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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cream of the crop, or hot air rising to the top?

Cream of the crop, or hot air rising to the top?

8-gold-tower-Use.jpg
8-gold-tower-Use.jpg

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP

Im Chhun Lim (L), Minister of Land Management and Urban Planning and Construction, and Nhim Vanda (2nd L), first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management of Cambodia, examine a model of Golden Tower 42 on January 24, 2008.

Cambodia’s economic boom, with annual growth averaging 9.5 percent since 2000, is nowhere more clearly reflected than in real estate.

The capital’s most sought after locations fetched $500 per square meter in 2000, according to Bonna Realty. Today, land is selling for $4,000 or more per square meter along Norodom Boulevard and $2,500 per square meter in the centrally located, residential neighborhood of Boeung Keng Kang (BKK) I. Even Tuol Kork, only ten years ago known as a rough part of town on the outskirts the city proper, is seeing land trade for as much as $1,500, according to the Phnom Penh-based agency, which caters mainly to wealthy customers.

 

Big spenders can easily drop several times the annual per capita income on a month’s rent.

 

Located near Le Royal hotel, the elegant-yet-not-grand Colonial Mansion apartment complex offers a three-bedroom penthouse at $5,000 a month.

 

In BKK I, the Post visited a spacious, four-bedroom apartment with gym, swimming pool, parking and 24-hour security. The asking price: $3,000 a month.  Nearby, a two-story, four-bedroom villa was on the market for $5,000 per month. Both prices were consistent with modern residences at the top end in the market, said the agent handling the properties’ rentals, adding that rates were, of course, negotiable.

 

As real estate hysteria grows, so too does the penetration of agents into the city, with previously untouched areas, like Psah Kandal near the riverside, seeing development.

 

Brocon Group has zeroed in on the gap in upmarket residences outside the BKK and riverside expat enclaves, as well as Toul Kork, the neighborhood of choice for thick-walleted Cambodians who want sprawling, suburban homes.

 

With upmarket but not top-end apartments, mostly mid-sized and ranging from $500 to $1,500 per month, Brocon has targeted young professionals who “want to live in the throw of the city and not hide away,” says creative director Melita Hunter.

 

“In the past in Phnom Penh there were mostly NGO workers with budget salaries,” adds Brocon CEO Rory Hunter. “Now there are expats with considerably higher disposable incomes as banks and businesses are opening up branches here.”

 

Improved security and commercial development has made the area more hospitable, he says.

 

With limited investment alternatives and an improved regulatory framework, real estate is a top choice for foreign investors hungry for a piece of the Kingdom’s economic action.

 

Foreign-funded enterprises are fueling prices at the top of the market, the most audacious example being the $240-million, South Korean-backed Gold Tower 42, which, if it lives up to its promised 42 stories, will be nearly three times as high as the capital’s current tallest building, the Intercontinental Hotel.

 

The complex on the corner of Monivong and Sihanouk boulevards will include commercial and office space as well as a library and medical facilities. The project isn’t scheduled for completion until 2011 but Cambodia’s upper-crust are already buying up its residential units, ranging from $459,000 to $1,500,000, according Teng Rithy, senior sales manager for developer Yon Woo Cambodia Co., Ltd.

 

One well-heeled buyer alone has acquired 12 units, says Rithy, adding that it is difficult to know if any celebrities or notables have bought in because some might have purchased under another name.

 

“Our target is high-ranking people: okhnas, excellencies (high ranking government officials), and other rich people in Cambodia,” he says.

 

About two-thirds of the commercial and residential space has sold already, according to Teng, who says currently about 70 percent of buyers are Cambodian, with Koreans representing the largest foreign market.

 

Some 40 percent of sales have been buyers solely looking for an investment, he says.

 

“The tower is the highest building in the history of Cambodia’s capital, it’s a symbol of economic growth,” Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said at Golden Tower ground-breaking ceremony on March 14.

 

Others, however, wonder if the gilded tower, which in brochures seems to exist in a utopic netherworld, neighboring simultaneously the heavens and New York City, is a testament to unchecked exuberance and speculation.

 

For a select few, the development has brought a welcomed influx of luxury residences, and the increase in options is showing no signs of tapering off in the near future.

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