Iskandar property cooling down

Ask any developer or real estate agent about the Iskandar region and they’ll tell you that the property “heat” in Johor has cooled down. But that was from a high base some two years back.

That time, high-profile land deals had hogged the limelight from time to time and developers were busy launching projects in different areas of the Iskandar region. Any developer with Johor exposure would get investors’ attention.

Now, the “rush” has come down significantly.

“Growth has to normalise. It’s only natural that the growth is gradual,” a player says.

Buying interest is dependent on the property type, area and pricing.

For instance, industrial properties are still gaining traction from manufacturers. Singaporean companies looking to expand their factories or operations would consider Johor due to the proximity and pricing.

Among the property types in Johor, the industrial type saw the highest growth in the number of transactions for the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same quarter last year at 51.8%. Quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q), the number jumped 16%. Another area of growth is commercial properties, which added 6% year-on-year (y-o-y) and 10% q-o-q, data from the National Property Information Centre showed.

On the other hand, residential units fell 9% y-o-y and 6.8% q-o-q, while development land declined the most at 27.8% y-o-y and 8% q-o-q.

In total, the number of property transactions in Johor for the quarter slid 6.2% compared to a year earlier and fell 4% compared to the previous quarter.

“Even though the sale of residential units has slowed down, it should be able to hold up because of the industrial activities there,” an observer points out.

Compared with Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Johor fared better in the first quarter of this year. The number of transactions in Penang fell 12% y-o-y and 18% q-o-q. In Kuala Lumpur, the number dipped 9.7% y-o-y and 23% q-o-q.

Among the few hot spots, only Selangor did better, with a slight growth of 2% compared with last year and a decrease of 4.5% compared with the previous quarter.

Maybank Investment Bank Research analyst Wong Wei Sum tells StarBizWeek that the weaker ringgit had spurred some Singaporeans to buy property in Johor.

“Most of the high-rise projects have seen slower take-up rates due to the supply, but there are exceptions. One example is PPB Group Bhd’s condominiums, which have seen very good take-up from Singaporean buyers,” she says. To be noted is that PPB Group’s Southern Marina project is also priced attractively at RM950 per square foot (psf) compared with the average RM1,000 psf in the vicinity.

Another project that has seen brisk sales is Eco World Development Group Bhd’s project in Kota Masai, with a strong take-up rate of about 80% for the non-bumiputra lots.

“The project is targeted at locals and priced reasonably at around RM500,000 (20x70 sq ft),” she explains.

In Kota Masai, another big developer, Mah Sing Group Bhd, is going to launch 396 units of landed houses priced from RM330,000 with a size of 18x65 sq ft.

That said, there is a general downtrend in terms of pricing, transaction value and numbers in the southern state, Wong says.

The Singaporean government has told its people to be “wary” about the Johor property market due to an oversupply of houses, according to reports from the city state.

“That might reduce Singaporeans’ appetite for Johor properties,” says an observer.

Exquisite Mode Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of United Malayan Land Bhd, has launched Suasana Iskandar in the Johor Baru city centre (JBCC). Of the 343 units of serviced apartments for sale, about 150 units are sold. Since then, sales have hit a plateau. Selling prices for the serviced apartments range from RM1,100 psf to RM1,200 psf.

Exquisite Mode head Ken Ng concedes that the uncertainties in the country have held buyers back from taking up units.

“But we are quick to turn around to boost sales. We’ve changed our business model and provide options for buyers to meet what they need,” he says.

The company will help owners lease and manage their units or if they choose to hold the units long term, they can get a 6% yield guarantee for a few years.

He says JBCC’s multi-billion transformation plan will change the façade of the city and that will enhance the value of properties there.

“The local Government has stopped approving residential units to be built on commercial land in this area. That means our serviced apartments would be one of the few around here,” he adds.

In general, observers note that people are still interested in buying property, but the banks are very stringent in releasing mortgage loans.

“We get a warm response for housing projects and receive big numbers of bookings, but too bad that many of the loan applications are rejected,” says a property agent.

Some of the more conservative players will put some of the development projects on hold or modify their original plans to adapt to the slowdown. - By The Star