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Investing

The overheating Philippines condo market

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Dateline: Century City, Makati, Philippines

Walking out of my apartment building here in Manila this morning, I noticed a store I didn’t even see yesterday.

Or the day before. Or the day before.

Could it be, I thought, that I’ve missed this westernized storefront for the entire time I’ve been here in Manila?

Truth be told, I wouldn’t have even noticed the difference if it weren’t for the 200 people standing in line out front of this store that must have just opened over the weekend.

It turns out Filipinos are pretty excited for another Krispy Kreme donut shop.

Such is the benefit of doing business overseas. Even if you have a washed-up brand at home, you can reinvent yourself and do very well in a new country. Krispy Kreme is just one example; I reported to you back at New Year’s that the Krispy Kreme store in near Taipei’s hottest mall had a posted two-hour wait just to buy donuts.

Now, not everyone can achieve that level of desirability merely by opening a store. It takes hard work.

And, of course, in the passive investment market for real estate, too many people thinking they can hit a home run the same way Krispy Kreme has with donuts is what causes a bubble.

Six months, I suggested there wasn’t a huge bubble in Manila or in the Philippines condo market. I suggested that, long term, prices would be stable and allow investors to enjoy some cash flow, if not a small amount of appreciation.

Now, I never claimed Philippines real estate was a home run. The place is too developed for that, unless you’re a really savvy investor… something made hard by the fact that foreigners don’t have access to the best deals.

While I stand by my claim that, in the mid-term, the Philippines peso will see some appreciation, I am less bullish on the Philippines condo market overall.

That’s not to say I don’t like the Philippines. I’m always excited to get to Manila and enjoy the warm weather, friendly people, and abundance of shopping and dining opportunities in the upscale areas of Manila or Cebu.

However, while I was somewhat reserved about the presence of a bubble here one year ago, it’s hard to see how such a bubble isn’t forming today.

Quite simply, everyone in the Philippines is going ga-ga over real estate, both to buy and to rent.

For instance, I recently looked at several apartments for rent in Manila’s expat-friendly Makati City. In Vietnam, a few people have made a small business (emphasis on “small”) out of “apartment arbitrage”: renting apartments through local Vietnamese tenants, then sub-leasing the properties to western expats at the inflated prices such expats typically pay.

I was curious to see if there was an opportunity to replicate this strategy in the Philippines for someone who wanted a “side hustle” to support a lifestyle in the Philippines. I was also investigating whether there was an opportunity to engage in short-term sub-leasing on tourist websites like Airbnb.

(Note: I’m not a fan of using Airbnb as a traveler, but do find it intriguing as a place to lease an apartment, especially since prices there tend to be somewhat aggressive.)

The answer to both of those questions was “no”. Quite simply, everyone in the Philippines is in the “real estate always goes up, never down” mindset and property owners are buying the arrogant sales pitches been flung at them, only to fling at back at prospective tenants when they go to lease out their overpriced apartments.

First, let’s set the stage. Most of the building is going on in Manila. Foreigners tend areas like Makati and Fort Bonifacio, but there are plenty of lower-priced developments in areas like Quezon City and even further outlying areas like Cavite.

In Cebu, the country’s second largest city, there is a more concentrated building boom where condos attract the same prices they do in the best parts of Manila, if not slightly more. The same is true for Davao, which is the most rural of the Philippines’ major cities.

The difference between the more provincial cities of Cebu and especially Davao when compared to Manila is that renting an actual home is much easier in those places. For $800-1,000 a month, a foreigner can rent a large western-style home in parts of each city. In Manila, this is less desirable, driving many foreigners to condos.

The rest of this article, with a thorough break down of the various areas, problems, and opportunities for real estate investors, is available in the online library of The Nomad Society. Join today and enjoy instant access to all of our articles, reports, videos, and interviews, plus tickets to Members only meet-ups with investors and entrepreneurs around the world.

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