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Wheels shift for real estate opportunities in Cambodia

Wheels shift for real estate opportunities in Cambodia

It was a brief affair that barely scratched the surface of what else real estate investors can get their hands on in the Kingdom.

The second day of the 19th Asean Valuers Association (AVA) Congress held at the Sofitel hotel in Phnom Penh last Thursday spotlighted real estate opportunities in Cambodia as part of its closing panel discussion.

During the opening ceremony of the ‘One ASEAN One Valuation’-themed convention, Aun Porn Moniroth, minister of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, expressed that “compared to other advanced countries in ASEAN, Cambodia’s real estate market is still in its infancy stage.” However, he was quick to note that “we are the fastest-growing market now”, in accordance to how quickly Cambodia has thrived in most real estate-related markets.

While the main topic was meant to cover remaining opportunities in a near-saturated industry, the discussion bounced mostly around increasing land prices, the lack of housing for lower-income families and students, satellite cities being the future of Phnom Penh, and which sector – office, retail, serviced apartments, condominiums – still has room for further investments.

Moderated by David Marshall, board member of CanCham and ANZ Royal’s head of financial institutions, the question of rising land and housing prices – especially that of high-end condos and boreys – was brought up, with Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association (CVEA) president Kim Heang giving heed in his answer.

“I urge any developer who wants to invest in Cambodia to please focus on lower-income people and build houses catered to them,” Heang said, noting that the middle-class and wealthy Cambodians have already bought numerous condos and villas. “70 per cent of our people are under 35 years old, and there are only very few who have spending power.”

“Who else is left to buy all the high-priced homes?” Heang continued.

Marshall steered the discussion towards the retail sector, which he sees as the most opportune industry to invest in, when compared to other near-saturated real estate markets in Cambodia.

“Let’s take TK One as an example. There are a lot more retail opportunities there. Especially for communities that don’t want to travel into the city to shop,” he said.

While fellow speaker Chenyi Chiu, TC Royal Manor asset management’s general manager, agreed with Marshall, he had a more specific market in mind: retail opportunities in satellite cities and mixed-use developments, or boreys.

CBRE’s latest market-view report on Phnom Penh’s real estate outlook confirmed that retail supply in the capital city will rise prominently by the end of 2018, “driven by a combination of new international shopping complexes and significant retail components within predominately residential and mixed-used schemes.”

Another alternative that real estate investors could assess are special economic zones (SEZs). As one of the speakers, HRH Norodom Charuchak said that while there are more than 30 registered SEZs in Cambodia, only five are presently active.

“Right now, SEZs are looking at bringing in companies promoting solar power and hydropower in the near future,” he said, continuing that there is the “nine-year law” where construction materials to build factories in the SEZ are tax-free, in addition to free imports and exports.

When opened to the floor, a student asked a question that has long been lingering in the shadows of the condo and high-end residential boom: Why are there no dormitories or student housing being invested in and constructed?

Chiu gave a harsh but realistic observation, saying that “people would rather invest in condos and boreys, and get profitable returns on that rather than invest in dormitories or public housing. Only old people would do that, and rent out rooms to students, which act as ‘dorms’.”

Likewise, Heang offered an interesting anecdote that he was once told, “if you want to be rich, do business with rich people. If you want to be poor, do business with poor people.” ​

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