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Asian Real Estate

Or Why Malaysian Real Estate Is So Cheap

Did you know that KL real estate is one of the cheapest in Asia - another reason why 5 star hotels in Malaysia are also among the cheapest in the world. One can understand if Malaysian real estate values lag those of more developed nations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul or Tokyo... but KL even lags Indian cities, Bangkok and certain places in Jakarta. We can understand why Shanghai or Beijing would be more expensive too compared to KL - population, out-sourcing and investment.

Is this a correlation to our GDP per capita (roughly translated is how much money a citizen earns in a specific country a year). The figures were obtained from CIA files, yes the American Central Intelligence Agency for 2005:

1) Luxembourg US$62,700
2) Equatorial Guinea US$50,200 (where is that, I want to move there ... but a cafe latte will probably cost US$15)
3) Norway US$42,400
4) USA US$41,800
8) HK US$36,800
16) Canada US$32,800
18) Australia US$32,000
20) UK US$30,900
22) Japan US$30,400
26) Singapore US$29,700
36) Taiwan US$26,700
41) New Zealand US$24,100
42) Brunei US$23,600
51) South Korea US$20,300
82) Russia US$10,700
83) Malaysia US$10,400
86) Mexico US$10,000
97) Thailand US$8,300
118) China US$6,200
132) Philippines US$5,100
150) Indonesia US$3,700
155) India US$3,400
229) Somalia US$600
231) Gaza Strip US$600
232) East Timor US$400

If you look at the table above, it bears little correlation. A poor country can have high city real estate values - hence a big factor is city population. You need to cram a lot of people into a tiny space, then real estate values will soar - take New York, Tokyo, HK, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Karachi, Mumbai ... many are in the region of 10-30 million city population. KL has about 5 million but it is also quite spread out. So, another factor is it has to be CRAMPED - or rather business activity CBD has to be cramped.

Another factor for high real estate values is whether you are a financial center. Is your city a crucial outpost to doing business in the region - HK, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Mumbai, New York, etc... KL is neither here nor there. What about Bangkok? Well, it has a super duper population (have you seen the weekend exodus from Bangkok every Friday). Even though it is not a financial center, it the the center for a country with a decent population size. If your capital city is the center of a country with a decent population, you can be assured of good commercial real estate values - e.g. Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea. We need Malaysia to move quickly from 26 million to at least 60 million. Then you can have some good ripple on effect on real estate values.

If you are not a financial center, you can still command high rates if high-value services businesses are aplenty. Hence Singapore's commercial real estate will have a very strong long term uptrend as it does not depend on its reputation as a financial center/port/MICE biz like HK but moves higher up the value-added curve by encouraging designers/inventors in animation, biotech, education, etc. Does KL look like a city with good high value added industries?

Good amenities and public infrastructure would not be a bad thing, look at Tokyo, HK, Singapore or even New York - but infra is not crucial in giving higher real estate values. If you look at the capital cities of the high GDP per capita countries such as Oslo, Amsterdam, Stockholm, etc.. you will find that good infra is a good thing but not necessarily stratospheric real estate prices.

Lack of good quality commercial space will also spruce up real estate values. Just look at Indian cities, cities in Vietnam or even Jakarta. We in KL, unfortunately builds okay buildings cheaply as land is cheap and plentiful. I mean, KL commercial just keeps getting drawn wider and wider. First the CBD, then the city kind of move wider to include PJ, then it moves out to Shah Alam, now Klang. Too much cheap flat land.

So, commercial real estate value in Malaysia will lag the rest of Asia, even some cities in Vietnam (my gawd), and it will not change until the fundamentals change. The only exciting part for Malaysian real estate is residential, and you know how people get crazy with houses, every now and then, good houses in good locations will have its own bull run. The rental yields never match the house prices - but hey, who the heck cares. Commercial and retail, fergedaboudit!


zentrader said…
A++ for this article. Now can understand more about real estate. :)

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