Why Invest in Cambodian Property?

Cambodia is deemed by many to be a last investor’s frontier in Southeast Asia. It is brimming with raw natural resources and undeveloped talent. When foreign investors bring capital and first-world know-how to the table, magical things can happen…

Cambodia offers investors a package of benefits, which makes freehold ownership just one incentive among many; In Cambodia, there is very little discrimination between foreigners and locals in regards to company registration, taxes and customs duties. Meanwhile, the country is geographically central, with a young and motivated labor pool, and, of course, buoyed by the US dollar. Furthermore, Cambodian based manufacturers still enjoy tax-free export to Europe because Cambodia is still classed as a less developed country (LDC).

Rami Sharaf, Member of International Advisory Council, APCO Worldwide, and a well-known advocate for the Cambodian market, says that, “the major attraction for foreign investors considering whether they should invest in Cambodia is the ASEAN-member nation’s steady economic growth; phenomenally steady growth: 7.5 per cent average for the last 5 years, year on year.

This puts Cambodia as the number 21 worldwide in growth, and number 1 in the region.”

Cambodian Investment Opportunity in Short:

  • US$ Investment Economy: Invest in the world’s most resilient currency as Cambodia has long been a dollarized economy and will continue to be.
  • Virgin Investment Territory: Enormous growth potential and very positive appreciation trends in recent years.
  • Strong, Sustained Growth in GDP:5% average for the last 5 years, year on year. No. #21 worldwide in growth, and No. #1 in the region.
  • Secure Assets: Freehold Foreign Ownership Laws and Attractive Long Term Lease Policies.
  • Strategic Location: Sandwiched between two strong economies, Thailand and Vietnam; Midway between the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, China and India; and sitting between Australasia and Asia, with trade agreements connecting it to both.
  • Political Stability: The country has had the same Prime Minister for more than a quarter of a century, the longest serving non-royal leader in South East Asia.
  • Trade Integration: Joined ASEAN for increased access to regional markets; LDC status gives tariff free access to highly developed markets in Europe and Americas.
  • Improved Logistics: Deep sea port, railways, roads and flight connections around the nation and Asia growing yearly.
  • Retirees’ Mecca: Due to a unique, low-cost quality of life.
  • Cambodia is Unique: Less-developed countries with high growth potential are not usually so actively welcoming of investment and are typically more politically and financially unstable.

The combination of a stable government and banking industry, pro-business and pro-foreign investment policies, and tremendous growth potential is relatively rare. Financial and governmental stability are typically associated with more mature markets that have greater barriers to entry combined with less growth potential. This unusual combination of pro-growth and development factors has already yielded substantial development and progress in Cambodia, yet there remains more money to be made.

This is a country and a populace eager for growth and doing a great many things right. It is an exciting time for both local nationals looking forward to a brighter future and for potential foreign investors looking for an investment frontier. Pro-business government policies have helped attract foreign investment to the many different market sectors, including: Offices and Commercial Development; Retail Development; Industrial Development; Residential Real Estate; Agricultural Development.

It is also literally well positioned due to its physical proximity to some of the most vibrant markets on the planet. This fact is being capitalized upon and enhanced via regional trade agreements that strengthen Cambodia’s ties to multiple large, developed markets. Cambodia has a young, energetic workforce and a rich and intriguing cultural heritage. Both of these treasures are nestled amidst a landscape filled with natural beauty that draws more and more tourism every year.

It is a world filled with opportunity for any investors who are willing to do their due diligence and bring first world savvy and capital with them to the bargaining table. It is still a corner of the world being overlooked by many people. This oversight is one they may live to regret. Although there is always an element of risk in any kind of investment, the fundamentals here are incredibly strong. Thus, well planned, well managed foreign development projects have excellent prospects.

This is a place where dreams can not only become reality, they can shape the future. What would you like to build? Aquaculture? An organic farm? A world class hotel? A state-of the art condo? Find your new investment property today.

The Current Outlook and Key Development Trends

The country enjoys a relatively low cost of living, which helps keep wages low, thus making it a place investors can get their feet wet with relatively low risks. The government has liberal business policies and is actively seeking to attract additional foreign investment. It is a beautiful country with a rich heritage, fueling opportunities in tourism. It has an unusually good geographic position, giving it access to some of the largest and most active and growing markets in the world. Due to its membership in ASEAN, it has access to the ASEAN Free Trade Area. ASEAN is kind of like the European Union for the Southeast Asian Nations.

For comparison, the countries of the European Union have 508 million people and the ASEAN countries have 625 million people and are a less mature market, providing vastly more opportunity for growth. Cambodia joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999. This multinational organization has substantial goals of economic development for the group of countries located roughly between Australia and China, many of them island nations. If ASEAN were a single country, it would have the seventh largest economy in the world, after the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Please note that Germany, France and the United Kingdom are all members of the European Union, the organization ASEAN is hoping to emulate to some degree. Additionally, Cambodia has been designated one of the Least Developed Countries (LDC), which gives it preferential access and free trade to both the European and North American markets.

Cambodia’s LDC status gives it preferential access to some of the richest markets in the world for certain products. Obviously, the country’s qualification as one of the Least Developed Countries has some downsides, such as limited infrastructure and widespread poverty. But, increasingly, there is evidence that foreign companies typically provide both better pay and better working conditions for local nationals. This means that investing in an LDC can be a case of doing good while doing well: You can feel good about the improvements your investment is bringing to the country while also being happy with the benefit to your own bottom line. In fact, the poverty rate in Cambodia has dropped dramatically from 47.5 percent in 1993 to just 23 percent in 2011. So while it is still a poor country, it is seeing incredible forward progress. This fact helps ensure that investment will be profitable for the investors. Additionally, Cambodia is midway between China and India.

