A residential district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Investors should look at Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Vietnam to find their next pot of gold, say experts.
By Michelle Yee
Amid the uncertainty of Brexit and the slowing real estate sector in Singapore, emerging markets like Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are catching the attention of investors looking for more promising investment opportunities in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Vietnam, for one, looks set to witness huge growth in its real estate sector as well as economy in 2017, analysts said.
According to the Urban Land Institute’s report on “Emerging Trends in Real Estate Asia Pacific 2017”, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – the former Saigon – was ranked the second-most popular market in Asia for real estate investment, particularly residential apartments.
The report revealed that in all, 71.4 percent of institutional investors rate Vietnamese apartments a buy.
The nation’s economy is also growing fast. According to Bloomberg Markets, Vietnam’s economy
expanded more than six percent for a second year, defying a regional slowdown to remain one of the world’s best performers as manufacturing surged. Looking ahead, the Asian Development Bank has forecasted Vietnam’s economic growth at 6.3 percent this year.
With these figures, Vietnam is definitely a great place to invest, especially in property as demand increases and tourism is also booming.
Other factors that can be attributed to Vietnam’s growing appeal among investors include rising demand among both locals and foreigners, increasing tourist arrivals, as well as infrastructural developments in HCMC. For instance, metro lines are currently under construction to improve connectivity in Hanoi and HCMC, linking the districts to the bustling city centre.
Why invest in Vietnam?
Rising economic power
“Vietnam is one of the fastest growing countries in Southeast Asia. In 2016, Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 6.2 percent, and is expected to grow between six to 6.5 percent from now till 2020. The young and educated population is a key driver of this growth. The World Bank expects Vietnam’s urban population to grow 2.4 percent per annum until 2025 – the highest in Southeast Asia. Over the next two decades, Vietnam will be in a demographic golden age. About
60 percent of its 90 million-strong population is under 35. 25 percent of the population is aged between 10 and 24; the median age is around 30. According to the Brookings Institute, Vietnam has the fastest growing middle-class in Southeast Asia – 18 percent per annum over the period 2016 to 2020, accelerating from 15 percent per annum in 2005 to 2015,” said Trang Le, Manager, Research and Consulting at JLL Vietnam.
Vietnam’s remarkable economic growth can also be attributed to other factors, such as rising Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and exports.
According to a recent JLL report, FDI into Vietnam in the first quarter of 2017 reached US$7.7 billion, a jump of 77.6 percent compared with the same period in 2016. The disbursed capital stood at US$3.62 billion, an increase of 3.4 percent year-on-year. To date, there has been around US$2.9 billion from 493 newly registered projects and US$3.9 billion from 223 added FDI projects. Among 71 countries and territories, South Korea retained its ranking as the largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with US$3.75 billion in newly registered capital, accounting for 48.6 percent of the total, followed by Singapore (US$910.9 million) and China (US$823.6 million). By industry, foreign investments mostly poured into the manufacturing and processing sectors with US$6.5 billion and real estate with US$344 million, accounting for 84.9 percent and 4.5 percent of total FDI, respectively.
Notable projects include an additional investment of US$2.5 billion to Samsung Display Vietnam in Bac Ninh Province; US$485.8 million to Taiwan Polytex Far Eastern (Vietnam), a polyester and synthetic fiber plant in Binh Duong Province; US$319.8 million to Coca-Cola Vietnam in Hanoi; and US$284.7 million to VSIP III in Binh Duong Province.
Growing demand and attractive rental yield
Thanks to China’s rising wages and higher operating costs, more companies are choosing to set up plants in lower-cost Vietnam instead. One of them is none other than Korean conglomerate Samsung Electronics, which picked the northern province of Bac Ninh as the base for its operations, employing 45,000 workers and investing US$15 billion to create a factory town.
With more companies setting up plants in the country, such as Samsung Electronics, Coca-Cola, LG, and Shenzhou, there has been a huge increase in urban job opportunities, in turn leading to an increased demand for urban housing, contributing to the rise in property prices and rents.
JLL revealed that the price uptrend in both HCMC and Hanoi continued in both the primary and secondary markets.
