City & Country: Ghost Town

City & Country took the 45-minute drive recently to take a look at Bukit Beruntung, only to be greeted by the sight of abandoned, vandalised high-rise flats and apartments.

Window frames, glass doors and even electricity cables were missing. Few of the units are occupied and the area is generally in dire need of maintenance, with overgrown weeds lining the roads.

Hypermarket operator Tesco bought 25 acres of freehold land in Bukit Beruntung from Talam Corp Bhd in April 2007 for RM18.59 million. On it now is its largest depot in Malaysia.

Talam Corp started the development of Bukit Beruntung, located in the north of the Klang Valley, during the 1990s boom times. The area’s fortunes turned abruptly from both the impact of the Asian economic crisis and the government’s decision to site the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, in the south of Selangor, rather than in the north.

Another developer then active in Bukit Beruntung was MK Land Holdings Bhd, which built Taman Bunga Raya which offered low- and medium-cost apartments and flats.

Keon (not his real name) bought not one but two apartment units in Bukit Beruntung in 1995 — all because he was attracted to the developer’s tagline — “The second Petaling Jaya”. He paid RM80,000 for each 800 sq ft apartment, and these were completed and handed over in 1998.

“Back then the advertisements said Bukit Beruntung would be a second PJ because the new airport and Proton City would be coming in Tanjung Malim, which is about 45km or a 38-minute drive away. The state government at that time even came out with a development plan involving Batang Kali, Hulu Selangor and Hulu Yam, but nothing has taken off,” he laments.

While Proton City now sits on a 4,000-acre tract 5km north of Tanjung Malim in Perak, the new airport was built in Sepang.

Neither did the university that was supposed to be built in Bukit Beruntung materialise.  A college was built there, but it has since closed down.

Keon believes that 80% of the investors in Bukit Beruntung were Petaling Jaya residents, like himself. Many of his former colleagues also invested in the small-medium industrial (SMI) lots there but lived to regret it.

“Some don’t want to service the loan and the bank just auctions them. They bought the units for more than RM200,000 but they are auctioned off for about RM100,000.”

After paying the maintenance fees for his two apartments faithfully for many years, even Keon has given up. “I do not see any maintenance being done and the apartments, both empty, have been broken into. Practically everything — TNB cables, window panes and metal frames — has been stolen.

“Even the glass balcony door has been broken and its lock damaged. I used to check on the units every month, but now I’m so heartsick that I only go there once in a few months. The situation is getting worse and worse. I want to sell them but there are no takers,” he says.

Broken dreams
It is little comfort for Keon to know that he is not alone in his dilemma. Cammi (not her real name) has a more heartbreaking story to share. Her father-in-law bought five properties in Bukit Beruntung in 1992 and 1995, thinking the place would become a vibrant city. His intention was to relocate the family business, and eventually the entire family, to the area.

Instead, the family is now stuck with a 22,800 sq ft bungalow plot, a 43,400 sq ft industrial plot, two units of 1-storey terraced homes and a 1½-storey factory. All these cost the family close to a million ringgit, Cammi tells City & Country.

“The township did not take off and we didn’t move over there. We are trying to rent them out but we can’t get any tenants except for the 1-storey terraced houses (built-up 1,302 sq ft) for which we are getting less than RM300 a month. The properties have been on the market for the past eight years, but despite some enquiries no offers have been made.

“Now Bukit Beruntung is like a ghost town, especially where the 1½-storey factories are. The window frames and everything metal have been ripped off. All that is left is just the mere skeleton of the property. We have even offered to rent it out for free so that someone would move in but there are still no takers.” she says.

Cammi’s father-in-law was so gung ho about Bukit Beruntung that he even offered low-interest loans to some of his longer-serving employees to invest in the 1-storey terraced houses and apartments.

But his trading business still operates in Petaling Jaya and the employees have no choice but to shuttle daily between PJ and Bukit Beruntung for work.

“These were office boys and dispatch workers who had been working for my father-in-law for 15 years or so. They took up the company’s kind offer and are now stuck with the Bukit Beruntung investments. They have no choice to but to live there and shuttle daily to work,” she says.

Cammi’s sister-in-law, meanwhile, considers herself lucky. She managed to sell her terraced house at a break-even price seven years ago.

Investors in Bukit Beruntung are hopeful that the area will live up to its early promise. Even so, future investors will tend to go for new projects rather than those that have been around since the 1990s.

It is believed that several government-linked companies have bought land parcels there. TA Global Bhd, too, has a landbank of more than 1,000 acres in the area.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 806, May 17-23, 2010.

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