of the day.

Interestingly, even feng shui experts are giving conflicting predictions on the real estate and construction sectors in Malaysia. A sign of uncertainty, don’t you think?

Whatever the case may be, the reality remains — if developers have been working hard to woo buyers previously, they should expect more trying times ahead.

The market-cooling measures unveiled in Budget 2014 have already kicked in, no doubt. Though not unexpected — what with the escalating property prices and household debts — even genuine buyers are not spared the tighter lending regulations.

Besides the supply-and-demand factor, the market is also grappling with growing concerns about inflation.

Consequently, the volume of real estate transactions is getting thin. Still, it is not all doom and gloom. The good news is interest in real estate has not faded altogether. This is particularly so for select property types, including landed homes in preferred addresses with good accessibility. Gated developments remain attractive because of security issues. Affordable homes with immediate or promised accessibility are also much sought after.

Contrary to widespread speculation, price dips have not been noticeable. The real test, however, will come when speculators who invested based solely on the attractive Developer Interest Bearing Scheme (DIBS) and easy mortgage regime start servicing their loans in a quiet or downturn market.

In such a scenario, speculators will have no choice but to become longer-term investors or exit at a loss.

For those who can recall, there was a mixed reaction when S P Setia introduced  the innovative 5:95 scheme for its Setia Alam township project in 2009. Because the easy financing scheme only required purchasers to put a 5% downpayment, the project was a big hit with buyers. However, sceptics were worried about the impact on the market when these houses were ready two years later. But as it panned out, the units were completed during an uptrend in the market, so the buyers found themselves in the money.

Speculation is not apparent on the secondary market where the subject properties are already built and thus offer no immediate “window” for price appreciation.

Developers know that it is an uphill task trying to win over the shrinking pool of buyers in the coming days. The cost of doing business, land and building materials is rising yet demand for homes is subdued. With creative pricing schemes such as DIBS no longer allowed and financial institutions more stringent on financing, developers will have to compete  through cost efficiency, product and design creativity, branding and marketing.

Then there is the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to contend with from April 2015.

In an environment of uncertainty, the “men”, and not the “boys”, among the players are best positioned to withstand the test. Buyers must watch out for offers that are not realistic — you would not want to be saddled with an inferior product. Your best bet would be to buy from established developers that have a good track record.

Meanwhile, it’s no party for contractors either. While construction material prices have not yet increased in tandem with higher fuel and electricity costs, a hike is imminent, like it or not.

Some may argue that a lower demand for buildings will bring down the cost of building materials, but this is not necessarily so because the construction of the MRT and LRT lines are in full swing. Adding to that is the construction of a large number of residential and commercial buildings launched last year and the year before.

Contractors who have won jobs will have to bite the bullet to complete them based on the tendered rates. Those planning to tender for new jobs will surely raise the numbers in anticipation of higher material and labour costs.

On a different note, more Malaysian developers are building their portfolios outside the country, particularly in London and Melbourne. Meanwhile, developers from these markets are eyeing Malaysian buyers, hence the high frequency of exhibitions and sales of overseas properties in Kuala Lumpur.

In the meantime, developers in China are beginning to show interest in Malaysia while major developers in Hong Kong, hit by cooling measures at home, are reportedly working hard to woo buyers in mainland China. According to a Reuters report, even Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd, controlled by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, was said to be offering expensive car parking bays for free in densely populated Hong Kong to attract buyers.

Indeed, this is not a year to horse around with your investments.

Au Foong Yee is managing director of The Edge Malaysia

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 14, 2014. welcomes your views.
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