When I first ventured into Iskandar Malaysia as a property journalist back in 2008, I was behaving like a typical Singaporean.
“Is it safe? Will I get robbed? Will the Malaysian government follow through on its promise?”
Those were some questions at the back of my mind and questions posed to Iskandar Investment Berhad’s (IIB) former CEO, Arlida Ariff.
She answered my questions with surprising patience and candour, as if she understood the inherent fears and psyche of the typical Singaporean.
I walked away from the interview feeling half convinced and undecided about Iskandar Malaysia.
Perception issues of Johor Bahru could make or break your investments
Stories of Singaporeans being robbed or making bad investments in the closest Malaysian state to Singapore are nothing new.
In fact, I do know of friends and relatives who were robbed or whose properties failed to appreciate in value in Johor Bahru.
There were also other horror stories of developers who did not follow through on housing projects, leaving investors with no homes but saddled with debts.
Therefore, I do not blame Singaporeans for thinking the way I do.
The perception issue still remains and I foresee it will take a generation to dissipate.
In fact in my property talks and when bringing in investors to Iskandar, I always encounter such perception issues among Singaporeans.
Then again, I always tell them, this inherent fear will deter investors from entering the property market at its infancy stage and reap rewards as Iskandar Malaysia develops.
It is definitely not a market for the faint hearted who are used to the transparency of Singapore.
Property prices show appreciation
Property prices within Nusajaya have now doubled with condominium launches now around the RM1,200 per sq ft mark.
Compare that to the very first condo project, Ujana, which was launched at around RM250 per sq ft.
Last month, marks the completion of Ujana which now hovers around the RM450 per sq ft pricing.
Back when Ujana was first launched, UEM Land was testing the market as condominium developments are still a rare concept for Johoreans.
After all, why live in an apartment when most Johoreans are used to living in a landed home that offer plenty of outdoor space?
With more condominium launches ahead like PineTree Residences, Teega and Encorp, property developers are getting more upbeat while locals are seeing living in a condo as a lifestyle choice of the upwardly mobile.
A lot more follow through from authorities
Fast forward four years later, Iskandar Malaysia is making good progress with the first stage of getting its infrastructure together already in place.
Now, Iskandar Malaysia is entering into its second phase with catalytic industries such as tourism (LEGOLAND MALAYSIA and Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park) and education (NuMed, University of Southampton, Stadium and Sports Complex and International Student’s Village) now ready.
In fact, this month, Iskandar Malaysia has surpassed the RM100 billion mark in terms of investments with notable Singapore companies such as CapitaLand and Raffles Education making their mark there.
Warming bilateral ties, burying the hatchet
If you were to talk to the local authority, Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), there seemed to be a lot more follow through on the various projects with economic clusters to support the property market.
IRDA has also been very proactive when it comes to dealing with the media and interested investors when arranging site visits.
On the political front, the warming bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia have made it possible for Iskandar Malaysia to blossom.
Remember back in the 1980s when there was much talk about our MRT going into Johor Bahru but did not materialise under the difficult Lee Kuan Yew-Mahathir era?
Well, 2018 will mark a major milestone when our MRT connection from Tuas go into Nusajaya and back to Woodlands North MRT HQ.
Who would have thought this would happen back then?
Whether or not you believe in the potential of Iskandar Malaysia, the region is rising as an economic powerhouse that we can no longer ignore its significance.
Just take a drive across the causeway.