The first thing that strikes you about Penang is the island’s old world charm. Lining the streets of George Town, are well-preserved heritage buildings and shophouses each with its own history. The streets come alive at night with inexpensive and delicious local fares that can be found at every nook and cranny.
A few streets away, however, symbols of capitalism and progress are apparent. Next to Peranakan influenced shophouses and colonial buildings are shopping malls and modern skyscrapers.
This unique architectural and cultural townscape that combine both the traditional and modern, is what makes Penang so charming. In recognition for this unique trait, George Town was accorded a listing as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in July 2008. This has further boosted Penang as an attractive tourism destination.
Moving beyond tourism
However, Penang is not just banking on its tourism industry to keep its economy afloat. It is also home to various high-tech electronic plants located within the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, in the southern part of the island. In recent years, however, the state has been experiencing a gradual decline of foreign direct investments due to cheaper labour costs in China and India.
As such, Penang has been repositioning itself as a hub for medical tourism to further improve its attractiveness as an investment destination. Besides perennial favourites like Kuala Lumpur and Johor, Penang is fast emerging as popular real estate investment destination among foreigners and Malaysians looking for a second home.
According to the Malaysia Property Incorporated (MPI), a trade body that promotes Malaysian properties internationally, in 2008, Indian investors were the fourth largest in residential property investments in Malaysia after Singapore, the United Kingdom and Korea in the three states. Today, Penang has the third-largest economy, after Selangor and Johor.
One island, many varieties
Known as “The Pearl of the Orient”, Penang is an island of 285 sq km located in the Straits of Malacca with an estimated population of 1.5 million. Although smaller than Singapore, Penang has a lot to offer. The island is irregularly shaped like a tortoise with a hilly and forested interior that divides the island into two.
Balik Pulau (meaning Back of Island), located on the west coast, is the sleepy part of Penang that is served by only one main road cutting through hilly terrains and scenic reservoirs.
The main buzz, however, lies on the east and north coast. In the Batu Ferringhi and Tanjong Bungah vicinity, luxury hill top condominiums and villas can be found with breathtaking views of the Andaman Sea. These areas are considered prime locations.
Batu Ferringhi is lined with hotels, beach resorts and international schools. Some notable hotels and resorts include Shangri-La Rasa Sayang, Shangri-La Golden Sands Resort, Grand Plaza Parkroyal, Holiday Inn Resort and Ferringhi Beach Resort. Upland International School is also within walking distance.
Tanjong Bungah is also dotted with many hotels, though not as upscale as those found in Batu Ferringhi. The area has also become a favourite spot among expatriates due to the many medium to high-end condominiums in the vicinity. In addition, it is near to Dalat International School and the shopping district of Gurney Drive.
Big developers making inroads
Being an island, land prices come at a premium due to the scarcity of land versus the limited number of high quality developments.
“If you study the geography of Penang, only half the land can be developed. The other half is actually very hilly. That is why property prices in Penang tend to move upwards,” says Juanita Chin, head of project marketing for Reapfield, a Malaysian based property agency.
Local building regulations here also limit hill top developments for safety reasons. Anything built 250 ft above seal level is not allowed. As such, most high-end residential developments are built in Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, Gurney Drive and Queensbay.
The growing popularity of Penang as a retirement home for foreigners and the rising affluence of Penangites are helping to fuel demand for high-end homes. And developers in Malaysia have been quick to act on consumers’ appetite for luxury properties.
Various Kuala Lumpur based developers like IJM Land, S P Setia Berhad, Plenitude Heights Sdn Bhd and Eastern & Oriental (E & O) Property Development have now made inroads in Penang, competing alongside local big boys like Hunza Properties Berhad.
The scarcity of land, however, means developers have only one way to go – reclaim more land. Currently, there is one major reclaimation work taking place near Penang Bridge for IJM Land’s mixed-use development, The Light. E & O’s development in Seri Tanjung Pinang was also built on reclaimed land.
