Malaysia’s housing market continues to weaken, amidst oversupply

Lalaine C. Delmendo | August 02, 2021

After a decade-long house price boom, Malaysia’s housing market has been cooling in the past two years due to massive oversupply. There are YR 18.48 billion (US$ 4.41 billion) unsold apartments in Malaysia’s major cities, the result of a serious overbuilding of top-end properties during the recent boom.  But the measures taken by the government to buoy the market are (partly) working.

To combat this over-building, the government has introduced multiple measures to control speculation and discourage developers from over-building. Stamp duty was increased from 3% to 4% on properties worth above MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578). The government also introduced an additional 5% in real property gains tax (RPGT) on sales of properties owned from 6 years and beyond.  However these measures have been temporarily relaxed to deal with the impact of the pandemic on the property market.

Malaysia house prices

The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled demand, adding to downward pressure on house prices.  As a result, Malaysia’s house price index rose a minuscule 0.3% during the year to Q1 2021, down from the previous year’s 1.9% y-o-y increase, according to the Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH). This is also a sharp slowdown from an annual price growth of 7.5% from 2010 to 2019.  When adjusted for inflation, house prices actually fell 1.3% y-o-y in Q1 2021.

On a quarterly basis, the house price index increased 1.7% (but fell by 0.2% in real terms) in Q1 2021.

Malaysia’s average house price stood at MYR 432,220 (US$103,106) in Q1 2021.

During 2020:

  • Terraced house average prices rose by 2% y-o-y to MYR 400,252 (US$95,491).
  • High-rise residential properties’ average price fell by 0.8% y-o-y to MYR 338,628 (US$80,789).
  • Detached house average prices were down by 1.1% y-o-y to MYR 661,623 (US$157,849).
  • Semi-detached house average prices fell slightly by 0.6% y-o-y to MYR 661,178 (US$157,743).

Kuala Lumpur has Malaysia’s most expensive housing, with an average price of MYR778,143 (US$185,648) during 2020, followed by Selangor, at MYR 486,659 (US$116,106); Sarawak, at MYR 475,899 (US$113,539); Sabah, at MYR 456,262 (US$108,854); and Pulau Pinang, at MYR 438,301 (US$104,569).

The cheapest housing in Malaysia can be found in Melaka, with average prices of just less than MYR 200,000 (US$47,716).

The Malaysian economy shrank by 5.6% in 2020, in stark contrast to an annual growth of 4.3% in 2019 and the biggest decline since the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998. The economy grew by a healthy annual average of 5.3% from 2010 to 2019.

The economy is expected to return to growth this year, with a projected real GDP expansion of 6.5%, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

House prices still below Asian crisis levels

Amazingly, house prices in Malaysia are still below pre-Asian Crisis 1997 levels, in inflation-adjusted terms, despite the recent housing boom.

Since the Asian crisis Kuala Lumpur’s house prices have significantly outperformed the rest of the country. After the downturn of 2008-2009 the property market was revitalized with the help of the Greater Kuala Lumpur Plan which included “The MRT Project”. From 2005 to 2015, Kuala Lumpur house prices surged by almost 122% (73% inflation-adjusted).

In contrast national price rises have been more muted. From 2005 to 2015, Malaysia’s house prices rose by 96.1% (52.4% inflation-adjusted).

Malaysia average house prices

From 2016 to 2018, nationwide house prices rose by an annual average of 5.2% (3.3% inflation-adjusted). However, the housing market finally lost steam beginning 2019, as the government’s market cooling measures took effect. National house prices increased by just 1.8% during 2019 and fell by 0.9% in 2020.

Tighter lending and anti-speculation measures

The government introduced several anti-speculation measures over the past decade.  In 2012 Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) introduced stricter lending guidelines, requiring mortgage eligibility assessments to be based on net income. In July 2013, BNM reduced the maximum home loan period to 35 years, shortened the maximum personal loan period to 10 years; and forbade pre-approved financing products.

Some other anti-speculation measures:

Capital gains tax rises. On January 1, 2014, the Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) rose from 15% to 30% on properties sold within three years from purchase. Taxes on gains on properties sold after four to five years rose to 20% and 15%, respectively. No RPGT was to be imposed on citizens for properties sold after six or more years, while companies would be taxed at 5%.

