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Sunday, May 25, 2008

KLCC not overpriced

There is no denying that the iconic Petronas Twin Towers in the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) have served Malaysia well as they have put the country on the world map. The towers have not only created a focal point for the country and the Klang Valley, but also added value to the KLCC area where property prices are concerned. Over the last few years, several high-rise luxury projects have been launched and prices for luxury condominiums in the KLCC today have breached the RM2,000 psf mark.

But is there any more upside potential in the KLCC? Or is it all just hype?

Three panellists at The Edge Investment Forum on Real Estate 2008, with the theme "What's hot; what's not", addressed these issues when they presented a paper on "A real estate success story — KLCC: A developer's perspective". They were Glomac Bhd's group managing director Datuk FD Iskandar Mohd Mansor, Bandar Raya Developments Bhd's CEO Datuk Jagan Sabapathy and executive chairman of Beneton Properties Group Datuk Chan Sau Lai.

The panellists (from left): FD Iskandar, Jagan and Chan

Moderated by Datuk Richard Fong, president of the International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci) Malaysian chapter and group executive vice-chairman of Glomac, the panel concurred that the KLCC is far from overpriced.

According to FD Iskandar, if one were to compare similar high-end properties in Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Manila and even Ho Chi Minh City, KL's properties are among the cheapest in the region. One of the simplest ways to measure if a city is expensive is to use the Big Mac Index created by The Economist.

FD Iskandar points out that Malaysia has one of the cheapest Big Macs in the world, which means the city is "cheap".

Jagan feels the same way. "I think the dilemma for most of us is that KL is a cheap city but the KLCC is expensive. People find this difficult to reconcile with. The reality is that the city is a cheap place to live in, do business and invest and I think we're beginning to see the fruits of it," says Jagan.

He adds that there is still a lot of domestic liquidity available and although there is a credit crunch in the US and Europe, money is coming in from China, India and the Middle East. "It is common for the Arabs to put money into real estate. All this money has to find a home. The KLCC is an attractive proposition as our interest rates are low."

Malaysia's "fairly decent" economic activity and the huge amounts of investment coming in from the oil and gas and telecommunications sectors have also created more high-paying jobs. Jagan sees this as an impetus for the market. Furthermore, the country's improving educational facilities are proving to be attractive to foreigners looking to send their children overseas for education. "These people will be looking to buy quality properties. There is definitely money to buy and rent," says Jagan.

Looking at the big picture, he says Malaysia has now become attractive to high net worth Malaysians and global citizens who own several homes all over the world. "KL is the best-kept secret in the entire world, but we do an awful job telling people how good it is. I think it's a conspiracy by the rakyat to keep property prices down!"

Jagan was echoing FD Iskandar's point that Malaysia needs to be "rebranded". According to Iskandar, there will always be wealthy people who want the best and are looking for alternatives for their investments. "I believe the KLCC offers the best not only in Malaysia but also in Southeast Asia."

One of the steps that can be taken by the government to attract foreign investors is to market and position KL as an international Islamic financial hub, says FD Iskandar. "We need to focus our efforts on making KL the preferred destination to attract global investors, issuers and high net worth individuals to take advantage of their surplus private and sovereign funds."

FD Iskandar feels that the Malaysia My Second Home programme needs to be marketed better and that this should fall under the purview of the Prime Minister's Department to ensure more efficiency, speedier approvals and seamless inter-ministerial coordination.

The panel also discussed the scarcity of land in the KLCC. According to Jagan, locals and foreigners are picking up land very quickly. "Prices can only go one way — up, and that's the reality of it," he says.

Undoubtedly, the shortage of land will drive prices higher but Jagan says if one were to compare KLCC's prices on a per plot ratio basis, they are still cheaper than those in other cities in the region. "For example, YTL group's recent land purchase at RM2,000 psf in Jalan Stonor. On a per plot ratio, we're looking at a pricing of RM200 to RM300."

Chan, whose company was one of the first players in the KLCC with its Stonor Park project, says it is definitely the place to be today. "It is cool, chic and the place to chill out."

He says there are a few key factors for a successful development — location, good design and timing. "In all major capitals of the world, any development adjacent to, or with a view of iconic landmarks, will always succeed."

"In the KLCC area, projects with a view of the iconic Twin Towers will have a good chance to succeed," he adds.

According to Chan, developers also need not worry if their projects offer good design. "Good designs always sell and at the prices that KLCC properties command these days, they are more than homes. They are a statement of the owner's social standing and the people who live in them," he says.

A case in point is Bandar Raya Developments' Troika. The developer bought the land for RM560 psf in 2004 and priced the units at RM1,000 psf when it launched a year later. The market, says Jagan, reacted accordingly. "People thought we were crazy buying land at that price and even crazier when we began selling. But we had a plan and launched Troika in stages. We were not going to compete on pricing but architecture," he adds.

The strategy has certainly paid off for Bandar Raya. The Norman Foster-designed Troika today has recorded transactions at RM2,500 psf, with a portfolio of investors from over 20 countries.
"There is no hype. What we're seeing is real," says Jagan.

The past few years have certainly seen great changes to the KLCC skyline, with property prices moving at a fast clip, says Chan. He feels that as prices continue to escalate, there are two issues to consider. "First, those who want to and can afford to live in the KLCC area will buy irrespective of price. Second, investors who buy for yield or capital gain will have to consider carefully the state of the rental market."

According to Chan, as the cost psf of KLCC properties increases, condo sizes need to be smaller in order to achieve the same yields. "Moving forward, for the KLCC's property market to grow, expat rental allowance should increase and investor yield expectation should match that of other major cities. For example, rental yield for Hong Kong property in a prime area is about 2% return per year," he adds.

For KL's property market to be on a par with cities such as London, Hong Kong and Singapore, Chan agrees that KL needs to be branded as a financial hub and it has to formulate policies that will allow free movement of capital. "The government should also look at reducing or eliminating stamp duty, waiving the Real Property Gains Tax, placing no limit on the number of transactions and improving the collection of service charges and property maintenance."

Fong says the KLCC is still hot and those looking to invest should do so now.

By The EDGE Malaysia - (Article from The EDGE Investment Forum On Real Estate 2008)

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