The ultimate guide to SE Asian real estate in 2016


In a whirlwind of a year, here’s what happened in the region’s biggest markets


So breathless was the global property news cycle in 2016 that observers could be forgiven for struggling to keep pace.

From Brexit and the ensuing sterling crash and buying bonanza for foreign investors in the United Kingdom to vaulting home values in destinations as varied as Shanghai, Vancouver and Auckland, it has certainly been an eventful year.

Until recently, the countries of Southeast Asia were reliable sources of big real estate news, with their supercharged property sectors and thriving frontier markets producing a hefty number of headline-grabbers.

After another largely fallow year – the second in succession – the various nations of the region are once again conspicuous by their absence from round ups of the year’s big global success stories.

“We are noticing a general stagnation across Southeast Asia,’” explains Nicholas Holt, Asia Pacific head of research for Knight Frank. “A lot of it comes down to the imbalance between supply and demand. We were on an extended bull run in the region for several years. It is logical to build when times are good. The problem being that it is hard to predict what kind of macroeconomic factors will then intervene.”

Although there’s been a general slowdown since the days of yearly double-digit percentage increases in property prices, experts say there are a tremendous number of often-subtle variations in the highly diverse nations of the region.

“Generally lacklustre markets were not unexpected,” says Sigrid Zialcita of Cushman and Wakefield. “However, there are several bright spots to be found. In Vietnam improved economic sentiment has made market access more conducive to foreign investment, while the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry in the Philippines is spurring development both in Manila and in other markets such as Clark and Cebu.”

Here’s our summary of the eight most significant property markets in Southeast Asia:



They say that good things can come out of a crisis, and that’s certainly the case as far as the property market in Vietnam is concerned. After a crash in the market just a few years ago, the country is riding the crest of another boom with 2016 seeing a healthy momentum being maintained in major centres such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang.

A variety of CBD projects are coming online in the nation’s biggest two cities – Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – pushing square metre prices higher. Meanwhile, annual yields currently hover at a healthy 5-8 percent for units in the high-end segment. It is a far cry from the dark days of the crash when unchecked speculation and a glut of often poor-quality supply had predictably disastrous consequences.

“In the aftermath of the crash we have seen encouraging policies and laws for customer protection such as mandatory bank guarantees for residential development projects,” says Timo Schmidt of Savills Vietnam. “There have also been removal of barriers for foreign investors and, most importantly, thorough consolidation of the property market to the extent that there’s a lack of supply in certain products.”

More: 3 reasons Vietnam’s proposed second-home tax is complicated


Bangkok’s MahaNakhon

In Thailand it is often said that Bangkok is its own separate entity. And the residential sector in the capital continues to go through the roof as demand slows in other parts of the country.

New condominium supply figures in Q3 of 2016 showed the highest number of launches in more than a year. According to the Bank of Thailand, the Bangkok housing index rose by 4.9 percent in 2015 and the condo index rose by a full 14 percent. To meet demand, developers are building at brisk rate, with prices at the very highest end of the market matching those in the world’s most elite cities.

The picture looks less rosy in the nation’s secondary markets, which are suffering due to a weak domestic economy and resulting low investor and consumer confidence levels.

Other factors, including the continued presence of a military government and the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, seen as a stabilising force in the often-chaotic world of Thai politics, have not exactly helped spur faith. 

The woes in Phuket’s luxury market continued for a second consecutive year with no new launches through Q3 2016. By contrast, however, the resort town of Hua Hin is witnessing healthy growth in the luxury and ultra-luxury property markets.

In fact, the country remains one of the most reliable growth markets in the world, according to Clayton Wade, managing director of Premier Homes Real Estate.

“There is still huge potential in Thai real estate,” he says. “Property prices have displayed continued growth year on year. The luxury real estate market – especially in Bangkok – continues to be a very sound and secure investment.”




After decades of military rule and exile from the international community, nobody ever expected Myanmar’s road to democracy to be smooth.