“Price increases for villas and townhouses remained high, in line with the continued good demand from both owner-occupiers and investors. Prices of apartments were also largely higher in Q1 2017, with the popular growth rates recorded at around two to three percent quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q).
“In the secondary market, apartment prices rose further but at a lower rate than in recent quarters due to the increased pressure from the abundant supply, while prices of villas and townhouses extended the uptrend, with considerable increases of 5.7 percent q-o-q recorded in some lowpriced projects,” the report said.
According to the report, prices were also largely higher q-o-q for both primary and secondary markets in Hanoi.
Moving forward, analysts expect the lower-priced sectors in HCMC – targeting owner-occupier demand – to likely drive future sales, supported by better infrastructure development, and price growth is likely to remain in the positive territory in 2017. Similarly, for Hanoi, experts foresee that good sales rates are expected in the coming quarters of 2017, actively supported by both investor and owner-occupier demand, and prices are likely to extend their prevailing uptrends.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dung Duong, Director for Research and Consulting at CBRE Vietnam said: “(The) rental markets in both HCMC and Hanoi are good. The rental yield in Hanoi market recently saw drastic improvement – from four to seven percent. And over in HCMC, emerging areas in District 2 such as Thu Thiem and Thao Dien received a lot of attention with expected gross rental yield at seven to eight percent, followed by central districts such as District 1, 4, Binh Thanh or the New Urban Area of Phu My Hung with expected rental yield at six to seven percent.
“However, it should be noted that the strong growth of condominium supply in 2015 and 2016 may lead to an over-supply concern in 2017 when units are handed over – an increase in buyto- let apartment supply will affect the rental market in term of rents and yield.”
Increasing tourist arrivals
According to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam continued to receive a large number of foreign arrivals, reaching more than 2.2 million visitors in the first two months of 2017, rising 33 percent from the same period in 2016. Among the total, the number of Chinese visitors to Vietnam surged 77.7 percent y-o-y, followed by European countries, up 26.3 percent compared with 2016. Other markets saw increases of between five and 25 percent in the first two months of 2017. The country has announced a two-year pilot programme to launch an electronic visa system and planned to start new promotions to more markets as it aims to attract 11.5 million foreign arrivals in 2017 and 17 million to 20 million in 2020.
Infrastructural developments in the city
There are plenty of infrastructure developments taking place throughout Vietnam, including the country’s first urban railway in HCMC. Once complete, the route will include 14 stations spanning about 20km from the city centre to the southern tip of neighbouring Binh Duong Province. The elevated section of the metro line is slated to be completed this year, while the underground works are set to be completed in 2019.
Sharing his thoughts on some of the significant improvements in the country’s infrastructure, Dung said: “Recent infrastructure developments in Vietnam’s two biggest cities are beginning to come into shape, enhancing connectivity which is a prerequisite for accelerating residential developments.
“In HCMC, more bridges and roads are being built, and (the) feasibility study for Long Thanh International Airport is expected to be finished by 2018. Also in HCMC, metro line number 1 is undergoing good progress in terms of construction, and is expected to be completed in 2020.
“In Hanoi, two metro lines are currently under construction: Line 2A Cat Linh – Ha Dong and Line 3 Nhon – Ga Ha Noi, with both slated to open in 2017 and 2020 respectively.”
Taking effect from July 2015, the revised Housing Law considerably relaxed foreign home ownership in Vietnam.
The biggest change with this new policy is that now all foreign individuals who are granted entry into Vietnam and all foreign investment funds, banks, Vietnamese branches and representative offices of overseas companies would be able to buy properties here. In addition, these foreign buyers can buy not only apartments but also landed property (villas and townhouses), and their home ownership rights have been significantly relaxed. The previous law only allowed foreign home ownership to be strictly for owner-occupying purpose, while the revised one has allowed these properties to be sub-leased, traded, inherited and collateralised. The catch is that the total number of units owned by foreigners must not exceed 30 percent of the total units in one condominium complex, or not exceed 250 landed property units in one administrative (or the equivalent of) ward.
