Sunday, Jun 02, 2013 | The Straits Times

SINGAPORE – For a long time, Iskandar was considered as little more than a backwater.

Today, though, most people would know of someone who is a proud owner of a property there.

But the growing excitement over Iskandar has come at a price.

Not so long ago, a buyer could get a two-storey terrace house there for the price of a three-room HDB flat.

This is no longer possible as property prices there have doubled, or even tripled, over the past six years.

At the upmarket Horizon Hills, where houses overlook an 18-hole golf course, a two-storey terrace house cost RM300,000 in 2007. Now it costs RM750,000 (S$309,000) on the resale market.

Of course, this is not an issue for many buyers who had purchased units in Iskandar earlier.

A Singapore resident in her 40s, who wants to be known only as Ms Nesamalar, bought a semi-detached house in Bukit Indah township last July.

This township was launched in 1997 by SP Setia. In the 16 years since, the 607ha development has matured. It now has three schools, several malls and supermarkets, a hotel, a cinema and other amenities.

Her house is still being built and it will be completed only sometime in the next two months, but she and her family enjoy the laidback atmosphere there so much that they visit Johor every week just to get away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore.

“A lot of the brands that I can buy in Singapore, I can also find in Bukit Indah – The Body Shop, Eu Yan Sang, you name it.

“And there are fewer people there, so it’s a lot more pleasant to shop and dine,” said the education consultant.

Her plan for now is to use her new property as a getaway home and eventually retire there.

Bukit Indah was one of the earliest residential developments in Iskandar, alongside projects such as Leisure Farm and Nusa Idaman.

Over the years, many more have sprung up.

These include Setia EcoGardens, Cascadia and Sky 88 by SP Setia; and Imperia Puteri Harbour, East Ledang and Ujana by UEM Land.

Some 80 per cent of the homes in Iskandar are landed properties – a mix of terrace houses, bungalows and semi-detached houses. The remaining 20 per cent are condominum units.

Buyers might think it is best to seize the market now, before prices rise even higher, but some analysts are sceptical. “Our outlook on the market is one of caution,” said Mr Scott Hagerman, the assistant business manager at property consultancy IP Global.

While IP Global believes in the long-term future of Iskandar, it reckons that the market, for now, poses more risks than Kuala Lumpur’s.

One factor is that the price increases in Iskandar are being fuelled in part by the property cooling measures in Singapore, he added.

Singaporeans are using Iskandar as a proxy as the seven rounds of property curbs have led them to look elsewhere for property investments.

And with Iskandar still in its early stages of development, it is uncertain what resale values the properties will have in future, MrHagerman added.

Though the variety and prices in Iskandar may be attractive, MrColin Tan, research head at Chesterton Suntec International, urged potential buyers to be circumspect.

“When you see that houses there are half the price of what you find in Singapore, you might immediately be tempted, but ask yourself first – what are you buying for?” Buyers should purchase a house which they would like to live in themselves, even if they are looking to purchase mainly for investment purposes, he added.

This is because there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding Iskandar and there are many questions that investors should ask before signing a purchase agreement.

“Such as, what kind of tenant are you looking for and will there be a supply of tenants looking to live in your unit?” said Mr Tan.

If you buy a condominium, for example, Western expatriates might not be keen to rent it, as they tend to prefer landed housing with lots of space, he said.

“Furthermore, expats working in Singapore are also buying homes in Iskandar too, so who will be renting?”

Home prices in Iskandar today already rival those in Kuala Lumpur, but Iskandar now has a population of only about 1.6 million and commercial activity has yet to get into full swing.

Investors should have a long-term view and be prepared to wait a long time for their investment to bear fruit, Mr Tan said.

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