Developments to watch out for
Driving along Tanjong Bungah and Batu Ferringhi, one cannot help but notice rows and rows of high-end looking condominiums and landed homes being offered for sale. However, investors should go in with their eyes wide open, as some of these projects may not be as luxurious as they seem. A sure-fire way is to engage reputable real estate agents familiar with the local property market and to go for developers with a strong track record.
Medium to high-end projects that are currently being offered by reputable developers in Penang include Plenitude Heights’ Bayu Ferringhi in Batu Ferringhi, Hunza’s Infinity in Tanjong Bungah and Gurney Paragon in Gurney Drive, IJM Land’s The Light near to Queensbay, Eastern & Oriental’s (E & O) Seri Tanjung Pinang in Tanjung Tokong and S P Setia’s Setia Pearl Island in Bayan Lepas.
Plenitude Height’s luxury freehold offering, Bayu Ferringhi is located on the north western part of Penang in the touristy Batu Ferringhi area. The development comprises 44 units of 3 storey semi-detached houses designed exclusively as linked bungalows and a 32-storey condominium tower. The whole Bayu Ferringhi development is built on elevated land providing breathtaking views of the Andaman Sea.
The landed homes use glass windows as well as sliding doors liberally to capture the beauty of beachfront living. Each unit also comes with high ceilings in the living and dining areas. Bayu Ferringhi’s semi-detached houses are priced from RM1, 762, 000 onwards and are expected to be completed by June 2011.
The condominium offers 112 exclusive “bungalows-in-the-sky” apartment units and is expected completed by March 2012. The units have been uniquely designed as four detached residences on each floor each offering optimum sea views. Prices start from RM764, 000 onwards.
Such condominiums with ocean views can command top dollar while rentals for a three-bedroom apartment can yield between RM4, 000 to RM5, 500.
“There are some sea view projects here that were first launched at RM400 per sq ft. Three years down the road, prices have gone up to RM600 to RM 650 per sq ft and is still moving,” says Chin.
So far 70 percent of the entire development has been sold. Foreigners made up 65 percent of the total sales.
Hunza’s Infinity is a freehold project comprising two towers right next to a beach. Comprising 119 units of condominiums, penthouses and cabanas, Infinity is ideally situated 10 minutes away from Gurney Drive and Batu Ferringhi, The condominium is set 5m above the ground level with Tower A giving you the best ocean view. The entire development speaks of opulence with generous floor to ceiling height and spaces. There are only two units per floor giving residents a sense of privacy.
Condominium sizes range between 3, 693 sq ft 4, 866 sq ft making them particularly attractive for staying or leasing. Prices at Infinity start from RM1.745 million onwards. Infinity’s expected rental yield is about 6 to 8 percent per annum.
Hunza’s other luxurious offering is Gurney Paragon, just next to CapitaLand Mall’s Gurney Plaza. Smacked right in the middle of Gurney Drive, Gurney Paragon offers the best of city living with ocean views. This freehold development comprises two condominium towers and a shopping mall of more than 1 million sq ft retail space. Gurney Paragon enjoys frontages of both Gurney Drive and Jalan Kelawai.
The East Tower offers two units per floor and they come in generous sizes. Typical units range from 4, 586 sq ft to 4, 629 sq ft while duplexes range from 5, 404 sq ft to 5, 728 sq ft. A penthouse unit comprises 10, 442 sq ft of space. The West Tower offers four units per floor ranging from 2, 810 sq ft to 3, 154 sq ft. Penthouses come in sizes of 5, 867 sq ft and 6, 792 sq ft. All units have spacious balconies.
Prices at Gurney Paragon start from RM1.75 million onwards. Gurney Paragon’s great location makes it a popular investment among Singaporeans. The expected rental yield is about 6 to 8 percent per annum.
IJM Land Berhad is currently reclaiming 152 acres of land for its ambitious project called The Light. Located just 10 minutes away from George Town and next to the Penang Bridge, it will be developed in three phases over 12 years.