Very recently, India displaced China as the world’s fastest growing economy. Due to its location, Cambodia has excellent geographic access to both of these huge, emerging markets. The wealth of the future is practically guaranteed to be determined by who has access to these extremely large and very fast growing markets. Talks are under way between India and ASEAN, which could create a similar trade block. In 2010, the China–ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) became a reality, giving member nations access to a trading block of 1.7 billion people. ASEAN also has an agreement with Australia and New Zealand that creates yet another free trade area in the other direction (AANZFTA). In 2003, the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom ranked Cambodia 35th among 170 countries in terms of economic freedom. This puts in on par with Japan and places it well ahead of many of its neighbors in the ASEAN community. Thus, it constitutes one of the most open economies in the region. At that time, the Index of Economic Freedom commented on positive governmental policies.

Cambodia was noticed for its unusual degree of market-friendliness for an LDC. The areas of note include:

Opportunities in Tourism:

Unlike its neighbors, such as Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia explicitly desires to attract foreign investment in its tourism sector. Tourism is the area in which Cambodia rightly most wants to attract foreign investment. This goal is little different than its neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam and most recently even Laos. In recent years, tourism to Cambodia has exploded, enjoying double digit increases many years and hitting 4.5 million tourists in 2014. In 1992, Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, was named a World Heritage Site. It attracts significant interest, fueling growth of hotels and other amenities in the nearby town of Siem Reap. While it is certainly the best known site in Cambodia, there is no shortage of cultural heritage and natural beauty for attracting additional tourism dollars to the country. Development of hotels, golf courses and other amenities are a strong market.

The government has a track record of dealing progressively with this development segment, such as at the Phnom Penh International Airport which has recently seen huge capacity development.

Retail Growth:

The retail sector is growing rapidly: New malls, such as Aeon – with Aeon 2 and Parkson on the way soon in 2016, are having a dramatic influence on Phnom Penh’s retail sector. According to Knight Frank Cambodia’s: “Cambodia Real Estate Highlights 1st Half 2015,” total supply is building fast: 2011: 59,154 sqm; 2012: 66,154 sqm; 2013: 72,114 sqm; 2014-15: 134,153 sqm; 2016: 223,173 sqm (est.); 2017: 297,591 sqm (est.). With the entrance of a host of new brands and extensions of existing franchises in the retail sector, the supply by district is evening out. The evening of the share of retail supply could be related to new and existing brands increasingly looking outside of the Phnom Penh city center, where their customers are increasingly choosing to live.

Agricultural Investment Opportunities:

An abundance of water and fertile land combined with affordable local labor creates significant opportunity for agricultural investment and development, such as in organic farming and agro-processing. Foreign partners bring not only capital, but also essential knowledge and skill to the table. The combination of forces is very often a win/win for both sides. Although land cannot be owned by foreign investors, access to land is readily available via 99-year leases and joint ventures where a local partner owns at least 51 percent of the equity. Some hot agricultural areas include: fisheries, rubber processing, sugar processing, jute, palm oil refineries, and large varieties of tropical fruits and organic produce.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI):

Throughout the 1990s, Cambodia attracted increasing amounts of Foreign Direct Investment. Malaysia got in early and captured a great deal of “first mover” benefit, as well as concessions for their investments, such in mining and forestry. Cambodia has come a long way since Malaysia first took notice of the country in terms of internal improvements and development, yet there remains a great deal of room for additional growth. The good track record of improvement combined with so much remaining upside is a situation that is extremely attractive for investors.

Realestate.com.kh’s 2015 Cambodia Real Estate Review

What is the state of the nation’s development now as 2016 rolls in, for real estate investors?

The economy is growing rapidly:

Cambodia’s economic growth over the last 10 years has been some of the fastest and most-consistent in the Southeast Asian region, recording an average GDP growth of 7.0% per year since 2010. In 2015, this rate dropped very slightly to 6.9%. Cambodia has a total population of 15.4 million, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city and economic hub with a population of around 2.5 million, in 2015 was second only to Laos in Southeast Asia for the fastest rate of urban spatial extension, as indicated by the World Bank.

One of Cambodia’s key secrets to success in its economic growth has been creating an attractive environment for foreign investment, and this remains a key driver. In 2015, Cambodia received over $4B in foreign direct investment (FDI) and has a permanent expat population of over 78,000. Realestate.com.kh suggest that Cambodia is becoming a magnet for FDI due to the abundance of low-cost labor, rapid urbanization, an increasing middle-class consumer market, low barriers to entry for foreign businesses, relative proficiency in English language, attractive tax incentives and import/export duty exemptions, continually improving logistics networks, and an economy backed by the US dollar. Furthermore, with the solidification of ASEAN, Cambodia is well located, surrounded by strong regional economies that are increasingly outsourcing low and mid-level skilled manufacturing operations to the Kingdom.

These new industrial opportunities are lessening the economy’s reliance on the garment industry, and offering low-wage workers more opportunities for career and skills growth. Cambodians are also entering the global community en-masse through technology – namely through dramatic increases in internet penetration throughout the population. In 2015, Cambodia had over 5 million internet users, a third of the population. Since 2010, foreigners have also been allowed to own apartments and condominium units in Cambodia – but not land, and, accordingly, not the first floor of buildings. While foreign ownership of land in still unconstitutional, land can be easily held by foreigners on long leases that are renewable, and through majority locally-owned companies incorporated in Cambodia. These structures are arguably safer than comparative legal schemes in other Southeast Asian states in which foreign land ownership is formally prohibited.

