While the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) official motto of “One Vision, One Identity, One Community,” may be inaccurate at its core—Southeast Asia is among the most diverse regions of the world—its eight trillion dollar GDP has made it a global player. Property investors have taken note of ASEAN’s value and growth potential in both mature and emerging markets. As 2019 draws to a close, ASEAN is making good on the promise of 1967.

Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

According to CBRE Cambodia, the country’s condominium supply grew 17% in the second quarter of 2019 over the previous three, with most of that (75%) in the affordable to mid-price range. There were 13 new launches, putting nearly 7,000 new units on the market, as well as eight completions. Projects priced affordably or in the mid range have met great sales success. However, it is the mid-range and high-end properties that have seen rents trend upward: 4.3% and 2.8%, respectively from 2018 to mid-2019, with rental yields as high as 5.3%. Buyers still come predominantly from Hong Kong, Malaysia, China and Singapore, but demand among young Cambodians is rising. Regardless of trade tensions, Cambodia’s economy is predicted to grow 7% this year (according to the Asian Development Bank) and the property market should remain steady, particularly with the effects of the Foreign Ownership Property Law, introduced in 2010, still boosting demand; the law allowed foreign nationals to own non-ground floor apartments and condos. Land can be leased long-term through businesses incorporated in Cambodia— which may become more common if the economy continues to expand and diversify. However, in February the EU decided on temporary suspension of Cambodia’s inclusion in Europe’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences agreement for tariff-free imports after finding systematic labour and human rights violations that contravene it.The industry in question is garment manufacturing—and Europe accounts for 40% of Cambodia’s total exports.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia has been on Hongkongers’ radar for many years, thanks in large part to cultural and linguistic familiarity, a high quality of life at lower cost, and of course the attractive Malaysia My Second Home programme (MM2H), initially targeted at retirees but increasingly appealing to a broader cross-section of Hong Kong investors for its dozens of international schools, excellent healthcare, political stability and a geographical position outside disaster zones. Hongkongers are keenly interested in luxury properties in Kuala Lumpur city centre and similarly secure districts, including Jalan Ampang (Embassy Row), Jalan Tun Razak, home of the forthcoming Tun Razak financial exchange, Mont Kiara and Damansara Heights according to Ivan Wong, senior manager, international properties at Hartamas 
Real Estate. “Hongkongers also prefer integrated master developments comprising retail, commercial and residential in mature areas outside of Kuala Lumpur, whereby amenities such as schools, shopping complexes and eateries are readily available, [and] they need not travel far for city conveniences,” he continues. “Developments within close proximity to public transport like the MRT, LRT and others, are one of the main criteria of selection.” Home prices in Kuala Lumpur are still below 1997 levels, and the city continues to outperform the rest of Malaysia, surging 122% between 2005 and 2015. Overseas investors are required to spend a minimum of MYR1 million (HK$1.9 million); prime Kuala Lumpur currently averages approximately MYR780,000.

Singapore

At the end of 2018, Singapore was forecast to be heading into a banner ’19, with both prices and rents trending upward. Last year, all sectors were performing well, but mid-year cooling measures pumped the brakes. Foreign nationals were slapped with an additional 5% duty on residential properties, taking the total levy to 20%, public housing flat (HDB) values were slipping and the price gap between public and private housing was widening. Nonetheless, and regardless of external factors, as of October, Singapore’s property market was proving resilient. 
Both HDB and private properties were posting increased prices in the third quarter, and while rents remained mostly stable they did post modest gains: 0.4% over the second quarter for apartments. A great deal of Singapore’s residential success in the third quarter can be attributed to unrest in Hong Kong, as international staff are being relocated to locations such as Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and the Lion City. “The improving leasing market may be attributed to more expats being redeployed to Singapore lately,” OrangeTee & Tie head of research Christine Sun to Property Guru in October. “Thousands of multinational companies have set up regional offices in the Asia Pacific, and Singapore may now be taking the lead as a key business hub in Asia in view of the rising tensions in Hong Kong.”

Vietnam

Golden Bridge in Ba Na Hills, Da Nang

Vietnam continues its march towards becoming the new Guangdong as the world’s manufacturer as well as a Southeast Asian financial hub. The late-October Ho Chi Minh City Economic Forum was the first major event to advocate—and court investors for—a development plan designed by the Ho Chi Minh City Finance and Investment Company and the Fulbright School to further that agenda. “Becoming a global and regional financial centre is key to bringing Ho Chi Minh City to a new level of economic and social development,” said City Chair Nguyen Thanh Phong on the Forum’s opening day. That may not be a pipe dream. As Vietnam continues to draw foreign investment from heavy hitters such as Korea, Japan and the US, it has positioned itself as the ASEAN standout so far in 2019, and its fastest growing economy. This year, Vietnam has shown the strongest trade growth progress according to Standard Chartered’s Trade20 Index, 
due to economic and political reforms, selected deregulation, infrastructure and human investment, increasing domestic consumer demand and strong exports with room to grow. Finally, for overseas property investors, forthcoming legal amendments that assure their property rights are going before the legislature. The Investment and Enterprise Law, in effect since 2014, has revealed some protection shortfalls, and amendment drafts to be presented in the next National Assembly will bring real estate law in line with international standards, and make investing in Vietnam more transparent—
and even more attractive.