For non-citizens, RPGT on properties sold within a holding period of up to five years is 30%, while RPGT on properties sold within six years or more from purchase is 5%.

Temporary relief measures introduced

To cushion the impact of the pandemic, the government introduced temporary relief measures to support the real estate sector as part of its June 2020 Penjana recovery plan.

  • The Home Ownership Campaign was relaunched last year, with stamp duty exemptions granted for purchase agreements concluded from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021. It was recently extended until December 31, 2021;
  • The loan-to-value (LTV) requirement of 70% for third mortgages was lifted for a year until May 2021;
  • Sales of up to three residential properties from June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021 are exempted from real property gains tax.
  • A six-month loan payment moratorium extension and repayment flexibility were also offered to selected borrowers affected by the pandemic.

Demand is rising again

These temporary measures seem to be working, with demand showing signs of improvement lately. In Q1 2021, the number and value of residential property transactions rose by 11.1% and 26.1% y-o-y, respectively.

Sarawak registered the biggest y-o-y rise in the total number of residential property transactions at 39.8% in Q1 2021, followed by Perlis (35.6%), Pulau Pinang (33.1%), WP Kuala Lumpur (26.5%), Kelantan (24.3%), Selangor (16.7%), Melaka (16.2%), and Negeri Sembilan (13.3%).

More modest increases were recorded in Sabah (9.9%), WP Labuan (9.3%), Perak (6.3%), Terengganu (4%), Kedah (2.8%) and Pahang (0.5%).

Malaysia residential property transactions

Only WP Putrajaya and Johor saw y-o-y sales declines in Q1 2021, of 24.3% and 10.9%, respectively.

Selangor dominated the market, accounting for about 25% of total residential property transactions in Malaysia in Q1 2021, followed by Johor with 11.4% market share and Perak, with 10.9% share.

Last year, residential property transactions in Malaysia fell by 8.6% to 191,354 units from a year earlier, in contrast to a 6% increase in 2019, amidst the pandemic, according to JPPH. In terms of value, transactions were down 9% y-o-y to MYR 65.87 billion (US$15.71 billion) last year.

Residential construction activity rising again, but supply overhang remains large

Residential construction is noticeably improving, too. In Q1 2021, housing starts for landed and high-rise residential buildings surged 40.9% y-o-y to 28,398 units, following an 18.6% fall during 2020, according to JPPH. Likewise, completions also increased 15.9% y-o-y to 15,324 units in Q1 2021, after falling by 12.2% last year.

Yet there remains a vast amount of unsold housing stock. In Q1 2021, residential overhang totalled 27,468 units worth MYR 18.48 billion (US$4.41 billion). High-rise units accounted for 58.1% of the total overhang, while terraced houses had a 25.7% share. Johor accounted for the biggest overhang, at 16,537 units, followed by Kuala Lumpur (4,477 units) and Selangor (1,776 units).

In the past three years, residential construction in Malaysia has weakened due to the government’s decision to freeze approvals for high-end property developments. Effective November 2017, the restriction covers properties costing over MYR 1 million (US$ 238,550).

As a result, starts fell by an average of 15% annually from 2018 to 2020 while completions declined an average of 6.4% over the same period.

Malaysia residential starts completions

“This will be temporary until we can clear all the excess supply,” said former Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani. “There is a stark imbalance between supply and demand and we have to review the strategy in real estate development as we do not want such a situation to adversely affect the economy.”

Meanwhile, the government continues to promote the development of affordable homes, particularly those priced below MYR300,000 (US$71,565), to meet the strong demand in this segment.

“In this sector, there is a disparity between the 48% demand for affordable homes and the supply that only meets 28% of that. This is the area that needs to be addressed swiftly,” Johari added.

Four years ago total loan coverage under the Malaysia People’s Housing (PR1MA) Bill 2011 was increased to 100%. Borrowers with a monthly income up to MYR7,000 (US$1,670) per month qualify for the scheme. The stamp duty exemption was also raised from 50% to 100% on instruments of transfer and housing loan instruments for houses worth below MYR300,000 (US$71,565).

