Living across the causeway has its advantages and disadvantages. Take it from a fellow Singaporean who now calls Iskandar Malaysia home.
By Khalil Adis
Back in 2009 when Nusajaya was still very much an undeveloped green field, one Singaporean braved his way there by purchasing the very first condominium to be launched there – Ujana by UEM Sunrise.
Wayne Wong, a retiree, was among the few Singaporeans who saw the potential of Iskandar Malaysia and wanted a simpler life.
“I bought the property because the location was the nearest to my residence in Clementi where it is very easy to travel to and fro by car, bus and motorbike. I also needed a retirement home because Singapore has become really too crowded and expensive for a then-working-class person,” said Wayne Wong, a retiree.
At a time when many were still wary about the potential for Iskandar Malaysia, Wong’s bold move has paid dividends.
Being a pioneer, Wong was among the few who witnessed his property value appreciate.
Asking prices for units at Ujana are now around RM700 per sq ft thanks to improved infrastructure such as the Coastal Highway and the many federal launched projects spanning from EduCity to Legoland Theme Park.
“It was affordable back then. I paid for it in cash from savings that I had accumulated, from my car-use budget. I had decided not to use my car for daily work-commute and the funds saved over a few years allowed me to afford Ujana,” said Wong.
The push factors from Singapore to Iskandar Malaysia were many.
Among them – the high population density as well as the many rules and regulations, just to name a few.
“Firstly, despite the better living standards in Singapore, I feel that our intrinsic living quality has dropped. Secondly, Singapore has become over-regulated and over-enforced, over the smallest issues. One example is my motorcycle’s In-Vehicle Unit (IU) device. To live in Singapore, I need to remember about 200 different rules, procedures, thus adding to the mental stress,” said Wong. “In comparison, when live in Malaysia, and all I have to remember is to be observant to the surroundings, respectful and to be friendly to everyone”.
Indeed, the laid back lifestyle and the slower pace of life that Iskandar Malaysia offers can be seen as a sort of an “escape valve” for stressed out Singaporeans crammed within a tiny city-state of 5.4 million population on a 714 sq km island.
Money can’t buy happiness
Despite not having natural resources, Singapore has overcome the odds and is considered one of the richest nations in the world.
According to Forbes, in 2012, Singapore is the third richest country in the world behind Qatar and Luxembourg.
Using available data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Forbes cited Singapore as having a GDP (PPP) per capita of nearly US$56,700.
In contrast, however, in 2011, international pollster Gallup’s survey showed that Singaporeans were the unhappiest and most emotionless people in the world.
Gallup ran a survey based on some 150,000 individual surveyed worldwide conducted in 2011.
In 2014, a survey by Randstad, an international recruitment and human resource service provider, concluded that employees in Singapore are the unhappiest in the Asia Pacific.
Randstad 2013/2014 World of Work Report showed that 64 per cent of employees planned to leave their jobs in the next 12 months.
In fact, try saying “hello” or “good morning” to a stranger in Singapore and you will most likely get an odd stare in return.
On the other side of the straits, however, people seemed a little bit warmer.
“Malaysians generally are easier-going people, compared to overly-prejudiced Singaporeans,” said Wong, who has been to many road trips across the Malay peninsular and made friends with locals along the way.
Wide open spaces
With a land size of 2,217 sq km and a population of 1.6 million, Iskandar Malaysia is three times the size of Singapore and less densely populated, giving Wong ample space to breathe and surround himself with nature.
“One of the more immediate advantages when living in Nusajaya is the wide open spaces and much fresher air – intangible things you cannot get in Singapore. There’s also a heightened awareness that I have towards nature. From my apartment, I see Gunung Pulai on my left and the Straits of Johor on my right,” said Wong.
When Wong gets restless, he would take his Malaysian car for a road trip with his wife as they brace for the adventures that lie ahead, be it in Desaru or various small towns in, Kota Bahru, Kelantan.
“Here, I have the ability to simply visit the many rustic towns, beaches and waterfalls anytime,” said Wong who purchased his Perodua Viva for RM27,600.
The lower costs of living here mean Wong can keep his car for life and wifi is readily available here at many establishments.
Indeed, take a drive through any regular coffee shops in Johor and you can immediately log onto their network.
The cost? Well, buy a teh tarik and a roti canai or two, at least, to keep the shop owner happy.
“Almost every F&B establishment, including the Indian Muslim coffee shops have free wifi. In my opinion, this is a more practical internet ecosystem, compared to Singapore, whereby one has to follow more procedures and pay more costs,” said Wong.
While at first glance, Iskandar Malaysia offers a much needed breathing space, Wong admits, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
“There are some inherent cultural differences and things work at a much slower pace here,” said Wong.
Not a bed of roses
One example is the language barrier.
Wong does not speak Bahasa Malaysia.
However, he has picked up a smattering of the language over time.
“The living experience gets better once you can speak the language,” he said.
Another is the slow response time from management staff at the condominium.