Phnom Penh Overview:

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Mekong, the Bassac and the Tonle Sap. The Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to about 2.5 million permanent residents. Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s economic center as it accounts for the largest portion of the Cambodian economy. High economic growth rates in recent years have triggered a real estate boom in Phnom Penh and construction is taking place across the city, with a plethora of new hotels, restaurants, bars, and high rise residential and commercial buildings springing up around the city. Industrial zones at the edge of the city have also expanded continuously in recent years, along with huge growth in the “borey” sector throughout the suburbs of Phnom Penh, “borey” essentially meaning gated community residential developments with self-serving infrastructure. These types of properties are extremely popular with local buyers and offer various housing types. Most of these properties are being bought off-plan.

The Phnom Penh Master Plan 2035, supposedly nearing completion by the government this year, seeks to dictate the urban planning for the expansion of the city and construct new infrastructure to accommodate the growing population. Until now, the city has had no zoning regulations of note nor identifiable urban development planning. According to Realestate.com.kh research, flats located in central Phnom Penh cost around $3000 USD p/m2, as averaged across the prime residential areas. Rents can range from $9 – $14 p/m2 per month, depending on location and quality. Villas are generally more expensive than flats, at around $3,500 to $4,500 p/m2. Rental prices for villas typically range from as low as around $6p/m2 to $27p/m2. Low-to-middle range apartment developments, targeting the local market, average $200 to $500 a month rental per unit in the central areas of Phnom Penh City. The high-end, serviced and luxury condo market is priced considerably higher than this – but these prices vary greatly across developments depending on scale, location and quality. Beoung Keng Kang, Chamkarmon, represents the highest priced district in Phnom Penh with price for land reaching 6000p/m2 in some parts. Previously, home villas were a popular option for families wishing to live in Chamkarmon generally, however, many of these villas have now either been demolished and the land sold for development, or converted into boutique hotels or restaurants. High-end condo developments and hotels are changing the area dramatically at present. However, growing congestion and a lack of parking in and around the city center is increasingly causing problems for inner-city Phnom Penh residents. Other upcoming Phnom Penh residential property areas include the west and south of the city generally.

The peninsular of Chroy Changvar is also seeing huge development from foreign and local developers, and here height restrictions on new buildings are largely unlimited. These locations are very close to central Phnom Penh yet land prices remain considerably lower. Presently, prime and mid-level office space across Phnom Penh is rising dramatically, with a variety of new high-rise projects beginning to be released into the market, or slated for completion in the coming years. These new office complexes are often coming at the cost of knocking down villas, flats and other older real estate. Grade B and C are proving most popular, as Grade A office space is beyond the budget of most local firms. Phnom Penh commercial property options are only set to boom in the upcoming future, especially with the rise of ASEAN and the AEC. Another trend is in regards to the advent of high quality shopping centers and malls. Cambodia’s first international shopping mall opened its doors in June 2014: Aeon Mall. Aeon has since seen high demand for store space from both international and local retailers. A new breed of international franchisers who have for many years ignored the Cambodian market and refused to enter it, see the attractiveness of occupying slots in complexes such as Aeon Mall as it reflects international standards of retail space and retail space management.

The new mall has convinced some of these franchisers that opportunities exist and that there are viable spaces for them to locate their brand. Parkson Mall on Russian Boulevard is the next of its kind to open in Phnom Penh, and is currently under construction. Aeon 2 is also in the pipeline. TK Avenue is another well known, well-established and modern shopping plaza and cinema complex, located in Toul Kork. The condominium market in Phnom Penh continues to expand, with early investors in centrally located developments enjoying appreciation of up to 30% from off-plan purchases. High-end condominium development looks set to continue in prime residential locations, with developers also looking to offer luxury projects outside of traditional residential districts. While the condo market was originally dominated by foreign investors, Khmer buyers are beginning to demand condos, predominantly for investment purposes and rental returns. This has led to a trend of local developers offering lower-range condo development projects to the market, and these types of developments range of $30-60,000 per unit off-plan and are being bought primarily by local buyers. Domestic demand is a key element of a successful condominium project for any developer in Cambodia, due to foreign ownership of an individual building (strata law) being restricted by law to 70%. Another trend we will see more of in 2016 are mixed-development complexes, including condo, office space and retail.

Realestate.com.kh suggests that the reason for this is that developers are aware of a potential oversupply in the pure-condo market in 2018-19 and are thus hedging their bets with mixed development offerings. Increasing investment from Singaporean, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Chinese residents continues to grow in Cambodia, and the comparatively high yield guaranteed by many developers is still attracting overseas purchasers who see positive chances for appreciation in Cambodian developments compared to their slowing home markets. Thus far developers in Cambodia have focused on the high-end market, and to some extend the upper middle class, as these two markets represent the lowest hanging fruit. Still, suggests Realestate.com.kh, a massive demand exists for quality, affordable housing development in Cambodia suited to the needs of the lower-middle class and lowest income earners, especially in expanding urban centers. Without any proposed government intervention in the market for this demand, this appears to offer a great opportunity to developers able to cater to this large demographic. Check out some other great resources on Realestate.com.kh in our Location Profiles and Investor Guides: Learn more about Phnom Penh

Sihanoukville Rising:

As property prices in Phnom Penh continue to push upwards, many investors are quickly being priced out of these first-tier markets, as are many developers seeking land for their next project. Sihanoukville in particular stands out as an exciting investment destination worth serious consideration. Home to the Kingdom’s only deep-water port, Sihanoukville is the capital of the province of the same name and is home to a fast-growing population of approximately 300,000. Many of Sihanoukville’s residents are there for the port or its associated export-focused manufacturing. The city is Cambodia’s second-largest manufacturing base after Phnom Penh, with most of its output consisting of garments and shoes.

