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Be patriotic – sell the country
Sunday May 11, 2008, by CHOI TUCK WO, The Star Malaysia

IT’S often said that if a major store like Harrods or Selfridges were to launch a sale, everybody will go for it.

Make no mistake, Britons have no qualms about queuing up to get their hands on a designer label’s eco-shopper bag or to grab cut-price furniture during a Bank Holiday sale.

But when the property market is on sale, everyone stays away, or so it seems.

For most people, it’s not really a good time to invest in property if times are about to get hard – and more so with banks being choosy about lending.

That pretty much sums up the impact of the credit crunch on the property market as far as Britain is concerned.

Then again, the credit squeeze had little impact on properties beyond the US or Europe (the sub-prime mortgage crisis spilt into Britain last September with Northern Rock bearing the brunt).

Malaysia beckons: Dr Teoh (far left) and Davison (centre) together with other Malaysian developers and representatives at the Malaysian pavilion in London. — Picture courtesy of Henry Butcher.

Given the strong euro and tighter lending conditions, Britons have found it increasingly expensive to invest in properties in Europe.

Yet, for years, Britons have been major purchasers of overseas properties, buying for investment purposes, as holiday homes or for retirement.

The fact that British citizens owned some two million properties outside the UK – with 750,000 in Spain alone – while over one million receive pensions from overseas makes for interesting reading.

Love story
With many looking beyond Europe for an overseas property, Malaysia naturally beckons as an attractive destination for investment or as a second or holiday home.

Remarkably, however, there are still Britons who have not heard of Malaysia’s attractions and were surprised it had so much to offer, as Henry Butcher Malaysia’s Penang director Dr Jason Teoh Poh Huat recently discovered.

He said many foreign countries including Spain and even North Africa have traditionally been their places of choice and that Phuket was far better known than Malaysia.

“Much needs to be done to promote Malaysia as a compelling love story,” he said after taking part in Britain’s biggest overseas property exhibition recently.

The Expat Group and Henry Butcher, along with Asia Green Group, Sunway Group, Mah Sing Group and Leisure Farm Holdings, joined forces to promote Malaysia at the “A Place in The Sun Live” exhibition at Excel London.

Organised by British television station Channel Four, the three-day event, which included seminars on emigration and investments, attracted more than 300 exhibitors from over 40 countries.

Dr Teoh said they targeted Malaysians living in the UK who planned to buy properties for retirement or investment and Europeans, including Britons, who wanted to invest in a second or holiday home.

“We’ll be happy if we can tap 10% of the over 15,000 visitors, of whom 78% have voiced interest in living abroad,” he said.

He, however, said many visitors had indicated their surprise that Malaysia was so under-promoted despite having so many attractions compared with other countries.

He called for greater efforts to disseminate correct information to Britons so that they would have the right perception of what Malaysia had to offer.

“Those who have been to Malaysia, such as expatriates, servicemen or holiday makers, had shown interest in the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) as well as the Property Investment/2nd Home (Pi2H) programmes,” he added.

Sustained marketing
Dr Teoh said that in terms of relative value, Malaysia was basically very under-valued when compared to the rest of the world.

He said Britons could live like a king by paying only a fraction of the price in London to own a luxury home in Malaysia.

For instance, they could buy a four-storey, five-room, fully-furnished detached holiday home in Batu Ferringhi, Penang, for just over £600,000 (about RM4mil).

Indeed, for that sum, you can barely own a two-room flat in central London.

And while £60,000 (about RM400,000) can get you a three-room house in Malaysia, you cannot even afford a garage for that price here – one can cost as much as £250,000 (RM1.7mil).

Andrew Davison, managing director of The Expat Group, voiced the need for a sustained marketing programme to promote Malaysia as a unique destination.

He said that while road shows were an important element of marketing, a more continuous public relations and advertising campaign could drive home the message.

“Malaysia needs to establish itself as the place for a second home or a tourist destination,” said Davison, a British national who set up home in Malaysia about 12 years ago.

He said their research showed that an average couple who moved to Malaysia under the MM2H programme spent about RM120,000 annually on living expenses.

Britons are the fastest growing applicants to Malaysia under the programme (with 240 approved last year) followed by Japan at 198.

Davison expressed confidence they could get at least 1,000 to 2,000 Britons every year, especially pensioners who could live comfortably with their £1,000 or £2,000 (RM6,500 to RM13,000) pension every month.


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