See Topic: Penang Condos 2011 forum discussion of this topic for background information.
In general property prices can only support what local jobs support. So is Penang adding lots of jobs that can support costly condos? I don’t know, but am skeptical.
Penang may be a bit of an exception (as a “retirement local”). For retirement locations if you have a future stream of retirees then you can support higher prices than local jobs (this is riskier to rely on as a investor). Retirement locals that are cheaper than where those worked are coming from can seem cheap so those working elsewhere are willing to “overpay.” This could be the situation for Penang.
MM2H buyers don’t seem that can actually affect the market. Speculators are likely a big player. The smart public policy action in this case is to raise down-payment requirements and increase transaction taxes. This won’t stop a bubble from forming but will reduce the size of the bubble and limit the damage when it pops.
I wonder if a significant portion of demand (in addition to direct speculation) is Malaysians working in KL, Singapore, USA… buying a condo today that they don’t plan on living in for years. This can be a form of speculation but is a much more solid foundation for sustaining prices. If you have a high working income, purchasing a condo in Penang could be relatively cheap. If you are buying one, to rent for 10 years and then move back into you are unlikely to be harmed greatly when prices drop. Now some people will do this and see their first condo doubled in value and then buy two more, over-leverage themselves and have a great ride up the bubble and then get clobbered when the bubble bursts.
For the Penang area to sustain a long term boom, Penang needs to develop a sustainable long term pool of buyers. the safest way to do this is with lots of high paying jobs. That can be supplemented with some retirees (Malaysians and MM2Hers). To do either of these the government and developers must pursue strategies that attract these populations. There are other minor factors – you can have people making a lot of money buy a condo for their family or parents… But the only reliable way to sustain increasing property values is adding jobs and creating a pleasant living experience.
In looking around Penang me sense is that rental prices are very good (for renters). The available condos for rent seem to be quite high also. My guess is this is a sign of the large percentage of speculators/investors compared to those buying condos to live in themselves. This is a dangerous sign – when the market has more capacity than people (normally due to building more housing than the job market supports). My familiarity with the market is extremely limited however, my perception could be way off.
On the plus side the prices on a regional and global basis are reasonable. Therefor, those accustom to international prices can buy and feel they have a bargain. And this situation can support rising prices (especially if those buyers plan on retiring there – if they need to have a job there then it doesn’t matter how cheap the prices are if the jobs don’t exist). Buying with the hope that Penang is moving toward a prosperous future is reasonable. That is a bet that the island will add jobs and improve infrastructure to support a livable community that attracts people from all over Malaysia, and beyond. There is a great example of how to do this in nearby Singapore. If Penang take cues from many of Singapore’s wish moves investors could certainly be rewarded in the long term.
One significant risk to investors is the carry cost of their investment if the overcapacity (if there actually is overcapacity) continues over a long period. That will suppress rental rates. As new condos are added it also can reduce the attractiveness of your condo to renters (or future buyers).
Related: Home Values and Rental Rates – 10 million More Renters In the Next 5 Years (in the USA) – Apartment-vacancy Rate is 7.8%, a 23-year High (in USA, Nov 2009) – Retiring Overseas is an Appealing Option for Some Retirees