Thematic townships to attract foreign house buyers?

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By Viktor Chong viktorchong@thestar.com.my

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It is no secret that Malaysian policymakers are interested in attracting foreign property investment, especially with the market in a glut. With the Budget 2020 nudging the nation towards that direction, the intention is undeniable.

According to Chur Associates managing partner Chris Tan, these efforts could be further enhanced through the creation of thematic townships. But what pertains to a thematic township? He explained that a thematic enclave is curated to be culturally synonymous with the targeted immigrant that the developer is interested in attracting. For example, a township targeted for Hong Kong buyers would contain features and lifestyle elements reminiscent with their place of origin, albeit in a stable political environment.

With regards to foreign property investment, Tan stated that stability is the best selling point that Malaysia has to offer.

With regards to foreign property investment, Tan stated that stability is the best selling point that Malaysia has to offer.

“Malaysia will always be attractive to foreigners compared to other ASEAN countries. With the friendly government facilitation like development grants, friendly immigration clearance and even special channels, these thematic townships that I have suggested can actually be very beneficial in the long run,” he said, adding that it is a unique tourism resource and economic driver.

Think Shanghai for its charm offered by the many settlement areas of the past, from the German, the French, the British and even the Jews. He pointed out that Chinatowns are tourist attractions in all major cities in the world.

Drawing parallels to the exodus of Hong Kongers, Tan said this group of expats love Malaysia for the familiarity, similar colonial past and affordable standard of living. “Our lifestyle is also very appealing to them if only our business opportunities could also be appealing to their larger appetite. They would love our room for economic improvement,” he pointed out.

Crowds walk underneath lanterns hanging in Chinatown in London to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Crowds walk underneath lanterns hanging in Chinatown in London to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

But are Malaysians prepared to see a future where foreigners are owning more properties? When prompted about social problems, Tan referred to Malaysia’s history as a trading post that unites the meeting point between the west and east.

According to him, Malaysia is already replete with expat communities such as little Portugal, Dutch, Australia, India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and sporadically little Japan and Korea as well.

Tan is optimistic that the added diversity will not jeopardise peace in the nation as Malaysia is already very diverse. “Comparatively our population density is low, and politics shall stay out of our vision of shared prosperity,” he reassured.

Tan said investing in Malaysian properties is like placing a fixed deposit, unlike countries like Dubai, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, which are equivalent to a “casino.” As of now, Malaysia is a beneficiary of the ongoing trade war and not forgetting its favourable position under the belt and road initiative.

 Furthermore, Malaysia’s geographical location in the heart of growing ASEAN and its superior infrastructures is also a point to consider. Malaysia’s friendly policies, language capabilities, diverse and accommodative culture is also another selling point to consider.

“We allow direct foreign ownership instead of some trust arrangement or discriminatory land tenure for foreigners,” Tan pointed out. However, he stressed that the influx of expats will mostly be determined by the economic performance of the nation. 

 On another note, Tan claimed that a high premium is placed on mobility, now that the world is well connected and globalised. “We need more unique stories of our own to drive more foreign talents into our countries. In today’s context, talent is far more important than investments,” he suggested. 

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