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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Creating a real estate investment destination

The Star’s regional editor (north) Choi Tuck Wo met up with Kuala Lumpur-based and Penang developers on what needs to be done further to promote Penang as a real estate investment destination.

The panellists of the roundtable included investPenang executive committee chairman Datuk Lee Kah Choon, Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) director Dr Teoh Poh Huat, Real Estate Housing Developers Association (Rehda, Penang) chairman Datuk Jerry Chan, IJM Land Bhd managing director Datuk Soam Heng Choon, Belleview Group managing director Datuk Sonny Ho, Ivory Properties Group chief operating officer Datuk Ooi Chin Loo, Iskandar & Associates chairman Dr Iskandar Ismail, Nusmetro Group director Thomas Chan, SP Setia (north) general manager S. Rajoo and KPMG partner Ooi Kok Seng.

The following are excerpts of the discussion:

StarBizWeek: What kind of impact will the effort to cool off property speculation in China have on property demand and property prices in Malaysia?

Iskandar: The overseas demand for Malaysian properties is actually overstated. Our foreign direct investment last year grew only by 1%, compared to 9% in Singapore. I have not seen any real evidence that people from Singapore are moving to Malaysia because the property is cheaper.

Soam: There are a lot of high net-worth investors from China to whom we can sell Penang, especially in Inner Mongolia, where there are states with high GDP.

In light of pending subsidies removal, will property prices in Penang reach a point that is beyond the affordability of Penangites? According to a Socio-Economic Research Institute report, property prices on the island is 14 times higher than annual household income.

Soam: Landed properties priced at RM250,000 are still available on the other side. The mainland is not out of reach from the island, just a bit further.

The main thing is still transportation. People do not mind if there is a good public transport system.

Thomas Chan: The removal of subsidies will have minimal impact on property prices.

How can the south-west district of the island be further developed to attract more foreign investments?

Rajoo: We can improve by having more roads and amenities in the south-west district. This corridor is grossly lacking in the infrastructure.

Soam: There is a lot of potential in the south-west district, as the second bridge is coming up and the airport expansion is starting to move.

How can Penang better utilise its heritage properties to attract investments, taking into consideration the 18m height constraint imposed by the local authorities?

Lee: Heritage by itself is a different sort of investment. Generally, my feeling is why do you want to build a property that is more than 18m in the heritage area? There are so many areas that you can build on. All the other houses in the heritage area are one or two stories high and suddenly you have a skyscraper rising from nowhere.

How can developers in Penang improve on their products to meet investors’ expectations?

Sonny Ho: The Japanese are used to staying in small houses. For them, 2,000sq ft is very big. It is not the case for the Europeans and Australians.

Jerry Chan: Rehda has proposed to the state to allow variable unit sizes and layouts within apartments or condo blocks for multi-general use.

What is the feedback from the recent overseas roadshows to promote Penang as an investment destination?

Soam: At a recent luxury property exhibition in China for the rich and famous, the first thing they asked was “Hey, where is Penang?” Most of the people know about KL City Centre, but they are not aware of Penang. We have to give Penang more exposure and branding.

Ho: Malaysia as a whole is a country that is friendly to foreign investors and Penang should do a big marketing and communication job to attract them.

By The Star

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