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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Budget incentives for property sector

This is the last in a series of articles by PricewaterhouseCoopers which appear on Mondays and Wednesdays leading up to Budget 2010

Abolishment of the real property gains tax, reduction in stamp duty for properties in a certain price range, and the construction and property sector gaining most from the stimulus packages announced – these are clear indications of the Government’s focus on this sector to help accelerate economic growth.

The positive multiplier effect from an improved performance in the construction and property sector is tremendous, with the stakeholder chain including the manufacture and supply of building materials; the service industry of contractors, architects, engineers, etc; the developers and even the financial institutions.

This industry is not just about residential and commercial development but also the tourism and industrial economy. It is a holistic economic driver.

Take the tourism industry for example. When tourist arrivals are up, there will also be a boost to hotel and retail consumer demand. With tourism being one of the Government’s top priority growth sectors, there has been a focus on encouraging the development of affordable three-star hotels to attract mass tourists.

However, with the country shifting towards a modern developed economy, we must turn our attention to attracting investments into upmarket, boutique and innovative hotel property development to bring the industry to the next level; tourist arrivals must increase together with the increase in value spending.

Hotel owners should be given additional incentives to bring the investment yield return earlier. It may be worthy to relook at the existing investment tax allowance incentive as well as the availability of duty exemption for materials in hotel property development.

Closely linked to the tourism industry is the availability of retail attractions to complement hotels of similar class, with retail development popularly linked to commercial office space development to provide the consistent retail traffic. Commercial space also remains the top three property interest of Malaysian and foreign investors.

Currently, there are no incentives for the retail sector. Consideration should be given to developing incentives holistically and linking it with initiatives to drive tourism, thus providing further push to the sector. Perhaps tax incentives such as income exemption based on retail investment turnover value or spending on green technology can be given to retail outlets or “green” commercial buildings.

When it comes to landed or high-rise residential properties, crisis or not, there seems to be no lack of demand, with some of these properties being snapped up on launch.

This show of investor confidence bodes well for the real estate sector which has attracted much foreign investment and known to offer a reasonable investment yield.

Hence, we must continue to attract foreign investment into the high-end property development market and leverage our “preferred location” status in this part of the world.

Here, the attraction for foreign investors would not be tax incentives but rather, high quality development with full facilities and in a prime location – the formula to high investment yield. Hence, the Government should continue to deliver on its policies to facilitate a speedy investment process for foreigners.

A final analysis on the property sector is for the Government to consider how it can support the wish of most Malaysians to own their own home. Malaysia has a large middle-income population who strive to own a home and it is this dream which can keep the demand for residential property healthy.

With pockets of initiatives sporadically introduced such as the reduction in interest rates, subsidies given to developers for low-cost housing and even financial institutions’ willingness to reschedule loan repayments, we must ask if more can be done.

Relative to our salary standards, it is becoming more difficult for the middle-income group/family to sustain a home, let alone own one. Suggestions previously put forward such as first home subsidy and deduction for interest expense on loans for home purchases should be reviewed.

Some other thoughts are tax rebates for a certain period of the loan term depending on the value of property purchased, different stamp duty rates for different property prices, unprecedented tax breaks for developers undertaking certain types of projects or development type.

The challenge will be in ensuring that the savings given to developers is passed on.

The property sector plays a crucial role in sustaining and spurring economic growth. There is a compelling need to review and introduce policies that are holistic and integrated, with incentives provided to each player in the property chain and across the portfolio of properties.

● Ng Say Guat is executive director at PricewaterhouseCoopers Taxation Services Sdn Bhd.

By The Star (by Ng Say Guat)

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