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The rental situation in Myanmar (it’s grim)

October 14, 2013

Purple walls, hobbit-hole attics, and grimy, exposed concrete flooring are just some of the reasons landlords in Yangon can have a hard time renting their properties to foreigners.

Backing away from overzealous application of traditional styles may be the key for landlords looking to capitalise on growing demand for apartments from the increasingly lucrative expat tenant market, according to realtors.

“[If] you keep everything very neutral and simple, it will be more appealing to everyone,” David Ney, real estate advisor with York Road Realty told The Myanmar Times.

Mr Ney, who has been working in real estate in Yangon for three-and-a-half years, said his international clients were not always impressed with Myanmar choices in fitting out a rental apartment.

Some decorating choices can dampen an apartment’s potential to be leased by foreign renters, Mr Ney said, citing an example of a certain type of tiling used in Yangon apartments that, when fitted together, bear an unmistakable similarity to the Nazi swastika.

“At first you don’t see it, but then you take photos of it and it shows, and you realise you’re wall-to-wall covered [with tile swastikas].”

An innocent mistake, but one that will ruin an apartment’s chances of being rented out.

“Even if it weren’t particularly offensive, it’s all just something that’s in your face and most clients I have are not interested in it,” Mr Ney said.

Gaudy lights that play music or can change colour, blindingly bright-coloured walls and filthy or cracked ceilings and flooring are other major deterrents for prospective foreign renters.

“On a broad scale, you’re really narrowing your market base down to where only five or 10 people like it,” Mr Ney added.

“A Myanmar landlord should be able to get the price they are asking, but rent it much faster.

“Places that are fixed up with basic or all amenities, cleaned before showing and painted have much less time sitting on the market than a place that requires the tenant [to do work themselves].”

Mr Ney said that installation of hot water systems and air-conditioners and maximising natural light in an apartment were all small and cheap steps that find favour with foreign renters.

Using high-quality materials and workers the first time around also saved money over the long term as work did not need to be redone or updated, Mr Ney added.

Nailing down an aesthetically pleasing interior can make all the difference, not only between renting and not renting an apartment, but also the asking price a landlord can reasonably expect for rent.

Asking for some basic installments, such as an air-conditioning, decent flooring and a refrigerator, can cause rent hikes as much as K300,000 a month, which is sometimes a mark-up of more than 50 percent of the original asking price, U Robin Saw Naing of Pronto Services real estate agency said.

“The problem is owners just don’t want to invest [in their property]. Some have never been outside Myanmar so they don’t know what requirements expats have for their apartments.”

One such cultural misalignment lies in the bathroom. In older buildings, they tend to be too small. They are also often equipped with squat-toilets, or have tanks filled with stale water – a draw for mosquitoes.

U Robin Saw Naing said that such differences often result in him turning down clients because their units will simply be too difficult to rent to an expatriate.

Another Yangon-based real estate agent, U Sai Khun Naung, whose company has the same name, said that while foreigners are aware it is a tough rental market, their overriding concern is price. Security, electricity and furniture are secondary concerns.

“A full service apartment is more than US$1500,” U Sai Khun Naung said, adding that mid-range accommodation was unlikely to be furnished or serviced by elevators and doormen.

Once the basic interior is mastered, the best option for mid-price range expat renters is to furnish an apartment themselves, U Robin Saw Naing said.

“An unfurnished apartment gives possible tenants greater bargaining power.”

Tenants may be able to save between K200,000 to K300,000 each month furnishing an apartment themselves and then selling furniture in the always-active second-hand market when the lease is up, he added.

Photo courtesy badapartmentphotos.tumblr.
This story first appeared in The Myanmar Times

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One Comment

  1. denesteak says:

    Wait… so you *didn’t* get the swastika apartment???? what a shame.

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