Top Seven (7) Lessons I Learned In 2014

2014 is already winding down to a close, and indeed, it has been quite a roller coaster year. As I was figuring out what to write for this week, I thought it wold be fun to reflect back on some of the lessons that I have learned in 2014, mainly about Malaysia real estate, and also about running an online property startup. 🙂

RELATED: Check out the top ten home buyer guides published by in 2014. Click here.

Lesson 1: Blanket statements like “the property market is slowing down” is meaningless.

We are an industry which is obsessed with “market conditions” and “industry outlook”. The problem with having too broad of a view is that we often get hung up on “averages” and “totals” – e.g. average value of transactions have gone up, total volume of transactions have come down, etc.

Everybody panic

The thing about averages is that they don’t tell us anything about the actual situation. For example, NAPIC reported rather gloomy numbers for the past three quarters which probably drove a good number of negotiators out of the door (I know some of them, and they had told me that they were quitting to become insurance salesmen and seminar peddlers). Sad, sad mistake. And here’s why…

The dip in transactional volume is averaged out and therefore completely skewed by some areas in the Klang Valley which have gone completely stagnant in the sub sale market. Looking at the DealMatcher requests that we have been getting, we notice a good number of areas are picking up in terms of buyer interest, and it’s no surprise that the savvier agents are now focusing more on these areas. (I can’t tell you where these areas are – my agents’ livelihood is at stake here. Sorry.)

And here’s the bottom line if you’re a home buyer: turn a blind eye to what the “market” says. Industry averages probably won’t affect your decision of whether you should plonk down the cash for that nice terrace home in Puchong or that upscale condo in KLCC that much. “Experts” don’t necessarily know more than you do. Don’t outsource your thinking to other people (to me, or God forbid, to Gurus).

Lesson 2: Nobody knows what effect GST will have on properties.

Despite all the articles you read in the papers and the weekend seminars on GST nobody knows jack about how GST is going to affect property prices come April 1st. The general consensus is that everything will be more expensive, but nobody knows how much more expensive things are going to be.

There is already a spike in some areas as many are trying to beat the GST deadline, but I suspect that there will be huge doses of buyer’s remorse which will kick in soon enough. Don’t base your buying decisions on an “unknown” like GST. Instead, do your proper homework.

Lesson 3: Agents get desperate.

Competition has never been so stiff in years, and indeed, sources of home buyer leads from both property portals and newspapers are drying up quickly. As expected, whenever agents are desperate they will resort in doing these things:-

  1. Send out spam: email, Facebook, SMS, Whatsapp
  2. Buy owner lists from developers to spam / cold call
  3. Post fake listings on property portals
  4. Spam property portals with credit blasts
  5. All of the above

Alas, the better agents do more savvy things like servicing their existing clientele to get more referrals, or to tie up with, well, people like me. Note that I am not even advertising my services here because frankly, I’m already super tied up with the 100+ agents who have already signed up. As much as I love working on GoodPlace, I’d like to still have some free time to play with my six month old son, thank you very much.

Also, I have been getting waaaay too many “YOUR SERVICE IS FREE, RIGHT!??@111?!” emails from still-wet-behind-the-ears negotiators (and sometimes even principals of large agencies – believe it or not) that it’s not even funny anymore.

Scumbag agent

Buyers: you hold the upper hand now, and as long as you’re legitimate and serious, agents will bend over backwards for you. You can work them extra hard, but please, please don’t take them for a ride.

Lesson 4: Gurus are making more money than before.

I’ve bitched enough about the loathsome Guru industry already, but the fact that negotiators are fleeing the industry to start seminar businesses means that it’s easier to make money being a Guru than a negotiator. 🙁

Lesson 5: Sellers and agents want buyers to know as little as possible.

The biggest dirty little secret about the Malaysia property industry is that it’s opaque by design. Sellers (and their agents) want “information asymmetry” in their favour simply because they make the most money that way. In fact, I had a couple of brickbats thrown my way (from sellers and agents) for suggesting to home buyers that they should do transaction searches at JPPH in order to get an estimation of a property’s fair market value.

