House Hunting in ... Malaysia

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A SIX-BEDROOM BUNGALOW IN KUALA LUMPUR

$3.64 MILLION (11.2 MILLION RINGGIT)

This six-bedroom house was built about 20 years ago in the upscale Bukit Tunku section of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. The exterior, designed to resemble a European mansion, has a circular brick driveway with pillars supporting a carport at the front entrance. The interior is contemporary, with a formal entrance hall leading to an elevated formal living room. Both the living and dining rooms have pale marble floors. French doors in the living room open to a patio that overlooks a tropical garden. Off the dining room is a spiral staircase topped by a round skylight.

The kitchen, at the back of the house, has black cabinets, white marble countertops, a backsplash lined with dark gray glass mosaic tiles, and a stainless steel six-burner gas stove. It is roomy enough to accommodate a table and a breakfast bar. Just beyond is the family room, with a built-in home theater system. A door there opens onto a covered patio with a fountain. The ground floor also has a library, a bedroom currently used as a daytime nursery, and living quarters for two staff members.

The floors upstairs are all of nyatoh, a hardwood native to Southeast Asia. A wide corridor with a glass ceiling separates the children's wing -- four bedrooms with en-suite baths -- from the master suite, which has double-height ceilings, a kitchenette and a walk-in closet. A loft above the master bedroom has a study and a music room, as well as open views of the neighborhood. The master bath has dual sinks, and a stall with a high-end rainfall showerhead, separated from the bathtub by a wall lined with tiny blue-and-white tiles and recessed shelves.

Bukit Tunku, a hilly area, has retained its traditional character despite the replacement of many homes with new construction. The trees teem with monkeys and tropical birds. The city's commercial center is a 20-minute drive, and plentiful shopping is 10 minutes away in the neighborhood of Bangsar. Well-regarded international schools in the expatriate enclave of Mont Kiara are five minutes away. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport is about an hour away.

MARKET OVERVIEW

Malaysia's property market was hard hit in the late 1990s by a financial crisis that plunged many Asian countries into deep recession, but prices have climbed steadily since then, according to Nixon Paul, the managing director of Carey Real Estate in Kuala Lumpur and the president of the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents. The economic downturn that started four years ago was little more than a blip in the Malaysian property market.

"In 2008 we experienced a slight slowing down in activity, but prices never declined," Mr. Paul said, adding that prices have climbed 10 to 15 percent annually since 2005. In the luxury market, the growth has been even faster.

Meanwhile, lending restrictions have been tightened to prevent prices from escalating to an unsustainable level. Prices have recently stabilized though they have yet to decline, Mr. Paul said.

Kuala Lumpur is considered inexpensive compared with other cities in the region. "Property prices in Singapore, for example, are about five to six times higher," Mr. Paul said. "Prices in Bangkok and Jakarta are about two to three times higher."

Luxury homes within the city limits range in price from $1 million to $10 million, Mr. Paul said. In Bukit Tunku, prices can reach 30 million ringgit ($9.75 million, at 3 ringgit to the dollar), according to Shirley-Ann Joseph, a real estate agent for Zerin Properties in Kuala Lumpur.

WHO BUYS IN MALAYSIA

Malaysia's foreign buyers typically are from Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan and India, Ms. Joseph said. British buyers are also prevalent. Foreign investors and retirees tend to prefer Kuala Lumpur. "Only a very small percentage seek properties outside Kuala Lumpur," she said. Among Europeans, a few look for properties outside the city on one of Malaysia's islands, drawn by their more tranquil lifestyles. Others buy in the state of Johor on the country's border because of its proximity to Singapore.

BUYING BASICS

Buying a home in Malaysia is somewhat more complicated than it is in the United States. "I've bought and sold property in the United States," said Ms. Joseph, "and there are a few more steps in Malaysia. It does take a bit longer." A typical sale takes about three months to complete, though she says some transactions can take as long as four or five months.

Foreigners are allowed to buy only luxury properties, defined as a property costing more than 500,000 ringgit ($162,000). Ms. Joseph said this restriction was meant to protect middle-class Malaysians from being priced out of local property markets. Some foreign buyers choose the country because of a government program called Malaysia My Second Home, which Mr. Paul said grants residency to retirees from abroad. "We have a long queue of applicants waiting for their applications to be processed," he said.

Transaction costs include two stamp duties, one pegged to the price of the property, the other to the size of the mortgage. For the house profiled here, the first stamp duty will probably be 324,000 ringgit, Ms. Joseph said. Since Malaysian banks are conservative lenders, most buyers finance only half the purchase price for a luxury house. The stamp duty for such a mortgage would be about 270,000 ringgit. Legal fees also vary, but would be around 45,000 for a house like this one.

WEB SITES

Malaysia My Second Home Program: mm2h.gov.my/

Official Tourism site of Malaysia: tourism.gov.my

Bukit Tunku Residents' Association: bukittunku.org

LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY

Malay; ringgit (1 ringgit = $0.32)

TAXES AND FEES

Annual taxes for this home are 3,451 ringgit, the listing agent said.

CONTACT

Tisha Zarina Zainal, Zerin Properties, 011- 60-12-395-5577; zerinproperties.com

homes

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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