Business News: High Prices Remain An Issue

FOR the last few years, two issues have hogged the market affordability and the steep rise in prices in the landed residential sector, which subsequently spilled over to the high-rise condominium market in the Klang Valley and in other cities. There are a few exceptions.

While affordability will continue to bog down the sector this year despite the easy credit environment, there seems no respite from the high prices of previous years, as prices remain stubbornly high.

Notwithstanding that, there has been some semblance of sanity in 2012.

Consultants polled concluded that the overall property market took a long-awaited and much-sought-after breather last year with “minimal price increases”.

Several developers say the pending general election has dampened the market somewhat. Generally, consultants and developers prefer “a slow and steady” rise in prices, as steep rises may mean steep falls.

Property consultants say the market was “stable” in 2012, with active transactions in the second half.

CBRE’s executive Paul Khong expects this year to remain “relatively flat” while DTZ Nawawi Tie Leung Property DTZ’s executive director Brian Koh says “prices have gone too far ahead of the curve for many potential upgraders, unless developers adjust their pricing to more realistic levels.”

Two factors are working against such a scenario.

The first is land cost. Land prices have gone up a lot the last several years, says Fiabci (Malaysia chapter) president Yeoh Thit Sang. Higher land cost translates into higher prices. Generally, for high-rise high-end residential land cost ranges between 15% and 25% in Kuala Lumpur compared with 25% and 40% in Singapore, says Yeoh.

“There has been a scramble for land by developers and many of them are buying land in Kajang and Rawang, some buy unconverted agricultural land, which means they will have to pay a premium to get it converted.”

Another challenge is the shortage of labour, a fact acknowleged by Bolton Bhd and the Sunway group.

Most of the building and construction workers in Malaysia come from Indonesia. Foreign investments are flowing into Indonesia and this has created a healthy job market there, which means they can seek work at home instead of leaving their families, says Yeoh.

“Our contractors are finding it tough to find skilled labour. We have successfully trained them and they now have a pool of skilled labour working in their own property sector,” says Yeoh.

This, he says, explains why the property players and the Government are considering using the Industrialised Building System (IBS) which requires a huge capital outlay.

New launches versus established housing

New launches are expected to do better than the secondary market chiefly because of “financial engineering” prevalent in the market in the form of Developers Interest Bearing Scheme and other freebies “given” by developers, which are actually factored in the price of the house.

Jordan Lee & Jaafar Sdn Bhd managing director P. Tangga Peragasam says so long as “progress” is equated with development, income levels and trying to match (up to) the developed nations, “financial engineering” will continue.

“We should instead be looking at conserving our resources, planning our developments properly and looking into issues like safety, comfort levels, transport, environment, pollution. instead of being so fixated on progress’,” he says.

Says PPC International Sdn Bhd managing director Siders Sittampalam: “We predict a slowdown in the mid to high-end segment of the market.”

With few exceptions, developers have, in 2012, reported that anything RM1mil and above have been challenging to sell. This is expected to spill over into this year.

Notwithstanding this, BRDB’s Serai have generated 60% sales last year. This, says marketing director K.C. Chong was due to its location, the BRDB branding and the super luxury and niche factor of Serai at between RM1,300 and RM1,500 per sq ft.

This takes us then to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC). In that location, some of the units are hovering more than the RM1,600 mark.

The question that begs to be asked is, how is that Serai is able to generate sales while the units in and around KLCC are languishing? Serai offers units 4,000 sq ft and above.

Sources say city-living attracts the younger generation who do not have the purchasing power to build a home in the KLCC area. The KLCC market is for the high network individuals who want city living and there are not many of those around. Generally, Malaysians who have that buying and earning power may opt for a location in Damansara Heights or Kenny Hills, which offer a more home and suburban feel.

Another issue is the traffic congestion in the city, which can be a huge drawback.

The likes of niche developments like Serai and KLCC condominiums aside, it is the masses and the 30 to 40-something that most developers are targeting today.

The last couple of years, due to steep price hike, developers offered small one-bedroom units in the region of 500sq ft.

Such units have limited audience comprising singles or two-somes. This segment of the market enjoys a huge investment market. A large segment of this market may enter the secondary market or be put up for rental.

Jordan Lee & Jaafar Sdn Bhd’s managing director P. Tangga Peragasam says rentals have not moved up with property prices, returns may be low when compared with prices.

“This situation will continue to have some effect on the sector this year. If inflation sets in because of the low interest rates, then the effect could be different, especially if interest rates are forced upwards by inflation.

Tangga says hotspots in the Klang Valley will continue to be Petaling Jaya and surrounding areas. Those areas coming within new proposed MRT stations will also see appreciation in values.

Source: The Star

Published: Saturday, January 5, 2013

By: THEAN LEE CHENG

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