Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bangkok Lumpini Phahon-Saphan Khwai

Lumpini Phahon-Saphan Khwai condominium is quite strategically located at a working class and matured part of central Bangkok. Bangkok? Isn't that in Thailand? This is Realty Malaysia Blog, then what the hell am I doing blogging about a property in Bangkok. I stayed here the past week and for me to write to share with all of you about it shows how impressed I am with this place. This is a medium cost condominium equivalent to Casa Mutiara or Maytower in KL but yet it is so well designed, well built, well occupied and very very very well managed which totally can put even the top end condos in KL to shame.
First of all, the location is superb. It is within walking distance of the famous Chatuchak weekend market. There is also a shuttle service that takes you to the nearest Sky train station which is Saphan Khwai, the Chatuchak market, the Otokor wet market, the Bang Sue (pronounced Bang Ser) underground train station and the Big C hypermarket.
picture above: View of Chatuchak Market and the Saphan Khwai neighbourhood
picture above: The Big C Hypermarket
picture above: The shuttle van that takes you around the neighbourhood

How is the investment sentiment in Thailand?
This week has been a very bad week for Thailand. Anti-government protesters are taking their last stand to force the resignation of their Prime Minister by literally invading and occupying all their international airports. As of today, more than 100,000 foreigners are stranded as all flights out of the 2 city international airports are cancelled amidst talks of looming violence and another possible bloody coup de tat to end it all. I chose to fled Bangkok today when Malaysia Airlines announced sending 2 planes to the little U-Tapao military airport 200km from Bangkok to help our evacuation. The scene at the airport this morning was chaotic. Arriving at 7.30am, I only managed to check-in at 12pm and the flight only took off at 4.30pm. Such is the extent of this review being brought to you through Realty Malaysia!

picture above: The chaos outside U-Tapao airport, our only escape route that morning

Picture above: Thousands of passengers crowding a small airport built to cater to 300 passengers

picture above: Boarding the flight

Back home in KL, I saw headlines screaming "Bangkok Dangerous". But really, apart from the chaos at the airport, I throughly enjoyed my stay and the city was just as peaceful yet vibrant. The troubles were mainly confined to pockets of Bangkok probably representing less than 0.00001% of the total square foot of the city. Really there was no reason for me to "evacuate" as I said but rather for the need to get back to work in KL.

Currently, the property market don't seem to be taking much hit. Bangkok has somewhat reached saturation point a few years ago. The rental market has been reduced to low returns due to the competition. Typical returns are in the low 4-5% yield per annum. Yet, property sale prices hasn't really fallen but this situation is not likely to continue into next year as Thailand is badly affected by their export market and of course, their volatile political situation. My good friend who is in the senior management of a Thai bank doesn't agree with me. According to her, there are many large foreign and local funds currently waiting to grab any cheap sale that may come along next year and hence property prices may not be falling very much.

Anyway, back to the main story. In my opinion, there is much for us to learn from this developer in Thailand. LPN specializes in low to medium cost condos which are located near public transport i.e. Bangkok's BTS and MRT system (a better and more resilient version of our LRT system). The target market are middle income earners but some of these locations become so popular, the prices have increased up to three fold and fetching many 1st owners good rental income from expats as well as locals.

The condo I stayed at have mostly studio units and most of these are occupied. From the information I received, they are also very fast moving as they provide very convenient, clean and comfortable accomodation for the young and increasingly trendy executives of Bangkok.

The design of the studios is suited towards the Asian lifestyle. The main feature is the separated dry and wet kitchen from the rest of the studio allowing for some heavy duty cooking if required. the larger 650sf and 900sf, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom units respectively adopts this feature too.

picture above: the fire escape plan shows the floor layout clearly

picture above: Inside a typical studio unit, the door to the left is the bathroom and the right is to the kitchen

LPN is really good at what they do. As they have the demand and volume, the high density of their condos trade off with better facilities which includes a shuttle service to the stations and hypermarkets, 2 restaurants, 2 laundreattes, full club house facilities and 24 x 7 security (see pictures).