Set for more growth
“Vietnam is in a sweet spot right now,” Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian Economic Research at HSBC Holdings in Hong Kong was quoted as saying in an interview. “Strong growth will persist in the next several years. It is continuing to gain market share in exports and even giving China a run for competitiveness. Foreign companies continue to invest in Vietnam to take advantage of its highly competitive labour and low cost. The outlook is bright and it is one of the standout economies in Asia,” he added.
With Vietnam’s property market primed for quick growth in the coming years, Singaporean property investors should consider entering the market now to enjoy higher yields while prices are still relatively low.
Cambodia – Huge potential for growth
Another great investment hotspot in Southeast Asia is none other than Cambodia.
From being the least-developed country in Southeast Asia more than 20 years ago, Cambodia now boasts a dynamic economy with the fastest pace of GDP growth within the region.
Recent reports reveal that except for Myanmar, Cambodia continues to outperform other Southeast Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos and Brunei, during 2016 in economic terms. And the Asian Development Bank forecasts Cambodia’s GDP growth to be 7.1 percent in 2017, underpinning demand for real estate across all sub-sectors.
Other factors that make Cambodia an attractive proposition for Asian overseas investors include the potential high returns on investment due to the country being a rapidly developing frontier market, its proximity to other Southeast Asian countries, the relaxed laws on foreign ownership, the ease of transferring money between countries, the dollarised economy which is attractive to certain investors to hedge against currency fluctuations, growing tourism, as well as improving regional / global connectivity.
Why invest in Cambodia?
Consistently strong GDP growth and infrastructural developments
“Cambodia has recorded one of the world’s top 10 and most consistent GDP growth rates since 2014. It achieved an average annual growth of seven percent between 2014 and 2016 and is expected to maintain this pace in 2017 and 2018. Growth has been underpinned by continuous
infrastructure improvement, including the upgrading and expansion of the highway network, the reintroduction of the railway network, the expansion of the international airports, the introduction of a bus service in Phnom Penh, the construction of power plants and hydro dams, as well as improving financial, healthcare and educational infrastructure. There is also a focus on upgrading Cambodia’s largest port, in Preah Sihanouk province, to enhance shipping to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and even Japan and China,” said Ross Wheble, Country Manager, Knight Frank Cambodia.
“This was one of the main drivers of investment after the market recovered from the global downturn; due to the lack of supply of international standard residential accommodation and relatively strong rental demand from the expatriate community, landlords were able to command high rental rates with yields of 10 percent and above. As supply has increased during recent years, rental growth has softened and yields have compressed to between six to eight percent,” Wheble said.
David Van, Managing Director of Business Consultancy Firm Bower Group Asia, too, agrees that Cambodia properties offer relatively attractive yields as compared to countries around the region.
“Cambodia’s real estate return on investment (ROI) averages in the five percent to six percent range, and for carefully selected prime locations, ROI could climb up to the eight to 10 percent range as compared to, say, two percent in Singapore. So, from a commercial standpoint, yes it does look attractive, but investors need to do their math and carry out proper due diligence prior to investing,” he said.
Foreign direct investments on the rise
According to a recent Knight Frank research report, Cambodia has been attracting foreign investment from several countries, namely China, as part of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy.
“Notable investments included the announcement that SRE Group, a subsidiary of China Minsheng Investment Group, will invest US$1.5 billion in developing the Cambodia- China Friendship City on 550ha within LYP Group’s Garden City, located to the north of Phnom Penh. 2016 also saw a shift in focus away from Phnom Penh towards the coastal region of Sihanoukville, including the announcement that Guangzhou R & F Properties will invest US$3 billion into the hospitality sector.
“According to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, China invested US$4.9 billion in Cambodia between 2011 and 2015, and was the leading source of foreign investment into the Kingdom,” the report revealed.
Rules on foreign ownership
“Foreigners cannot own freehold land outright in Cambodia, but the introduction of the Law on Foreign Ownership in 2010 now allows foreign nationals to own private units in certain circumstances. The law only applies to ‘private units’ in ‘co-owned’ buildings, such as condominium blocks and stratified office buildings, with foreign nationals being able to buy freehold units from the first floor and above. Up to 70 percent of a co-owned building may be owned by foreign nationals,” Wheble said.