The government plans to transform this area into an entire Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and is currently dredging the port to support larger freight vessels. Large reserves of oil off the coast of Sihanoukville have also been prospected, and plans are being made for its extraction in the coming years. In 2015, the average percentage of growth year-on-year was around 15-25 percent for land located in the city center of Sihanoukville, according to Realestate.com.kh research. But along the seaside road and main commercial roads, prices have rose dramatically in recent years – in some places between 40-50 percent compared to prices 2013-14. Sihanoukville offers opportunities for cheap land to be developed into resorts, offices, guest houses, hotels or apartments. As investment capital continues to flow into the region, in particular from the Chinese, the region is also seeing the beginning of a high-end condominium market, with various grand scale projects already underway. Check out some other great resources on Realestate.com.kh in our Location Profiles and Investor Guides: Learn more about Sihanoukville.

What is the state of the condo market?

It is no accident when foreign investors enter Cambodia and spend millions on high-rise condo projects. Why do foreign investors invest in Cambodian condos? The answer relates to political stability, strong economic growth, and the free use of the US dollar. The Cambodian economy has increased so fast since the civil war’s end, and relative stability has been achieved in only two decades. Cambodia maintained a 7.8 percentage GDP increase every year since, which makes it the sixth fastest growing economy in the world. CEO of Eastland HK Development, Sam Yang, who has been building Cambodian condos and high office buildings in Phnom Penh, said that his latest project, East Commercial Center (ECC), will finish at the end of 2017. This building is 38 floors on Norodom Boulevard – with small, adjustable office spaces for sale and rent, with reason prices and a good location. He went on to say, “I think that 2018 will be ok.

There isn’t any market which is unaffected by politics. You have to remember that Myanmar and Thailand will also have elections, and it will be the same type of situation we predict in Cambodia”. He added that there three main points in this market which make it very attractive. Firstly, we are sure that the next major international economic boom will occur in an Asean country. Secondly, Cambodia is the third country in Asean to have achieved relative political stability. Thirdly, investors can rely of the US dollar in Cambodia, and this is very attractive.” Yang also sees Chinese investment continuing to increase in the next few years, citing plans for a regional Chinese railway in the coming years. He added that thus far the Cambodian real estate market has only attracted relatively small investment pools, in comparison to international standards of major investments.

Generally, new real estate investments in Cambodia are valued at around 5 to 10 million dollars only. The larger real estate investment funds of 200 to 600 million dollars have not yet come to Cambodia – but they will soon. “The Cambodian condos market will continue to improve and Chinese investors plan to construct more roads and railway lines in 2018 to link the Asian markets together.” Mr. Sam Yang asserted, “Even though the investment in Cambodia is growing fast, we should still think about the correct supply while this country is developing. This is why ECC is focusing on affordable office space.” The director of JS Land Limited, Koy Lesan, said that even though there are many condo projects being built recently, some of condos don’t respond to needs of customers and are too expensive. Prices per unit of around 80 to 100 thousand hundred dollars do not reflect Cambodian incomes. He went on to say that the needs for more housing for locals and foreigners are increasing, but most condo projects are still overpriced. This understanding has inspired JS Land’s new project. The Cambodian condos project is 19 storeys high and has 212 units. Each unit is priced at just $38,000.

The important thing is that it will be easy for the customers to cooperate with Maybank, who has offered financing for the project. They can install payments on long terms from 20 to 25 years, allowing buyers to manage their investment alongside a low average income across the population. KH NIRON Investment’s executive director, Ms. Lok Sovanna, invests in many condominium projects in order to resell the units. She said “there is some risk but we observe that Cambodian people and foreigners demanding more and more condos and apartments and understanding the benefits of investment. She went on that KH NIRON INVESTMENT has spent a hundred million dollars investing in big projects. For example; units in Bodaiju Residences, DI Riviera, The Peak, The Bridge, and East One. General Director of Century 21, Kevin Goos, said that the Kingdom is the most attractive market among Asean countries.

The biggest real estate markets of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are decreasing in investment by around thirty percent. Hence, we can expect increased investment in Cambodia in the next 2 years. He went on to say that the real estate market in Phnom Penh has affordable prices, if we compare to other countries in Asean. Cambodia is still growing fast across economic sectors, as it has been since 2001. If we compare the real estate market in Cambodia, it is the same as other countries such as Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong during decades of the 1980s and 90s. He went on to say that Cambodia granted a good opportunity for business expansion and the stand of the government on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is very attractive if we compare to other Asean member state policies. He added that the creation of the new construction law and development in the country generally, will open the door for investors to invest more heavily in real estate, and aids foreigners buying condos with greater transparency and consistency.

