City&Country: Cover Story-- Spicing up PD

Creating a landmark in Port Dickson

Port Dickson, one of the nearest beach attractions for denizens of the Klang Valley, may have lost some of its lustre in recent years but Earth Synergy Sdn Bhd hopes to make waves in this Negri Sembilan seaside town with a RM450 million resort project.

The developer is confident its W’HY Resort Port Dickson will draw an international clientele as the property will be managed by hotel chain operator Accor Group under its Pullman Hotel and Resort brand. What will distinguish W’HY Resort Port Dickson from the other resorts in PD is that it will consist of water chalets and a hotel in the shape of a cruise ship.

“We saw a huge opportunity in the Port Dickson area as there were not many five-star resort offerings there,” says David Ngie, Earth Synergy’s operations director. The resort is coming up at the 4th mile of Jalan Pantai, the main coastal road where most of the other seaside resorts are situated. PD town is a 1½-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and about 30 minutes from Seremban.

So, why pick a name like “W’HY”? Ngie says this is because it is a powerful word that would pique one’s curiosity.

W’HY Resort is the beginning of a new brand for Earth Synergy, he adds. “W’HY will be a luxury resort developer with Earth Synergy as the holding company.” The developer aims to create more W’HY Resorts around Malaysia, including in Langkawi and Kuantan, and abroad in Fiji. W’HY Resort Port Dickson is its maiden project.

Kuala Lumpur-based Earth Synergy was incorporated in 2005 and has 80 acres of land in Malaysia valued at about RM300 million. In Fiji, it has an 800-acre tract valued at about RM500 million for a township development in the capital city of Suva. The developer also has another 100 acres valued at around RM100 million for a resort hotel project. The collective gross development value (GDV) of its proposed projects is around RM2.2 billion.

Earth Synergy founder and chairman Wong Chung Sing has been involved in such businesses as vehicle sales, assembly and manufacture; building material manufacture; international investment and export; as well as town planning and housing development in Fiji.

Iconic landmark in PD
Earth Synergy’s decision to build the hotel in the shape of a ship is “to create an icon or landmark in PD”, says Ngie. The project features 170 water chalets and a 141-room, 8-storey hotel. Only the water chalets are for sale while the hotel is being retained by the developer.

The property extends about half a kilometre into the sea, which inspired the resort’s unique design. “The land is shaped in such a way that 90% of it is under water,” Ngie says. “We are not allowed to fill the land, so everything has to be built on stilts … To make [the property] different from those with conventional ‘alang-alang’ or dried leaf roofing, we decided to create something that is modern and contemporary.”

W’HY Resort Port Dickson sits on 17.7 acres of freehold land, which is owned with a joint-venture partner. Acquired in 2007, the land was made up of seven adjoining plots of empty land. Four types of water chalets are up for sale with prices starting at RM900,000. These comprise eighty 1-bedroom suites, eighty 2-bedroom suites, nine 3-bedroom suites and one 3-bedroom presidential suite. Built-ups start at 974 sq ft, and the bad news is, the presidential suite has already been snapped up. Due to the resort’s exclusive and high-end nature, the developer decided to hold private viewings for selected investors. To date, 75 units have been taken up, ahead of the official launch slated for 2Q this year, says Ngie.

Targeted at high net worth individuals, the water chalets have a 12-year leaseback and rental guarantee programme. For the first three years, investors will receive guaranteed 8% returns per annum and for the remaining nine years, returns will be on a profit-sharing basis.

W’HY Resort Port Dickson will boast, among others, speciality restaurants, a sky bar atop the hotel, a luxury spa and a clubhouse with golfing and water sports facilities. It will also have a convention hall that can accommodate 500 people. Work starts soon and the resort is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

Ngie is confident the project will do well, thanks to the attention paid to details of the design. “We will do well because we have put a lot of thought into making the project a happening one.”

Earth Synergy had to submit an environment impact assessment report to the town council — Majlis Perbandaran Port Dickson (MPPD) — to ensure construction would not adversely affect the surroundings.

