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In conjunction with Eagle Eye Rentals

In conjunction with Eagle Eye Rentals
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New golf resorts expanding in Malaysia

The resort property market in Malaysia is quiet compared to the likes of Phuket and Bali, but offers secure investment potential as well as the country’s spectacular scenery, culture and laid-back charm.

Malaysia appears to have everything required for a thriving resort villa market. From Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo to Langkawi and the other gorgeous islands east and west of the peninsula, the country has some of Asia’s most breathtaking scenery.

Coastlines of beautiful beaches, clear waters offering spectacular diving, lush tropical jungles and diverse wildlife are just some of the natural attractions, along with a warm, year-round climate, temperatures ranging from 21-32°C in the lowlands.

Yet while Phuket’s villa market followed Thailand’s aggressive tourism drive and Bali’s unique cultural and physical attractions have long attracted foreigners to build first or second homes, Malaysia’s villa market has been a little slower to develop.

Datuk Robin Loh, CEO of Karambunai Corp Bhd, developer of the beachfront Nexus Residence Karambunai in Sabah, believes Malaysia’s slowly but surely approach could be a good thing, in light of Thailand’s political topsy-turvy and the tragedies that have beset Indonesia.

“Political and economic stability have been the government’s primary considerations, and why Malaysia has had a stable political and economic climate for decades. It’s multi-racial, has a good record of maintaining law and order, and is one of the safest countries to live or work in,” Datuk Robin said.

“The lifestyle is becoming more and more modern, with exposure to Western culture. There are many modern hospitals, yet living here is far cheaper than most Western countries and Asian countries such as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Mercifully, the country is untouched by natural catastrophes like earthquakes, volcanoes and typhoons.”

Phil Dobson, founder and Managing Director of boutique developer EBV (Exquisite Borneo Villas), also believes Malaysia is a safe and attractive option. “The government is working very hard to attract foreign property buyers, particularly under the Malaysia My Second Home Programme (MM2H) programme,” said Dobson, a Sabah tourism expert.

“Malaysia is one of the most relaxed countries for investment. It’s easy for foreigners to purchase property and get financing locally. The country has grown leaps and bounds in this area, and provides much greater flexibility and security for buyers than the likes of Thailand and Indonesia. The legal system is based on British Law, which can make a big difference compared to other destinations in Asia.”

Sabah leads the way

Sabah is a key area in Malaysia’s developing villa market, with two very different projects leading the way. The Nexus Residence, built along on a 6km beach adjacent to the Nexus Resort, has done much to alert overseas buyers to the attractions of owning a villa in the state, famous for its many natural wonders such as Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, the world’s oldest rainforest and world-class diving destinations, like Sipadan.

Since launching sales in October 2005, Nexus has staged exhibitions across Asia and as far as London for its Precinct Dillenia phase of semi-detached pool villas (1,275sqft) and condo-style spa villas (927-1,176sqft), scheduled to be completed by July 2008.

Its efforts are paying off, as almost all of the 80 pool villas and over two-thirds of the 163 spa villas have been sold, with Asia-based expatriates making up a large portion of buyers. Nexus will stage its second exhibition in Korea in October and another later this year in Hong Kong, one of its most popular markets, while the second phase, Precinct Amabilis, will soon launch.

“Most of our buyers are from the UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Hong Kong and other countries,” said Datuk Robin. “So far, we’ve attracted buyers across Europe and now have intentions to tap into the Asia-Pacific market.”

Overseas buyers are certainly attracted to the prices, while Datuk Robin believes the property holds strong appeal for investors due to the rapid growth of tourism and the consequent shortage of rooms in Kota Kinabalu. The 99-year leasehold properties are fully furnished and start from about US$450,000 for pool villas and about US$230,000 for spa villas, with a 7%-7.25% annual rental return for five years and 20 days personal use a year.

However, the attractions around Nexus and in Sabah itself are tempting enough. Villa owners can enjoy the facilities at the neighbouring Nexus Resort, including eight restaurants, swimming pools and the Borneo Spa, as well as the award-winning Karambunai Resorts Golf Club. Nature lovers can enjoy the nearby lagoon, 4,000 hectares of wetlands and the 130 million-year-old rainforest.

“Many of our buyers appreciate the beauty, tranquillity and serenity of Karambunai, with white-sand beaches and spectacular sunsets, making for a great holiday destination,” Datuk Robin said. “Sabah itself has so much to offer, like friendly people, affordable property, a reasonable cost of living and stunning natural attractions.”

Dobson, who has run various tourism operations in Sabah including golf tours and luxury yacht charters, is also a passionate admirer of the state and its opportunities for environmentally friendly adventure tourism.

“Sabah´s strength is its diversity. Where else in the world can you be standing in pristine virgin rainforest one hour and on a tropical island the next? There are so many options, from extreme adventure to complete relaxation,” said Dobson, who has been in the travel industry for over 20 years.

“Sabah is truly a hidden gem. I’ve sold destinations across the world, but Malaysian Borneo has something truly unique and extraordinary, with tropical islands, beaches, exotic wildlife, jungles and rainforest, Mount Kinabalu and world-class diving.”

