GEORGE TOWN: On the third day of her first holiday in Penang, Hong Konger Ginny So bought her first condominium here.
“How could I resist? A condo of the same size would have cost RM4mil in Hong Kong. My first one in Penang was just RM400,000, ” she said with a chuckle.
That was 10 years ago before the government put a minimum price limit on the properties that foreigners can buy in Malaysia.
The minimum price limit of RM1mil was set in 2012 and even with that, she now owns four properties in Penang, with her most recent purchase being the ultra-posh City of Dreams condominium near Gurney Drive and another in Kuala Lumpur near Pavilion.
So is among the many foreigners who find Malaysia – with its relatively affordable property prices – very attractive.
For instance, the selling price for a high-rise property in Iskandar Puteri – a prime housing area in Johor – is slightly less than RM400,000 while a similar property in Bukit Timah, Singapore, can go up to RM2.1mil.
In Hong Kong, as So can testify, property prices can cost up to 10 times more.
While the Budget 2020’s announcement to lower the price of high-rise properties that foreigners can buy to RM600,000 has drawn a lot of debate, this means good news for foreigners like So.
In her case, however, it’s not just the affordable price that she finds endearing about Malaysia but the people as well.
“We were about to leave a restaurant when it started raining heavily. The boss gave us umbrellas. When we wondered how we could return it to him later, he told us that we didn’t need to give them back. That would never happen in Hong Kong!”
At another eatery, So said they had walked away when some distance later, the waiter came running up with her change, which was another “impossibility” in Hong Kong.
In another al fresco cafe in a shopping complex, So accidentally left her bag for over 10 minutes. When she rushed back, she found the bag still on the chair, untouched.
“I will never forget that first trip. Penang looks and feels like Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s since both places were British colonies. But the difference is that Penang is a truly happy and peaceful place.
“In Hong Kong restaurants, waiters will never smile at you. They even snap at you if you take too long to decide. Life in Hong Kong is not a happy one even before the protests. Penang is a blessed place, ” she said.
Her first property purchase was carried out in a shopping complex during a developer roadshow and since then, she has been returning to Penang often and keeping an eye out for properties.
Eventually, she left her metal parts factory in Shenzen to run on auto-pilot and started a cross-border real estate agency to help Hong Kongers buy properties in Penang and Bangkok.
“It is excellent that the Malaysian government is lowering the price limit from RM1mil to RM600,000.
“At RM1mil, Hong Kongers can still buy. For us, Penang properties are 80% to 90% cheaper than ours. At RM600,000, it means we can buy two instead of one, and more Hong Kongers will be able to afford it, ” she said.
With the protests in Hong Kong, So said more of her city folks want to buy properties in Penang and Kuala Lumpur in the past three months than the last three years combined. She defined the three types of buyers from Hong Kong – property investors, those wanting a retirement home and parents who wished to send their kids to study here.
“We want to live in an urban setting, so we typically choose Penang and Kuala Lumpur, ” she said.
In Johor, Ng, a 46-year-old housewife from China, said the lowering of the threshold would give her more choices for the properties in the state.
“My husband and I bought our first property in Johor earlier last year but we do not have many options to choose from as we need to ensure that the price of the property is over RM1mil.
“With this move, I believe more foreigners will buy properties here as it is more affordable and there will also be more selection of homes we can choose from, ” she said.
Ng said like most foreigners, she preferred buying condominiums or apartments as these would be managed when she and her family were out of the country.