For those who are keen on investing in Vietnam properties, Wheble sheds light on where you should be looking at. “In the past 12 months, we have seen a shift in focus away from Phnom Penh towards the coastal province of Sihanoukville. Market fundamentals for Sihanoukville point toward excellent medium- to long-term growth prospects; not only is Sihanoukville a growing tourism destination, with several five-star luxury resorts due to open in 2017, it is also a major economic hub with the country’s only operational deep sea port, which has led to the development of several industrial zones in the province, and oil & gas reserves which are expected to commence extraction within the coming years. This in turn should drive demand across all real estate sectors.”
“For overseas buyers, it is advisable to engage a real estate professional to help them navigate Cambodia’s burgeoning property supply market and the wide choices available. While Cambodia has limited foreign ownership regulations – an attractive proposition for buyers looking to invest – it also means that Cambodia’s property market may not have the international regulatory standards of other markets. A real estate professional with well-established relationships and strong local market knowledge can help address that. Lastly, it would also be beneficial to leverage your real estate consultancy’s local presence and international network to ensure a smooth transaction process if you are based outside Cambodia,” Ross explained.
Sri Lanka – A gem of an investment
Since the end of the civil war in mid-2009, Sri Lanka’s economy has been on a strong growth trajectory led by determined rebuilding measures, surging tourism and increased investor confidence.
“In a remarkably short period, the country has bounced back as a strong contender among tourist destinations in the Indian Ocean, and is on a steady tourism growth path. According to the Travel and Tourism Index 2015, Sri Lanka’s travel and tourism competitiveness jumped 18 ranks over the past four years, driven by the strong government focus on the tourism sector, remarkable infrastructure growth, and enhanced marketing and promotional efforts for the country. The country saw close to 1.8 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2015, having registered an average growth rate of 16 percent over the past five years, and exceeded the two million tourist arrival mark in 2016,” said a JLL report.
Tourism Minister John Amartunga said in a recent news article that the country is now working towards attracting 2.5 million tourists by the end of 2017. One of the main factors that contributed to the strong tourism growth is the rapidly improving infrastructure across the country.
“The road sector has been the primary focus area, with the US$3 billion Northern Expressway being the largest project in the pipeline. Work is also underway on Phase II and III of the Outer Circular Highway (OCH) – a ring road developed around Colombo and Phase III of the Southern Expressway across the popular south-west coast stretch, among other initiatives,” said JLL.
Investment hotspots in Sri Lanka
Galle: A blend of old and new
Galle, a major city located along the southwestern coast, has undergone a huge transformation over the past few years, and thus, has attracted plenty of travellers.
“The region received a major boost to tourism following the completion of the Southern Expressway in late 2012, which enhanced connectivity from Colombo city to the region,” noted JLL.
The Southern Expressway not only reduced travelling time between Colombo and Galle to about two hours, down from three to four hours previously, but it also made the journey much more comfortable for travellers. Prior to the completion of the Southern Expressway, travellers who wanted to get to this historic port from Colombo had to commute via crowded trains or an even more crowded two-lane road.
Why invest in Galle?
As more travellers from around the world discover this hidden gem, which is home to an astonishing array of ancient temples, towers and colonial buildings, many find themselves falling
head over heels with this charming colonial town and are getting holiday homes there.
“We love Galle because it combines something of the charm of a Mediterranean, medieval town with the exotic, tropical landscape. The beaches are also absolutely stunning,” shared Hamish Macdonald, a British expatriate with properties in both Colombo and Galle.
Echoing similar sentiments, Steven Mayes, Managing Director at JLL Sri Lanka, said: “Galle is all about lifestyle, environment, heritage and ease of access. In addition, travelling time from Colombo has reduced dramatically since infrastructure improvements, and these positive changes have also opened the region to new tranches of foreign investors attracted by the historic Galle Fort area, the town’s rich heritage, and the unspoiled beaches located to the south and east of the city, where
absolute seafront real estate can still be acquired at relatively modest cost. This value for money legacy and associated attractive yields has not gone unnoticed, and demand is beginning to outstrip supply.”
