Friday 22 March 2019

Manhattan luxury comes to one of Asia's hottest property markets

An artist’s impression of Ho Chi Minh City’s Grand Manhattan luxury development of apartments, hotel and restaurants
An artist’s impression of Ho Chi Minh City’s Grand Manhattan luxury development of apartments, hotel and restaurants

Yoojung Lee and Mai Ngoc Chau

The Grand Manhattan embraces the latest in New York living.

The 39-storey development will house apartments, a hotel, restaurants and some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

But instead of Central Park views, it's located in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1, better known as Saigon's Wall Street.

It's the latest brainchild of Bui Thanh Nhon, a former seller of veterinary medicine who's built his Novaland Group into one of Vietnam's largest property companies.

The chairman's majority ownership means he's amassed a fortune of around $800m (€706m), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Such opulence would have been inconceivable in 1995 when Nhon shifted Novaland into real estate. The communist country has since become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Expansion has averaged more than 6pc per year over the past 20 years, after Vietnam opened up to foreign investment and began taking the shackles off its private-sector companies.

More recently, factories have been relocating from Southern China, helping GDP to top 7pc last year.

That's spurring overseas investors to target real estate, alongside a rapidly-growing cohort of well-heeled domestic buyers, eager to put hard currency into property.

In a world where home prices are looking precarious from London to Hong Kong, Sydney and New York, it makes Vietnam an attractive location.

Vietnam is "where southern China was 10 or 15 years ago," said Goodwin Gaw, chairman of Hong Kong-based private-equity firm Gaw Capital Partners, which oversees $17bn in real estate assets globally. It's no longer a sure thing considering home prices have been rising steadily over the past 18 months, but "long term it's still very good if you're able to hunker down".

Prices for luxury apartments in Ho Chi Minh City climbed 17pc in 2018 to an average of $5,518 per square metre, according to CBRE Group. The firm forecasts they'll climb nearly 10pc by early 2020 to $6,000 per square metre. (More affordable apartments in the city only increased 1pc last year.)

Nhon's project contains two and three-bedroom units that start from $6,000 per square metre. (He declined to be interviewed for this story.) While that's almost double the price for a typical high-end apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, it's a fraction of the cost in Singapore, Tokyo or Hong Kong.

While demand from overseas investors remains strong, the latest wave of buyers are Vietnam's newly prosperous. The number of people with net assets of $30m or more increased by 320pc from 2006 and 2016, the fastest pace globally ahead of India and China, according to a 2017 report by Knight Frank. Many Vietnamese have built their wealth through property, according to Chris Freund, founder of private-equity firm Mekong Capital.

Home ownership rates exceed 90pc, one of the highest in the world. Rising values mean there are middle-class families with dwellings valued in excess of $1m.

Neil MacGregor, a managing director at Savills Vietnam, the sales agent for The Grand Manhattan, said developers used to focus on the middle class but are now turning their attention to the more affluent. "We have more and more very rich Vietnamese, particularly entrepreneurs, looking for places to put their money," he said.

Novaland isn't without competition. CapitaLand, Singapore's largest developer, has similarly luxurious projects in Ho Chi Minh City and the country's capital Hanoi.

Land supply in central locations, however, is tight, one reason the wealthy are keen to buy now, said MacGregor.


Sunday Independent

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