Vietnam's property sector recovering swiftly

Four years after real estate bubble burst, reforms have led to return of investors

Apartment buildings coming up in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. Two of the world's tallest skyscrapers are being built in Ho Chi Minh City. Across the country, buyers are snapping up new projects fast.
Apartment buildings coming up in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. Two of the world's tallest skyscrapers are being built in Ho Chi Minh City. Across the country, buyers are snapping up new projects fast.PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI • Brought to its knees when its property market bubble burst four years ago, Vietnam is riding into another boom, with construction starting in Ho Chi Minh City on two of the world's tallest skyscrapers and buyers snapping up new projects fast.

The speed of the market's turnaround has been startling. Successful property deals have doubled from a year ago, and developers have halved their unsold inventory from US$6 billion (S$8 billion) at the peak of the crisis at the start of 2013.

"I can sell about three to five units per month now, much better than before, when I could only sell the same in the whole year," said Ms Dung, a freelance property broker in Hanoi, who asked to be referred to by her first name.

The communist government is hoping that lessons learnt from the last burst bubble will help prevent the latest property cycle crashing like the last one.

Buyers and developers defaulted on loans, leaving banks crippled by toxic debt and unable to provide credit to tens of thousands of failing businesses.

Clearing up the mess, the state's asset management firm has bought US$8 billion of non-performing loans - a lot of which stemmed from real estate. The government is restructuring the banking sector. In 2013, it gave the real estate sector a US$1.4 billion stimulus and has placed stronger financial requirements on property developers.

On July 1, Hanoi relaxed rules on investment by foreign firms and buyers as well as "Viet Kieu", the overseas Vietnamese whose families fled when the communist North conquered the US-backed South in 1975.

The moves to open up the property market are the latest in a slew of reforms that experts say shows party progressives are in the driving seat heading into a leadership change in January.

Easing restrictions on buyers from overseas has had pronounced results. Vingroup recently held two sales opening events for projects exclusively targeting foreigners and "Viet Kieu" in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The firm said it received deposits for 112 apartments within two hours.

According to The Eastern, a condominium jointly developed by a Vietnamese and a South Korean company, 70 per cent of units sold from May to July were to foreigners and firms buying accommodation for foreign staff working at Saigon Hi-Tech Park, home to firms like Intel and Samsung.

Underlying demand should also come from one of Asia's fastest rates of middle class expansion, with the economy growing 6.28 per cent in the first half - the fastest pace since 2008.

But it is the overseas money that excites realtors most.

"There are 4.2 million Vietnamese overseas and about 30,000 foreign executives working here long term," said Mr Le Hoang Chau, president of Vietnam's Real Estate Association .

Units launched in Ho Chi Minh City in the first half of this year were 174 per cent up on the same period in 2014 and 91 per cent up in Hanoi, according to global commercial real estate firm CBRE.

An average high-end apartment fetches US$1,800 per sq m in the southern commercial hub and US$1,600 in the capital, close to pre-crisis prices and up from US$1,600 and US$1,450 respectively in 2014, according to CBRE.

Having helped restore investors' confidence, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has demanded better oversight to make sure the market does not lead the economy off another cliff.

Real estate firms must show minimum capital of just under US$1 million and deposit with the state, as surety for buyers, 1-3 per cent of the value of new projects.

Vietnam's market was valued at US$21 billion in 2014 by Nomura Research Institute, compared with Thailand's US$89 billion and Singapore's US$241 billion.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2015, with the headline 'Vietnam's property sector recovering swiftly'. Subscribe