JAPAN TICKS ALL THE RIGHT BOXES FOR INVESTMENT
Q : I have read that Japan is in recession now and no one knows when it would come out of it. Is now a good time to buy Japanese property for own stay and for rental?
ZNM : It could be claimed that Japan has been in consecutive recessions for the vast majority of the last 25 years – since its economic bubble burst in the early 1990’s. And, while it has enjoyed a period of GDP expansion in the last few years, its shrinking population all but dictates that technical recession will hit again and again, whenever anything even slightly negative occurs in the economy – simply because it doesn’t have the rising population numbers to provide for an expansion of GDP (or, as Mathew Yglesias correctly postulates in his excellent piece in “VOX: Business and Finance” – “In the context of a working-age population that’s shrinking 1 % a year, an economy that is ‘only’ shrinking at 0.8% per year is actually doing okay”).
And the interesting thing is that, as far as almost all other indicators go, Japan is actually doing more than just ”ok” – it’s doing spectacularly well – unemployment is at an historic low of just under 3.5% – workforce participation by working age adults (15-64) is at a record high of just under 76% – the price index is constantly climbing since the introductions of “Abenomics” (PM Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, introduced in late 2012), and is now back to its mid-2010 levels – and perhaps most importantly, a healthy level of inflation, introduced for the first time in over two decades, actually put nominal GDP on the rise as well – which is key to maintaining all those positive trends on the long-term.
This is not to say that Japan doesn’t have its share of problems, not by a long-shot – it will absolutely have to deal with its declining population, either by increasing birth-rates or by allowing intensive immigration (preferably both), as well as with its gargantuan public debt to GDP ratio – if it is to reverse this trend and stop slipping into technical recession on a regular basis – however, this single indicator means very little for its intensely consumer-oriented culture and society, and for the fact that it remains Asia- Pacific’s largest property investment market, and second largest property investment market globally, right behind the USA.
If anything, temporary slumps in the economy, like anywhere in the world, normally spell good news for property investors, as it means the country becomes a buyers’ market, and fantastic deals are more likely to be found on a regular basis – when things improve again, it becomes time to sell and realise capital growth. This is not to say that we, as investors, should jump head-first into any stumbling, emerging, third-world economy only because it is cheap to buy – market fundamentals have to be favourable, the environment well-regulated and supportive of our investment goals, and legal recourse has to be an option, particularly for foreign investors like ourselves. Japan, being the world’s 3rd largest economy, more than ticks all of those boxes, and so remains a great long-term investment for anyone seeking high rental yields in a stable, hassle-free business environment.
Aidan Wee is the Managing Director of Somot Realty Co., Ltd. and is a Licensed Property Salesperson (Accredited by the Council of Estate Agencies in Singapore). www.Somot-vn.com, (+65) 9345 8633 or e-mail aidan.property@ outlook.com
OWNING A SHOPHOUSE IN THE FRENCH QUARTER, HANOI
Q : I have just returned from Hanoi and am completely captivated by the French architecture especially at the French Quarter. How easy is it for a foreigner to buy a shoplot in the French Quarter and use it as retail space (ground floor) and residence (upper floor)?
AW : Unfortunately, foreigners are not eligible to purchase landed property that is not within a real estate project boundary. A shophouse in the old quarters of Hanoi is classified as a standalone landed residential property that is not within a real estate project boundary; the only way foreigners can buy such a unit is to buy it through a local Vietnamese proxy. That said, such a procedure carries with it significant risks as the Ownership Certificate dubbed the “Red Book” will be under the name of the proxy.
Vietnam legal system is a variation of the Civil Law as opposed to the more widespread Common Law system. Hence, a trust document is not recognised as a legal basis of property ownership. Therefore, having a proxy “own” a property with no acceptable legal documentation and recourse on the part of the person financing it, is a high risk endeavour. That said, you are advised to seek separate advice from a lawyer before proceeding as this feedback is purely to the best of my knowledge and is not to be construed as legal advice.
Laksamon Dhamminch is Head of the Legal Department at Antares Advisory, a law firm based in Bangkok’s CBD. She specializes in Property Law, and advises clients on property acquisitions, development planning and construction regulations. She can be contacted via antaresadvisory.com or emailed at laksamon@ antaresadvisory.com
LAND OWNERSHIP IN YOUR THAI GIRLFRIEND’S NAME
Q : I have bought a landed house in Phuket and put it under my Thai girlfriend’s name. However, I want to ensure that in the event we separate, I still get back my house fully. Also, I want to make a will bequeathing half of the house to her and half to my 2 children from my previous marriage. How do I go about doing this?
LD : As foreign ownership is allowed only for acquisition of a condo unit, the most common advice to secure your investment on your landed property is as follows:
1. Register a long-term lease on the property; or
2. Register the mortgage (assuming this property is mortgaged).
(1) While registering the lease will ensure that you will be able to use the property during the lease period, it will not stop the land owner from selling the leased premises. However, she will have to sell the land together with your registered lease attached.
(2) The mortgage will protect your investment at least for the principal but it will not allow you to live on the mortgaged property. So the land owner may request you to leave the property anytime whether or not your relationship has ended. You can register your interest on the loan if you decide to register the mortgage. However, you are not allowed to insert the condition that you are to share the profit in the event that the land owner sells the property. This will be considered as an attempt to have own land by using a Thai nationals as a nominee which is illegal in Thailand.