When a home buyer submits a request through the DealMatcher, I try my best to find a suitable agent (whom I have interviewed personally) with proven track record in the area of choice. I had to terminate an arrangement with a property agency recently because the principal had told me, “Khai Yin, your buyers know too much. My negotiators are struggling.” True story!

Indeed, some agencies want me to provide them with ill-informed buyers with money to burn. That’s just stomach-churningly offensive, not to mention deeply unethical.

Buyers: know as much as possible about the property that you’re considering to buy. You will be in a stronger bargaining position if you know more than the other guy.

Lesson 6: There’s no shortage of people trying to give out unsolicited advice.

If you’ve made a name for yourself as a serious investor then you be sure of one thing – lots of people will turn up at your door offering you “joint venture opportunities”, or even worse – unsolicited advice about where to put your money (and how to live your life in general). In fact, I can only imagine how many solicitations that my mentor gets every day given his stature as a successful businessman.

I feel like poking my eyes with a large fork every time I receive a 3,000-word email offering me ‘advice’ on how to run GoodPlace:-

The truth is that you’ll very rarely (read: never) receive good advice from successful people – unless you explicitly ask for it. It makes sense if you think about it: those who are killing it are far too busy to go around nosing into other people’s business. 😉

In short: be super selective about who you choose to listen to. Get your BS detector up!

Lesson 7: The Malaysia property market doesn’t reward innovation.

I am a big fan of the top two property portals – iProperty and Property Guru. Collectively they command a good chunk of property-related traffic, and they provide a legitimate service to both sellers (or agents) and buyers alike.

I am huge proponent of free market economics, and I believe that competition brings out the best in businesses (in theory, they are motivated to produce innovate products for the consumer in order to win). However, watching iProperty and Property Guru “competing” with each other is like watching a bunch of toddlers at a kindie karate meet –

Cute kids fighting

Apart from iProperty’s Buyer’s Club and Property Guru’s design refresh, I don’t recall seeing anything particularly new (and innovative) from these two behemoths of Malaysia online property. I sometimes look at foreign property portals with great envy because they could boast of really nifty (and genuinely useful) features like pricing heat maps, historical records of transacted deals and agent ratings.

I don’t want to trash iProperty and Property Guru because like it or not, collectively they have the most comprehensive set of listings around, and to top that, I know for a fact that they are manned by good, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Having said that, the conclusion is fairly obvious: being profit-driven entities, the property portals are not innovating simply because it’s not financially rewarding to be innovative. I’d love, love, love to be proven wrong about this because eventually if the industry doesn’t innovate, consumers are on the losing end (not businesses).

Bring On 2015… And A Note Of Thanks

Closer to home, 2014 had been good for GoodPlace in terms of throughput – we have spent a productive year laying down the groundwork for us to launch the Big Offensive in (as early as) end January 2015 (hint, hint).

And as we head into 2015, it’s a good time to pause, reflect and be grateful to the people who have helped GoodPlace one way or the other. As such, I’d like to say big thank you’s to the following:-

The GoodPlace team: Cheah YL for being a spectacularly awesome developer with the patience of the Gods; my writers and researchers extraordinaire: Hannah, Joanne, Divine and Sophia.

My partners and friends in the industry who inspire me with their amazing work in pushing the Malaysia property industry forward and upwards: Amanda Andrew, Nicholas Ng, Jennifer Saw, Victor Yu, Noel Lee, Dr Gerard Khoo, Farah Wahida, Shen Yi Loh-Lim, Jennifer Adams, Jesslyn Yee, Samantha Ooi, Mervyn Liow, Zuhaila Sedek -De Booij.

Mark Chang, for his continued mentorship, moral guidance (what would Mark do?) and boundless generosity.

Suresh Thiru, for taking my lunch meetings, and never failing to dispense his trademark hard-hitting advice that I need to hear.

Der Shing, for his kindness and generosity, and perhaps most importantly helping me sidestep the biggest mistake that I could have made in 2014. 😉

Previndran Singhe, for giving me a head start in this industry.

My peers in the startup world who motivate me to put my best entrepreneurial foot forward every single day: Iskandar Ezzahuddin, John Lim, Edward Lee, Jared Lim, Ching Wei, Khailee Ng, Daniel Cerventus, Tim Marbach, Kenny Cheow, Aznin Abdullah, Danny Tan, Adam Leow, Hanson Toh.

