City & Country: Consumer confidence props up residential market

PRICES in Penang’s residential market continue to rise, although the overall volume of transactions has fallen, says Raine & Horne International Zaki + Partners director Michael Geh when presenting the Penang Housing Property Monitor for 4Q2013. This was gleaned from the National Property Information Centre’s data for Penang from 1H2010 to 1H2013, he adds.

In 1H2010, transactions on the island’s primary and secondary markets totalled 8,301. Sales grew to 13,832 in 1H2011, but declined to 11,889 in 1H2012 and 8,547 in 1H2013.

“The fourth quarter of 2013 saw a continuous downward trend on the primary and secondary markets in terms of units sold,” remarks Geh. “One of the main reasons was that loans were hard to come by. This factor alone pulled the Penang developer-direct market down during the quarter. The secondary market was still active, but a little down in terms of units sold.

Geh: There was good take-up of anything less than RM500,000 as people are looking for affordability now. I would describe the market as price-sensitive.

“There was good take-up of anything less than RM500,000 as people are looking for affordability now. I would describe the market as price-sensitive.”

The 4Q2013 data shows there was double-digit year-on-year price growth in many of the areas sampled, which could spill over into 1Q2014.

“January would have seen strong activity because Penangites who work overseas or in KL come home for the Chinese New Year holidays and usually purchase properties for their family or help them upgrade,” Geh explains.

Overall, consumer confidence is strong, he comments, attributing this to the soon-to-be-opened second bridge, the RM1.25 billion worth of investments pumped into the state by the federal government and the opening of IKEA and the Penang Designer Village in Batu Kawan, among others. News that Sunway Bhd is buying acres of land on the island from Lee Rubber Co Ltd, which, once developed, will have an estimated gross development value of RM1.5 billion, has also boosted optimism in the property market.

As a result, consumers are on the hunt for good buys in the Penang housing market, says Geh, highlighting several hot developments and areas on the island and the mainland.

One is E&O Bhd’s Seri Tanjung Pinang in the northern part of the island while the 152-acre The Light Waterfront by IJM Land Bhd is another. Parts of the latter, which is very close to the first bridge, have been completed and handed over to the owners. According to Geh, The Light Waterfront properties have seen a lot of rental activity and secondary market sales in the last three to four years.

In the south, near the second bridge, Teluk Kumbar and Teluk Tempoyak are creating a buzz, he says, adding that areas south of Butterworth, such as Juru, Bukit Tambun, Batu Kawan and Sungai Bakap, are getting much attention, also thanks to their proximity to the second bridge.

A view of Penang taken from Komtar Tower

State housing policy and auctions
While the outlook is rosy, a possible roadblock is the state government’s new housing policy to curb speculation. It states that properties priced RM400,000 and below on the island and RM250,000 and below on the mainland can only be sold after the fifth year of purchase. There are also restrictions on the resale of low-cost (RM42,000) and low-medium-cost (RM72,500)homes within the first 10 years of purchase.

Then, there is the 3% levy on purchases by foreigners and 2% levy on the seller of any property within three years of the date on the sale and purchase agreement. The new policy was to have taken effect on Feb 1, but has now been postponed to March 1. However, the 3% levy, on top of the 30% Real Property Gains Tax, on foreign buyers took effect this month.

Geh feels that the new policy will impact the Penang residential market, although it is too early to say by how much exactly.

In 4Q2013, house transactions in the mature residential areas of the island were still strong. According to Geh, this was because people wanted to buy houses that were near their family homes or place of work.

Besides buying on the primary and secondary markets, Geh advises homebuyers to consider auctions. However, this can be a tedious process. “Auctioning is slow because the people who really need a house or want to buy something don’t get the relevant information easily to make a purchase,” he explains. “Information is not easily disseminated, like through a website, and people still need to look through the newspapers. It is still an adventure. When auction information is offered to purchasers efficiently, the market will get off the ground.”

Fourth-quarter performance
The 4Q2013 Penang housing property monitor shows that the prices of houses in well-established suburbs continued to grow quarter on quarter while in other areas the prices held steady.

The prices of 1-storey terraced houses in Green Lane, for example, rose to RM650,000 for the highest q-o-q growth of 13.85% compared with such homes in the other areas sampled. Development in Green Lane began in the 1960s, transforming the small farming village into a bustling neighbourhood. One-storey terraced houses in other areas that showed price growth include those in Jelutong (+12.31%), Sungai Dua (+7.69%), Bandar Bayan Baru (+6.25%) and Sungai Ara (+4.76%).

Y-o-y, all types of houses cost more in the areas sampled except two. The prices of 1-storey terraced houses in Seberang Perai Tengah dropped 6.25% to RM160,000 while those of 2-storey terraced houses in Sungai Ara held steady at RM750,000.

Demand for houses in Seberang Perai Tengah is much less than that for houses in other areas of Seberang Perai, says Geh, adding that houses to the west of Bukit Mertajam, nearer Perak, are considered hot. The areas to the east of Bukit Mertajam are less developed, he points out, although it is just a matter of time before development reaches there and has a positive effect on prices.

As for Sungai Ara, Geh finds it to be a very stable residential area. “It is like Subang Jaya or Cheras, where property prices don’t go up or down quickly.”

Rents and yields in 4Q2013 remained relatively stable q-o-q and y-o-y. “Market values were at a record high in 4Q, so rents did not go up much on account of affordability. Thus, yields did not increase,” Geh points out. “In some places, yields came down but values went up. Rents cannot be increased in line with capital values because this could lead to tenants moving out.”

Penang’s housing market continues to be strong on the island and mainland. Will it react to the state’s new policy that takes effect on March 1? Only time will tell.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 14, 2014.


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