JB residential market heats up

THE Johor Baru residential market continues to heat up in 2Q2013. In the secondary market, the Nusajaya/Skudai areas (within Flagship B and E of Iskandar Malaysia) lead the way in terms of highest appreciation quarter on quarter, followed by Tebrau/Kempas.

Flagship B also remains a favourite with buyers on the primary market, as it houses the hottest new projects in the quarter — such as Pulau Indah Venture Sdn Bhd's Afiniti Residences and Mah Sing Group Bhd's The [email protected] These projects were snapped up within days of their launch.

These transactions happened in a busy quarter amid landmark deals and policy changes, and show no signs of slowing down.

"Property prices in selected locations near to new primary markets have certainly gone up. Values are catching up as higher demand for these more-affordable places have pushed prices up," says KGV International Property Consultants (Johor) Sdn Bhd executive director Samuel Tan.

Secondary market

The average 2-storey terraced house in all areas under Nusajaya/Skudai rose in value in 2Q. The homes appreciated from 4.3% (Taman Sutera Utama — RM480,000 from RM460,000) to 7.1% (Horizon Hills — RM750,000 from RM700,000), propped up by the price of new launches in the area.

Over at Tebrau/Kempas, similar homes appreciated from 2.6% (Taman Setia Tropika — RM390,000 from RM380,000) to 5.8% (Taman Setia Indah and Taman Gaya — RM360,000 from RM340,000).

Meanwhile, in Plentong/Pasir Gudang, only 2-storey terraced houses in Bandar Seri Alam and Taman Molek appreciated during the quarter. The values of houses in Bandar Seri Alam rose 4% to RM260,000 q-o-q, while those in Taman Molek grew 7.1% to RM750,000.

As for 2-storey semi-detached houses, typical units in all areas sampled at Nusajaya/Skudai rose in value, ranging from 1% (Horizon Hills — RM1.1 million in 2Q) to 5.2% (Taman Bukit indah; RM1 million).

At Plentong/Pasir Gudang, semidees in all areas — except Taman Bukit Dahlia, appreciated in value. They rose from 6.2% (Bandar Baru Permas Jaya — RM1.7 million) to 7.1% (Bandar Seri Alam — RM750,000). In Tebrau/Kempas, only semidees in Taman Setia Indah saw a rise in value, from 7.7% to RM700,000.

Serviced apartments were not as hot this quarter. Only Sri Samudera in Johor Baru rose in value, by 7.1% to RM450,000.

Primary market

High-rise homes in the main flagships remained attractive this quarter, as land prices rose and Johor Baru folks adapted to life in strata developments

Afiniti and The Meridin were highly sought after, due to their location near Legoland Malaysia. In the case of Afiniti, the units — typically 900 sq ft, were snapped up because they were affordable, with prices ranging from RM850 to RM1,000 psf, says Tan.

Other notable launches include The Astaka and Paragon Suites, near the Customs and Immigration Quarantine complex (CIQ) in Johor Baru.

The Astaka, developed by Astaka Padu Sdn Bhd, is a luxurious high-rise sitting on a 9-acre tract at Bukit Senyum, currently occupied by the MBJB Indoor Stadium. What makes this project stand out are its large built-ups (over 2,000 sq ft, with a corresponding price tag of at least RM3 million), and an underground pedestrian tunnel, directly from the CIQ.

"It's a 'who's who' kind of location. The parking bays are 40% larger to accommodate luxury cars like Rolls Royces, so you know what they are trying to say!" Tan chuckles.

Also coming up nearby is Paragon Suites — a more affordable development. With units from 641 to 1,695 sq ft, prices are a more modest — RM1,000 psf. About 90% of the units have been sold since it was launched in January. Paragon Suites is developed by Amprojek Construction Sdn Bhd.

Elsewhere in Johor Baru is D'Tasek Residences at Taman Tasek by MB Land Sdn Bhd — another affordable apartment project, with units from 904 to 1,098 sq ft. Prices average RM300 psf and all the homes were taken up within days.

"These are the kind of projects we need — something that the middle class can afford in town, so that they are not forced to live far away from the city," says Tan.

Another luxurious development at Puteri Harbour is Tiong Nam Properties Sdn Bhd's Pinetree Residences, which set a new benchmark with prices of RM1,500 to RM1,800 psf — almost on par with homes in Kuala Lumpur. "The developers claimed that 75% of the units are sold," he says.

