Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ipoh's Sunway City Mont Bleu

Still on our escapades in Tambun, Ipoh... now we look at Sunway's projects. They are easily the biggest developer here and must be credited for uplifting the place from a sleepy pomelo town to an exciting township complete with a theme park and resort. If 3-star hotels here can get away with charging over RM200/night, you know it's not a cheap place.

The latest of Sunway's projects is the Mont Bleu townhouses. Personally, I am not so keen on townhouses because they are neither here nor there... Looks like landed but owners do not enjoy their own land title but rather share a strata title with others. Yet, they do not enjoy the high rise views, escalators and kind of lifestyle that condo dwellers have.  

Like the other townhouse project, Sommerset Close in KL's Jalan Loke Yew that I reviewed in 2012, Mont Bleu looks like a 3 storey link house but they are actually 2 units stacked up on top of one another. 

Each unit basically only have 1 and a half storeys or roughly about 2000sf of floor space. 

The unit below has direct access from the ground while the unit above has to endure this steep and narrow climb of stairs to get home each time. In my opinion, these stairs are too narrow and will pose a huge problem when moving heavy furniture. As pointed out earlier, townhouses lack lift facilities unlike an apartment.

The houses also share common back alleys such as the one below. 

Despite the disadvantage of having to climb up and down narrow stair case, the upper unit turns out to be more expensive than the lower unit by over RM30,000. This is because the upper unit is slightly larger in size and as it turns out, the price per sf is lower. The difference between the upper unit and lower one is the upper unit has an extra living room on the 2nd floor. Each unit is a duplex of sorts, with the living room, kitchen and dining room at the lower deck and bedrooms upstairs. With 3 bedrooms per unit, the lower house has to place their master bedroom on the lower floor as the upper deck can only manage 2 bedrooms. 

pic above: the extra living room on the 2nd floor of the upper unit

pic above: the staircase linking the upper and lower decks of the unit

With over 2000sf at play, the bedrooms are all quite spacious with at least 2 bedrooms having en-suite facilities. 

The duplex concept means the bedrooms need not compete for space with the living areas on the same floor. This allows the entire lower floor space to be devoted for living purposes while the upper deck provides privacy for the dwellers.

Compared with the lower unit, the upper unit, probably being larger has a more spacious feel especially in the living/dining area (above). This is compounded by the fact that the developer chose darker colours to design the interior of the lower unit (below).

Both unit have a larger dry kitchen and a smaller wet kitchen with a wet area for washing right at the rear.

As with the living area and bedrooms, you can see the upper unit (above) has a much brighter and airy feel compared with the lower unit's kitchen (below). 

Perhaps something Ipoh folks need to get used to is the extremely large bathroom. The Chinaman mentality of these folks will probably find that this is a gross waste of space.

This is in contrast with the bedroom size below, which although is quite spacious compared with bedrooms of most apartments, the ratio of the bedroom to bathroom size is almost 1 to 1.

 The 2nd bedroom however has a much more modest en-suite facility.

Upon vacant possession these coming months, the Mont Bleu townhouses are being transacted at about RM500k per pop. This is well over the bench mark of most Ipoh landed properties. However, Sunway City, where Mont Blue is located sets a new benchmark for Ipoh each time. The Sunway Villa cluster semi-Ds (they are called cluster semi-D because they are attached to the neighbouring unit at one side and the back) which originally were sold at launch at a Ipoh ground-breaking price of RM200k each almost 7 years ago, today is being transacted well over RM550k.  

So, for half a million RM, you can get a cluster semi-D at subsale or a strata-titled townhouse half the size. Obviously, if you want something new and trendy, go for the townhouse. Like the semi-Ds, they are gated. However, the semi-Ds do not have a clubhouse with gym and swimming pool. But having seen the club-house facilities with that little hole they call a swimming pool, I say they should not have bothered. 

Given a choice, I would pay for the older semi-D and renovate the interior according to my own tastes. I think I'll get more value with my own individual title and garden. But I might be wrong... people might be trending towards lifestyle properties these days.... In fact, smaller condo units at nearby The Haven costs even more.

Jalan Conlay Land Sold to KSK

For those of us who missed out on Banyan Tree, would probably be eyeing the adjacent plot of land owned by UOL. A mixed commercial, retail and residential project has been approved for this site, including 494 apartments which is pretty low density for the size of the land.