Key rate kept at record-low

In July 2021, the BNM’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) left its Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) unchanged at a record low of 1.7%, amidst the recent imposition of an extended national lockdown.  The central bank had slashed the key rate four consecutive times, i.e. by a total of 125 basis points last year, to cushion the impact of the pandemic.

Malaysia bnm overnight policy rate

In addition, the statutory reserve requirement ratio for banks was reduced by 100 basis points to 2% from March 2020 to provide additional liquidity to the banking system.

Key fact: the mortgage market continues to expand!

The size of the mortgage market was about 43.3% of GDP in 2020, sharply up from 37.9% in 2019, 22% in 2008 and 13% in 1996, despite stricter lending guidelines in recent years and the pandemic. In May 2021, housing loans outstanding rose by 8% y-o-y to MYR 628.68 billion (US$150 billion), according to BNM. Over the same period:

  • Commercial banks: housing loans outstanding increased 4.1% y-o-y to MYR 417.26 billion (US$99.54 billion) in May 2021
  • Islamic banks: loans were up strongly by 16.6% y-o-y to MYR 211.42 billion (US$50.43 billion).

Malaysia housing loans

However the rate of growth is slowing. The value of housing loans rose by an annual average of 8% from 2016 to 2020, down from annual average growth of 13.1% in 2007-2015 and 19.3% in 2000-2006.

Kuala Lumpur’s rental yields low; rents falling

Gross rental yields of apartments and condominiums in Kuala Lumpur generally range from a little above 2% to 5%. Bungalows have lower rental yields at around 2.5%, according to Global Property Guide research. The 120 sq. m. condominium category has average gross returns of 4.5%, but four years ago, rental yields for this size averaged over 8%.

This is in line with the iProperty.com.my 2020 Portal Demand Analytics (Rental Market), which showed that rental yields for terrace houses stood at 3.3% in H2 2020, slightly down from 3.4% in H1 2020.

Rents are falling, due to weak demand for rental properties. The median asking rent for condominiums fell by 5.3% to MYR 1,800 (US$429) in H2 2020 from the previous period. Likewise, the median asking rent for serviced residences dropped 5.9% to MYR 1,600 (US$382) over the same period.

Demand for residential rental properties in Kuala Lumpur fell by almost 13% y-o-y in 2020, according to iProperty.com.my.

By property type:

  • Terraced houses: demand fell by 13% during 2020
  • Condominium units: demand fell by 12.6%
  • Apartments: demand fell by a huge 18.6%
  • Serviced residences: demand dropped 8.1%

Malaysia has a small rental market. Only 6% of the housing stock is in the private rental sector. About 85% of total stock is owner-occupied, while government-provided housing accounts for 7% of the stock.

Foreign property ownership rules vary per state

The different states in the country vary on their criteria and investment threshold for foreign property ownership.

In Selangor, Malaysia’s most populous and largest state in terms of GDP, foreigners can purchase a property with a minimum value of MYR 2 million (US$ 477,156). However, foreign buyers are limited to landed properties with landed strata titles. In addition, foreigners cannot buy properties at auction, or own agricultural land in Selangor.

In Kuala Lumpur, as well as in Perak, Kelantan, Putrajaya, Labuan, Pahang and Terengganu, the minimum investment requirement is MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578), while it is only MYR 500,000 (US$119,289) in Perlis and Sarawak. Other states have different foreign property ownership limits too, as shown in table below.

In its 2020 Budget, the government announced that it will lower the threshold for foreign property ownership in some cities from the original requirement of MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578) to MYR 600,000 (US$143,147). However the new rule, which includes high-rise stratified units in George Town (Penang), Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and some cities in Selangor, has not yet been implemented due to the sudden collapse of the former ruling party Pakatan Harapan (PH) in early-2020.

