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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Buyers find good value in economic downturn

When Diane See decided to move to Ara Damansara, after her daughter Jona, 5, got a place at the neighbourhood kindergarten last year, she found the home of her dreams nearby.

It was attached, with five bedrooms – but, sadly, at RM700,000, it was beyond her price range.

See, who was renting in the interim, finally bought the property this year for just RM525,000. She completed renovations three weeks ago and intends to move in once the new patio is ready and the decorators have left.

“I was so pleased, because I couldn’t afford to pay more than I did, and I had been looking at it for sometime,” See says.

“It’s a fascinating location and it’s all gone smoothly,” she says.

A wise person once said “don’t buy the house, buy the neighbourhood”. It certainly pays to know what’s the going rate per square foot in your neighbourhood.

It seems to be a cracking time to be buying residential properties especially in strategic locations.

The general consensus is that 2009 is shaping up to be a good year for the country’s housing market.

According to an analyst with a local research house, it is generally a good time to buy property now especially for owner-occupier residential property.

“Interest rates are at an all-time low while developers are willing to absorb much of the upfront property ownership costs such as stamp duty, legal fees, and interest,” he said.

He adds that buyers who are waiting for cheaper prices are going to be disappointed as prices have generally been stable (some even higher).

“Unlike during the Asian financial crisis a decade ago, there is no fire sale in the secondary market now. Even the developers are in stronger financial footing as the current gearing level is half of the level seen during the Asian financial crisis. This means developers can wait for sentiments to improve before launching new properties rather than dumping them at fire sale prices,” he says.

He says although much of the recent revival in residential property transactions was due to the attractive housing loan packages offered by developers and there is a possibility of buying activities easing once these packages are terminated, it does not mean that prices will start falling.

“As consumer sentiments improve and fear of job losses dissipates going forward, buying activities will continue even without the housing loan packages,” he says.

There are also bargains to be found in forced sale situations for whatever reasons they are placed on the market by mortgage lenders who have repossessed them from landlords who were unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.

A banker with a local bank who handles auction sale says that it has been improving from year to year.

“This year auction sales probably have the best improvement due to fewer options in the primary market and fair value as compared to new properties,” he says.

He says year to date there has been an increase of 20% in terms of value and 11% in terms of transactions under his portfolio.

He adds that the increase is due to public acceptance towards auction and an increase in participation of real estate agencies in auction marketing.

Meanwhile, Kim Realty business development manager Azlan Adnan who has sold four properties last month says that a notable trend in this low interest climate is that government servants are opting to take bank loans instead.

“We’re getting to the stage where civil servants are opting for bank loans and saving their government loans until they get a promotion and are entitled to a higher loan later,” he says.

“People are actively looking for properties,” Azlan says adding that current low interest rates make it a good time to buy now.

Apparently, it is a message that appears to be getting through to would-be buyers as well.

Dean Tan, 35, a lawyer, is hoping this will work for him: He is planning to add another property to his portfolio.

“Because I haven’t moved for 10 years, I’ve built up quite a lot of equity,” he says. “So I should be able to get a loan at this rate and earn extra income from my rental property.”

According to the Valuation and Property Services Department, the residential property sub-sector continued to spearhead market transactions last year by contributing 63.7% and 46.8% of the transaction volume and value, respectively. In total, 216,702 transactions worth RM41.30bil were recorded in 2008 against 199,482 transactions worth RM36.5bil in 2007.

For SK Brothers (M) Sdn Bhd managing director Chan Ai Ching, sentiments seem to be returning.

“There are quite a number of positives in favour of it being a good time to buy: attractive incentives for easy property ownership offered by developers including low payments, zero interest during construction, subsidised legal fees, freebies and lots more making it easy for buyers to purchase and some are designed to reduce the fear of uncertainties; attractive interest rates; and loan packages offered by the banks and the availability of choices/options.”

However nothing beats doing your homework to ensure that the price, package and property meet your requirement.

“It would not be wise to buy for the sake of buying,” she says.

So instead of leaving your money in the bank, earning little interest – put it in bricks and mortar. But unlike stocks and money, which can lose value on any day, you cannot dump real estate in a single day and try something new tomorrow.

By The Star (by Eileen Hee)

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