As the air and sea territorial dispute enters a second week, it could negatively impact investor sentiment in the already lukewarm property market in Iskandar Malaysia.
By Khalil Adis
The simmering tension brewing in the Straits of Johor between Singapore and Malaysia has now entered its second week.
In fact, it is like watching history repeating itself.
Growing up during the Lee Kuan Yew era, I recall how both countries would often trade barbs over water to territorial issues.
The relationship between both countries is best described as testy then.
However, much like brothers and sisters, we would soon kiss and make up.
Post the Lee Kuan Yew-Mahathir era, bilateral ties between both countries warmed up significantly under the leadership of Lee Hsien Loong and Mahathir's successors, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak.
While the later remains highly unpopular among Malaysians, several win-win deals were concluded between both countries which arose from the land swap deal.
They included the joint development of DUO in Bugis and Marina One by M + S Pte Ltd (Malaysia and Singapore, in case you don't know)
Over in Iskandar Malaysia, Singapore agreed to develop two wellness centre called Afiniti Medini and Avira.
Subsequently, CapitaLand invested in A2 Danga Island.
Until today, the project has yet to be launched.
With bilateral relations going from cold to warm and back again to cold, we analyse how this will impact the property market across the causeway.
#1: Investors will likely adopt a ‘wait-and-see' approach to Iskandar Malaysia
This is almost similar to the pre-Iskandar Malaysia era under Abdullah Badawi's leadership when the special economic zone was first announced.
I recall covering a few stories on Iskandar Malaysia then where I had interviewed several Singaporeans.
During that time, many had expressed scepticism on Iskandar Malaysia and avoided buying a property at Horizon Hills.
Back then, it was then launched within the minimum investment threshold of RM250,000.
However, that changed once the land swap deal was concluded in 2010.
As our bilateral ties improved, so did investors' confidence.
As a result, properties in Iskandar Puteri and Medini began selling like hot cakes.
Meanwhile, units at Horizon Hills was transacted at almost three times the launch price as developments at Legoland Theme Park, EduCity and Puter Harbour were gathering pace.
With both countries now embroiled in a maritime dispute, investors are most likely to adopt a similar approach until the issue is resolved
#2: Market sentiment in Iskandar Malaysia the most affected
July's property cooling measures have made it even more difficult for Singaporeans to buy a private property in the Lion City as the loan-to-value (LTV) limit has been reduced from 80 per cent to 75 per cent if the loan tenure does not exceed 30 years for the first property.
Logically, this makes Iskandar Malaysia much more attractive due to its close proximity to Singapore as we share many similar customs, culture and speak similar languages.
However, the property market is very much sentiment driven as described above.
With Iskandar Malaysia being the closest to Singapore, this will be the property market that will be the most affected.
#3: Developers will face an uphill task in marketing their units
The property market in Iskandar Malaysia is already facing a challenging time due to the oversupply in the residential sector.
According to the first quarter of 2018 data from the National Property and Information Centre (NAPIC), Johor has the second highest number of existing stock of residential units at 795,363 in Malaysia.
The current political climate will no doubt be a double whammy for developers who are already struggling to move unsold units in their inventory.
With the High Speed Rail project now postponed, only the brand name of the developer will be able to win investors' confidence.
As such, developers who have a good reputation among Singaporeans and local buyers will stand to win.
Word-of-mouth marketing will be the way forward.
#4: Possible spillover impact in tourism and retail sectors
The allure of Malaysia is the affordable holiday destination, the many scenic nature and food trails it offers, its close proximity to Singapore and the strength of the Singapore dollar.
Thus, December is typically a busy month at the checkpoints as many Singaporeans go for a short break to Johor and beyond.
As the tension escalates, Singaporeans are likely to stay away this holiday season unless absolutely necessary.
In such a scenario, the tourism and retail sectors in popular malls in Johor Bahru like City Square and KSL will be affected.
In addition, many reservist units and national servicemen are being recalled for mobilisation exercises.
Many will have no choice but to stay in Singapore.
#5: Malaysians will also be affected
The current situation affects not just Singaporeans but also Malaysians living in Johor.
In fact, many brave the causeway in the wee hours every morning just to feed their family back home.
As we speak, Johoreans have expressed their concerns that their livelihood in Singapore may be impacted and hope the issue can be resolved amicably.
An independent analysis from yours truly