City & Country: Special Focus: Seremban Focus - ‘Work in KL, live in Seremban’

SEREMBAN and its “offshoot” townships, Seremban 2 and S2 Heights, have in recent years become a beneficiary of rising property values in the Klang Valley. While the capital of Negeri Sembilan is a mere hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur via the North-South Expressway and Kajang-Seremban Highway, prices of properties there are still fairly affordable, in comparison to the Klang Valley.

For instance, it is still possible to find a 2-storey terraced home for around RM300,000, IJM Land Bhd CEO and managing director Datuk Soam Heng Choon tells City & Country.

This is good news for more people who are moving into Seremban 2 as they seek work around KL without having to move there. “According to the Seremban Municipal Council, there are signs that more people are moving towards Seremban and Nilai. So, you can see that Seremban has become a focus point besides Kuala Lumpur. You mustn’t forget that Seremban is also part of the Greater Kuala Lumpur conurbation under the Kuala Lumpur physical plan,” he says.

This will undoubtedly spill over into Seremban 2, which over 20 years ago was a 2,300-acre backwater rubber estate that IJM Land — then known as RB Land Holdings Bhd, before it merged with IJM Properties in 2008 — had painstakingly acquired from smallholders. Since then, it has blossomed into one of the more sought-after real estate markets in Negeri Sembilan.

Now, the thriving township is 90% developed and is home to 50,000 people. Seremban 2 has seen values slowly rise over the years and its popularity has caused IJM Land to extend the township to the north, to S2 Heights. About half of this 1,200-acre development, which is more upscale than Seremban 2, is already built. Seremban 2 and S2 Heights have a combined gross development value of RM10 billion.

Infrastructure to make an impact

Seremban is fairly well connected by rail and road, which has cut travelling time and made it more feasible to live in the town while working in the Klang Valley. “The Menteri Besar (Datuk Seri Utama Mohamad Hasan) has this slogan — ‘Work in Kuala Lumpur, live in Seremban’. That is the only thing that the state government and the opposition can agree on!” declares Soam, a proud Seremban son.

One popular mode of transport is carpooling, says Soam. “So, if you carry four people in a carpool, you only drive every four days. That way, you don’t stress your car so much, and you can take a nap on the way to work,” he says.

Besides driving, locals also travel via the Tanjung Malim-Sungai Gadut KTM line. Kuala Lumpur is only 11 stops away. Besides taking the train to town, residents can also take buses operated by Sistem Kenderaan Seremban-KL Sdn Bhd to the city. According to Soam, the bus makes about 40 stops within Kuala Lumpur, including the Golden Triangle.

“In recent times, more people have been using the KTM as well as buses to travel to KL and the transport services have been enhanced. For example, the KTM has new coaches to accommodate more people,” he says.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia census, Seremban’s population was 536,147 as at 2010, but with an  expected growth of about 3%, Soam assumes it has grown to about 600,000 to 700,000 people now.

Besides the daily commuting crowd, there are those who only return on the weekends. They either live with their families on the weekend or have properties in Seremban. “That’s why the North-South Highway is always jammed every Saturday morning. If you leave Kuala Lumpur after 10am, you’ll be caught in the Nilai jam. That tells you how many people actually live in the south,” he points out.

As traffic grows heavier, the Nilai stretch of the three-lane thoroughfare is being upgraded to a four-lane road, with a new toll plaza added.

The area is set to receive an additional boost from the upcoming West Coast Expressway (WCE), to be undertaken by concessionaire Kumpulan Europlus Bhd (KEuro). IJM Land’s parent company, IJM Corp Bhd, holds a 25.1% stake in the concessionaire.

While there is no direct interchange to Seremban in the proposed alignment, there is an interchange to the Kuala Lumpur-Kuala Selangor Highway (LATAR) that connects to Seremban 2.

In addition, Seremban has been earmarked as one of the five stops along the route of the proposed Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail. Market  talk has it that the station is likely to come up in the north of S2 Heights. As the high-speed rail will significantly shorten travel time between Malaysia and Singapore significantly, that should further boost the values of properties in the township.

