2018: the year in secondary property markets

Major cities in Southeast Asia still command the lion’s share of investment in the region, but some familiar — and not so familiar — markets are rapidly coming to the fore

Secondary markets may not offer the same dynamic business environment as Asia’s major cities. But with Chinese money pouring into the region and sunny seaside resorts developing into worthy digital hubs they offer fertile ground for big returns.

In Cambodia, secondary markets have grabbed international headlines in the past year. Sihanoukville, on the southern coast, has been the poster-child for Chinese investment. Also growing in appeal is Poipet, a lesser-known city bordering Thailand.

Speak to any tourist or expat who has at some point crossed the border into Poipet, and they’ll rarely have anything good to say about the place. In the absence of any real industry, Poipet has long been synonymous with rip-off merchants, scammers, gamblers, and other unsavoury sorts—a place where visitors cannot wait to leave and where respectable businesses fear to tread.

But things appear to be changing.

Since economic zones were launched, and a railway line linking Bangkok to Poipet and Phnom Penh completed last July, the city’s property market has taken a surprising turn. “Many investors from the outside are eyeing Poipet as a great investment destination,” says Hor Kunthea, CEO of Sokha Residences Group.

Poipet, with its 30 odd casinos and a growing manufacturing industry, is seeing an expanding Chinese and Korean expat community, mirroring the early rumblings of Sihanoukville’s growth spurt. Sixteen real estate projects were completed in 2017, putting more than 1,500 units onto the market. Adding to this, Poipet governor San Sean Ho has announced the government will build a golf course, an artificial river, a giant garden, and floating market.


In more established Sihanoukville, the market continues to ride its own investment boom. The sleepy town has undergone immense transformation from a faded backwater to a town jacked up on Chinese cash.

Sotharoth Som, managing director of KHCN Investment and Development Co., Ltd, the developer of the 43-storey Seagate Suite project in Sihanoukville, reports rental prices across the board have gone up five to 10 times, with those closer to the city centre being most expensive. Som says foreign investors, mainly from China, are driving the boom, as they “seek the opportunity to obtain higher rental yields than what is offered in their home countries, along with capital appreciation and low barriers to entry.”

Sihanoukville’s Best Residential Development, according to the PropertyGuru Cambodia Property Awards 2018, is The Seagate Suite

“The Sihanoukville market has emerged as an alternative condominium hub to the Phnom Penh market,” adds Som, pointing out, however, that compared to Phnom Penh, it is still in its infancy.

Elsewhere in Asia, secondary cities are similarly enjoying Chinese-powered boosts as ties with the country strengthen.

In the Philippines, warmer relations with China have seen developers benefit from rising demand from Chinese employees and investors, while partnerships between Filipino and foreign developers are expected to increase.

Artist’s impression of The Courtyard at the Residences at The Sheraton Cebu Mactan Resort by Appleone Mactan Inc. (AMI), which took home the prize for Best Luxury Condo Development (Cebu) at the Philippines Property Awards 2018

“Leasing of condominiums in the secondary market remains strong, resulting in lower vacancy and arresting the decline in rents,” states a recent market update by Colliers International, a real estate services company. “Developers should look at housing opportunities in Cebu, Pampanga, and Laguna as offshore gaming firms have started to operate in these locations,” the company advises.

Quite like Poipet, Davao City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao is emerging an unlikely investment haven. The president’s former mayoral city once had a reputation for gun crime; today, property prices are rising. Units on Davao’s Dahican Beach, for example, now sell for PHP10,000 (USD185) to PHP12,000 per square metre compared with PHP1,000 and PHP1,500 per square metre in 2015.

“They know that locators from outside are scrambling for any available space here in the city, not only because the President is from here, but because movement of businesses into Davao City has been going on for several years now,” Adrian Tamayo, a Mindanao expert, told the Business Mirror.

Meanwhile in Da Nang, Vietnam, holiday homes and tourism-related properties are in high demand. The city’s latest attraction, a 150-metre golden bridge cradled by two enormous stone hands jutting out of the rocky highlands, has become a social media sensation.

“The main supply [in Da Nang] is in the hospitality and tourism segment,” according to Peter Frieske, founder and managing director of Central Vietnam Realty. Tourism, he says, is rising sharply and analysts predict it will continue to do so.

Currently one of the top destinations for Chinese and South Korean visitors in Vietnam,  Da Nang received more than five million visitors in the first seven months of 2018—up 30 percent over the same period in 2017, according to the Da Nang tourism department. Of this figure, more than 1.8 million were foreign arrivals, which are up by 54 percent.

“The majority of developers are building resorts, with property for sale or condotel villas that are in some way offered with management programmes focusing on returns on investment rather than lifestyle residential properties. When it comes to quality residential projects, the supply is very low,” points out Frieske, adding this is due to the lack of industry in such places.

In Phuket where the market has languished in recent years—year-on-year sales dropped 36 percent in 2017—analysts are optimistic 2018 might yield better results.

The Botanica Luxury Villas won the highly competitive Best Villa Development (Phuket) category at the 2018 Propertyguru Thailand Property Awards

Knight Frank’s Lalita Siriboon, associate director of research, says Phuket’s condominium market is expected to improve in line with Thailand’s economy and as the expat population on the island grows. “Demand across the market will continue to be driven upwards by international homebuyers, investors, and expatriates, especially those from Mainland China, Russia, and Australia. Besides, we expected to see a larger portion of buyers from South Korea,” she says, adding there are also government efforts to raise the profile of Phuket as a digital hub and “Smart City,” which is forecast to boost real estate in Phuket by 2020 when the project is to be completed.

Unlike capital cities where business and industry will always give people a reason to live there, the jury is still out on Asia’s secondary markets. As it is, investors need to carefully decide whether these “capital contenders” really are a place to call home, or just precariously thriving off clever marketing.

This article originally appeared in Issue No. 151 of PropertyGuru Property Report Magazine