The most amazing feature I think of most managed condos in Thailand is the army of workers - cleaners, security guards, receptionists etc. As I regularly used the clubhouse, I noticed every morning the cleaners wiping the leaves of the potted plants with a special chemical, this is after their routine cleaning of all the facilities. They even bothered to put cut flowers in the bathrooms and flower petals in the foot pool (where you clean your feet before entering the swimming pool). when you walk home with a lot of shopping, the receptionist or the security guard will run up to you to help carry your things to the lift! They smile and greet you every morning when you step into the lobby.... All these for RM90 a month in maintenance fees!

picture above: A 24 x 7 convenience store conveniently at the main entrance to the condo

picture above: The spa

picture above: The library

picture above: Security center and reception

picture above: Post boxes

picture above: Recycling bin at every floor

picture above: The community notice board inside the elevators are regularly maintained

picture above: 2 laundreattes operate here and seems busy competing with each other picture above: Basketball shooting ring pictures above: The dry sauna and steam room rotates between men and women usage on alternate days picture above: well equipped fitness room

picture above: Security key card required to enter parking

picture above: The swimming pool and the club house

In my opinion, the Thais excel very much in the service industry. They are so good at it which makes Thailand such a pleasant and fun place to live in. I believe despite all the shortcomings of Thailand, tourists and investors will continue to go there. The country holds much future and is developing fast, despite one recent coup de tat and emergency rule. This is a sign of investor confidence.

picture above: An odd couple spotted in The Paragon shopping mall in center Bangkok

picture above: A more natural couple....

Desa Kudalari in Pictures

Walking in the grounds of Desa Kudalari often makes you forget that you are only a few hundred metres from KLCC, except for the fact that you keep coming across the commanding view of the twin towers to remind you. Here are some pictures to prove the point.

picture above: View of the tower from the swimming pool

picture above: The Pub by the poolside

picture above: The pub

picture above: KLCC view from the pub (before it got blurry...)

picture above: tennis court - the facilities are starting look tired like an old run down country club

picture above: view from a tower unit

picture above: most tower units command a spectacular view - the bottom of the pics are the 1-bedroom Cabana units

picture above: The main entrance

picture above: View of Dua Residency and Avare from Desa Kudalari tower

picture above: The Cabana units

picture above: Cabana units and the tower

picture above: The corner Cabana units with an added side balcony and window

Picture above: The Cabana units are walk-ups or walk downs

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Desa Kudalari

Desa Kudalari is located within the 1km radius of KLCC, situated just behind the new and posh Oval condominium and Menara Tan and Tan along Jalan Tun Razak. The contrasts between Desa Kudalari and the poncy new condos around it could not be bigger. Desa Kudalari is the oldest condominium in Kuala Lumpur and much of it's facilities are indeed looking very tired. However, the per square foot price can fetch up to RM1000. Not a great deal different from its' neighbours.

So, what is the attraction of Desa Kudalari? There are basically 2 main types of layouts here - the large 800+sf low rise 1 bedroom cabana units and a high rise building housing 2 bedroom units. The cabana units have an interesting set-up. They are basically 3 storey walk ups or walk downs with no more than 2 flight of stairs to get to the highest unit because the 2nd floor is actually at the ground level. The 2 bedroom units are approximately 1400sf consisting of 1 master bedroom and 1 smaller bedroom both sharing an adjoining bath. There is a small maid's room next to the kitchen but most owners knock it down to have a larger and brighter kitchen. The living room comes with a small toilet cum powder room.

As mentioned about the maid's room, the 2 bedroom units are architecturally very primitive. The kitchen has no windows and it even has a back door, preumably so that the maid does not share the same entrance as her masters. Unfortunately, the floor plan is such that your main entrance could be facing somebody else's back door. Not quite a feng shui favourite.
While there is a lack of attention paid on the back part of the units, the front part is rewarded with a very leafy and nice view. Because of the triangular shape of the balconies, 3 out of 4 units on each floor have a KLCC view.

A quick check on rentals show that Desa Kudalari is not exactly a good performer. Considering that the Cabana units are going for a price tag of RM700k and the 2 bedroom units are selling well above RM1million, they are only fetching on average RM3000 and RM4500 per month rental respectively. Due to the new competition in Marc Residence, Binjai Residency, Hampshire Place etc, this once rental hot cake of KL is finding it harder and harder to get tenants.
But it seems people are still snapping up the units whenever a sub-sale is available. The Cabana units are particularly popular. Most of the investors are long term. You see, Desa Kudalari is one of the very few low density developments in KL. With less than 300 units on the 8 acres of grounds, one is investing in it's future. Many investors with extra cash will buy up units here with the hope that one day some rich developer will come along and en-bloc the place. This appears to be the craze with old properties in Singapore during the boom. According to the law there is 70% of the owners agree to sell, the rest must follow suit and the offer for the land is usually very attractive considering the scarcity of top notch addresses these days.