The director of Khmer Real Estate, Mr. Kim Heang, said that the real estate development in Cambodia is showing great potential as the Cambodian economic sector is rising by around 8 percent per year for the last 20 years. Cambodia in becoming an increasingly attractive place for investors because Cambodia today has better infrastructure, low labor prices, and 70 percent of people are under 35 years old. These factors are the most encouraging for investors, believes Heang. He went on to say that the growth of the construction sector is demanding more responsibility and respect, as it is becoming a crucial industry for the nation’s growth and people’s’ wealth. “Now Cambodian valuers and agents are also rising in their abilities and professionalism in order to prepare for the Asean economic community integration” he said. “Cambodia is one the leaders in economic growth within Asean, and we will step forward into the future as a strong market”.

General Director of Century 21 Mekong, Chrek Soknim, said that he is optimism about the growth of real estate in Cambodia. “This should continue to grow sustainably until 2018 because the sector faces no impediments.” He claimed that there are three factors currently supporting the growth of the real estate market sector. First of all, good political stability is important to attract more investors. Secondly, the Asean integration at the end of this year will mean more commerce and cultural exchanges between Asean states, naturally supporting demand for accommodation, investment properties and office space. Thirdly, the increase in quality and variety of available real estate will allow investors more choice when they buy real estate in Cambodia. And Forth, the royal government of Cambodia will soon be able to grant loans to its citizenry on long repayment terms of 20 years and higher, meaning more people will have credit to buy their own homes.

When the majority of people are able to buy a house, then the construction and real estate sector can only grow. “Even though new development projects face some obstacles in the coming years, if they choose the right location, and build to the right quality standards, these problems will be limited,” he added. He mentions that the economic growth rates of 7 to 7.5 percent are ideal for business growth, and will also support the real estate market development industry. Sear Chaylin, general director of CL Realty Estate, said that the property being sold has decreased a little bit in a last few months, but this is normal when the rainy season is coming.

During this period, buyer transactions are usually slower. It will increase when Cambodia is ready to integrate with ASEAN at the end of this year. Many Japanese companies are now flowing into the Cambodian market, bringing new challenges and opportunities to the market. “I think that the real estate market and property sector will continue to develop because the needs of the people are rising, strong economic growth is occurring alongside relative political stability, and security in the market is better than ever,” Mr. Sear Chaylin said. “Even though we are seeing increases in construction, it will be suitably matched to the current economic growth and the needs of the people”. Senior National Economic Counselor, H.E Mey Kalyan said that “for instance, when we buy fish, vegetables, and rice today, then we can eat. But, if we buy a house and property, we cannot eat the benefits immediately. We have to keep it for a long time and it represents a big risk. If you don’t have enough money, you can borrow that money from the bank in order to invest, and hope that it will gain profit in the future. However, if the house is not sold or rented, people will not have money to pay back to the bank and, if this happens to too many people, the bank will collapse.

When banks collapse the financial system and national economy is in great jeopardy.” “Be careful if you are building for rent or sale, then you cannot rent or sell upon completion – this is a big problem. So, control your risks and always try to limit your chances of failure.” H.E Mey said. “The royal government of Cambodia can see this risk. Be careful, because any sector growing so fast has risks like this.” H.E Kalyan went on to say that the government should manage the flow of money in the right way in order to control this growth risk. But when you prevent the flow of money, the growth of the economy can suffer. Therefore, the management of money flow must play a balancing role into the future. H.E Mey Vann, General Director of Financial Industry of Ministry of Financial and Economy, said flows of money into the real estate market sector have come with few risks thus far, but the ministry is being proactive in working with investors in order to manage the data of development, demands, and specific support for preventing risk in this sector. “Data management and money flow management in this sector is very important for us if we want real estate development sustainability” H.E Mey Vann said.

The Cambodian Construction Sector

The construction sector has become the most dynamic engine of growth, partly due to the return of political stability and a revival in consumption, according to a recent report by the World Bank. Economic growth here is still led by construction, garment exports and tourism, the World Bank said in its report “World Bank East Asia and Pacific Economic Update – Staying the Course.” Construction investment increased nearly 3 billion US Dollar in the first 11 months 2015 if compared with the same period last year, according to the data from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction. According to Im Chhunlim, senior minister of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, said construction investment capital reached about 2.9 billion US Dollars in the first 11 months in 2015 if compared with the same period last year, increased 27 per cent.

A group of local real estate expert said the construction sector helps invigorate the economy as well as GDP growth. Kim Heang, CEO of Khmer Real Estate and president of Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association (CVEA), said the construction sector took the biggest part in Cambodia’s GDP because most wealthy people gain benefit from the land and construction. He warned, “We don’t have to concentrate only on the construction sector because the prices can increase or decline depending on the situation as there are many sectors we have to focus on such as tourism, agriculture, as well as garment.” “People’s income does not meet the current residential, and number of tenants saw an increase, so the government must take action to make middle income people to be able to afford housing,” he said. In order to become a developed country with strong GDP, we have to depend on human resource.

It is a long-term investment and the education system has to be improved,” Mr. Heang said. Chrek Soknim, CEO of Century21 Mekong, stressed the vital role of the construction sector in the Cambodian economy. “The economy talks about money. Currently as we can see, construction sector in Cambodia injected a lot of money into the economy. That’s the reason the construction sector took a big part in the GDP growth,” Mr. Soknim said. However, he said, “even though the Cambodia property sector is younger if compared with other countries, the Kingdom gains advantages from the sector.” “With people’s stable income bank sector in Cambodia also plays a vital role in boosting the property sector, and cash flow can help the economy,” he added. “To make the construction sector consistency, the government has to take care of investors by issuing laws to projects both investors and buyers,” Mr. Soknim said. In Sitha, vice-president of World Trust Estate, said currently there have been many construction sites popping up in Phnom Penh, and this creates many jobs for people as well as experts in the sector: “It means workers and experts in the construction sector earn more income from the construction, and many constructions boost the GDP growth and according to the current data from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, the construction saw an increase, and this means it took a part in the GDP as well,” Mr. Sitha said. “Bank sector plays an important role in providing loan for people to have enough ability to afford home as many middle-income people use the loan to buy their own home,” he added.