The project has an estimated gross development value (GDV) of RM5.2 billion. When completed, the freehold development will comprise 1,177 residences, including waterfront villas and condominiums.
The first phase of the residential series, The Light Linear, comprises 328 units with built-up from 1, 475 to 1, 539 sq ft. Phase one was launched in August last year at an average price of RM410 to RM450 per sq ft. All the non-bumiputera units were sold, bringing sales to 82 percent. Foreign homebuyers made up 5 percent of the project’s purchasers.
E&O’s Seri Tanjung Pinang is a seafront residential project located on the northeast coast of Penang. Approximately 5km from Georgetown, this development was built on 908-acres of reclaimed land. Only the first phase, comprising 240 acres of reclaimed land, had been developed. To date, over 500 landed residential properties have been developed and sold in the first phase.
E & O in January announced that it would launch the RM 1.8 million luxurious condominium called The Quayside in early February. The estimated gross sales value for the first phase, which includes the Quayside and Straits Quay, is RM 4 billion.
In southern Penang, S P Setia is building Setia Pearl Island which is located near to the Penang International Airport and the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone. Setia Pearl Island comprises freehold detached and semi-detached houses as well as a condominium tower called Reflection. Sprawling across 112.6 acres, the development is divided into six isles each with its own unique character.
“The free trade zone is a driver for Penang’s economy. The people who work here are in the middle income group, which is our target audience,” says Yeoh Chee Beng, sales and marketing manager for SP Setia.
S P Setia is currently focusing on The Isle of Conifers which has 3 storey detached and semi-detached homes that overlook a meadow of coniferous trees. In the middle of March, Setia will be launching the Aura and Caria semi-detached homes within the isle with a pricing of RM1.368 million onwards.
Yeoh also revealed that S P Setia had sold out 65 percent of its 315 units at Reflection. The condominium units come with a built-up area ranging from 1, 077 sq ft to 1, 512 sq ft and were sold at RM 360 per sq ft during its preview. Units from the fifth floor onwards command sea views. Reflection can command RM2, 000 in rental yield per month. Reflection will be launched again in February 2010 with the units to be priced from RM430, 000 onwards.
S P Setia will also be launching Brook Residence comprising 11 bungalow units at Brook Road, off Jesselton Road at the end of the year with a pricing of RM5 million onwards. Jesselton is a small and exclusive residential area which is also known as the “rich man’s row”.
Plenty of room to grow
Market watchers are confident of Penang’s real estate sector saying there is still plenty of room for growth, judging by the influx of quality developers here.
“Property prices in island such as Singapore and Hong Kong, tend to go upwards. The same for Penang,” says Chin.
“Penang is a unique island and is a hot tourist spot in Southeast Asia. The value of properties in Penang is very valuable due to the limited land,” says Yeoh.
Although Penang’s infrastructure has yet to be fully developed, the island offers a slower pace of life and a rich culture. Foreigners also find Penang very affordable. Unlike Bali and Phuket which are too tourist centric, foreigners get to enjoy the same cost of living as Penangites. Perhaps, it is for these reasons, Penang has the most number of Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) retirees.
Home buying tips in Penang:
Malaysia is the only country in the Southeast Asia offering free hold properties with 100 percent foreign ownership. Here are some tips for those looking to invest in Penang:
• Foreigner will first need to enter a sales and purchase agreement with a developer.
• Investors can only purchase properties that are above RM 500, 000.
• Investors should only buy from reputable developers with a strong track record.
• Investors cannot sell their properties for the first three years after signing the purchase agreement.
• Investors can enjoy bank loan from up to 60 to 75 percent from Malaysian banks.
• Those who apply under the MM2H programme can get up to 80 percent loan.
• There is a 5 percent tax on capital gains under the Real Property Tax Gains (RPGT) ruling for those sell their properties within the first five years.