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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Land – the bread and butter of housing developers

A developer who wants to build on the RRIM land will have to first convert it to development land.

INCREASINGLY, the number of new developments being advertised and marketed of late are located further away from Kuala Lumpur closer to Rawang, Cyberjaya and Putrajaya with the projects undertaken by some of the larger Bursa-listed property developers.

The trend of such developers moving into periphereal locations started a couple of years ago due to the scarcity of large pieces of land between 50 acres and 100 acres close to or in the city which explains why there is so much interest in the Sg Buloh Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia (RRIM) land.

If the core business of a company is property development, then land is virtually gold to them. Without land, they will not be able to develop anything which means no sales and no revenue. This is why, every year, developers have to launch new projects.

The replenishing of land bank has be to be done consistently and constantly, unless they already have a large land bank. This objective to have steady revenue year after year can be a challenge when there is a property downturn, which also explains why it is extremely important to avoid a property bubble.

In the last several years, developers have had multiple launches in order to cater to demand. The need to show a consistent stream of income may explain why some of our larger developers are also involved in the plantation sector. Plantation land can be converted into property development if and when the need arises.

Besides the availability of land, the next important issue is land price.

Some of the larger players which have purchased land in the Kajang, Semenyih and Bangi areas over the last couple of years include S P Setia Bhd, Mah Sing group and Dijaya Corp Bhd.

Last year, S P Setia bought 272.5ha, or 672 acres, of freehold land in Semenyih for RM381.26mil or about RM13 per sq ft.

A couple of years ago, Dijaya bought the 200-acre Kajang Hill Golf Club for RM228mil or about RM26 per sq ft. The price a developer pays for his land is important because at the end of the day, this will be reflected in his selling price.

Mah Sing Group Bhd is the other new player in the Bangi area. In May, it bought about 400 acres in Bangi for RM333.25mil or about RM18.50 per sq ft.

When a developer buys land that is not slated for property development, there is conversion cost. For example, if a piece of agricultural land is bought for RM10 per sq ft, it has to be converted into land for development. The land office will consider the price of other development land in the area. If the market price is RM20 per sq ft, there is a difference of RM10. The developer will be charged a premium of 25% of RM10 which is his conversion cost.

That means, in order to change the land status from agriculture to development land, he will have to pay an extra 25% multiplied by his land size. There are various factors that determine the cost of conversion.

The price Mah Sing is paying is benchmarked against rival developers. In this case, S P Setia's RM13 per sq ft versus the current land price of between RM25 and RM28 per sq ft in Kajang, according to RHB in May. This takes us back to the 2,330-acre RRIM land, which was sold to the Employees Provident Fund for RM2.28bil, or RM22.46 per sq ft. This is unconverted agricultural land compared to S P Setia's and Mah Sing's land in Semenyih and Bangi respectively

A developer who wants to build on the RRIM land will have to first convert it to development land. There is a different price range for commercial and residential land, with commercial land being more valuable.

Apparently, Mont'Kiara land is already between RM600 and RM700 per sq ft, and the Tropicana land is RM200 to RM300 per sq ft.

Because some parts of RRIM land is next to Tropicana, when the land was parcelled out, the price may be rather prohibitive to smaller and less capitalised property developers.

Considering that large-scale developers have been land-hungry and have been buying into places in Semenyih, Kajang and Bangi, and the RRIM land being far more strategic, it is hoped that the Government, by virtue of the fact its cost of funds is cheap, will parcel a considerable portion of it for affordable housing.

The Government could also help by releasing other land under its plan to provide affordable housing for the people but as it stands today, it may, in all likelihood, also be further away from the city with places like Kajang, Semenyih and Nilai mentioned, among others.

Deputy news editor Lee Cheng is of the view that housing issue can become a social problem if not dealt with expediently.

By The Star

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