How property is priced by the market

In a system where income levels, savings, costs, population density, demand, supply, rents, property sizes, property condition, property usage and preferences are so different, how does a property acquire “a” price that is acceptable to a buyer and subsequently acceptable to the market?

Why does a property sell at RM1.6mil when almost everyone living there can at best afford only RM800,000 or sell at RM800-RM1,000 per sq ft when up to a short while ago the maximum was only RM350 per sq ft?

Can 350 new properties in a scheme sell at the same price as one single latest transaction of an existing property in the vicinity? Can 10 developers sell 350 new properties each based on the abovesaid one single latest transaction?

Let’s take a look over the last 30 years at how properties had been priced in the market. Subang Jaya would make a good starting point.

In 1980 when I first started working, I noted that the latest phase of the new single and double-storey terrace houses in Subang Jaya were priced at between RM90,000 and RM140,000 per unit respectively, up from their previous pricing of between RM60,000 and RM90,000 in 1979. The 1980 pricing echoed the newly revised housing loan amounts of Division 2 and Division 1 government officers. All the launched units were quickly sold with the new and huge demand. In the subsequent phases, the pricing followed the momentum of the earlier fully sold sale prices with additional premiums for time, newer design and specifications and variations in the floor and land areas.

Then in the 1990s in the condominium city of Mont’Kiara, I noted the new condominiums were priced based on the price range of the existing two-storey terrace houses in Sri Hartamas/Desa Hartamas which were no longer being built due to land shortage and high land prices. The new condominiums provided an ideal alternative for the affluent younger Malaysians who were seeking a lifestyle change. The prices were also influenced by foreign buyers who preferred a new property with security and property management services at prices and rents which they could afford.

When the number and type of foreign buyers and tenants increased, the developer started to build larger units which were priced based on the price range of semi-detached and detached houses in the neighbourhood. This was well accepted by the market as it was based on actual demand for new, secure and well managed properties by foreigners especially since there were two international schools in the vicinity.

I also noted that in pricing the newly-launched terrace houses in the mid-1990s in Bandar Utama, the prices were 10% to 20% lower than the last transacted prices of existing comparable houses in the same neighbourhood such as TTDI, Damansara Jaya and Damansara Utama. Here the rationale was that the price of the newly-launched house should reflect a discount compared to an existing property, to take into consideration the 2-year waiting period during which interest has to be paid to the bank and rents have to be paid to stay in the current accommodation. It is interesting to note that this rationale is no longer followed by developers and their marketing gurus who now price the newly-launched schemes at higher prices than the highest sale price of an equivalent existing house. The basis being, “why not” when everybody wants to invest in properties and loans are easy and cheap.

Pricing trend

Another pricing trend noted was the continuous rise in the prices of shopoffices in Bangsar and Desa Hartamas, etc. Here the price rise was directly influenced by the rentals paid for the ground floor retail units which were in high demand by food and beverage outlets. This trend continues in all the new smaller shopping complexes as well, where the food and brewerage (F&B) outlets form the largest composition of tenants. The reason they can pay higher rents is because there are a large number of people/small entrepreneurs who find this sector the easiest to enter or invest in, as the payback period is only a short 3 years and there are no barriers to entry.

The other occupiers of the shopoffices and small shopping complexes have no choice but to cough up the same rent as the F&B outlets, as they set the “tone” for the rent in that particular row of shops. As the rents rise, so will the prices as they are directly related.

Similarly, properties in areas which can be converted to a different use where new demand is being created such as showrooms, bridal studios, etc can afford a higher rent. Prices rise due to the higher rents paid. Then by way of the much misused comparison method of valuation, other properties in the vicinity also rise in price, irrespective of their current use, rent and turnover.

I note that in highly popular areas where supply of a particular type of preferred property is limited, like in Damansara Heights/Bangsar etc, the number of transactions per year is very limited as no one really wants to sell since there are no other similar alternatives to move into. Then when out of the blue, a unit here is advertised for sale (usually because the owner is migrating or just wants to test the market) a “special purchaser” will come along and easily pay 20% to 30% above the last transacted price to secure the unit. This is repeated in the next sale when the second “special purchaser” pays another 20% to 30% above the last special purchaser price.

After two such transactions, the price paid by the “special purchaser” becomes the market price and extends to all other properties which are considered comparable, such that the price is now beyond the capacity of the people who have always lived or traded in that vicinity.

The price here is based more on the price which someone living or trading elsewhere is prepared to pay. This is what is happening in Singapore, London, etc. where foreign purchasers set the price. In Malaysia this is happening in Iskandar, KLCC and Penang.

Prices are also directly influenced in the following manner. Say a typical terrace house in a locality measuring 20’ by 60’ and 20 to 30 years old, is fetching prices in the range of RM350,000 per unit. A new scheme comes up in the area where the new unit measures 24’ x 80” and is of modern quality. Here the two properties are not comparable in terms of size and quality. The new unit is priced at say twice the price of the older smaller unit (based on cost, floor area and land area) and sets a new price benchmark for that locality. Then in a matter of time, all the existing properties in the vicinity (particularly all those that have been renovated) try to adopt a similar selling price per sq ft as the new property, using the location, location, location theory, never mind that upon purchasing the older property, the new buyer has to spend a hefty sum to make it livable to modern standards.

Then there is the effect of the policies of the lending institutions on the price. The policies of the lending institution in respect of loan tenure, interest rates and the loan to value ratio directly influence the pricing of a property. During a period of high confidence, sellers can quote high prices just to test the market, but as long as the purchase of the property can be financed, the buyer is prepared to pay the higher asking price as the loan is spread over 20 to 35 years and almost 90% to 100% of the purchase price can be financed.

And all it takes is for one property to be sold and financed at the newly tested price and the new price level will then be tested even higher with the next lending institution. This is particularly true for new types of properties which the buyer and lending institution cannot compare with an existing property.

The above real examples clearly indicate how properties have been priced by the market. It is noted that despite property being a long-term investment and outlay, the market’s pricing mechanism is very short term and dynamic particularly when moving upwards. The prices being set by the market in the short term may not always equate with sustainable market values. It is a strong probability that if one blindly follows the pricing set by the market during a very short-term dynamic cycle, life can become one of endless and needless debt.

>> P.B. Nehru is the managing director of City Valuers and Consultants Sdn Bhd - By P.B. Nehru (StarProperty)

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