FOREIGN PROPERTY OWNERSHIP LIMITS BY STATE

State Minimum Price
Johor
  • MYR 2 million (US$ 477,156) for landed property in designated international zones
  • MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578) for high-rise/strata title property within non-international zones, except for Medini
  • Kedah
  • MYR 600,000 (US$ 143,147) in Kedah
  • MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578) in Langkawi
  • Malacca
  • MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578) for landed title
  • MYR 500,000 (US$119,289) for high-rise/strata title
  • Negeri Sembilan
  • MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578) for overhang landed property
  • MYR 600,000 (US$ 143,147) for overhang high-rise/strata title property
  • Penang
  • MYR 1.8 million (US$429,441) for overhang landed property in the island
  • MYR 750,000 (US$178,934) for overhang landed property in the mainland
  • MYR 800,000 (US$190,863) for overhang strata/high-rise properties in the island
  • MYR 400,000 (US$95,431) for overhang strata/high-rise properties in the mainland
  • Perak, Pahang, Terengganu, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Kelantan
  • MYR 1 million (US$ 238,578)
  • Perlis, Sarawak
  • MYR 500,000 (US$119,289)
  • Sabah
  • MYR 750,000 (US$178,934) for overhang units
  • Selangor
  • MYR 2 million (US$ 477,156)
  • Additional criteria: Foreign buyers are limited to landed properties with landed strata titles. Foreigners cannot buy properties at auction, or own agricultural land
  • Source: PropertyGuru

    MM2H Scheme suspended

    In July 2020, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) announced the temporary suspension of the “Malaysia My Second Home” (MM2H) scheme pending a complete review and reevaluation since its inception in 2002.

    The suspension is in line with the government’s decision to not allow foreigners to enter the country following the coronavirus outbreak.

    In fact the program had already been unofficially closed since September 2019, with claims of 90% application rejection rates. All applications are now on hold and no exact date has been given on when the program will reopen.

    “MM2H programme will be reviewed based on the criteria, conditions, incentives as well as comparative study to equivalent MM2H Programme, such as Citizenship by Investment (CBI) or Residence by Investment (RBI),” said MOTAC. “Therefore, foreigners who are still interested to participate in the MM2H Programme are welcome to reapply once the MM2H Programme is reactivated, but they must abide to the current requirements.”

    From an annual average of 1,700 approvals from 2002 to 2011, the number of approved applications under the MM2H program increased to an average of 3,500 annually over the past eight years, thanks to the surge of Chinese visitors as the Malaysian government raised its efforts to attract the Chinese tourists after the MH370 tragedy in 2014.

    From its inception in 2002 to 2019, around 50,000 applications have been approved from 131 countries. China dominated the market, accounting for about 30% of all approvals, followed by Japan, Bangladesh, the UK and Korea.

    “The introduction of Malaysia My Second Home Scheme has positioned the country as one of the most foreign-friendly countries in Southeast Asia for real estate investors,” said Juwai IQI group executive director Kashif Ansari.

    The MM2H programme allows foreigners to live in Malaysia for a period of 10 years, provided that they meet certain criteria. Successful applicants are also allowed to bring their spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21, and parents who are over 60 years old.

    Malaysia’s economy to recover this year, labour market improving

    The Malaysian economy shrank by 5.6% in 2020, in stark contrast to an annual growth of 4.3% in 2019 and the biggest decline since the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998. The economy had grown by a healthy annual average of 5.3% from 2010 to 2019.

    The economy is expected to return to growth this year, with a projected real GDP expansion of 6.5%, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    Malaysia gdp inflation

    “The Malaysian economy is set to recover in 2021, with growth projected at 6.5 percent, driven by a strong recovery in manufacturing and construction,” said the IMF.

    Though it noted that risks and uncertainties remain at heightened levels. “An intensification of the pandemic and materialization of other risks could derail the recovery. A protracted spread of the virus could prompt the authorities to tighten health and physical distancing measures, with negative impact on growth. Also on the downside, Malaysia’s open economy is vulnerable to escalating trade tensions and weaker-than-expected growth in trading partners.”

    The labour market is improving. In May 2021, the unemployment rate stood at 4.5%, down from 5.3% a year earlier and the lowest jobless rate since the onset of the outbreak in March last year, according to figures released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia. The country’s unemployment rate averaged 3.2% in 2009-19.