Kudat Riviera, EBV’s first property development and Dobson’s ‘personal dream’, is deliberately dealing in dozens of villas as opposed to hundreds. “We believe high-yield, low-impact tourism is the most sustainable direction for tourism growth.”

Although the original plan was to only build four palatial villas in Kudat targeting the ‘rich and famous’, it soon became clear there was a market for a broader development, which now numbers 32 villas over a 6km stretch of beach. Prices range from US$395,000 to almost US$4 million, with plots spanning half an acre to a massive seven acres in varying settings, including beachfront, private coves, clifftop and hilltop.

The first 12 villas are set to be completed by February and the entire development by early 2009. So far, 20 villas have been sold to an international clientele, and Dobson says EBV will continue to focus on their core market of expatriate buyers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

“We’ve been astonished by the response. Our buyers are lifestyle buyers, and when they visit the site and stand on the beach, they truly understand the appeal,” said Dobson. “They love the exclusivity of the pristine beach and surrounding areas, and the huge plots, which you rarely found in the world today. It’s also a solid investment, as tourism is growing every year.”

From Langkawi to Johor
Langkawi is one of Malaysia’s most popular beach holiday destinations, attracting a host of high-end resorts, from the Four Seasons to Sheraton. Recently, the Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa, which opened last December, completed 18 one and two-bedroom luxury villas, following the trend for branded resorts to include a residential component.

“To have villas attached to resorts is an increasing trend, offering financial returns and a very attractive lifestyle,” said Erhard Hotter, CEO of Hotel Operations for Langkawi Island Resort Sdn Bhd.

“Popularity is growing for resort villas, as they provide seclusion, safety, privacy and escapism from ordinary life. Occupancy in the villas has been good, being most preferred by honeymooners and families alike. They’re an integral part of a successful resort operation.”

Hotter indicated there were plans to start selling from October, with Cityscape Dubai figuring in a scheduled sales campaign, and said the villas would be priced from about US$700,000, with an 8% guaranteed annual return for five years. “Expressions of interests have been coming through and are encouraging,” he said, saying build more villas would be built in the future.

Resort villas don’t necessarily have to by the sea. Golf resort villas are a big industry in the US, Europe and Australia, although in Asia the market is in its infancy. Located in the southern state of Johor, the 820-acre Palm Villa Golf Resort, a gated community within the 6,000-acre Bandar Putra Kulai township by IOI Properties, is a good example of golf resort villas benefiting from being part of a master-planned community.

Singapore is only 32km away, making commuting possible, a big reason owners from the Lion City make up 14% of buyers, with the rest from Malaysia and just 2% from other markets. Both the Senai International Airport and the Johor Bahru (JB) train station are just 10 minutes away.

“There’s a strong demand for resort living in JB from the local and international markets, especially Singapore. Singapore provides a huge market, as bungalow land in JB is about RM30psf compared to S$200psf in Singapore,” said Kelvin Tang, Senior Manager of Marketing and Sales for developer IOI Properties. “Palm Villa is ideal for families and golfers, for those who want tropical resort living on the fringe of a golf course.”

As well as the 27-hole championship course, club facilities include badminton, squash, snooker, sauna, table tennis, a swimming pool, wedding pool, gymnasium and playground.

Palm Villa features a variety of residences, many with views of the fairways and greens. Of units launched so far, almost 200 of 225 villas, nearly 60 of the 90 link villas and all of the 162 semi-dees have been sold. Along with more of these house types, Palm Villa will also include 143 cluster homes, 356 park homes and 593 super-link houses.

Bandar Putra, in the northern part of the Iskandar Development Region (IDR), is one of Johor’s largest self-contained townships, and to date has a 45,000-strong population, 9,000 completed residential units, an IOI Mall with Giant Hypermarket, a school, Hutan Bandar (City Forest) and a town park. “Unlike other resorts in remote areas, Palm Villa is part of a township, which means residents can enjoy both resort living and modern facilities, schooling and so on,” Tang said.

Along with the ability to obtain mortgages from local banks for up to 70-80% of a property’s value, foreign buyers in Malaysia have been encouraged by the abolishment of the real property gains tax and no more need to see FIC approval (for properties above RM250,000). Yet, industry players feel more can be done.

“To increase the success of the MM2H programme, the government could ease the requirement of fixed deposits, particularly for those under 50, and allow home investment to count in a more significant way,” Dobson said. “Speeding up of red-tape matters would also help.”

Hotter, a former Starwood veteran, is more concerned with the basics of tourism infrastructure. “The holiday destinations need an increase in flight frequency and capacity, and there should be more promotion of the country’s benefits, like value for money, its beach resort attractions, and the laid-back lifestyle,” he said.

Overall, though, Malaysia is an attractive proposition on many levels, with a government working to make it easier for foreigners to invest, for retirement, a second home or as part of a property portfolio.

“Malaysia’s a popular destination for retirement and a second home because it has good properties at a much lower price than other markets in the region,” Tang said. “It has a high standard of living at a low cost, and is filled with natural beauty, world-class sporting events, great food and friendly people.”

“Malaysia is very stable and growing in positive directions,” Dobson said. “The infrastructure is excellent and the opportunities are here to make it a viable second home.”

October 9, 2007

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