1. The Edge : - A revisit
(By Jennifer Gomez )
Most Malaysians would have heard of the “Malaysia My Second Home’ programme. But this may not be due so much to good publicity as to the fact that many of the parties involved in the programme have given their two cents’ worth on it. Most of these comments have been suggestions and feedback to improve if it is to achieve the goals the government has set for it.
Among the main supporters of the are property developers. Although buying a home is not a requirement under the programme, developers are always hopeful that those coming in under the programme would consider property a worthwhile investment due to the lower property prices here than in the developed countries. Property consultants, or more bluntly, real estate agents also stand to gain when participants choose to buy or rent a secondary unit.
The contributions of participants towards the retail, tourism and service sectors are seen as important by both the government and the private sector. In a nutshell, it should come as no surprise that everyone wants to work. Certainly, the programme has evolved over time — rules and regulations have changed, and so has the name (it was known as the Silver Hair Programme from 1996 to 2002) and it has been moved from Home Affairs to the Tourism Ministry (see sidebar on new guidelines on Page 4).
These changes are significant and the number of participants is climbing; from 2002 to 2005, a total of 6,695 participants were approved under the programme. The question is, in the decade since its initiation, have the changes to the Silver Hair Programme brought about a positive outcome or are we merely satisfied that the numbers have risen?
The consensus, especially among those in the property industry, is that is hasn’t been an outstanding success. One reason is that the rules keep changing, and not all aspects of the programme have been carefully thought out and implemented. For instance, the government has imposed a ruling that the fixed deposit amount of RM300,000 must remain in the account for a year. However, Jaslyn Sim, managing director of Richmond Consultants Sdn Bhd, feels that participants should be allowed to take it out after a month because the whole idea is for them to spend the money to stimulate the economy.
New rules, new ministry According to Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim, the is due for a relaunch of sorts sometime this month by Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor. This is to unveil the revised guidelines and new approach under the ministry. Lim says with the new guidelines, which include approval for visas increased to 10 years from five years previously, Malaysia would be an attractive second home for foreigners. “It is much simpler to come and live in Malaysia than in Thailand, Australia, UK and Germany, for instance. We are offering a 10-year multiple entry visa, while in those countries, it’s only for between one and four years,” he offers. Lim adds that the newly established “one-stop agency” will try to approve applications under Agent within one to three months initially. Lim also says from this month, the fixed deposit amount will be determined in ringgit in a move to simplify matters.
The emphasis now is on targeting foreigners from East Asia, namely Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China as well as Europe and the Middle East. “We are looking at 2,000 to 3,000 approved participants a year although there is no specific target set,” Lim says. Currently, Chinese nationals followed by Bangladeshis are the chart toppers in terms of participation. “We are hoping the participants, by virtue of their upper-class standing, would come here and invest and help spur the economy with their spending power,” Lim says. A study is being conducted to determine the type of properties foreigners prefer, he adds. “We want to find out how much they spend here, which will help determine the market segment better.”
Needs and preference Richmond Consultants' Ms. Sim became a sponsor under the programme by accident about two years ago, when her Pakistani banker client, who was scouting for a property investment in Malaysia, decided to make Malaysia his second home. “As part of our service, we helped him with the application and the whole process. There were many things we didn’t know, and so we ended up running around to find out. That’s when I decided to sign up as an official sponsor for the programme with the Immigration Department,” she says.
According to Sim, her initial application to be a sponsor was rejected, as the authorities were more partial to signing on developers as sponsors. “I reapplied and explained to them that while developers would only be concentrating on marketing their own projects, we, as an estate agency, could offer participants a wider spectrum of properties from the market, both old and new. I also went the extra mile to support my application letter with recommendation letters. I was accepted as a sponsor two months after reapplying,” she recalls. Now, sponsors like Richmond Consultants Sdn Bhd come under the purview of the Tourism Ministry and are categorised as “authorised agents”.
Sim managed to sign on five Singaporeans for during a recent weekend promotion in Singapore organised by Fiabci Asia- Pacific. “These people are either near retirement age or retired and being Singaporeans, they are more inclined to buying property here than renting. One must remember that there are people who come here under who are not keen to invest in property. They prefer to rent while some even end up in a hotel or serviced apartment for the few months they are here, which is probably to get away from winter in their country,” she says.
On the housing needs of the various nationalities, Sim says: “The Europeans prefer landed homes; there’s a new trend among Americans to live away from the city centre. Generally, foreigners prefer newer homes, with minimum need for renovation. Where they decide to stay depends on the budget… some want total convenience and luxury, others think that since this is a second home, they don’t want to spend too much on it. In the Klang Valley, suburban locations preferred by foreigners include Bukit Antarabangsa, Sri Ukay, Kota Kemuning and gated communities. The Japanese seem to have an increasing liking for Penang.” She adds that the minimum sum foreigners usually set aside for a home purchase here is RM500,000.
If these foreigners are allowed to withdraw from their fixed deposits after a month, this could further spur the property development industry. “The main reason we want them here is for their spending power, so there is no real need to lock up the money for a year,” Sim says. A pro-tem committee set up among 13 real estate consultants has submitted a proposal to the ministry on this suggestion. Sim describes as a “wonderful” programme, mainly because of its 10-year multiple-entry visa. But what could give participants a sense of “coming home” each time they return to Malaysia is to allow them to queue in the Malaysian passport line at the immigration counters. “It is simple to execute this. All that is required is to put a stroke next to ‘Malaysian passport’ in the sign to indicate participants. It will also serve as a publicity tool as other foreigners coming here would be curious to find out about ,” Sim suggests. She says she will focus on getting participants from Europe and Singapore, and try to get a better footing among Chinese nationals.
Much serious thought needs to be given to before it can be declared a success. Without a doubt, the various parties City & Country spoke to want the programme to succeed and offer many good suggestions. The onus is now on the Tourism Ministry to work on the suggestions and without imposing unnecessary limitations, turn into a boost for the economy.
The new recruit Irishman John Rogers just got his papers approved under the Malaysia My Second Home programme and is very excited about starting life here as a retiree next year. The 55-year-old logistics executive was in town for a week recently to collect his approval papers. When City & Country asked him what he liked about this country, he replied: “What is there not to like… it’s such a beautiful country with genuinely friendly people.
Still, he has asked his agent Jaslyn Sim of Richmond Consultants Sdn Bhd to find him a house in KL or Penang, although he was first attracted to the idea of living in Ipoh. “I came down for a friend’s daughter’s wedding in November last year and visited Ipoh. It’s a nice place, but not many people there seem to be English speaking and I only saw one other kwai loh!” he recalls. The ideal abode for Rogers, who is single, is a 3-bedroom house with a garden out front with a little space for a swimming pool. But he couldn’t say how much he would be allocating for the purchase. “It depends on how much I am able to sell my house back home for… the good thing is, property prices have increased 20% over the last few months over there,” he offers. — By Jennifer Gomez