However, Malaysia does not yet have this en-bloc law. So it may be some time before one can take fruits of this investment. But the value and the quality of the land in Desa Kudalari is certainly worth waiting for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bintang Goldhill

Launched as Goldhill Gardens more than 3 years back, the project was handed over for vacant possession early this year. It consists of 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedroom and 4 bedroom units ranging from 771sf to almost 3000sf. The 1 bedroom units, all of them facing a courtyard with views of other units are particularly popular. Apparently, all the 40 units of 1 bedroom units are fully tenanted.
picture above: The balcony of the 1 bedroom units
The developer still has a number of 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom units for sale which they have thrown in an ID package to entice buyers. So the units will be readily tenanted upon purchase. The only problem that is the white colour theme which most landlords will find a nightmare to maintain especially with non-too-hygienic tenants. I understand that the 2 bedroom units are going for around RM700k plus and the developer is willing to throw in extras such as a TV set in order to get them moving. This is not too bad considering the size is just over 1000sf which makes it an attractive RM700 plus psf. Meanwhile the 3 bedrooms are all priced above RM1million but the developer "is willing to negotiate a RM900k plus price with any serious buyers".

While the 1 bedrooms are apparently doing particularly well with tenancies between RM3500/month to RM4000/month, the bigger units aren't really that popular. The developer emphasized that the occupancy rate is around 40% despite only taken vacant possession a few months ago (that's like almost 10 months ago mind you...). When pressed for who the tenants might be, references to Technip's staffs next door kept popping up. I wonder how many people who work for Technip would live here.

It is not surprising the relatively low occupancy rate considering when one stepped into the condo being greeted by loud pounding noises for the neighbouring construction. It is almost unbearble especially in the courtyard area which faces the construction directly as it acts like a well to collect all the noise. Still, the 2 bedroom units are trying for a RM5500/month rental tag.

picture above: The courtyard facing the construction site

Of all the units, those facing the construction site and Bukit Bintang provides the more sought after views. However, once the high rise office is up, the view will be blocked. In fact, the units facing Bukit Bintang will risk losing the view (...and privacy) when the vacant lot next to it becomes a new construction site. It is currently a car park.

picture above: The parking lot and the bungalow beside is which the 3 bedroom units are facing will soon become a construction site

In my opinion, the lack of proper view is a particular concern as it kind of takes the shine off high-rise living in this KLCC area. Indeed, Bintang Goldhill is located within the fringe of the 1km radius of KLCC. Well,... almost 1.2km really.... But no units will eventually have any view of KLCC because they will soon be blocked. Other units are literally facing the wall of Wisma Technip or the busy and noisy, not to mention polluted Jalan Tun Razak or they could be facing the courtyard with other neighbours spying directly into your window. Perhaps the better views are the larger units facing the swimming pool but they are sold out.

To make up for the negative parts, Goldhill spared no dime to make this a truly classy place. One is greeted by an Italian marble and granite foyer upon entry.

The facilities are alos top notch with a well equipped gym, steam sauna, swimming pool etc etc...

Despite all that, it might be a tough buy. One reason of course is the location. One thing for sure, it is not competing against the Forum condominium next door. The Forum, a condominium almost 15 years old caters to people who are looking for an el-cheapo accomodation in the city center or somewhere to stick the mistress.
With the kind of budget Bintang Goldhill is asking for, it is in direct competition against other high-end development in the KLCC area such as all the Hampshires and Yap Kwan Seng places, Bukit Ceylon, Marc Residence, those in the KLCC park fringes and Binjai Residency. And how many would choose Bintang Goldhill considering there are no public transportation nearby and you are located right in the middle of the daily traffic gridlock during rush hour with no "attractions" nearby. One tenant who works in Wisma Technip and is renting a RM6500/month apartment in Seri Bukit Ceylon told me that the place around Bintang Goldhill is incredibly boring as there is no "playground" nearby. Perhaps there are many "negotiations" taking place and the advertised rental rate is not the actual transacted price here....