Are developers really making too much?

By THE STAR

LATELY, there have been many ongoing discussions on the topic of high property prices. It made me ponder on the various causes that might have contributed to the situation, including the question of whether developers are making too much.

As I took a sip of tea, many thoughts came to mind which I found interesting and worth sharing before we dwell further into the real factors of rising property prices.

Based on annual reports (see chart) of three major property developers in Malaysia, namely SP Setia, UEM Land Holdings and Mah Sing Group, they are generating an average of 18% profit margin from their projects, and at the same time incurring a staff cost of about 7% of their total revenue.

These companies are major developers in mass residential properties which have high sales turnover, and therefore a good reflection of the average developers’ profit margin in the residential market.

These findings may contrast with people’s perception of the profitability of the property development industry.

Though it may sound like a fantasy, assuming I could convince these three property developers to give back their entire profit to their customers, it would mean an average of 18% discount on property prices for the year in question.

This would seem like a fantastic bonanza for the buyers of the properties in question. But would a 18% discount really make these properties affordable? I would imagine that people will still find these properties expensive.

Let’s take an example of a terrace house that costs RM700,000 in Petaling Jaya. It would be priced at RM574,000 after the 18% discount.

If a home buyer is able to secure a 90% loan with a maximum repayment period of 30 years, the monthly loan instalment for RM700,000 and RM574,000 would be RM3,081 and RM2,526 respectively (based on a BLR-2.4% loan package with current BLR at 6.6% per annum).

From the above example, while the discount may seem substantial at absolute price, it is not significant in terms of monthly loan instalment for home buyers.

The debt commitment level for the latter is still considered high and out of reach for most people especially those who have just started their career.

Now, let’s take a hypothetical scenario that the property developers decide to make their staff work for free that year.

It would mean another 7% discount to customers after deducting staff cost. Even with this total discount of 25%, property prices in many areas would still be considered unaffordable to many.

Anyhow, back to reality, it is impossible for any commercial enterprise to work for free or give up its profit if it was to run a sustainable business, as well as to satisfy its shareholders’ expectations.

For the property development industry which has a product life cycle of four to six years (starting from land acquisition to handover of keys to customers), it is a challenge to further compress the profit margin after taking into account the risk and inflationary factors involved in such a long product life cycle.

Let us look at other industries as a comparison and review their profit margins.

For the banking industry, the three largest local banks that were selected are Maybank, CIMB and Public Bank. Likewise, the three major players from the mobile telecommunication services were Axiata, Maxis and Digi.

The results showed that the average profit margin for the banking industry is 35%, while the mobile telecommunication industry is enjoying an average profit margin of 26%. So, back to my question “are developers in Malaysia really making too much?”

Compared with the average profit margin of the banking and telecommunication industries, the profit margins of property development companies are significantly lower and definitely not on par in terms of the actual profit before tax figures.

Putting aside the profit margin for property development which is already relatively low compared with the other two industries, what are the other factors that are causing high property prices?

Many other underlying factors could be looked into in relation to the escalating property prices, instead of merely contemplating the issue as a market trend or as a result of developers’ profits.

The Government, property developers, home buyers, as well as NGOs (non-government organisations) will need to work together to identify the root causes of inadequate supply of affordable homes in Malaysia.

Let’s ponder this issue over the next few weeks and I welcome any suggestions and feedback to shed some light on it as I dwell further into this crucial topic in my next article.

– Malaysia Real Estate News

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