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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Make the right money moves: investing in a property is still best

THE Christmas and New Year celebrations offer us good reasons to indulge in extra spending — shopping for presents, overseas trips, parties and rewarding ourselves more lavishly than usual.

But now that the fireworks are over, what’s next?

The talk of the town these days is that the coming 13th general election have to be called before April 2013. We will know whether the ruling coalition will govern this country for yet another term. To endear themselves to the voters, the opposing coalitions are dishing out promises of reform and concession, but are we aware how these overtures, if implemented, will affect our pockets?

Reform and spending power

Well, any reform that will increase the spending power of the people is welcome. We are anxiously waiting for reforms that will lessen our tax burdens, abolish road tolls, increase subsidies on essential goods (particularly petrol), lower the prices of cars and provide free education opportunities for all.

However, these reforms are not made available to us — yet. Instead, the looming prediction that Parliament may be dissolved appears to have caused the general public to display a sense of anxiety and unwillingness to make financial commitments in property until the coming general election is over and the government of the day has assumed office.

With or without these perks, most of us still make financial resolutions with every intention of fulfilling them. But as the months pass, it is common for us to lose sight of our goals.

Conventional standards often call for a progressive career, comfortable home in a good neighbourhood, respectable ride, savings for children’s education and retirement. Sounds simple and achievable, but we know from experience that distractions creep in to dwarf our hard-earned savings aimed for these plans.

It boils down to our priorities and preferences. If you have X amount of cash, what would you do with it?

Invest wisely

The prudent approach is to invest your hard-earned money in avenues that yield long-term returns. Early gratification like rewarding ourselves with a fancy vehicle (I refer to vehicles beyond our means) before securing our first property may not be a great idea, as that would be funding a depreciating asset.

I know a young professional who owns a Ferrari but lives in a rented a house. I can’t blame him as I did the same! Although, mine was not such a luxurious ride.

Buying a property may seem like a heavy commitment now with half-a-lifetime’s worth of mortgage repayments, especially if you are young and uncertain of your future plans.

Renting appears to promise freedom of one’s cash, but in the long term, you would be glad to have tightened your belt as property values could rake in lucrative returns over the years.

As an example, I refer to a family friend, Ting, the retired general manager of an elite country club. In his younger days, the accountant reckoned that it would be more feasible to rent a house rather than buying one.

In a way, he was right in that the rent was much lower than the mortgage payments. That was in the late 1980s.

However, the world economy rose in the early 1990s, followed by a global stock market super-bull run, and local property prices have since been soaring without pause. The value of a RM200,000 link house rocketed to over RM300,000 within a few years during that period.

On seeing the phenomenon, he hastily bought his first property, a double-storey link house in an exclusive country club resort for RM400,000. That house is currently valued at about RM1.2 million.

He has since paid off his mortgage and does not have to worry about paying thousands of ringgit in rent every month.

Had Ting held off on buying that piece of property, he would have been paying monthly rent of RM3,000 till today, and thereafter, mortgage payments of easily RM5,000 every month. His timely decision saved him from all of that.

Understandably, young adults who have just entered the work force may face difficulty doing the same and some may require parental assistance. If that is not an option, it would help to have a thorough savings plan drawn up.

It is our culture in Asia for working adults to continue living with the parents as this alleviates us of the burden of paying mortgage payments or rent every month, allows us to enjoy laundry services and home-cooked meals. With such comfort, it’s easy to be unmotivated and complacent.

For young adults, the chance to buy a house or condominium unit is fast slipping away, what with the doubling of prices in the last several years. Friends and clients who are property developers say prices in the city centre, have risen from RM800 per sq ft in 2004, and to RM1,600 in 2012.

Rising property prices

Property prices rise with demand, especially demand from foreign investors, some of who have set up home in the city centre, what with the successful implementation of the Malaysia, My Second Home Programme (MM2H).

Therefore, the past few years have seen developers change their strategy in a bid to attract foreign investors.

Recently, we often hear the marketing for “bungalows in the sky”, lavish units exceeding the more conventional 1,500sq ft to 2,000sq ft. Some of these luxurious condominiums are larger than 3,000sq ft. Clearly, these products are not catering to the young working class.

These days, a double-storey link house in any prime location is selling at above RM1mil and a 1,200sq ft apartment is going for approximately RM700,000.

Pretty soon, such properties will be unatainable for the younger generation.

Furthermore, there’s Bank Negara’s credit tightening measures such as the 70% loan cap on the margin of financing for a third property purchase and other stringent lending criteria for consumer banks to follow.

Owning property isn’t going to get any easier as the years pass.

A fair perspective of the potential capital appreciation can be gained via a comparison between the KL and Singapore city centres.

A 1,500sq ft apartment in prime areas in Singapore is priced around S$4mil (RM10mil), whereas a similar unit in the Golden Triangle costs some RM2.5mil to RM3mil.

If we were to use worldwide trends in property price appreciation as a guide, we would see property prices in Kuala Lumpur have room to rise.

With relatively low property prices in the city centre, and rental yields at 6.21% (which is among the highest in the region; with Singapore at 2.94% and Hong Kong at 3.23%), investing poses an excellent proposition.

I read recently that in Hong Kong the unit rate (per square meter) for an apartment costs US$19,323 (RM59,000), while Singapore follows closely at US$16,727.

Fortunately for us, Kuala Lumpur lags, at US$2,182 in spite of our relatively high standards of living.

Consider this — the sub-prime financial crisis and the subsequent financial turmoil in the European Union did not have any negative impact on prices in our property market and the recent The Star Property Fair 2012 attracted throngs of buyers and investors. To me, this shows the high demand for property in Malaysia.

In my opinion, local property prices will not be determined by the results of the general election. Whichever coalition wins, property prices will continue to rise. So, it is up to you to make the right money moves in 2013 and make your dreams come true.

May God bless you and your loved ones with love, peace, joy and excellent health!

Mind Your Money

Chermaine Poo, a chartered accountant by profession, was trained in corporate finance. A former beauty queen, she has since gained popularity as an actress, TV host, commercial talent and emcee. If you have any questions on money matters, send her an email at or follow her on, and

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