Return On Investment of condo investment in Cambodia is around 7.5 per year if compared to the same Asian markets, Cambodia’s investment provide more benefit as Thailand and Japan at 6.3 and 5.5 per cent respectively, China and Hong Kong are offering rent yields of only 2.7 and 3.3 per cent respectively, and Philippine at 7.1 per cent annually, according to a recent study of Century 21 Mekong. According to a report of real estate agency Century21 condominium development increased by 20 per cent annually from 2008 to 2014 with 13 projects successfully completed, which translates to 3,090 available units as of today. With another 17 projects currently underway, the report predicted that by 2018, when many of the current projects are slated for completion, the number will have more than tripled to over 10,000 available units across Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s per capita GDP is forecast to reach $1,220 this year, up from $1,123 last year, according to official data. This places the country near lower-middle income status.

Its new forecast comes just a few weeks after the Asian Development Bank revised its March forecast for economic growth this year from 7.3 per cent to 7 percent. The construction sector has become the most dynamic engine of growth, partly due to the return of political stability and a revival in consumption; however, the tourism sector is underperforming, despite the initial recovery in tourist arrivals to Thailand. Tourist arrivals during the first six months grew by only 4.6 percent (reaching 2.3 million visitors), compared to 6.9 percent during the same period last year, the report from the World Bank said.

2016 Cambodian Real Estate Market Predictions

Realestate.com.kh spoke to the leaders of the Cambodian real estate market to find out what type of trends we are likely to witness in the property market in 2016.

Sunny Soo, managing director of Keystone, Savills Cambodian associate:

“For the last 6 months, the speed of apartment transactions have softened significantly in Cambodia, especially those projects heavily targeting foreign buyers – and one would only assume this trend to continue into 2016, especially when the volatility of regional economies continue to be a challenge and the Cambodian economy as a whole moves slower than the real estate market boom, the market will eventually face adjustment.

The coming election in 2018 may also prompt some developers to start considering holding onto their development plan for now, unless 2016 proves to be a good year for transaction. Nevertheless, it seems that landed developments as well as projects targeting locals will continue to see higher demand as the middle income group continues to grow bigger. All in all, there are still good opportunities for real estate developments in middle-end offices and hotels. The Cambodian market will continue to remain significant for investment consideration among the countries in this region in 2016.”

Simon Griffiths, associate director at CBRE Cambodia:

“For 2016, confidence in the Phnom Penh real estate market, with particular reference to the condominium market, will be low within Cambodia with commenters stating oversupply and too-rapid growth causing oversaturation, ultimate leading to exposure to risk.

Interestingly, this sentiment will not be reflected outside of Cambodia, in particular relating to Taiwan and China where inbound investment is expected to grow from consumers and developers alike. However, Singaporean investment is likely to cool. Developers who have not launched schemes pre-2016 are likely to continue to progress with development plans but unlikely to consider exclusively condo developments. Mixed-use schemes, as well as freehold strata title office and retail space, are likely to become more popular as the potential returns in these sectors are realized both locally and internationally.”

June Zeng, investment adviser at Da Yu Real Estate:

“In my opinion, 2016 will be a rather different year for property developers and real estate agents alike. The major fact everyone has to face is that gone are the days when anyone who had a piece of land in town could make a fortune simply by building something on it. The age of professionals has come, which consequently means Adios to the amateurs. In the city of Phnom Penh, market performance will strictly favor the few projects that score high in two aspects: excellent product and professional marketing. Anything short of either, I’m afraid, is very likely to bring about disappointment. The immediate question Phnom Penh is soon to face within this year is not whether or not there are too many condo units in the market, but why there aren’t enough small-sized and affordable units for the young middle class and expats. So, 2016 is the year for many to re-examine demand, which isn’t a bad thing at all as that’s how a market learns to mature. Despite Phnom Penh’s new challenge, the nearly uncharted waters of other provinces are still fresh. 2016 is also the year we might hear major success stories from other fast-growing cities – Sihanoukville, to name the most potential one.”

VA Vireak, chairman of Century 21 Fortune Investment:

“Cambodia’s property market in 2016 is very challenging and it’s very hard to predict about its future for this year and beyond. On one side, there are some challenges with increased supply (houses, condos, apartments, offices, …), and the possibility of global economy impacts (mainly from China and the region), the interest rate and bank loan policy (which may be changed), the exchange rate from US Dollars to other currencies (the strong US Dollar), etc. On the other side, Cambodia’s economy can maintain the growth of around 6.9% till 2018, the population growth rate in the urban areas as well, and the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) integration. Economic growth means more income to the country and to the people as well, therefore the GDP per capita will be increase, so people can have more money to buy the property – of course if there is not too much inflation. Population growth in the city triggers the demand for the housing, as most developments are based in cities only. The AEC integration will bring more skilled workers and specialist, so this new labor pool can help to boost the demand, especially for the condo, apartment and office space. All these factors can help to balance on the real estate market.”

