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Malaysia developer counts on Hong Kong capital flight

KSK Land says sales could rise by up to 50%

SINGAPORE -- Malaysian property developer KSK Land says it has seen a sharp increase in sales inquiries from Hong Kong residents, as months of political unrest take their toll on the city's economy.

Property developers across Southeast Asia are stepping up marketing efforts directed at wealthy Hong Kong residents as violent protests stretch into their 14th week and show no sign of ebbing.

KSK Land Managing Director Joanne Kua told Nikkei Asian Review that it was currently hosting two to three invitation-only private dinner showcases a month for potential buyers in Hong Kong.

Kua said that sales inquiries for luxury apartments from Hong Kong had increased by around 10% since April, adding that she expected sales of serviced units to Hong Kongers to rise by up to 50% as buyers look to park their capital outside the Chinese-ruled city.

"They will always ask -- what is the Malaysia economy doing?," said Kua. "We have, year-on-year, in the luxury residences segment, capital appreciation on average at about 5.1%."

Hong Kong visitor arrivals plunged nearly 40% in the 12 months to August, finance secretary Paul Chan said on Monday, adding that the social unrest had severely damaged the image of Hong Kong as a safe international city and a hub for trade, aviation and finance.

On Monday, hundreds of uniformed school students formed human chains in districts across Hong Kong in support of anti-government protesters after another weekend of clashes in the Chinese-ruled city.

With Malaysia's economy expected to grow forecast at up to 4.8% this year, Kua said Malaysia had the political stability sought after by investors, without the higher costs of owning a luxury apartment in nearby Singapore.

"When you look at the branded residences range," Kua said, "the price per square foot is about $792. And then, if you look at markets like Singapore, you have about $2,500 per square foot."

Still, despite the Singapore government raising the stamp duty for foreign buyers from 15% to 20% last year, the city-state had seen a slight uptick in buyers from Hong Kong since the protests began in March, said Nicholas Mak, head of research at ERA Realty Network.

According to data drawn from the national real estate information bank, nine Singapore properties were sold to Hong Kongers from April to June, up from three in the previous quarter.

This marked the first quarter-on-quarter increase of Hong Kong home buyers since additional duties for foreigners kicked in the middle of last year.

In July and August, sales of Singapore properties to Hong Kongers held steady at seven. In the six months to the end of June last year, Hong Kong residents bought 32 properties in Singapore - before the government's cooling measures were imposed.

Mak noted that despite the additional duties, the latest numbers suggested that some of the capital flight from Hong Kong could have found its way into Singapore.

"Singapore is an independent, politically-stable, sovereign country," Mak said. "So if they are thinking of moving out of Hong Kong . . . Singapore would present as one of the possible choices that they can move to."

Chris Koh, director of Singapore property consultancy firm Chris International, said the political strife in Hong Kong would likely encourage developers in other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, to target the city's would-be investors in a bid to close more sales.

Koh said Vietnam had recently relaxed rules to allow foreigners to buy homes more easily, while the Philippines, which has seen rapid development in the Manila Bay area, would also offer choice opportunities.

"We get a lot of people buying there and then renting out to foreigners or renting out to locals because all the locals are moving into that Bay Area to work," said Koh.

In Thailand, Koh said units located near Bangkok's prestige shopping malls could also draw interest from Hong Kong investors.

According to Koh, the sales pitch from property developers targeting Hong Kong investors would probably go something like this:

"You want to pick a country like Singapore, which is more stable? Be ready to pay more," said Koh. "Whereas if you're willing, pick a country like Vietnam, Philippines or Thailand. You don't have to pay that much."

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