And so it has proved, with the early days of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led government marked by inevitable uncertainty.

The transition, which took place in April 2016, has been characterised by a lack of clarity and confusion in a number of areas – one of which is the real estate sector.

In the months leading up to the transition, the outgoing government approved a number of laws and construction permits. Many of these are now being reassessed by the new regime, with several high-rise real estate projects put on hold with no indication of when permission to recommence construction will be granted.

“The review was undertaken with positive intentions,” says Verity Ramsden, associate director at Slade Property Services. “But the result has been even lower confidence in condominium projects.”

Confusion also reigns over the long-mooted Condominium Law, which once passed, will allow foreigners to buy up to 40 percent of units in a condominium building. It too remains in limbo however.

Despite these difficulties, there is some promise in the Yangon market say experts. “Retail rates continue to rise,” says Ramsden. “And there are a number of opportunities for investing at this exciting time in the country’s history.”

More: Myanmar to grow the fastest in Asia-Pacific this year



Cooling measures: the clue is in the name. When Singapore’s government first started using a firm hand to stabilise the market, property prices in the country were escalating at a dramatic rate – rising by up to 60 percent between 2009 and 2013.

Having poured icy water on the overheating market through measures such as raising the rates for Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD), however, the government now stands accused of presiding over a sector that is showing only very timid signs of life.

In July 2016 home prices dropped for an 11th quarter, posting the longest losing streak on record. Despite pressure from developers to lift the cooling measures, however, the government is unlikely to relax the curbs anytime soon. 

“The measures will not be lifted near term as we believe that there is still too much latent demand waiting on the side,” says Professor Roy Ling, managing director at RL Capital Management. “If the measures are lifted too early without sufficient calibration, more buyers may re-enter the market and push headline prices up quickly, negating the point of implementing these control measures in the first place.”

Ling predicts that the residential market has not yet bottomed out. However, he maintains that there are still opportunities in the Lion City for smart investors. “They should keep a lookout for gems in the market,” he says. “These are defined as investment-grade projects, which have priced in the downside.”

More: What’s next for Singapore property after Fed rate hike?


Permas Jaya Bridge (Jambatan Permas Jaya) in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Fitri Karim/Shutterstock

Tidings of doom and gloom have become all too familiar for observers of Malaysia’s floundering real estate market. And 2016 was hardly a year to shout about. Figures from Malaysia’s National Property Information Centre (NAPIC) released after Q1 2016 shoed that transactions were down 16.6 percent from the same period in 2015 and down 15.7 percent from the last quarter of 2015.

With global oil prices tanking worldwide, the net-oil exporting country’s economy is faltering – and investor confidence has, not unsurpringly, taken a hit.

But while, on the face of it, these stats look pretty awful, many experts have faith in the opportunities Malaysia continues to afford.

“The current situation is not all bad,” says Prem Kumar of Jones Lang Wooton. “Corrections in market fundamentals are important from time to time to ensure mid-to-long term market strength and stability. The Malaysian market provides a sound footing for investors looking for stable long-term property investments at a fraction of the price compared to Singapore and Hong Kong.”

In fact, some analysts are even tipping the much-maligned Iskandar Malaysia, the main southern development corridor in the state of Johor, which has been plagued by stalled projects and scrapped development plans, as a potential good bet for investors.

“I would be tempted to take a closer look at Iskandar if I was investing,” says Nicholas Holt. “There are freehold rights for foreigners, it is in close proximity to Singapore and the new high speed rail link will make Kuala Lumpur even easier to reach.”

More: This USD100 billion city near Singapore ‘scares the hell out of everybody’



Considered a risky frontier market not so long ago, the property sector in Cambodia is growing in sophistication. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital Phnom Penh. Real estate is booming in the city. Land prices in the centre of the city have doubled since 2010. Indeed, in burgeoning Chroy Chang Var they have tripled.