Van Chanthorn (John), managing director of TownCity Real Estate:

“The property market in Cambodia will be better than in the previous years for the following reasons. The ASEAN Integration will bring more expatriates to Cambodia. When expatriates come, whether tourists, investors, employees, students, workers or interns, the first thing that they need is accommodation, a place for business, an office, or hotel for a temporary stay. So when they come, it is not only a direct benefit to Cambodia but indirect as well.

Cambodians can earn more money and will have the purchasing power to buy other products. When this happens, finally the locals will have enough money to invest in property. Cambodian Returnees who have stayed abroad for a long time have now graduated in their adopted countries and look to Cambodia with new, innovative ways of doing business. When the new businesses enter the market, the properties and offices are their first requirement. These returnees and expats will also seek a higher standard of living, meaning condo demand should pick up also. Bank policy is also changing, and this will boost the lower income real estate market. For the previous 5 years, the banking sector has increased year by year, and still more banks will come. As more competitors come, the policies of the banks are becoming more and more accommodating to Cambodian investors and young couples seeking their first home loan.

More appropriate loan policies will drive up demand for low to middle range flats and villas across the market. Government Policy to encourage international and local Investors will also develop in 2016. When the government implements new policies to encourage the private sector, more businesses will come – and when businesses come, people have jobs, better salaries and a higher standard of living. Thus, there will be greater demand for property investment and homes for stay as well. In particular, the real estate sector is monitoring the government’s plans to expand the city, and develop infrastructure in suburban areas.”

Sharon Liew, ceo of Huttons CPL:

“2016 will be a very challenging year for the property market in Cambodia. With owners and investors spoilt for choices for condominium and the country’s upcoming elections, buyers are getting more cautious on their purchase. Personally, I feel this is a better start as cautiousness leads to more informed buyers, and this also helps to prevent the exploitation of over-promising developers. The market has upgraded more to commercial properties as is the current trend, and this is another challenge for local buyers needing to absorb the commercial investment value which is rather new in this market. Overall, through experience, I always believe that “Prime property will hold its value” and “the Early & well-informed bird always catches the worm”.

Chee Yap, project director at Grand Phnom Penh International City:

“Currently, there are so many unknown factors within the country, and both regional and global issues. First of all, I suggest the “actual” absorption and digestion of exponential land price growth in 2015 will be something very interesting to watch in 2016. Meanwhile, various factors will exert pressures on the local real estate market, in uncertain ways: such as minimum wages rising to USD 160 per month; local undercurrent political issues; Cambodians adjusting to improving regulations ( i.e. Traffic Law, Tax Law, Forestry Law etc.); the dropping of oil prices below USD 30 per barrel; the appreciation of the USD currency against other major currencies in 2016; and the regional influence of a booming Jakarta and increasing demand in other major regional centers. With these things on the horizon, be prudent and conservative for 2016. Last but not least, Grand Phnom Penh’s Fantastic Water World Waterpark will be completed in mid-February this year and will be the talk of the town during Khmer New Year.”

Ross Wheble, country manager of Knight Frank Cambodia:

“With signs of softening in certain sectors, some developers are diversifying. Whilst the supply of retail and office space will approximately double by 2018, the supply of condominiums will increase by more than six-fold. This has led to a recent slowdown in sales rates of condominiums and developers are looking at alternative asset types to appeal to investors. TC Royal Asset Manor was one of the pioneers in this area with the launch of stratified office units in their TK Royal One development. This has been followed by a raft of new stratified office developments as developers seek to diversify away from the condominium sector and we expect this trend to continue into 2016. Equally, with more funds being allocated to infrastructure improvements, we are seeing increasing investment in the industrial sector as multinational companies assess the benefits of setting up operation in Cambodia, particularly along the border with Thailand. We also expect to see growing demand for agricultural land as foreign companies seek to take advantage of a more mechanized approach to farming, providing higher crop yields and better returns than the more traditional methods currently used in Cambodia.”

Alex Evengroen, general manager of Khmer Real Estate:

“My forecast for the property market in 2016 is that there will be a large shift from buying properties to investing in land. Cambodia became part of ASEAN and this means that the country will be flooded with highly skilled and hungry Real Estate professionals and investors with a lot of inside knowledge. The M2 price keeps going up and so it is inevitable that at one point people start to look at other and more creative options….This is in my opinion land. There will also be a change in demographics regarding the land market. More will look for (low priced) land in the other provinces like Kep, Kampot, Sihanoukville and others closer to the borders. One of the issues I expect is the oversupply of mostly condominiums which will at a certain point lower the prices and will have an effect on the investments people make to buy these properties. If this is not well monitored and guided many people could get into financial difficulties. One very important positive change that I see will be the unification of the official Real Estate companies under the scepter of the CVEA.

This will result in a better understanding and sharing of upcoming and expected changes and needs within the Real Estate industry, and will also eventually eliminate the people who do Real Estate on the side without the proper papers or required knowledge. We do have to understand that we have to work hard and smart to keep going in the right direction, the direction that will benefit the people of Cambodia and safeguard their investments in the industry. This also means that it is important to keep communicating frequently and act on decisions made to reach the required upgrades.”

David Kim, ceo at Informax Property:

“The core sector of new developments will shift from pure residential toward mixed commercial and residential developments in 2016, a trend we are already beginning to see. Due to new residential shifts during 2014 and 2015 to the suburbs of Phnom Penh, these areas now need commercial facilities such as shopping centers, hospitals, offices and schools. Expect to see a rush from mainland China. While Singaporean and Taiwanese developers were the main developers for 2015, now mainland Chinese developers with large capital are starting to launch projects in Cambodia.