How was 2014 for you? Share with us your stories below.

The Walkability Factor

GoodPlace Walkability Score

Ask Malaysians about what they is important when it comes to investing in properties, and they will usually answer with one or more of the below –

  • Location
  • Location
  • Wait, did I say location?

Due to the nature of my work, I do get inundated with emails every day from my readers (I run a fairly popular blog on Malaysia property), and the most frequently asked question has got to be this: “Khai Yin, where is the latest property hot spot?”

My answer is as good as anyone else’s, but I do see a growing trend of integrated (or “mixed use”) developments in the Klang Valley, and if I’m willing to bet my daughters’ college funds on property investment then I will be investing in those. (Addendum: more on area prospecting can be found in this guide).

Note: An abridged version of this article was published in June 2014’s issue of the Property Insight magazine.

Now let’s face it – with the worsening of traffic jam situation in urban Klang Valley, commuting to work is fast becoming untenable. Most of us would prefer to live near convenience and the people that we love.

Kuala Lumpur skyline

Is KL becoming un-livable due to its horrendous traffic conditions?

We have seen a couple of fairly recent launches where “everything under one roof” is a strong selling point (the recently relaunched Main Place in USJ, Kiara East on Jalan Ipoh), and we can expect these projects to do well. And we shall see more integrated developments in the pipeline (with even more such projects in the city announced recently – such as 8 Conlay), and this trend is a consequence of how un-livable the Klang Valley has become.

Especially for condominiums in the urban areas, walkability is fast becoming a crucial factor for many investors when it comes to choosing the right property to invest in. In fact, our internal measurements have shown that there is a fairly strong correlation between a property’s walkability score and its capital yield which means that we can use walkability as a fairly accurate future price predictor. More on this later.

What Is Walkability?

To put it simply, walkability is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. In the context of a specific property, its walkability is measured by how accessible important amenities such as schools, transportation points, retail outlets, restaurants and police stations are given its location.

Walkability can be influenced by the following factors:-

  • Distance from the property to the amenity
  • Availability (and quality) of footpaths
  • Traffic conditions
  • Air conditions
  • Ample street signs and directions
  • Average pedestrian density

How Walkability Is Measured

There is no one standard way to measure walkability.

In the United Kingdom, there are “walking audits” where auditors would assess a pedestrian route qualitatively and quantitatively, utilizing a geographic information system (GIS) package to track results. These walking audits can be rather elaborate, and involves the scoring of street facilities such as links, crossings, waiting areas (bus stops, taxi stands) and open spaces (parks and fields). Each of these facilities is then scored on a seven point scale.

What is interesting with these scores from walking audits is that they are found to correlate well with the increase in residential house prices. This is often cited as proof that there are clear financial benefits from better street and walkway designs, and this is the reality that the property developers in Malaysia are waking up to.

Companies like Walk Score uses computer algorithms to calculate an index based on distances to important amenities. Apart from walkability, Walk Score also computes “Transit Score” and “Bike Score”. It’s a very innovative company.’s approach is similar to Walk Score’s. We derive the GoodPlace Walkability Scores (GWS) based on walking distances to three clusters of facilities:-

  1. Basic amenities (Clinics, schools, police stations)
  2. Secondary amenities (Restaurants, drinking spots, retail outlets, laundrettes, entertainment spots)
  3. Transportation points (Taxi stands, LRT & commuter train stations)

Apart from the walking distance, the “ease of walk” (meaning, the existence of pathways and walking lanes) is also a strong factor. Datasets for these two variables are collected by connecting to the freely available Google Maps API.

The GWS scores range from 0 (worst) to 100 (best). As there are new amenities and walking pathways being built all the time, the scores won’t stay constant.

We do what we call the “Crawl And Compute (CAC)” process once about every six months and repopulate our index with new scores. Of course, the accuracy of our data depends on Google Maps, which is obtained via crowdsourcing. For the latest scores on selected properties in the Klang Valley, please contact me.

Some Sample Walkability Analysis

The charts below show a sample of GoodPlace Walkability Scores for condominiums in Mont Kiara and the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

KLCC Walkability Scores

Mont Kiara Walkability Scores

It should be of no surprise to anyone that the condominiums that score well on the walkability chart are part of mixed use developments, or are situated on top of a shopping mall.