As demand for property in Galle has increased, so have prices. “Prices have witnessed an average increase of around 20 percent over the past two years, due to demand driven by the peace dividend, aspirational lifestyle and the lifting of certain barriers to investment by government incentives,” Mayes said. Moving forward, with demand remaining strong, analysts expect prices to continue an upward trend.
“Currently, demand is strongest for raw land plots, those with license to develop and those without, with seafront locations commanding the highest premiums, followed by inland plots that might have lakefront positions or attractive views. Demand is also strong for ready-built properties and those older colonialstyle residences that need extensive remodelling and offer development potential. Prices can start from as low as US$120,000 for inland plots and rise towards US$6.5 million for prime seafront real estate with uninterrupted beach access. Transaction numbers are increasing and with demand outstripping supply, especially for prime property, prices continue to rise. Supply initially improved after the cessation of hostilities as owners capitalised on the increased demand,
but supply has weakened recently as properties are snapped up and opportunistic owners are retaining real estate in the hope of increased future revenues,” Mayes added.
Strong economic growth
According to a JLL report, economic growth in Sri Lanka has been among the fastest in South Asia in recent years. “Economic growth was 7.4 percent in 2014, marginally higher than the previous year’s growth rate of 7.2 percent, while per capita income increased from US$2,400 to US$3,625 over the past five years and is projected to show a further increase in 2016 and beyond, which will then place Sri Lanka under the World Bank classification of an “upper middle-income country”. Growth in the past five years has been largely driven by reconstruction efforts across the country – including infrastructure development and construction activity. However, to sustain these high growth levels, Sri Lanka will have to drive private sector development and foreign investment, focus on increasing exports to generate jobs and manage the country’s large fiscal deficit. Sri Lanka attracted foreign direct investment amounting to US$1.68 billion in 2014 – a 19 percent increase over 2013, but below the US$2 billion target set by the government.
“The country is now focused on long-term strategic and policy development changes to ensure long-term economic growth.”
A tourism hub
Easy on the pocket and with its gorgeous pearly white beaches and national parks, it is no wonder this major city in Sri Lanka is a huge draw for discerning travellers seeking the perfect blend of nature and great sights.
That is not all. Galle, with its rich history dating back some 450 years
ago, is also rapidly gaining popularity among history and culture buffs. There are numerous archaeological sites, awe-inspiring architecture, as well as a collection of world-beating temples and museums, which allow travellers to delve deep into the country’s rich history and culture.
Whether you’re a nature lover, culture seeker or avid foodie, there is something for you here. One of the must-visit attractions here is thefamous Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with large parts of its walls still intact today.
Looking ahead, with major infrastructure improvements ongoing, an additional terminal at Bandaranaike International Airport in the pipeline, and port development in the works, Galle is expected to see continued strong market activity over the next few years, said experts.
“The government has implemented a Country Operations Business Plan (COBP) in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), lines of credit have been introduced to support and encourage small to medium enterprises (SMEs), and financial initiatives have been introduced to support infrastructure improvements and develop the education sector. One target that looks
likely to be achieved is 100 percent rural electrification by 2021.
“Port and airport development are also creating the potential for Sri Lanka to become a key transport and tourist / transit hub for Asia. The completion of the Hambantota Port and the Colombo Southport Expansion will increase the capacity to take advantage of the country’s strategic location on the major international shipping lanes, while development of an additional terminal at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo will see the airport capacity expand to 15 million from the current six million capacity,” Mayes said.
Where to look at
There are many drivers that impact investment decisions, but in real estate, everyone understands the importance of location. Galle Fort continues to witness the strongest demand for reasons of accessibility and high profile, while lifestyle factors are leading to increased demand for beachfront real estate.
