ISKANDAR PUTERI, April 25 — Entrepreneur CW Chow, 31, is trying to buy a home in Iskandar Puteri, a newly developed city in Johor, but prices are beyond his budget of RM350,000 for landed property.
As Pakatan Harapan (PH) launches a fierce battle in the 14th general election (GE14) to wrest the developed state from Barisan Nasional (BN), middle-class people like Chow demand access to affordable housing.
“Basically, I consider myself in the middle-income group and not from the lower income, which has many incentives. To be honest, I feel trapped as there isn’t much choice.
“With the general election coming, my support will go to a political party that can champion people like me and promise changes to improve housing issues for all segments of society,” Chow told Malay Mail.
He said property prices were considered “extremely high” for new gated communities in Iskandar Puteri such as Medini, the nearby Taman Nusa Idaman, Taman Nusa Bayu and Mutiara Rini.
“To be honest, the prevailing prices are not reflective of the current value of the property. I may just pump back my savings into my business and continue to rent as the price of landed houses in the main residential areas of Iskandar Puteri is far from my budget of RM350,000,” he said.
Chow added that affordable areas outside of Iskandar Puteri’s 402.96 sq km district were too far away for him.
Checks showed that the average market for a new double-storey linked house within the urban areas of Iskandar Puteri area can start from about RM600,000. Most boast modern infrastructure and are mainly gated and guarded.
Iskandar Puteri and choices
Since 2010, Iskandar Puteri, which was formerly part of the Johor Baru Central Municipal Council, has grown in part due to the government’s emphasis on Kota Iskandar and its surrounding development that includes Medini and the Forest City township.
With the inclusion of Gelang Patah as part of the district, it is now a city in its own right which is adjacent to state capital, Johor Baru.
The high-density area of Skudai within Iskandar Puteri has several established residential areas, but many of the units are old and in need of major renovations.
The newer residential areas in Iskandar Puteri are Nusa Indah, Taman Nusa Bestari Jaya, Bestari Heights, East Ledang, Estuari, Ledang Heights, Nusa Idaman, Nusa Bayu, Nusa Bestari, Nusa Bestari 2, Nusa Duta, Bukit Indah, Horizon Hills and Sunway Iskandar that are located within the district’s zone.
Officially launched in 2007, Iskandar Puteri was first named Nusajaya and is one of the five flagship zones of Iskandar Malaysia, a 550,000-acre economic corridor. Iskandar Puteri will be part of the Iskandar Malaysia growth region, which is three times the size of Singapore. Iskandar Malaysia is envisioned to become a sustainable metropolis of international standing by 2025.
Iskandar Puteri’s strategic location and proximity to Singapore provides immense potential for economic growth, and is gearing towards completion of its main central business district of Medini.
Parts of the newly named parliamentary constituency are still undergoing construction. However, the place is already well-known for some attractions such as Legoland Malaysia, Sanrio Hello Kitty Town and the Mall of Medini.
The Kota Iskandar area is considered new and has well-planned infrastructure compared to Skudai, which is an established residential and commercial area just outside Johor Baru.
Medini caters to rich foreigners
Max Tan, who rents a house in nearby Taman Ungku Tun Aminah in Skudai here, also felt home prices in south Johor, especially in newer areas such as Iskandar Puteri, were inflated.
“A good example is Medini, which is being marketed as the jewel of Iskandar Malaysia. Despite being a new city, it is out of range for regular wage-earning Malaysians.
“The other areas surrounding Medini also come with a premium price which I believe is not reflective of the property’s true value,” said the 29-year-old stock trader.
An entry-level apartment in Medini costs more than half a million ringgit, while a linked house costs more than RM1 million.
Tan, who earns between RM4,000 and RM8,000 monthly, said most of Medini was still not fully developed and lacked the heritage of Johor Baru and job opportunities in the service industry.
“For me, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government has not done enough to tackle the state’s housing problems among the growing middle class.
“With last year’s state housing scandal, my vote will be with the Opposition as I feel that we need a cleaner administration,” he said, referring to a housing and land scandal that saw a then-Johor state executive councillor charged with corruption.
Tan said Medini catered more to wealthy foreigners, similar to the Forest City township that attracts rich Chinese nationals.
“Forest City’s appeal among foreigners was its promise of a future city with freehold property at one quarter of Singapore’s prices on a man-made island with its free zone and no foreign restrictions.” he said.
Tan said most young Johorean professionals were caught in the “middle-income trap” and found it hard to purchase properties in the city.
“For me, I am waiting for a good deal before buying my first home. If not, I may opt for a secondary sale property nearby,” he said.
Tan said older units in the outlying areas of the Johor Baru district that range between RM300,000 and RM500,000 would be better suited to young professionals who have just started working, particularly those in the city.
“These homes may be smaller and not new, but secondary or sub-sale homes are ready to be occupied and have easy access to facilities such as shops as they are mainly located in fully developed mixed residential or commercial areas,” he said.
Iskandar Puteri property prices reflective of market
For Taman Desa Skudai resident Mohamad Ramli, he believes that the property value in Iskandar Puteri is reflective of market demands.
“I have done some research and for the world market, properties in Shanghai in China have gone upwards of US$3,000 (RM11,661) per sq ft and still able to increase slightly.
“In Malaysia, the average for hot properties is about US$1,000 (RM3,887) per sq ft and the chances for it to go higher is still there,” said the 45-year-old architect.
Mohamad said Iskandar Puteri is within or lower than the US$1,000 per sq ft rate and offers one of the best solutions to catapult Johor to developed status.
Johor BN insists tackled housing issues
Johor Umno information chief Datuk Samsolbari Jamali said that the caretaker BN administration under Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin has done a lot to address housing issues in the state.
“We need to look at the big picture of housing woes in the state, which is mainly due to escalating prices that some blame on speculators.
“Since 2013, the BN state government has done a lot to curb speculators and also put a ceiling price on foreign home buyers,” he said, adding that there are other state and federal government schemes that benefited first-time homeowners.
For Samsolbari, the issue of high property prices in Iskandar Puteri did not reflect the overall market in Johor.
He said the state government has consistently prioritised housing, highlighting the Johor People’s Affordable Home scheme and also the rent-to-own schemes for lower-income groups.
Developers complain about high costs
Johor Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) chairman Datuk Steve Chong Yoon On said the main issue here with regards to the high prices of homes in Johor Baru and Iskandar Puteri was high development and compliance costs.
“The state government should assist us by lowering the cost, which can translate to lower prices for new homes. In addition to that, it can assist the imbalance in housing demand and supply in some areas,” he said.
Developers in Johor face high construction and land costs, as well as a lack of suitable land for development as well as incentives, particularly in the provision of affordable housing. A levy is imposed on construction material.
A recent Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) report stated that the number of unsold houses in Malaysia was at its highest in 10 years for houses priced RM250,000 and above. The central bank also said Johor recorded the highest number of unsold houses, followed by Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
Chong said developers, as private enterprises, were keen to assist the state government by matching homes to potential buyers according to their earnings, needs and preferred location.
“Overall, Johor Rehda is committed to prioritising affordable homes for lower income earners, homes for young professionals and also Bumiputera-status homes,” he said.