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Highs and lows across the region

HK and India lead surge in real estate markets as Japan slumps, writes Peta Tomlinson

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 3:44am

So much has happened in the "post-Lehman" years. Among the good news for Asia-Pacific is that regional property markets have recorded the highest growth globally since 2008, with Hong Kong leading the pack with 82.6 per cent growth, followed by India with 61.7 per cent, Taiwan with 56.1 per cent, and the mainland (based on Beijing and Shanghai) with 49.2 per cent, according to Knight Frank.

The firm's latest data also shows that Asia-Pacific markets have been the standouts of the past year, rising on average by 6.7 per cent in 2012, compared with 2.8 per cent a year earlier. Of 55 housing markets tracked, prices fell in 20, down from 25 in 2011 - all but one of these, Japan, were in Europe.

While the frontrunners were perhaps predictable, there were some surprises: Singapore dropped to the 24th spot, with average growth of only 2.6 per cent last year, following seven rounds of cooling measures on non-landed properties.

Png Poh Soon, head of research for Knight Frank in Singapore, says: "The slower pace of growth demonstrates the government's determination to tame the property market. Ample liquidity and low interest rates continued to support home buying interest, notwithstanding more restrictive buying conditions. These restrictive conditions led to more muted price appreciation as compared to other countries."

Malaysia and Indonesia, with 7.3 and 7 per cent growth, respectively ranked 13th and 14th. South Korea was stagnant, with zero growth (in 34th place).

Knight Frank cautions that Hong Kong's bull run might be over. Surging prices thus far have fuelled demand "from mainland Chinese investors keen to get their slice of Hong Kong's real estate prices", but the latest stamp-duty increases may cool their ardour, and the firm expects "a return to more muted growth in 2013".

South Korea might be, in the words of Cushman & Wakefield, "one of the prime investment locations in Asia-Pacific", rated as "the third-largest economy in Asia and 11th in the world, in terms of market size and growth potential".

And yet its property market lags behind others in the region. Housing prices across the republic fell for the eight consecutive month in February, according to Kookmin Bank, sparking fears of a long-term decline.

Shawna Yang, director of Cushman & Wakefield, Republic of Korea, explains that, unlike in markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, there is a clear separation between public- and private-sector development in South Korea, resulting in "a wide band of middle-income housing where prices cannot really move forward".

Seoul also lacks the expat population of other key cities in the region, while the republic's low birth rate and rising unemployment further dampened domestic demand. "The core issue is that the economy is not growing as fast as it should, and jobs growth is not there. We need to create more jobs," Yang says.

According to a country report by Business Monitor International, South Korea's property market is likely to remain weak through much of 2013 "amid the bleak economic landscape".

"A supply overhang and the country's perennial household debt situation are also likely to keep downward pressure on prices," the report says, but it did note two potential fillips. "The government's decision to ease mortgage lending restrictions in a bid to kick-start real estate activity and provide support for private consumption presents an opportunity in the sector." Further, "the 2018 Winter Olympics and a general upward trend in tourist arrivals could provide a long-term boon to the construction and property industries".

Vietnam, though not covered in the Knight Frank report, is another confounding market. Coldwell Banker recalls "astronomical growth" from 2006 to 2008. The gloomy economic outlook thereafter "has seemingly brought the market to its knees with plenty of available commercial spaces and residences".

While these are often priced at the high-end segment, the market is "only able to digest mid- and low-end ones with the end users as main customers", the realty firm says.

Michael Piro, general director of Vietnam Sotheby's International Realty, says the price drop in certain sectors has spurred international buyers, who until now "watched from the sidelines".

"We are now witnessing a strong resurgence in demand from foreign investors as markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore have reached their peaks and their respective governments have intervened with cooling measures, while quality Vietnamese properties can be purchased at all-time lows," he says.

At the same time, Piro has witnessed "a significant improvement in quality housing within the high-end residential sector".

"Currently, buyers are following property developers who have continued to improve their product offerings with increased facilities, higher construction quality and improved design concepts," he says.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia are the leading sources of inquiry, while interest from China has been growing, as nearly 15 per cent of tourists to Da Nang are from the mainland. The majority are "looking to capitalise on comparably low price points within the region for branded property along Vietnam's central coast", Piro says.

"In terms of actual transactions, Hong Kong has definitely been our strongest market, with most of our international sales over the past 18 months coming from the Nam Hai and the Hyatt Regency Da Nang Residences," Piro adds. "In the past month specifically, we recently completed a transaction for a US$2 million three-bedroom beachfront villa at the Nam Hai purchased by a Hong Kong resident.

"Overall, we do believe overseas investors are beginning to gain more serious interest in Vietnam as the country, and specifically the resort market along the central coast, continues to develop in terms of infrastructure, property law and, most importantly, quality housing."


Buying Guide

What you can buy for US$2 million (or just under)
A three-bedroom, three-bathroom beachfront villa at Hyatt Regency Danang Residences, Vietnam. Built around a private pool with expansive open living spaces, the 3,304 sq ft contemporary design exudes luxury. The residence also benefits from full access to the facilities and services of the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa.

What you can buy for US$250,000
A two-bedroom apartment at Indochina Plaza Hanoi, part of a twin-tower residential development set above a four-storey retail mall and open-air plaza.