When they start promoting these projects in China, more and more Chinese investors will consider investments in Cambodia. Industrial development along the borders of Cambodia will enjoy the benefits of the AEC. Cambodia has a good business environment for regional expansions such as low tax, low labor cost, freehold property, and prime logistical connectivity to other member countries of the AEC. When the AEC goes through, the biggest handicap of Cambodia – namely its small domestic market – will not be handicap anymore. These 3 issues will be main things to watch in Cambodia’s real estate market in 2016.”

Kim Heang, president of the CVEA:

“I name the Year 2016 as “the Year of Condo Construction” as you can see the construction of Condos across the City, especially in Khan Chamkarmon, Daun Penh, 7 Makara and Khan Toul Kork. There will be around 18 000 to 20 000 Units of Condo by 2018, this amount is too much for the local market but it is still a small amount for the ASEAN Market. Developers need to find out their own market or create their own market for their product. Also, the Cambodian Government needs to attract more investors to help the Condo industry.

The land price has increased too much in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – so the price in 2016 will not increase too much. It should be just 5 to 10% for land in down town, and still around 20% for land outside the city. Boreys for the Middle Class and High End clientele have reached their limits, so it is better for the developers to focus on the lower income and new family markets, especially for the flat house at around 30 to 45K – instead of flat houses at 80 to 100K for the middle class, or 200 to 300K for the high end client. Warehouses need to be moved from downtown as the price keeps increasing for their land. The savvy warehouse owner needs to sell their land for big money and shift their business elsewhere! Serviced Apartments in prime locations such as BKK1 and nearby areas are doing good business. However, lower standard apartments will disappear and be replaced by higher end apartments. There will be investors coming to buy factories in Cambodia as we have great advantages for industry. In particular, no tax to the EU, USA and other Asian countries, and low labor costs. However, there are too many demonstrations in the industrial industries recently – thus, the Government needs to take the action and find a solution to the issues of workers.”

Desmond Yap, general manager of Yong Yap Properties:

“Cambodia will continue to be an investment hotspot – especially with its continual integration into ASEAN and the government enforcing laws to ensure a cleaner business environment.”

Economic Outlook

GDP growth is increasing consistently with a continuing improvement in consumption and investment. A robust 7 percent year-on-year consistent economic growth rate has made Cambodia an attractive country for potential investors. According to the World Bank, lower world oil prices and buoyant business confidence have driven continued strong consumption, assisted by rapid consumption credit growth (averaging around 30 percent growth for the past 5 years); which has led to an expansion in wholesale and retail businesses.

Robust gross fixed capital formation growth, at 9.1 percent year-on-year in 2014, has been driven largely by durable equipment and construction. Inflation eased further to 0.8 percent in the second half of 2015 following a sharp decline in 2014 with a rate of 1.2 percent – this was despite strong domestic demand which reflected moderated food and oil prices. Within this context, the construction and real estate sector has become the most vigorous engine of economic growth within the Cambodian economy.

Regional anticipation of Cambodia’s integration into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has bolstered business confidence and continues to fuel a booming construction and real estate industry. The fast expansion of the banking and finance sector combined with continued broad money growth contributed to ongoing economic growth in the Cambodian economy. Swift and broad money growth continued its rate of 20.6 percent year-on-year by mid-2015, which has been primarily driven by foreign currency deposits. Private sector deposits also remained healthy at a growth rate of 21.1 percent year-on-year, supporting high private sector credit growth. Cambodia’s reliance on dollarization continues to impact economic performance.

The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has been working hard on developing stronger supervision and monitoring policies for the banking and finance sector in order to maintain financial stability and help maintain the growth of the economy. With growing US dollar appreciation, market competitiveness is experiencing some erosion leading to growth restraint in the garment and tourism sectors which have traditionally been the main economic drivers of the nation.

The appreciation of the US dollar, the rise of low wage regional competitors like Myanmar, and uncertainty surrounding ongoing wage negotiations, especially within the garment sector, are stifling external competitiveness. Thus garment exports have eased slightly to a year-on-year growth rate of 7.8 percent in value terms in the first half of 2015, compared with 9.2 percent the year before. The tourism sector has seen a decline with arrivals during the first half of 2015; decelerating to 4.6 percent year-on-year (reaching 2.3 million visitors), compared with 6.9 percent in 2014. Foreign direct investment (FDI) continues to remain healthy and is largely responsible for financing the kingdom’s current account deficit. Flowing FDI has contributed to increases in gross international reserves, which reached USD 5.2 billion by mid-2015. Investment from major economies such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and others, continues to inject foreign capital. Preempting future downside risks, the Royal Government of Cambodia launched late last year their new Industrial Development Policy (IDP) (2015-2025).

This framework aims to strengthen competitiveness through adaptability, encourage economic diversification, productivity and inclusive growth. The IDP seeks to tackle the countries over reliance on traditional sectors and low skilled/low value jobs by diversifying industrial activities. Cambodia remains a very open free market economy with liberal trade and investment policies thus making it full of opportunities for investors. Realestate.com.kh suggests that Cambodia is attractive destination for FDI due to the availability of low-priced labor, fast urbanization, an growing middle-class, easy, free and open policies for foreign businesses, English language as the main business language, appealing tax incentives and import/export duty exemptions, continually improving infrastructure and logistical networks, and the predominance of the US dollar.