A glut of condominiums has been constructed recently and more are underway. More than 6,500 off-plan units were announced in 2015 and a further 4,000 announced in Q1 2016. If all monitored projects complete on schedule, the condominium sector is forecast to grow by 723.5 percent with the addition of 24,533 units by 2020.

Elsewhere in Cambodia, the south coast is home to investor friendly resort residences such as Alila Villas, Koh Russey, and similar upcoming developments while experts say it is only a matter of time before developers move in on Siem Reap, gateway to the temples at Angkor. 

“The growth is changing the face of Cambodia and especially Phnom Penh,” comments Simon Griffiths of CBRE Cambodia. “From a situation of chronic undersupply across the market, Phnom Penh is catching-up and modernising.”

In fact, the situation has gone so far in the opposite direction that some warn of oversupply and a bubble forming – at least in Phnom Penh. Nevertheless, the prospect of healthy returns, relaxed foreign ownership and the presence of respected international developers are undoubtedly attractive to investors.

“There are developers with strong reputations for delivering high quality and investing in ensuring the properties are built and operated effectively post-opening.”

More: More optimism urged on Cambodia’s property market


New Year's Eve 2016 in Jakarta, indonesia. leolintang/Shutterstock
New Year’s Eve 2016 in Jakarta, indonesia. leolintang/Shutterstock

Share prices of Indonesia property developers surged in the wake of the announcement with the market appearing to expect the money stashed abroad to find its way back to the sector, which has witnessed a slowdown in recent times.

Observers, however, say the impact of the legislation will not be particularly noticeable in the short term – and may indeed be less significant than predicted in the long term if wealthy Indonesians decide to keep their money overseas.

“Hopefully increased liquidity will help the property business to recover faster,” says Hendra Hartono, CEO Leads Property Services. “It may take some time and effort before Indonesians start repatriating the money back home as most have converted into assets in foreign countries.”

In the meantime, Indonesia’s property market continues to slow.

According to Bank Indonesia (BI) data, the growth of property ownership loans (KPRs) and apartment ownership loans (KPAs) in April was recorded at 8.08 percent year-on-year, lower than the same period in 2014 and 2015 at 20.78 percent and 12.91 percent yoy, respectively. Meanwhile, housing sales grew by only 1.51 percent quarter to quarter in the first quarter of 2016, much lower than the 15.33 percent qtq in the first quarter of 2014 and 26.62 percent in the first quarter of 2015.

The figures look bad, but there are positives say experts. “The market is steadying as well as slowing and the price is bottoming out,” says Hartono. “Now is the time to buy.”

More: Indonesia’s tax amnesty pumps confidence back into property


The Manila skyline
The Manila skyline

A mood of optimism about the property market in the Philippines continued to grow over the past 12 months. Previously regarded as something of a basket-case, the country’s economy has been in rude health of late, and that has been reflected in rising real estate prices across the country.

In figures released in June last year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said that real estate prices saw an annual growth of 9.2 percent in the first quarter. Prices in the National Capital Region (Metro Manila and its environs) grew at a faster 9.7 percent and areas just outside it, 9.4 percent.

Prices of condo units increased the most, jumping 12.9 percent in the first quarter compared to in 2015.

The country is benefiting from its thriving BPO (business process outsourcing) sector.

“Strong end-user demand has made the market perform extremely well in the past few years and is likely to continue to do so,” says Michael McCullough, managing director KMC MAG Group. “It really is the BPO sector expansion that keeps driving the property sector as a whole.”

The upshot is an extremely healthy market that, analysts say, offers excellent potential to investors. “You really can’t go wrong at the moment,” continues McCullough. “The long term growth story is there and Philippine real estate is really affordable at the moment.”


Read next: Regional roundup 2015: the winners and losers in ASEAN real estate

is a Bangkok-based writer who has spent the past six years living and working in Southeast Asia. He regularly contributes to a variety of online and print publications including BBC, Esquire and Travel + Leisure