Also, for many of the condominiums inside the KLCC enclave, commercial areas, shopping malls (Suria KLCC, Avenue K, Ampang Point), and public transportation points are reachable by foot. Thus, the KLCC condominiums often score high on the walkability chart.

Mont Kiara, on the other hand is a mixed bag of sorts. Some centrally located condominiums and apartments (such as the “original” cluster of Sunrise-built condominiums which line up Jalan Kiara 1) have superior accessibility to schools (Mont Kiara International School), offices (Wisma Mont Kiara, Plaza Mont Kiara), a police station (next to the i-Zen condominiums) and retail outlets (One Mont Kiara and Solaris Mont Kiara).

Menara Duta, Dutamas

Mid-of-the-range apartments like Menara Duta benefits from the rebranding of its area to “North Kiara”

There are also “far flung” condominiums up north on Jalan Dutamas Raya (which are still being marketed as being part of the Mont Kiara enclave) which score below their central Mont Kiara counterparts due to its relatively poorer walkability factor. The same goes for the Kiaramas condominiums in the western side of Mont Kiara, although schools (like the Garden International School), a police station, One Mont Kiara and Plaza Mont Kiara are still somewhat reachable by foot (for the motivated walker!).

For a more detailed analysis on Mont Kiara, download our premium Buyer Guide. Click here.

We have also noticed that residential-only enclaves seem to score in the lower side of the spectrum. Case in point: USJ Heights score in the [40-50] bracket where the nearest commercial area is USJ Taipan which is 5km away – it’s not very walkable!

Correlation Between Walkability And Price Increase

First of all, here’s a disclaimer. As we accumulate data from various publicly available sources, our analysis is only as good as the sources that we use. We cannot verify the accuracy of our data sources which is out of our control.

Our measurements department has done a rough correlation analysis between a property’s Walkability Score and the price appreciation for the past one year. Below is a chart showing how selected clusters of properties in KLCC and Mont Kiara performed in terms of capital yield and walkability:-

Walkability Price Correlator

There seems to be a strong correlation between walkability scores and capital yield

The results within this limited dataset are directionally conclusive, and may give us a capability to predict the degree of future price increases (when combined with other variables such as external macroeconomic factors, future development of infrastructure, and supply-demand economics).

Interestingly, the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (CABE) has independently established the correlation between the increase in walkability scores and residential housing prices in the United Kingdom in a landmark study done in 2007 (“Paved In Gold: The Real Value Of Good Street Design”, published by CABE). We will share more findings in our ongoing study on yield vs walkability in future articles here on

The Walkability Advantage

Property developers seem to be more mindful about the walkability factor now, and this is reflected in the trend of planned townships and integrated developments.

Indeed, there is relatively a stronger emphasis now on the design of an environment which encourages cluster-like living and increased social interaction while reducing carbon footprint. Superior liveability often results in the economic benefits which then trickle up to overall property price increases as demand for the properties in the area increase.

Here’s a fun anecdote: Dan Buettner, a fellow at the National Geographic Society who researched about the happiest place on earth, said that “there’s two things that we all hate doing. The first thing is housework. The second thing is the daily commute in our cars. So, to be happier, move closer to your work place!”

What’s In It For You

If you haven’t done so already, start considering walkability as a factor when you are considering the purchase a particular piece of property. I do share walkability scores here at from time to time, and get in touch with me if you’d like a walkability score of the property that you are considering. Leave me a message below, or use our DealMatcher service.

Even if you do not have access to the Walkability Scores, you can do a qualitative evaluation yourself by visiting the property and looking out for the nearby amenities, existing (and planned) pathways, etc. Keep a scorecard so that you can compare between the properties that you are considering, and with enough comparisons, you’ll be able to separate out the winners and the duds as far as walkability is concerned.’s Top 5 Real Estate Predictions For Penang

 Picture of the blue mansion, penang

Penang is perhaps the most dynamic property market in Malaysia outside the Klang Valley (with the Iskandar region catching up quickly). According to government data sources, real estate transactions in Penang grew 20% and 26% in terms of volume and value from 2009 to 2011, and this trend is set to continue given the strong fundamental demand in housing, a booming economy and affordable mortgage rates. In fact, some RM6 billion worth of property transactions were recorded in 2012 in Penang alone.

