Putting the Cart Before the Horse - Malaysian Real Estate Style

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When I first arrived in Kuala Lumpur, my employer gave me a list of real estate rental agents to contact - these are people used to helping foreigners, and who apparently "know what we want.” I thought that was odd at the time, but just dismissed it as expat hubris.

After three years in the same place, we’ve begun looking for a new place to call home. We need a bigger place, and one that better fits both of our commutes. Now, after seeing a few places with agents who aren’t used to renting to foreigners, I understand completely those remarks from three years ago.

We saw a number of nice flats in a one-year-old building not far from the university hospital where my partner is starting to work, and close enough to the train line to allow me to commute. The price was cheap, the building in nice shape - but… we ran into the difference between places that foreigners rent and places that locals rent.

Foreigners expect the place to be in move-in condition when we see it. This building is one year old and yet most of the flats aren’t finished. Why? Because the landlords won’t finish them until a tenant has signed a lease. Only then will the landlord complete the construction.

So what does ‘unfurnished’ mean in this case? No lights, no fans, no air conditioner, no kitchen cabinets, no hot water heater.

These are called "unfurnished" apartments. So what does ‘unfurnnished’ mean in this case? No lights, no fans, no air conditioner, no kitchen cabinets, no hot water heater. Just lots of wires hanging down from the ceiling and walls.

So you have no idea what any of these things will be like, quality-wise or aesthically, until after you sign the lease and move in.

That was the first eye opener.

The second was internet. The national telecom provider, TM, provides all the cabling and switches (the 'backbone'), then the ISPs compete for your dollars. But TM won’t set up an internet access point for this building until there are at least 500 tenants asking for it (not just 500 tenants). New buildings in Malaysia have a difficult time getting internet access, because it won't be installed until after the demand exists for it.

I’d never heard of this, and it seems like a really excellent way to ensure that a building never gets tenants - sorry you can’t have internet until enough people agree to move in without it. Then you can all have it…

One of my friends just moved out of a building after 9 months without internet. The building never hit its occupancy quota and so internet was never connected.

At work today, discussing this inanity, I learned that one of my friends has just moved out of a building after 9 months without internet. The building never hit its occupancy quota and so TM never connected it to the internet.

We’re not taking one of these shiny new apartments, as nice as the view is, as cheap as the rent is (half of my current rent for twice the space, and a 20 year younger apartment). Nope, sorry, not without it being finished before we sign, not if it means no internet for God knows how long.

Malaysia is going through a housing boom and an occupancy crisis simultaneously. Too many new places are remaining empty, even as they tear down old neighbourhoods to put up new skyscrapers. Friends recently told of visiting a place where they were shown one rental price, and when they scoffed at it, were immediately offered a 50% discount. They still chose not to take it, instead moving into an older house in an established neighbourhood - that is to say, into a property that would have high speed internet.