City & Country: Ipoh rocks
Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah's Sunway City Ipoh has managed to successfully capitalise on the area's natural attractions. But the Sunway Group is not the only company to realise the potential of the Ipoh property market. The city has become a hive of residential development activity. Jennifer Gomez reports.
At a glance, it would be hard to justify the keen development activity in Ipoh, the capital of the Silver State, Perak. After all, it is a small city that can't compare in terms of growth with bigger places like Johor Baru, Penang, or perhaps even Melaka.
Neither does Ipoh attract a migrant population. Why then are developers so gung ho about the market? The answer is quite simple – folks there are fl ush with cash, and there's both old and new money in the market.
The source of the old money is of course the fortunes amassed from the days of tin mining. As for the new money, well, the younger generation that left in search of greener pastures years ago are now coming back to put their money back in their hometown. Sentimental as it may sound, many Ipohites who have left the city harbour hopes of retiring there. And no, they're not investing in properties for the rental income, which are relatively low for properties in the city.
However, the prices of homes here, even the bigger units, seem affordable — you can get a 2-storey terraced home for about RM150,000 and a bungalow for RM415,000.
Gung ho developers
The presence of Klang Valley based developers that have entered the market — Sunway City Bhd and MK Land Holdings Bhd — is testimony to the activity in the Ipoh property market.
The local players include names like Taiko Properties Sdn Bhd, Kinta Properties Bhd and Keris Properties. There are also those content with developing small plots where the latest action is.
So, which areas are hot?
According to CH Williams Talhar and Wong (Ipoh) Sdn Bhd manager Heng Kiang Hai, development activity currently centres on the north and northeast of the city, along the Tasek-Klebang stretch and Tambun respectively. Elsewhere, the Gopeng-Simpang Pulai stretch is seeing some development activity. There are some smaller schemes too along the Ipoh-Lumut Highway, near Menglembu.
The offerings are mostly of the 2-storey terraced variety. Locals make up the bulk of the buyers, says Heng. "We can't be sure if they are working outstation — it is not uncommon to find the breadwinners working elsewhere while their families live here."
Given the number of launches, will homes in the secondary market lose out in value and appeal?
Heng thinks not. "So far, there has been no indication of an oversupply. For certain locations, it may take a little longer to attract buyers, but generally, it should not be a problem. Over the next five to seven years, we may even seen tin-mining activity coming back and this will spur further demand for housing," he says.
Still, developers have been feeling signs of a slowdown since early this year. But they argue that the scarcity of development land will deter new competitors, so they can be more or less assured of their portion of the demand pie.
What buyers want
In most respects, Ipoh folk can be considered a traditional lot who, one would expect, would not be too accommodating of the idea of strata living or leasehold property.
Surprisingly, leasehold status is becoming less of a factor to buyers, according to Heng. Many developers agree. Location, quality of the homes and the reputation of the developer are instead, the prime considerations.
So, the high take-up rate of the leasehold properties in Sunway City Ipoh is no surprise. The unsold units comprise mostly the bumiputera lots, says a company official.
One interesting revealation though is show units are important sales tools. "Ipoh buyers need to see the show unit — only then can they visualise what the unit will look like. And be ready to have them come to the site often, sometimes week after week, to monitor the progress of the development," reveals Loh Siew Wooi, general manager of Taiko Properties. Buyers, he says, are very particular, to the point of making comparisons with what other developers are offering.
"In terms of finishes and designs, we have to give them the best we possibly can because buyers are very discerning, and have time on their hands. That is why we can safely say that the projects here are comparable to what Klang Valley developers are offering," adds Loh.
Kinta Properties chief executive officer Dr Tan Chin Yong concurs. Buyers also request a lot of customisation in the homes they buy, he adds. "In terms of specifications, we beat KL properties, for instance, in the requirements for a wet kitchen. Unlike in KL, where a small area strictly for cooking will do, here they want a big wet kitchen in addition to the dry area! They want a good deal — practical houses with no unused spaces, no steep roofs, good orientation in accordance with feng shui and more. Ipoh buyers are generally price conscious, and to lure them, it becomes imperative for us to offer additional features in the home, for example, full wall tiles for the bathrooms."
Where a project's environment is concerned however, it is the developers who are trying to lead the market into accepting new concepts, which mostly revolve around trying to blend nature and the built environment. This is where developers can take advantage of the rolling limestone hills and old mining lakes that abound in Ipoh. There's also a growing need for security, says Tan, although buyers in Ipoh have yet to be very vocal about it.