“As in most developing countries, there are restrictions on foreign ownership of immovable assets such as land and property. However, with the advent of the new government under Maithripala Sirisena (President) and Ranil Wickremesinge (Prime Minister), and the subsequent budget, the previous 15 percent tax on buying leases has been removed, allowing foreigners to buy up to 99-year leases without tax. For foreigners wishing to buy freehold land outright, tax exemption is possible, but will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis,” noted Mayes.
Investing in emerging markets like Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam seems to be all the rage these days, especially with the lower price points and future growth potential. We’ve shortlisted a few high-quality properties from these three countries for your consideration.
Vo Nguyen Giap, Son Tra District, Da Nang, Vietnam
Type: Hotel and apartment
Developer: Alphanam Real Estate Joint Stock Company
Facilities: Swimming pool, spa, lush landscaping, restaurant, beach
Nearby Key Amenities: Hospitals, hotels, hypermarket, restaurants, shopping malls, schools
Nearest Transport: Da Nang International Airport
Starting Price: US$105,000 (S$146,517)
This 234-unit project is the only five-star luxury apartment located on the popular My Khe Beach, offering all the benefits of a posh resort managed by a professional services team.
Due to the coastal city of Da Nang being hugely popular among both locals and tourists, investors can look forward to consistently good returns on their investment. Owners are entitled to stay in their apartment for 10 days a year and rent it out for the remainder of the year.
The development benefits from its proximity to three UNESCO World Heritage sites, Da Nang International Airport and the city centre.
Russian Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Developer: Creed Group
Facilities: Barbecue pits, gardens, sky pool, café, mini mart, kids centre
Nearby Key Amenities: Banks, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, schools
Nearest Transport: Phnom Penh International Airport
Starting Price: US$127,000 (S$177,076)
Developed by Creed Group, Bodaiju Residences is the first Japanese residential development in Cambodia. Strategically located along Russian Boulevard, it is within proximity to the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone and other emerging hubs of industry.
The development is also just a few minutes’ drive from Phnom Penh International Airport, International Phnom Penh Hospital and Northbridge International School.
Offering one- to three-bedroom units, the development designed by French architect Ivan Tizaniel boasts luxurious and stylish interiors. All units come fully furnished with Japanese branded appliances and quality furnishings, making it convenient for those looking to rent the units out immediately upon purchase.
Station Road, Colombo 4, Sri Lanka
Developer: Blue Mountain Apartments
Facilities: Private helicopter, 24-hour medical centre, mini cinema, sky restaurant
Nearby Key Amenities: Banks, schools and universities, shopping malls, hospitals
Nearest Transport: Bambalapitiya Railway
Starting Price: Rs 36 million (S$780,443)
Located in the heart of Colombo, Achilleion comprises two luxury 50-storey towers of 618 units linked by the country’s first-ever sky bridge. It offers a wide range of facilities including a private helicopter owned by all Achilleion residents, a 24-hour medical centre, mini cinema, sky restaurant and a fleet of five Mercedes-Benz cars.
The sky bridge also allows residents to enjoy sweeping views of the Indian Ocean and the vibrant Marine Drive stretch.
Buyers can choose from oneto three-bedroom units or larger duplexes and penthouses. Each unit features the best in design and furnishing, with the interiors designed by Index Design of Singapore.
Staple Street, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka
Developer: Capitol Developers Limited
Facilities: Concierge service, mini-mart with pharmacy, salon, laundry services, sky lounge
Nearby Key Amenities: Offices, shopping malls, restaurants, racecourse, parks
Nearest Transport: Major highways
Starting Price: US$239,000 (S$333,237)
Capitol TwinPeaks features a unique and eye-catching façade – a 182m high interlocking cubic silhouette designed by renowned Singaporean firm P&T Architects.
Once complete, the development will comprise 388 well-designed apartments spread across two 50-storey towers. Residents will be able to enjoy magnificent views of the Indian ocean, Beira Lake and the city’s sweeping skyline.
Buyers can choose from two- to five-bedroom units sized between 770 sq ft and 2,685 sq ft. Each is equipped with a chic living room and spacious kitchen with good quality appliances. Notable facilities include a concierge service, mini-mart with pharmacy and sky lounge on the 50th floor.