Building a town

IJM Land is not relying solely on the incoming infrastructure to make the township a preferred place to live, but has also invested in other facilities. For instance, it helped build a number of schools in the area, which now have seven schools. “Chinese schools are very important to families, and that is one main consideration when they choose a place to stay. We have some very good Chinese schools here such as SJKC Tung Hua,” Soam says.

IJM Land also helped to build a government precinct that houses the district police headquarters, fire department, Seremban High Court and a government clinic that provides treatment for a mere RM1.  There is also a 30-acre sports complex which includes one Olympic-sized swimming pool, squash courts, badminton courts, hockey stadium, lawn bowl and a hockey pitch. The precinct is a stone’s throw away from the City Lake Park, a popular recreation spot.

Over at neighbouring S2 Heights, the group last year unveiled the 30-acre Hill Park at the highest point of S2 Heights last year.

The growing affluence of Seremban residents and the maturity of the real estate market there is evident in the kind of properties that IJM Land is rolling out. Late last year, the developer  launched Saujana Duta at S2 Heights, which comprises 116 units of 3-storey semi-detached houses and eight 3-storey bungalows. The semidees have a built-up of 4,038 sq ft, land area of 40ft by 80ft and 4+1 bedrooms, and were priced at RM1.5 million to RM2.3 million. Meanwhile, the bungalows have a built-up of 7,060 sq ft and land areas from 7,596 sq ft, and offer 5+1 bedrooms. They are priced at RM3.3 million to RM3.8 million.

About half of the semidees were balloted last year, showing pent-up demand for housing from professionals, who made their fortunes outside Seremban and returned to buy nice homes in their home state. There is also a small group of people who seek to retire in Seremban due to its more laidback pace and lower cost of living, Soam observes.

IJM Land also launched its first high-rise homes in Seremban 2, Kalista Residence, in March. The apartments have built-ups of 914 to 1,383 sq ft and three-bedroom and four-bedroom layouts. Prices range from RM354,456 to RM582,456.

Of the total of 208 units offered, all the non-bumiputera units, or 70% of the project, were snapped up, within a day, together with a third of the bumiputera units. A crowd of around 400 people showed up that morning, and the units were sold on a first come, first served basis.

“People camped at the sales gallery, like for our other launches in Penang, so we decided to turn it into a movie night to keep them entertained,” Soam recalls with a smile.

Most of the launches over the next year will be in S2 Heights, which still has 50% of developable land. “Over the next decade, our focus will be here. It should be fully developed by then,” Soam says.

In Seremban 2, 85% has been developed, and the remaining parcels are mostly earmarked for commercial developments. “The good thing is we don’t want to build the commercial precinct too early. I don’t want us to be another Kota Kemuning, where you end up with a lot of abandoned shops. So, we need the critical mass, good residential take-up to create a sustainable crowd … If I can sell my shops at RM800,000 now, why not hold on until I can sell them for RM1.8 million?” says Soam.

Also on the drawing board is a neighbourhood mall with a tentative gross floor area (GFA) of 800,000 sq ft and a net lettable area of 500,000 sq ft. However, plans are still very preliminary.

“Well, the current AEON has a GFA of 700,000 sq ft and a net lettable area of 400,000 sq ft, so it’s a bit small. So we have room for another mall … it’s nothing compared to a typical Kuala Lumpur mall that’s like two million sq ft because there is no point in having a mall that size when the market is smaller. There is no market for Louis Vuitton or Gucci here, but there is a market for Levi’s and other similar brands.”

Among the most prime land in Seremban 2 is a 12-acre parcel of commercial land opposite AEON that is currently occupied by the IJM Land sales gallery.

“This is a temporary building. We have received many offers for this land, but we are saving it for a joint-venture development. As you know, the value of land in an established township like this is very high and it only appreciates with further development of the township,” he explains.

Despite most of Seremban 2 being developed, the group will continue to be involved in the area and its neighbouring developments. This includes taking charge of its maintenance, such as its public spaces, landscaping and retention ponds.

“I think we’ll have to hold Seremban 2’s hands for the next six to eight years. We are trying to hand the township over to the local council’s care bit by bit, but the chief minister says they cannot guarantee that it will be maintained to our standards.

“We know if we do not maintain things like the main roads, our face [as a developer] will be gone,” he says emphatically.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 02 - June 09, 2014.

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