So what’s in store for Penang for the rest of 2013 and beyond? Without further ado, we bring you…’s Top 5 Real Estate Predictions For Penang

  1. New opportunities will cluster around the second Penang Bridge. Scheduled for completion in the second half of 2013, there will be opportunities around the areas on both the island and on the mainland, particularly the interconnection between the bridge and the highway.In particular, the upcoming Ideal Vision Park will benefit from this since the bridge connects up Batu Maung with Batu Kawan in the mainland.
  2. Properties affected by the master transportation plan will get a boost in capital appreciation. Look out for the proposed highways in the “Penang Transport Master Plan” (see this). In particular, watch out for the areas connected by these new roads:-
    • Undersea tunnel linking Bajan Ajam and Persiaran Gurney (6.5km)
    • Road linking Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang (12km)
    • Bypass road linking Persiaran Gurney and the Lim Chong Eu expressway (4.2km)
    • Bypass road linking Air Itam and the Lim Chong Eu expressway (4.6km)
  3. Niche properties continue to show tremendous growth in capital appreciation. Pre-war real estate is perhaps strictly a Penang phenomenon; “antique” shop houses in Georgetown have been the target for Singaporeans and Hong Kong investors for about a decade now. Asking prices now are at a hefty RM1,200 PSF (comparable to upper tier of KLCC condominiums), doubling up from RM600 back in 2010.

    Chart of Penang property prices

    Penang luxury condominiums are on the rise in prices

  4. The luxury niche catches up with PSF rates reaching Klang Valley levels. Upmarket condominiums like the Infinity Beachfront and Springtide Residences are now breaching the RM800 PSF asking price, with the Regency and Skyhome fast reaching RM600 PSF. These rates are still low-ish compared to apartments in the KLCC enclave (and perhaps comparable to Mont Kiara), but given the current rate of capital appreciation we could see the RM1,000 PSF level being breached in two to three years’ time. Or perhaps branded residences will debut in Gurney Drive or Batu Ferringhi. 🙂
  5. New launches are trending towards integrated developments (similar to what we are seeing in greater Kuala Lumpur). Light Waterfront, Penang World City, Straits Quay. These are “all in one” developments which promises everything in one place; more on this later.

Bonus “No Shit, Sherlock” Prediction #6: Prices Will Continue To Rise (With An Upheaval In The Rental Market)

Penang registers a booming population, with about 35% of its population belonging to the “property buying age bracket” of 25-44. The housing demand will continue to be robust, but supply doesn’t seem to be in tandem with the rising demand which means that the price hikes will continue. Outside the Klang Valley, there’s tendency for developers to focus more on the Iskandar region, and this is understandable – there’s an inherent shortage of large tracts of land in Penang for new developments. In terms of scale and ROI, Iskandar is hard to beat.

Landed properties in Penang (in particular, terrace homes) have outpaced the others in terms of capital appreciation in 2012. We have seen some bungalows in Tanjung Tokong appreciating by some 40% in the span of three months. High rise apartments are lagging slightly behind, with some condominiums registering as little as 6% in terms of capital appreciation in the same time.

The rental market will therefore face an upheaval. Rental rates curiously stayed rather flat in 2012. However, the escalating prices driven by speculation and foreign investment may deter home buyers who would then opt to rent instead.

Integrated Developments In Penang – The Way Forward

Light Waterfront, IJMIJM’s high profile Light Waterfront project is making waves (pardon the pun). This integrated development will host a couple of hotels, a shopping district as well as some condominiums and bungalows over 100 acre of prime land. Being next to the Penang Bridge and off the Lim Chong Eu expressway, the location is arguably one of the best on the island – and that’s no exaggeration. This megaton hundred trillion project (OK, RM5 billion) will take some eight years to build.

