Property investment

Manila on radar for investors

The Philippines' capital is reinventing itself as a thriving place to live, writes Peta Tomlinson

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2012, 4:14am

With the property market growth hitting double digits this year, Manila has turned out to be one of the surprise packages. For the past few quarters, the Philippines' capital has consistently ranked among the top three among Southeast Asian countries - enough to at last catch the eye of overseas investors.

Lindsay Orr, chief operating officer of Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) Philippines, admits Manila has suffered from an image problem. With a new administration, in 2010, set on cleaning up corruption, and gross domestic product growth of 7.1 per cent, second only to China, things are changing.

He agrees, though, that the nation's emergence this year as a property market bull "comes as a surprise to many people".

"Some looked at the Philippines as the sick man of Asia," says Manila-based Orr. "This year, all the fundamentals have come together. There is a real feeling of expectation in the air, and the real estate sector, in particular, is doing well. Even overseas investors are stopping by to take a look - we didn't get that before."

It stems largely from fresh confidence in the Philippines as a business base. A market once eschewed because of its domestic problems is now attracting investment from local and multinational companies in what JLL terms "the continued evolution of the business process outsourcing [BPO] industry". As the firm's new report notes, "even non-BPOs are investing in prime or grade A office stock, indicating a rise in business confidence".

This investment, JLL says, may propel the Philippines office sector to become one of the major markets in the Asia-Pacific region in the next few years. For an industry that didn't even exist a few years ago, BPO shows remarkable promise. Last year, it was a US$11 billion industry; this year it's tipped to top US$12.5 billion, employing 700,000; and by 2016 it could amount to anything from US$20 billion to US$25 billion, employing 1.2 million. "This means that more office space will be needed, and a lot more residences with it," Orr says.

The new builds will also be more upmarket. JLL associate director Phillip Anonuevo says that while corporate offices previously accounted for only 10 per cent of office space leased, this segment is expected to grow by as much as 20 per cent, as multinational companies prepare to upgrade their facilities. Demand predominantly is from the BPO sector, but also multinationals are expected to hit 450,000 square metres this year, up from the annual average of 375,000 square metres. "We haven't seen this kind of office activity since the 1990s," Anonuevo says.

David Young, managing director of Colliers Philippines, also expects the country's health to continue to improve.

"Both the residential and commercial sectors [in Manila] are enjoying a third year of strong growth and this will continue through 2013 and 2014," he says. "The residential sector is benefiting from increased affordability as mortgage interest rates have fallen to their lowest-ever level [6 per cent compared with 14 per cent only a decade ago] and household incomes rise.

"Additionally, the 25 per cent of the Filipino labour force that works overseas now remits more than US$20 billion [10 per cent of GDP] back to the country, and some 40 per cent of this goes into the residential market."

Young says Manila's living environment is underrated. "The frustrations of traffic aside, Manila has always been a very liveable city," he says. "Expatriates who are posted here consider the quality of life a well-hidden secret. The perception from overseas is changing slowly. This has been assisted by the large redevelopments we have seen during the past 10 years, such as Greenbelt, Rockwell and Bonifacio Global City. These are modern, mixed-use communities that offer high-quality working and living environments."

The built environment is also improving as infrastructure development supports suburbanisation and Manila expands southwards. "More recently, we have also witnessed an explosion in condo development in the central areas of the city with good public transport links," Young says, noting that close to 50,000 new units were launched in 2011 and 2012.

Many properties are being snapped up by Filipino nationals working overseas, fuelling the growth of high-rise condominiums.

Developers are catering to their preference for mid-range properties, Orr says. Of the 130,000 units constructed within Metro Manila from 1999 to 2012, 97 per cent were priced between 1.5 million pesos (HK$284,000) and 10 million pesos, with only 3 per cent in the luxury sector. Between now and 2018, a further 150,000 new units are planned, with the same breakdown of the target market.

Foreign buyers are present, although not in large numbers. Young speculates that only 10 to 15 per cent of the best-quality buildings are being sold off-plan to foreigners and, among these, Hong Kong/Chinese buyers are not a high proportion.

"Foreign buyers tend to have a connection with the Philippines - either they work here or have done previously, are married to a Filipino or are frequent visitors to the Philippines for business or leisure," Young says.

However, that could change, too. JLL notes that developers have begun holding property roadshows in Singapore, with some degree of success. Launches in Hong Kong and the mainland could be only a matter of time.

Foreigners who do buy Philippine residential property purely for investment purposes are attracted by relatively cheap prices compared with the rest of Asia and attractive rental returns of 6 per cent to 7 per cent, Young says. "They have seen good capital appreciation since the market bottomed out in 2002, and expect this to continue."

Young predicts further growth in Southeast Asia's rising star. "Prospects look good for 2013 and the medium term. Macroeconomic fundamentals remain strong, with GDP growth of 6 per cent to 7 per cent expected this year and next. All the drivers of real estate growth referred to above will remain in place barring any external shocks," he says.


Buying Guide

What you can buy for 900,000 pesos (HK$170,000)
A 30-square-metre unit in the mid-rise condo Arezzo Place, Pasig, on the eastern fringes of Metro Manila. Developed by Phinma Properties, the building includes a clubhouse, two pools, multipurpose function halls and outdoor recreational facilities.

What you can buy for 19 million pesos (HK$3.59 million)
A three-bedroom penthouse at Three Central, a new luxury residential tower located along Alcedo Village in Makati City. Developed by Megaworld Corp and due for completion by 2015, the units will be fully furnished and air conditioned. Residents also have use of a mini-theatre, culinary station, landscaped meditation gardens, reflexology path, spa and a swimming pool.