Frontier Markets: Investing In Phnom Penh Property

Property

Frontier Markets: Investing In Phnom Penh Property

This city of 1.5 million people is becoming a hotspot for property investment in Southeast Asia. However, will this frontier market continue to boom or will a lack of regulation and certain restrictions hurt investors?

Published on 4 October 2017

Located on the Mekong River in the heart of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has a truly remarkable history. After emerging from a past filled with colonial and communist rule, the capital of the now democratic country has been gradually opening up its markets to foreign investors and with that, an influx of money has poured in.

Market

During the past quarter, an incredible 737 projects valued at over US$3.66 billion gained approval to be built. This has provided a surge in year on year investment into construction projects through Q2 of 2017. However, there are still not a lot of condominiums currently available. According to CBRE, there’s a total of 6,109 units of condominiums within the market through Q2 2017 – a huge 46% increase from Q1. This hasn’t significantly affected prices though as they’ve remained relatively stable. Only the lower to mid-range units were down around 1%. These range from US$1,500 per square metre (sqm) up to US$2,700 per sqm.

There has also been a trend of offering discounts on new properties. CBRE says this is in the range of 2%-10%. This may imply a slight weakness in the market, although it is not uncommon for developers to offer discounts when selling new properties.

Financing and taxes

Mortgages are available and a loan-to-value of 70% is common. Don’t let the availability of lending fool you though, because although you can attain the required financing, you’re going to get hit with a lot of taxes. If you choose to rent out the property, rental income tax is currently at 14% and real estate tax is 0.1%. A transfer tax of 4% of the property value also applies, as does VAT at 10%.

How much is it going to cost me?

Most foreign investors will purchase in the mid-range and high-end categories. Prices for these range from an average of US$2,700 per sqm for the former to an average of US$3,200 per sqm for the latter. Villas for sale, although not typically applicable for foreign buyers, can cost up to US$4,500 per sqm.

Rental returns are decent in the prime areas of the city. A 1-bedroom can fetch anywhere from US$800, all the way up to US$1,500 per month. If something a little larger is required, then a 2-bedroom will set you back around US$1,400 to US$2,500 per month. This is significantly higher than other major Southeast Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur or Ho Chi Minh City.

Restrictions

The main restriction for foreign investors is that you are only able to purchase apartments and condominiums, not land. This also means that units on the ground floor cannot be purchased. You can lease land and it can be purchased through a local company if there is a local majority. However, as an individual, it’s not possible. This could cause concern for some investors, however, it’s not so different from other Southeast Asian countries. Typically one should take caution and ensure they are purchasing an eligible property.

What’s available?

La Vie Residences, one of the latest residential condominiums in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

The latest project to be launched off-plan is La Vie Residences. Located on the Chroy Changvar Peninsula, the condominium is 17-storeys high and ranges in price from US$100,000 to US$200,000. Like many new condominiums being built in Southeast Asia, La Vie Residences features facilities including a gym, rooftop garden, spa, and swimming pool. If you’re looking long-term, the area could be a good play as the infrastructure investment going into the peninsula, and its planning as a kind of “satellite city”, make it attractive. Only time will tell as to how many people actually move there though.

The bottom line

Phnom Penh’s residential property market is in a transition phase where it’s moving in the right direction, but there are still many areas that need to change before it becomes as strong as its surrounding neighbours. It needs several more years before it will be a strong player in the region. And although the rental market can be considered fairly good, capital appreciation is weaker than where it should be to consider investing at this time. Proceed with caution!

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