As you wish to bequeath this property to your non-Thai children, the mortgage may be the better option because the assignment of the lease requires the consent of the lessor (land owner).
The fund provider could either be a foreign individual or foreign company. If you have no problem maintaining a company in good status just for the purpose of protecting this investment, then the registration of the mortgage to the company will be more secure.
You can bequeath this property to your heirs by making a will to split the shares in your company to your children and to your girlfriend. In a worst case scenario, your girlfriend will be able to sell the land only if she could pay off the loan. Thus, if the price of the land has dramatically increased and your girlfriend can find the financial resources to pay off the loan, then your children will receive half of the loan repayment plus interest. But your girlfriend will receive half of loan repayment plus interest as well as the profit from the sale of land.
Please note that no other rights are better than ownership. Since Thailand does not allow foreigners to have land ownership, foreign investment on land in Thailand will inevitably come with a risk. The legal solutions will certainly help to reduce the risk but cannot entirely eliminate it.
Q : Will the S & P be both in English and Vietnamese? And which one takes precedence? What is the track record of Vietnamese developers in terms of construction time? If beyond the time stipulated in the S & P, would there be problems getting compensation from the developer?
AW : Prior to the implementation of the existing Law on Housing, foreign developers in Vietnam have all these while practised issuing the S & P in both English and Vietnamese language. Both versions are of equal standing and are governed by the laws of Vietnam. With the existing Law on Housing, an increasing number of domestic developers are following suit with this practice; currently most developers that are targeting foreign buyers have both language versions of the S & P.
Most of the established (financially stable) Vietnamese developers keep to their construction schedule as stated in the S & P very well; from experience, most projects are completed and handed over well within the stipulated construction time frame. The same cannot be said for lesser known developers.
If the construction drags beyond the time frame as stipulated in the S&P, or if the developer goes bust, or for whatever other reasons, a guaranteeing bank will compensate the buyers. This is in accordance with the existing Law of Real Estate Business whereby all developers are legally required to take up a banker’s guarantee on their real estate project. Moreover, the issuing bank must be approved by the State Bank of Vietnam. Photography by Jan Yong
Dr. Lee Ville is the Director Of New Bob Group and licensed auctioneer. He can be contacted via. ask@ newbob.com.my.
RETIRING IN PENANG
Q : I am interested to retire in Malaysia especially Penang. Are there any retirement villages there? I heard there is one in Balik Pulau. Where in Penang would you recommend for retirees to live in if there are no retirement villages? What are the advantages and disadvantages of applying for the MM2H visa?
LV : There’s no retirement village in Penang, however we do have nice developments on the island. Thus, it mainly depends on the budget of the retirees / and where they want to stay. There are many liveable areas in Penang depending on what they are looking for and their personal preference. If they are looking for beachfront, it has to be Batu Feringghi area; and, if they are looking to invest in the local heritage culture, they have to stay in the UNESCO Heritage City of Georgetown.
I believe Balik Pulau is ideal due to its close proximity to the kampong (village), seaside, seafood and schools. For those with schooling kids, there are various private schools nearby in Balik Pulau namely Prince of Wales Island International School. Besides that, there are many developments in Balik Pulau, and they also have a botanica. I guess what’s most important for retirees is to find a place close to the healthcare centre. However, there’s no private hospital there yet at the moment. The nearest to Balik Pulau would be Pantai Hospital.
There’s no disadvantage for holding a MM2H visa. One of the main advantages is that they get to buy properties priced only RM500,000 and above instead of RM1 million and above (condo) and RM2 million and above (landed property) if they do not have the MM2H visa. The minimum price applies only to Penang state as other states may have a different threshold.
Apart from that, they also get to purchase cars with certain tax exemptions and a visa for easy in-out entry at the immigration.
Dato’ Pretam Singh Darshan Singh practises at Pretam Singh, Nor & Co in Kuala Lumpur.
SELLER NOT LIABLE IF SOLD ON ‘AS IS WHERE IS BASIS’
Q : I am a Singaporean and I have purchased a condominium in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. I sold the condo two years ago but recently, the management of the condo has contacted me to say I need to be responsible for the water leaking to the unit directly below me because it first occurred when I was still the owner.
PS : In Malaysia generally, a seller has the duty to disclose known latent defects. These are defects that the seller is aware of and are not easily discoverable upon a reasonable inspection of the property. However, if the property is sold on “As is where is basis”, it eliminates a seller’s duty to disclose material latent defects. This clause would protect the seller in a lawsuit by the buyer for damages incurred by the seller’s failure to disclose a defect.
An “as is where is” clause, however, will not prevent the seller from being liable if the seller is found to have engaged in “active fraud”. “Active fraud” requires an act by the seller such as concealment of a defect or misrepresentation of a condition of the property. An example would be if the seller is aware of a leakage problem and when questioned by the buyer states that there is no leakage problem or conceals the leakage problem with fillers so that the defect cannot be discovered by a reasonable inspection.
It is imperative that buyers and sellers review the terms of the purchase contract. When a buyer contractually agrees to accept a property “as is where is”, the seller is relieved of the duty to disclose and will not be liable to the buyer for non-disclosure of a defect unless it can be shown the seller engaged in fraudulent concealment, fraudulent inducement or fraudulent misrepresentation.
In this case, if the property is sold on “as is where is” basis, the owner can ignore the notice from the management.