My wife always say to me that if you fly more than an hour you ought to be in another country already; but 2 and a half hours later from Kuala Lumpur, I still land in Malaysia.
For many living in Peninsular Malaysia, it is easy to forget our brothers and sisters living on the other side of the South China Sea that also fly the "jalur gemilangâ€ affectionately since 1963 as until fairly recently, we still needed a passport to enter these eastern states in Borneo. Even today, we still need to clear immigration, although with just our national identity cards as we enter and exit these states. I will always recall a moment where in my rush to catch a plane home from Kota Kinabalu I find myself ending up in the domestic terminal only to find out that all flights to the Peninsular fly from the international terminal.
Yet, as Malaysians, we learned a lot of the fascinations of Sabah, from the tallest mountain to the legend of Kinabalu, to the white sandy beaches to the exotic diving destinations off the long coast line, to the big ape Orangutans to the long-nosed Proboscis Monkey â€“ it is all nicely summed up in the words of Agnes Newton Keith calling it the "Land Below The Windâ€.
However, for all the attractions that Sabah offer â€“ or specifically for Kota Kinabalu, being the heart of it all â€“ has it captured the imagination of property investors from the West side of the sea? Here are some observations:
1. Property Investment Hotspot
It certainly sits on the top end on the list of property investment hotspots in Malaysia. Kota Kinabalu offers abundance in tourism and cultural resources from the mountain to the sea which has certainly increased its attractiveness for investors to look at tourism related real estate.
2. Expanding International Arrival
Kota Kinabalu practices the open-sky policy that welcomes international arrival. Its close proximity to Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Korea and Japan through the many and frequent direct flights only make it a more appealing exotic getaway for these urbanites. That also explains the relatively small gap in entry price to its property investment market as compared to Kuala Lumpur, Penang or even Iskandar Malaysia.
Pay a visit to the ever-busy Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) and it is easy to believe the persistent rumour of a new and bigger airport. The shutting down of Terminal 2 has only added on the burden of KKIA.
KKIA is also the regional transportation hub that connects Borneo to the world. The increased frequency to many parts of the Peninsular also opened up the doors in direct connection.
3. Presence of West Malaysian Developers
Driving around Kota Kinabalu, it is easy to observe the strong presence of many prominent property developers from the Peninsular that have many projects completed and on-going. This shows the confidence of the national property developers in addition to the aggressive local developers to further cement Kota Kinabalu as a first-tier city in Malaysia.
Naturally, these West Malaysian developers also bring along supportive property investors to cross the South China Sea with them to Kota Kinabalu.
4. Liberal State Policy on Property Ownership
Land and property is within the power of the State Governments under the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. For example, land and property in Kelantan are open for the purchase and ownership by "Anak Kelantanâ€ only. It is even more so for Sabah being a party to the Treaties of Malaysia in 1963 to have even greater say in its land matters.
However just like its liberal open-sky policy, for West Malaysian to own property in Sabah it has traditionally not been an issue of great concern with some administrative compliance.
Most of the law and regulations are similar to that of West Malaysia â€“ although not 100% the same and generally less sophisticated.
5. Ready Financing
All major national banks now have its presence here with most of the local Sabah financial institutions being acquired and merged with the major banks in recent past. This has made life easier for property investors whose portfolio derive mainly from West Malaysia. The banking relationship and the credibility based on the collaterals from the West can make the funding of property investments more readily available in Kota Kinabalu.
6. Access to Information
The success of regional property portals like PropertyHunter.com.my with a niche focus on Sabah has also made it easier for property investors from the Peninsular. They can now have access to accurate and updated market information online and in real time. With information, the remote investor can have the pulse of the Kota Kinabalu property market at his/her fingertips to make timely and considered investment decisions.
Adding all the above together, it is fair to say that Kota Kinabalu is the first property investment destination for West Malaysians in Borneo.