Eventful quarter

April to June proved to be a most eventful period. The hotly-contested 13th general election came and went, bringing with it a new chief minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Khaled Nordin, and a new exco line-up for the southern state.

Ahmad Khaled has so far (until July) announced two property-related policy changes: first, the state will impose higher property assessment rates on properties owned by foreigners and properties valued above RM1 million, and second, the land leases at the Larkin industrial area will not be renewed after they expire in 15 years, after which the area will be converted into affordable housing projects.

"What investors generally want is consistency and transparency in policies. There should be no sudden changes that can cause stress in the market. People don't want surprises!" he said.

The chief minister said it was necessary to update the assessment rates — which were last reviewed two to three decades ago, to enable the state to provide better services. However, this raises a number of questions.

"It's fine to raise assessment rates for better services, but the question is, are we getting better services? A lot of things are outsourced. So first, you have to assure us that the people will get better services, and second, the whole housing development concept [in Johor] has changed.

"For instance, a lot of them are strata-titled, which means a lot of them are managed by building management corporations. The local councils cannot even come in to do their jobs. So you are asking them to pay more for services not rendered. Most of these homes are over RM1 million, owned by locals too, and you cannot enter the building to collect rubbish and sweep the roads, but you want to increase your assessments. So it raises the question — maybe it's a case of the rich paying for the poor?" says Tan.

The Barisan Nasional-led state government had also sought to increase the number of affordable homes, from the 6,000 units promised earlier through 20 new projects. This includes 1,700 homes under the Johor Community Housing scheme, priced between RM42,000 and RM80,000, over 6,000 homes under the Rumah Mampu Milik Johor scheme priced from RM120,000 to RM220,000, and 25,000 homes under the 1Malaysia People's Housing programmes.

Tan lauds the initiative as a positive move in light of rising property prices, that threaten to price younger homeowners out of the market.

It has been reported that Bank Negara Malaysia is studying the risks of the developer interest bearing scheme (DIBS) payment plan, and may introduce curbs. While Tan applauds this move, he also proposes that the central bank allow selective implementation of the payment scheme for certain groups who qualify.

"DIBS encourages rich investors to speculate. Then you must look at Singapore — it is into its seventh round of cooling measures, and yet prices have not softened. If prices in Singapore have overheated, then where do they go to park their money? Johor! There will then be a domino effect on our market. I am not discouraging investment, but we need to protect our people, and this is where selective DIBS comes in.

"If you ask me, a more effective way of curbing prices is by imposing tax, like stamp duty and property gains tax. There are many ways of going about it, because you don't want too high taxes on the low-end properties. It should be flexible to suit the changing property landscape."

In 2Q, Iskandar received RM7.56 billion in new investment, bringing cumulative investments to RM118.93 billion as at June 30. Real estate contributed RM45.18 billion to the total.

In April, Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd inked a deal with UEM Sunrise Bhd, to acquire a 12.5-acre land parcel at Puteri Harbour in Nusajaya for RM182 million, or RM334 psf. The land will be transformed into a mixed-use development with residential, retail and commercial properties, with an estimated gross development value (GDV) of RM1 billion.

Over at Flagship E, Eco World Development Sdn Bhd bought two parcels measuring 613.79 acres from DRB-Hicom Bhd for RM534.7 million.

In May, Mah Sing Group Bhd acquired a 35-acre parcel in Senibong for RM366 million, or RM238 psf. The group plans to build [email protected] — a RM4.35 billion-integrated development that will comprise serviced residences, hotels or serviced suites, a retail podium and a street mall.

However, despite the demand for prime land in Iskandar, the growth corridor's spearhead Iskandar Investment Bhd (IIB) has frozen further land sales, as part of its "controlled release" strategy to ensure that its investors make a profit.

"Iskandar is still relatively small and fragile," its CEO Datuk Syed Mohamed Ibrahim said in a news report. Nonetheless, IIB is still open to joint ventures, teaming up with Mammoth Empire Holdings Sdn Bhd to develop a 9.5-acre tract next to Legoland Malaysia.

The mixed-use development will include office towers, hotels, serviced apartments, retail spaces, a convention centre, a concert hall and a cinema.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Aug 19-25, 2013.

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