“The developer was and still is extremely slow, to attend to my queries and feedback. I have to persistently push the developer to get things done,” said Wong who has to be tactful so as not too be seen as too aggressive.
According to him, the committee’s focus is to make money rather than ensuring a better living environment,
There’s also a sense of loneliness amid the slower pace of life.
“As the place that I am staying in is an expat enclave, many residents exhibit the pretentious behaviour of being well-to-do or “keeping up with the Joneses”, which is not really genuine. There’s also less social activities here compared to Singapore,” said Wong.
And while you can take the Singaporean out of Singapore, one bad habit still remains – kiasuism (being afraid to lose).
This is something Wong had encountered with fellow Singaporeans living in Ujana.
“Some Singaporean neighbours exhibit the “kiasu” mentality of wanting only to take something from me, but not helping me in any other way,” he laments.
Others disadvantages include the peak hour traffic jams at the Second Link and the banning of bicycles from crossing the causeway.
Undeterred by negative press
The Singapore government has recently issued warning to its citizens warning of an oversupply situation in Iskandar Malaysia.
This has been picked up by both press from across the pond and shared widely on social media.
Still, Wong who considers himself a traditional investor is undeterred.
“Yes, it is a short term concern because of the frequent noises that the media makes. Such “noises” affect the sentiment. Sadly, most people fail to think independently and simply follow the herd,” he said.
According to the latest investment figures from Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), despite the negative press, Singapore remains the top foreign investor in Iskandar Malaysia.
“We continue to see strong support from Singapore, China, the United States of America, Spain and Japan. However, it is the domestic investments which truly reflects the confidence our local society have in the region’s development,” said Dato’ Mohamed Khaled, chief minister of Johor and Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) co-chairman.
Majority of the investments are in the manufacturing sector which accounts for 31 per cent of RM50.82 billion of the total investment.
While oversupply is a valid concern, it will only affect those who are buying for investment or to flip their properties.
“I bought my property for my own use and not as a speculator. Being old-fashioned, I bought with cash, and am therefore not exposed to any lending interest rates risks,” he said. “The problem may be exacerbated by the many property speculators, who buy multiple properties, all based on banking loans. This creates a false sense of “market success”. However, what happens if the installments are not serviced? These loan defaults will damage the market in a disproportionate way,” he said.
Tips for Singaporeans
Wong’s advice for fellow Singaporeans is to be conservative in their investment which is to buy for your own use, buy with cash, or with minimum loan and to not be greedy.
“Johor welcomes legitimate investors who enter to contribute to the betterment of the place and hopefully uplifting society. The over-emphasis on “making money” using easy methods of leverage – is an immoral, opportunistic act that distorts the market,” he cautions.
In addition, the way the property market works in Malaysia is very different from Singapore.
While in Singapore, investors may be able to find a tenant after the project is completed, it is not the same in Iskandar Malaysia where the population is much less compared to Singapore.
“Malaysian properties are for own long-term use. The business model of rental income between Singapore, and Johor, really is very, very different,” said Wong.
He also advised Singaporeans to buy when sentiment is bad as there are many good deals in the market.
“The media reported many good news in 2012 to 2013, and as a result, many people bought properties priced at the peak. When we buy or invest into such items, we have to take a really long-term view,” he said.
From an oil palm plantation to an exciting new city
Indeed, when Singaporeans stayed away from Iskandar Malaysia in 2008, the following years saw property price appreciate for Horizon Hills from a launch price RM288, 000 to asking prices ranging from RM800, 000 to RM1.2 million for a landed terrace home.
Wong, who now considers Iskandar Malaysia home, is here for the long-term.
“Here, you get that “once in a lifetime experience” of witnessing the birth of a fast rising, new city which is more well master planned,” said Wong who had witnessed for himself the price appreciation due to the improved infrastructure in Nusajaya as well as the various economic drivers such as in tourism, education and logistics, just to name a few.
Now that Nusajaya is fairly developed, Wong is now looking to sell his unit at Ujana below the market price of RM700 per sq ft.
“I am selling it at this price in order to allow the prospective buyer a better chance to enjoy capital gains in the future,” said Wong who has a landed home nearby at Eco Botanic and do not need the additional space.
Indeed, come 2022, Nusajaya is set to be a buzzing satellite city, much like Jurong Lake District in Singapore with an exciting new CBD called Gerbang Nusajaya
Comprising 4,551 acres, this second phase of Nusajaya’s development will be designed with catalytic industries, similar to the various economic drivers in Nusajaya and Medini.
The highly anticipated High Speed Rail station is expected to be located here.
With a gross development value (GDV) of RM42 billion, property values for existing homes in Nusajaya and Medini are set to rise further as the area becomes highly accessible in the near future.
Gerbang Nusajaya’s master developer, UEM Sunrise, anticipates it to have an estimated 220,000 population, tying it nicely with its site for Nusajaya’s HSR terminus.
“In order for Iskandar Malaysia’s success to be realised faster, we need to forge a community of like-minded individuals who can genuinely collaborate in the same direction,” he said.
If you are interested to view his unit, email firstname.lastname@example.org