Ivory Properties together with the Tropicana Corp are building a rather large integrated development in Bayan Mutiara (1,000 acres!) imaginatively named the Penang World City. E&O (upmarket developers behind the E&O Residences in KL city as well as Dua Residency in KLCC)’s Straits Quay is also generating some buzz. Asking prices for the serviced apartments (dubbed The Suites At Waterside) have also breached the RM1,000 PSF level – which positions it right at the top tier of Penang properties.

The 87-acre Southbay City development by Mah Sing in Batu Maung is also set to capitalize on the opening of the second bridge with a hotel coupled with retail, offices and residential suites. There are also plans in Sungai Ara by Ideal Property (the developers of the Ideal Vision Park) and also some condominiums to be built by SP Setia.

All In All…

We are pretty optimistic about Penang; the current bull run will set to continue with the slew of infrastructure projects coupled by healthy demand stimulated by the growing economy and population growth. However, as with the rest of Malaysia, the disparity between income and property prices will continue to widen unless supply is ramped up to cope with demand (which is rather unlikely as more developers are focused southwards on the Iskandar region). This spells trouble for the genuine home buyer. 🙁


For the seasoned investor who is considering Penang will do well by selectively looking at properties within these considerations:-

  1. Upcoming areas boosted by the upcoming highways and the second bridge
  2. Landed properties for capital appreciation
  3. High rise apartments to be rented out to take advantage of the upcoming upheaval of the rental market
  4. Niche opportunities in the form of pre-war shophouses; although it might be advisable to wait for the “price wars” to cede to a somewhat manageable level. Watch out for Penangites bearing Singaporean dollars as we have mentioned in Part 1 of this guide.
  5. Integrated developments which are poised to be the future of Penang 🙂

What else you need to know?

Malaysia Properties: Are The Prices Too High, And What Can Be Done?

Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur Skyline by

Focus Malaysia recently held a roundtable on property discussing a range of issues in the Malaysia property industry, and published the discussions in the July 20th issue of the business weekly. It was a really good read, and I had thought of sharing the article but it’s only available for subscribers to the e-paper (see here). It’s a shame, really, because there were lots of good points made especially on the affordability aspect of Malaysia properties. I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing the key points from the roundtable discussion – see below.

The panelists were MIEA president Siva Shanker, Ho Chin Soon, Zerin Properties CEO Previndran Singhe, Veena Loh from MPI, Adzman Shah from RISM and Sam Tan from Rehda.

Malaysia Properties: Are The Prices Too High, And What Can Be Done?

  1. Some1 developments are driven by foreign buyers who tend to drive prices up. There is talk that the threshold for foreigners buying Malaysia property to be revised upwards from RM500,000 to RM1 million, but this is seen as counter productive as the prices will then be pushed higher.
  2. The state allegedly “forces” developers to provide affordable housing. As a result the costs get passed on to the other developments, and thus resulting in the mark up of those properties.
  3. The price escalation in the secondary market is driven by the primary market. This is despite the fact that the latter is only 15-20% of the total market. (The primary market) continue to launch at higher prices, (and) the secondary market just follows – Siva Shanker
  4. In Johor Bharu, however, it seems that price escalation are for new developments only, with the sub sale prices remain “affordable” (Adzman).
  5. There could be “excessive profiteering” by developers, but this is pure market forces at play. The high prices are a result of demand far outstripping the supply.
  6. There are a substantial number of people who bought properties but couldn’t get loans due to the new regulations by Bank Negara.
  7. Flawed systems result in mismatched valuation which then leads to aborted sales. Small plug: we have published a simple guide on valuation which you can download here.
  8. DIBS is already priced in2. This is rather scammy if you ask me.
  9. The main contributors to high cost of property:-
    1. Land cost
    2. Car parks (average of RM100,000 per bay – no joke!) coupled with funny DBKL regulations (only three levels above ground, maximum!)
    3. Strong demand coupled with insufficient supply. Rapid urbanization and a growing economy are the main drivers
    4. DIBS! DIBS! DIBS! (see point 8 above).
    5. The developer’s pricing strategy. One killer in property is ending your own reputation by dropping your price – Sam Tan
  10. Affordable housing has not been thought through thoroughly (say that quickly). There are questions on who qualifies to buy, and the whole process seems to be opaque.

  1. Only 2% of the property transactions nationwide are by foreigners
  2. The Star has confirmed this with a rather thorough analysis – see