The apparent boom in the luxury apartments market is not a bubble the industry claims, with future buildings pointing to great potential and investments despite some concerns.
The success so far and the optimistic future outlook of the Sri Lankan real estate market was shared among prospective investors in Hong Kong and Australia by leading promoters Indocean Developers (Altair) and the upcoming CHEC Port City Colombo as well as Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts’ The Residences at One Galle Face.
“There is no gearing or bubble to burst,” an emphatic Indocean Developers Director Pradeep Moraes told the Finance Asia-organised Sri Lanka Investor Summit in Hong Kong, followed by the Colombo Stock Exchange-organised Invest Sri Lanka conferences in Sydney and Melbourne.
“Ninety percent of luxury condominium purchases in Sri Lanka are equity-based,” Moraes added. According to him, at present 60% of the sales thus far are for domiciled Sri Lankans and a further 30% to Sri Lankan expatriates. He said factors driving domestic growth include changes in lifestyle, accessibility/convenience, relative affordability, traffic – reversed urban migration, security and difficulty in finding domestic help. Furthermore, Sri Lanka has the second-highest growth in the Ultra Rich Community (above $ 30 million) as per global real estate consulting firm Knight Franks.
Another significant feature is the fact that the bulk of the investments for luxury apartment development has been from overseas. “The fact that buying has been largely from Sri Lankans and development has been from foreign parties, gives greater stability to the luxury condominium market. This is diametrically opposite to what has happened elsewhere such as Dubai,” Moraes added.
Indocean is investing over $ 250 million in 404-apartment complex Altair, in Colombo 2, comprising two tower blocks, one of 63 storeys, which leans onto a taller, 68-storey tower.
Shangri-La is investing $ 450 million on two residential towers of 51 floors containing 390 residential units and the company said half of the units have already been sold.
China’s CHEC is investing $ 1.4 billion to reclaim 269 hectares for the Port City project which will bring in a further $ 13 billion in investments for various projects including 21,000 apartments.
Given that 90% of the sales are driven by Sri Lankans, Moraes told the investment promotion events in Hong Kong and Australia “this shows only 10% has been bought by foreigners hence the great future upside in the market.”
CHEC Port City’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Liang Thow Ming, also speaking at Hong Kong and Australian investment promotion events, said that currently 600 luxury apartments were sold annually as per industry specialist Jones Lang LaSalle.
“When completed the Port City Colombo will add 21,000 units. We are largely looking at the India, Pakistan and Bangladesh markets which have a combined population of 1.7 billion. According to KPMG research, these countries have 300,000 High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) and this number is expected to double in 10 years,” Liang said. “This is why we are saying we are building a world-class city for South Asia,” he added.
Altair’s Moraes also said luxury condominia projects completed thus far such as Emperor, Empire, Monarch, 7th Sense, 110 Parliament and Fairmount have been sold out 100% while those under construction including Shangri-La, CCC, Cinnamon Life and Clear Point have had a near 50% absorption rate.
Speaking of Altair’s own sales status, he said in terms of units 66% have been sold and in terms of area it was 73%.
He also said construction was progressing well with the sloping tower nearing its 55th floor and the vertical tower close to its 60th floor.
The industry veteran told prospective investors and buyers in Hong Kong and Australia that Sri Lanka was the fastest-growing city as per the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index and the Most Livable City in South Asia.
Furthermore, 2017 Budget moves such as foreigners being entitled to purchase condominia on a freehold basis from the first floor onwards as opposed to the current rule of above the 4th residential floor, and a five-year resident visa for purchases of apartments over $ 300,000 were also highlighted along with hassle-free repatriation of capital and profits.
The industry’s optimism exists despite some expressing concern over a bubble on the belief that most purchases are funded by bank credit. Another concern is over the market being flooded by too many apartments, pricing and affordability as well as falling rental yields.
Chamber of Construction Industries CEO/Secretary General Nissanka Wijeratne was recently quoted as saying: “In real estate, I think we need to be a bit careful because there are currently 49 towers being built. I don’t know whether we have reached the bubble. For the ongoing ones, there’s demand. Most are sold out but we have to see whether there’s demand beyond that.”
Additionally, Candor Group Director Ravi Abeysuriya was also quoted as saying rental yields of luxury apartments, which have been experiencing downward pressure recently, will face further complications given the introduction of value added tax from April.
Perhaps alive to possible concerns even from foreign investors/buyers, Altair’s Moraes told the Hong Kong and Australian investor conferences that the industry has offered capital gains of 12%-15% year-on-year whilst rental yields have been 6%-8% per annum, suggesting at a peak level the returns had been over 20%.
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