    Malaysia unemployment

    The number of unemployed people fell 11.9% y-o-y to 728,100 in May 2021 while employment rose by 2.4% to 16.1 million.

    Inflation was 4.4% in May 2021, sharply up from the previous year’s -2.9%, mainly due to a sharp increase in transport prices, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. Malaysia’s inflation in 2020 was -1.1%, the lowest ever recorded.

    Fiscal deficit to widen

    Malaysia’s budget deficit stood at 3.2% of GDP in 2020, following shortfalls equivalent to 3.4% of GDP in 2019, 3.7% in 2018 and 3% in 2017, according to the Ministry of Finance.

    However, the shortfall is projected to increase sharply to more than 6% of GDP this year. Since last year, Malaysia has introduced seven stimulus packages, with a combined value of MYR 380 billion (US$91 billion) – equivalent to almost 27% of the country’s GDP. The latest stimulus aids included: PERMAI, worth MYR 15 billion (US$3.6 billion), announced in Janaury 2021; Pemerkasa Plus worth MYR 40 billion (US$US$9.5 billion), announced on June 1, 2021; and Pemulih worth MYR 150 billion (US$36 billion), announced on June 28, 2021.

    Malaysia average house prices

    As a result, the government’s statutory debt is expected to reach 58.5% of GDP this year, up from 54% in 2020, 52.7% in 2019 and 51.2% in 2018.

    The Malaysian ringgit at 10-month low against the US dollar

    In early July 2021, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the biggest political party in the country’s ruling coalition, withdrew support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and called for his resignation. As a result, the ringgit immediately lost about 3.2% of its value against the US dollar to reach an average exchange rate of MYR 4.1694 = USD1  in mid-July 2021 from MYR 4.0368  = USD 1 in January of this year.

    Malaysia exchange rate

    From April 2020 to December 2020, the domestic currency regained about 7.3% of its value against the US dollar, after falling by 10.7% over the previous two years mainly due to a slump in crude prices.

    Malaysia recorded a current account surplus of MYR 62.1 billion (US$14.8 billion) in 2020, the largest since 2011.

    Political tension intensifies

    In July 2018, former Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was arrested over his role in the multi-billion dollar 1MDB corruption scandal.

    Najib denied the allegations, and while in office, Malaysia’s authorities cleared him of all wrongdoing. But the case was reopened after the surprise defeat of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had governed Malaysia since independence, in the 2018 general elections. Mahathir Mohamad capitalized on public mistrust of Najib to win the general elections, vowing to bring his former protégé to justice. At least 42 charges are currently filed against Najib for alleged corruption, money laundering and abuse of power.

    A multi-party, multi-ethnic coalition called Pakatan Harapan (PH) was then formed. PH brought together Anwar Ibrahim’s reformist Keadilan party, the main ethnic Chinese party, the DAP, and two anti-UMNO Malay parties, Amanah and Bersatu. Anwar and Mahathir agreed that if they won, the former would be prime minister but hand over to Anwar after two years, the exact process being left unclear.

    A crisis over succession followed between the two leaders, who have a long history of unhappy relations. With growing tension within the coalition,  Muhyiddin Yassin, another key HP leader, defected with more than 30 MPs to form an alliance with his old party, UMNO. In February 2020, Mahathir tendered his resignation, and the coalition collapsed. To avoid a political crisis, Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, King Abdullah, appointed Muhyiddin Yassin as the new Prime Minister, and an UMNO-led government was formed.

    However sixteen months after taking office, Yassin’s government is now on the brink of collapse after UMNO’s president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced in July 2021 that UMNO is withdrawing its support for Yassin, citing his failed pandemic response.  Zahid and ex-premier Najib are part of what pundits have dubbed “KlusterMahkamah” or the Court Cluster, which includes leaders facing numerous criminal charges for corruption, and they had been excluded from cabinet by Yassin, although he depends on their votes for his slim parliamentary majority.

    It remains unclear how many of UMNO’s 38 lawmakers back Zahid’s recent move, and whether this could spark a general election.

    Sources:

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