However, UOL the Singaporean developer who recently just started construction on the Manhattan project at Jalan Raja Chulan decided not to pursue the development. They sold the land to KSK which was formerly running an insurance business under the Kurnia brand. KSK sold their Kurnia insurance business in Malaysia and decided to venture into properties for the 1st time...

Whatever it is they are going to do, I hope they won't mess up this prime freehold plot of land!

UOL made almost 100% on this sale. Originally bought the land for RM320million, they made a clean RM247million. There are plans to convert Jalan Conlay and Raja Chulan into the equivalent of Orchard Road in Singapore and Oxford Street in London. With 4 mega luxurious projects in the vicinity i.e. Pavilion Residences, Banyan Tree and Harrods among them, I think it will be hard to fail.

However, with this transaction, I think it will be a while before any development starts.

I wonder what is happening to the 3-acre plot of land at the nearby Jalan Imbi - Bukit Bintang junction which was earmarked for TA's Idaman Bintang project which never took off...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ipoh's The Haven Residences

Ipoh property has always been rather slow to pick up, with little capital growth. But lately this has changed. I am not talking about the slow and gradual capital appreciation we see with bank interests and material costs. Ipoh property prices in the 80s and 90s has been known to even come down especially during the economic downturn. However, in the past few years, the areas around Tambun has been seeing some sort of boom. 

The Haven Residences is one such project. It consists of 3 blocks of 26 storeys, with almost 500 units built around a kaarst limestone set up, complete with a lake. It is located somewhere along Jalan Tambun en-route to the infamous Tanjung Rambutan.  The drive towards the project runs through green and cooling fresh mountains, which will hopefully stay. 

Directly opposite the entrance to the Haven, there are these new vacant shophouses. Quite a risky undertaking as these commercial units will largely depend on the occupancy of the Haven and a neighbouring medium cost apartment as there really isn't anything else in the vicinity.

The Best Western hotel group has just begun operations of one of the 3 blocks as a serviced apartment. Despite being quite a long way out of the city, the attraction within the complex is quite impressive. 

The swimming pool, kids pool and jacuzzi by the lake is fully supported by the natural beauty of the limestone surroundings. 

However, I am not that keen about the greenish coat covering the buildings.  

There are 7 units on each floor - only 5 of them have the much cherished lake and limestone hill view. 

I viewed one of the 3+1 bedroom intermediate units. 3 bedrooms are a bit too much to squash into a 1172sf floor. And it shows in the layout. The living room and bedrooms feel and seem very narrow and small.

The picture below, I presume if the masterbedroom because among the 2 en-suite rooms, it is the only one with a long bath. But comparing all the bedrooms, the floor space of the master bedroom probably felt the most cramped. 

Architecturally, to me the layout is therefore disappointing. Very typical Chinaman design - trying to pack too much and utilize as much space as possible without regard for comfort. But this would be expected from any local purchasers in Ipoh. If they are going to spend more than what they pay for an average double storey house in Ipoh, they'd expect 3 bedrooms,...nothing less.

But the key attraction is not the accommodation but rather the facilities and environment. Here you pay for lifestyle. 

A stroll around the lake is certainly very worthwhile and breathtaking.

Apart from that, there is also a restaurant operated by Best Western, badminton...

and squash....

Despite being under-utilized as the apartments has just begun to be populated, some facilities like the changing room has started to fall apart. Hopefully, the rest of the facilities do not deteriorate further. 

Another kink is the lack of a gym and sauna. Ipoh people eat a lot, but rarely exercise....

With little in own resources, there is little that Ipoh has to offer any expats. So, who are the takers? Firstly there are the holiday makers that Best Western bring in. But they are mostly short term stays. Then there are the retirees... I cannot think of any more. Typical of any small town where property and land is cheap, locals tend to see more value investing in landed assets. 

So, I think the asking price of about RM2000/month rent may be a bit steep to attract tenants. This may drop in the future as units continue to stay vacant. But the amazing thing is, prices have appreciated over 100% from around RM300psf to over RM700psf today. This goes to show how a good concept can become an excellent investment over a short period of time. 

The nearby theme park by the Sunway group also appears to be well subscribed over this busy weekend. So, in my opinion, the Haven is largely going to be just for short stay tenancies if any decent returns are to be expected. If a lease back package from the Best Western is not offered, then I think any investors will need to be very hands on to manage this property.