Wealthy Burmese Shun Rangoon’s Property Boom to Invest in London
By William Boot 19 July 2013
Burma’s richest citizens are taking their money out of the country and investing in upmarket property in London.
While foreign investors queue to get into Asia’s so-called “last economic frontier,” millions of dollars are flowing out and into bricks and mortar in the capital of the former colonial rulers, a survey has disclosed.
The volume of investment in London and elsewhere in Britain by Burmese in the 12 months or so is equal to that made by the wealthy of Hong Kong and Switzerland, said the survey published by PrimeResi, a journal covering the top-end of the UK residential property sector.
“Buyers from Burma accounted for just shy of 1% of all £2million-plus (US$3 million) properties bought in the UK in the 12 months to April 2013. That’s in the same range as buyers from Switzerland and Hong Kong,” said the journal, citing research carried out by London-based global real estate consultancy Knight Frank in its latest “Wealth Report.”
The potential for Burmese investing in London is so great that British property adviser LondonDom is this month opening an office in Rangoon.
LondonDom’s managing director George Shishkovsky told PrimeResi, “Our initial market research shows that there is a roughly 50-50 split in interest between new build and period properties with budgets between £500,000 and £2.5 million ($761,000 to $3.8 million).
“Some [Burmese] are interested in family houses outside of central London. Education in the UK is a big magnet to wealthy Burmese. Lots of them have strong links with Britain since colonial times.”
The international editor of Singapore-based property website Property Guru, Andrew Batt, said Asians in general view London as a safe haven for their money.
“I think with London and people from [Burma] there is also a cultural link, the historical link, and also a lot of Asians are buying in London for educational reasons. They want to send their children to school and university in the UK,” he told Myanmar Focus Daily, which publishes online videos about business news in Burma.
London-based global real estate consultancy Knight Frank, which compiled the “Wealth Report,” defines an HNWI, or a high-net-worth individual, as someone with assets of $30 million or more.
It claims in its latest report that Burma had 39 HNWIs in 2012, but forecasts that this will mushroom to over 300 people within 10 years.
“Expect HNWIs from frontier markets like Myanmar and Sri Lanka to become more prominent as they seek safe havens for their newfound wealth to mitigate the risk of renewed political tensions at home,” Sudhir Vadaketh of the Economist Intelligence Unit in Asia said in the report.
“Certainly our enquiry levels for advice have increased dramatically from new Burmese clients. In addition to the normal requirements [such as] what yield they can achieve, they place great importance on capital preservation,” said Benham and Reeves Residential Lettings in London, as quoted by PrimeResi journal.
“While we do not actually handle sales we are being asked for an unusually high level of information on where we think the market will go in these areas. Our enquiries have been for investment and none for owner occupied.”
Ironically, a large US property firm, Colliers International, is establishing an office in Rangoon to advise foreigners on investing in Burma’s property market.
“We see huge potential in the country with many of our clients seeking new opportunities in what is, arguably, the last major frontier market in the region,” Colliers chief executive Piers Brunner said in a statement this week. “It is important for us to have the operation in place to assist our clients, as they expand their business or real estate portfolio in [Burma].”
And Batt said major London property agent Savills has also announced plans to open an office in Burma.
“The fact that we are seeing these offices opening in Rangoon shows that there is potential for more growth” in London investments, he told Myanmar Focus Daily.
“We are going to see a lot more overseas developers and agents looking at Burma as a potential source of income.”
Land and property prices in Burma’s big cities, especially Rangoon, are rocketing.
The price of the best-located office properties in Rangoon have increased 150 percent in the past year, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, and at $106 per square foot, is nearly double rates in parts of New York’s Manhattan district, the newspaper said.
“Commercial real estate is booming in [Rangoon] as foreign companies respond to economic and political reforms by setting up shop in the Southeast Asian nation,” said Leopard Capital this month. “Top-end office spaces in the city are commanding rents higher than anywhere in Asia with the exception of Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, and numerous skyscrapers are in development to meet the rapidly increasing demand.”
But clearly for some wealthy Burmese, now free of the constraints of the economic sections recently lifted by Britain and other European countries, London is regarded as a better bet than Rangoon.
Correction: An earlier version of this article published on July 19 did not provide proper attribution for two interviews. Andrew Batt of Property Guru was speaking with Myanmar Focus Daily, which publishes videos about business news in Burma, while quotes from Sudhir Vadaketh of the Economist Unit in Asia came from Knight Frank’s ‘Wealth Report.’