The urge to develop

Even without studying the numbers, I’ll bet arranged marriages have a lower failure rate than love jobs.

There has been much written about the phenomenon of falling in love.  Whole industries from astrology to wedding organisers rely heavily on it.

Basically as far as I can recall it involves a range of emotions the most sophisticated being a primordial urge and the rest is best described elsewhere. In other words, sense and reason go out of the window in the name of love.

By contrast an arranged marriage often includes a process of due diligence that would put a property consultant to shame. Objective, critical opinions are sought from a variety of experienced but pro bono advisors, each with a stake in a successful outcome.

In an environment where market data flows like election promises, you would think that buying development land would always be as measured and calculated as an arranged marriage.

Yet, the most successful development companies around the world are still those where the boss makes the big decisions and sometimes those decisions are instinctive. He simply falls in love with a site.

I recall an English developer coming to see me in Kuala Lumpur in the mid-seventies gushing about his recent visit to Phuket, Thailand. “It just has to be big someday” he boomed and I wrote him off as just another escapee from socialism and an English winter.

To me at that time, Phuket looked little more than a village-by-the-sea. But there have been times when I’ve experienced a similar tingle to that of the English man’s.

In Queensland in the early seventies, the Gold Coast hinterland looked like such an obvious play it might just as well have had ’buy me’ signs in each field. I didn’t have any money but I took copious photographs — a kind of property voyeurism some of us indulge in occasionally.

In the late seventies I remember feeling the same rush exploring southern Cheras in KL which was still mainly rubber plantations and again, when I was spending hours poring over the survey plans of what is now Mont’Kiara, wondering just when land that close to the city was going to take off.

Last month I re-visited Yangon, Myanmar one of my favourite cities, and I felt that buzz all over again. At the moment it is still a Seremban-on-sedatives, shunned even by those enzymes of development, the property consultants.

But it wouldn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to see it transform into a Seremban-on-steroids, and if that happened, Vietnam would have a serious challenger and Cambodia would need to step on the gas.

How I would love to be in the front line in Yangon if Myanmar ever turns to say ‘buy me’ and the city regains some of its former glory. Turning back to the Klang Valley, I suppose that infrastructure will point the way to future development opportunities.

Light rail will become the first choice of commuters and proximity to a station will command a premium. Self-contained townships such as those proposed on the (RRIM) Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia land in Sungei Buloh and at the old Sungei Besi airport will I believe, be extremely successful if all the components come together simultaneously.

The few remaining undeveloped areas between Puchong and Cyberjaya will naturally join suburbia before long, and quite possibly Klang will shape up into a viable commercial hub and become increasingly autonomous.

I may not be around to see the day when the drive from Seremban to KL is through one long continuous conurbation but then, in the Sixties, no one thought the same could happen to KL and Petaling Jaya!  

So, if you have faith in the future, you know what to do. Season’s greetings to you all.

Chris Boyd is executive chairman of international property consultants CB Richard Ellis (Malaysia)

This article appeared on the Property page, The Edge Financial Daily, December 17, 2010.

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