One usually thinks of dirty sea water when talking about PD, but Ngie says the sea water where W’HY Resort is located is “the cleanest along that stretch of Jalan Pantai”.

With an international hospitality management in place and the resort’s investment potential, Ngie is not too worried that 2012 is expected to be a difficult year for the economy. “We only have 170 units. As for property development, we always look at the location and quality of the project. So far, we have shown the project to only some investors and the response has been very encouraging.”

Turning the tide
While Port Dickson is poised to get a new landmark in the coming months, how is its property market faring? It may not seem as hot as Kuala Lumpur or Penang, but investors can find opportunities if they know where to look, say real estate agents.

Charles Joseph, Nicole King Properties’ senior real estate negotiator who has handled many PD transactions since 1997, says he has seen the area develop in recent years. He attributes this to “the upgraded infrastructure, more amenities like the Giant and Tesco hypermarkets, camping areas with public facilities like toilets and showers, and overall improvement of the beaches”.

The Seremban-Port Dickson Highway that opened in 1997 gives easy accessibility to the town while the opening of PD Waterfront, a 60-acre commercial beachfront project by TSR Capital Bhd, is bringing more activity to the area. Charles also says that the town council has made a concerted effort to maintain the public beaches — a far cry from when PD was known for its dirty beaches and sea water.

The result? The prices of bungalows and condos — the main residential property choices in PD — have been climbing steadily. According to Charles, residential property values have appreciated about 20% in the last two to three years.

He estimates the asking price for bungalows with built-ups of between 2,500 and 3,000 sq ft to be RM400,000 today. Two to three years ago, it was about RM50,000 to RM100,000 cheaper. In Regency Tanjung Tuan and Delta Corus, for example, the selling price is about RM310,000 for a 3-bedroom apartment of about 1,220 sq ft compared with about RM250,000 two to three years ago, Charles points out.

At Bayu Beach Resort, which houses mostly 2-bedroom condos of about 820 sq ft, a unit was recently transacted for RM170,000; it would have gone for RM150,000 not long ago.

Most of the purchasers, says Charles, are the locals, although he has noticed rising foreign interest in PD properties. “Previously, a property would be on the market for about a year, but this has been shortened to about three months now.”

Real estate negotiator William Liau, who has 15 years of experience on the PD property scene, believes the area is bursting with opportunities for investors but he says they need to study the market first.

He says growth is restricted at present because of the difficulty in getting loans. “The problem is that most land here is classified as resort land. As a result, the banks have stricter regulations when issuing loans for resort land properties.” Liau qualifies that it is not impossible to get loans but it depends on the property the buyer is looking at.

But there are openings for small investors to dabble in the business of accommodation supply. For example, there are condos of about 800 sq ft that are going for RM70,000 to RM80,000 now. Several units could be bought and offered for rent under a budget hotel-like operation, Liau suggests. He says not many people are doing this at the moment, although he knows of one owner of several condo units who is running such a business. 

Liau also points out that PD’s location and limited supply of desirable bungalows are key selling points. Acknowledging that PD’s beaches are not among the best in the country, he feels that the town council could still do more to improve them. Still, PD’s location makes it a popular getaway for the stressed-out urbanite.

Additionally, properties such as bungalows with a good view of the sea and in a good location are in limited supply. Thus, demand for seafronting properties will only boost their value.

Liau also says senior citizens have shown a keen interest in PD property over the past eight years. There are no retirement villages in PD at the moment and, according to Liau, if there were to be one, its success would depend on the pricing.

He has a word of caution for potential investors: check out the property’s documentation, namely if the property is freehold or leasehold, strata-titled or not, before buying. This information can be obtained from the legal representative, he says.

While the Port Dickson coastline will soon welcome brand new resident W’HY Resort, the area’s property market is also seeing an upswing in interest. Change is upon this seaside town.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 899, Feb 27-Mar 4, 2012


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