Updated April 25, 2019

To Buy or Not to Buy – in Vietnam

The property market in Vietnam is appealing to foreign investors for many reasons, but buyers better do their homework.

Vietnam is a toasty-hot real estate market for expats interested in the development game. The reason “red-hot” isn’t mentioned is owed to a variety of factors. When looking to get into the property market and development in general in this country, foreigners especially need to bear in mind some concerns when choosing the purchase that’s right for them.

Oversaturation

At the moment, there are too many developments going on all at one time to count. In Southern Vietnam alone, the figure is astronomical. Many property firms, for example, Vingroup’s Landmark 81, tie in the possibility of condominiums and townhouses into one area.

Inevitably, buyers flock to areas that they predict are “up-and-comers.” Get the land, develop or build on it, sell it later. In Vietnam, this concept is trickier for foreign buyers. Regulations governing ownership require some expertise. Typically, only Vietnamese can buy land itself. The acquisition of a townhouse is straightforward enough, provided the buyer can complete the purchase during a set period.

But take a drive through Districts 2 or 7, and you’re greeted by condo towers as far as the eye can see, often with blended townhouses and villas for buyers seeking more solitude and space. Many locals double up by turning their house into an office or workspace as well, providing retail options in these new communities. Often this requires a lot of local “know-how” to launch the right type of venture, although there are always exceptions and enterprising expats can usually find a way.

Craftsmanship

Buying land versus acquiring an existing dwelling often steers heavily toward the quality of the building itself. Many developers in Vietnam take shortcuts with materials and attention to detail, and this often manifests itself for buyers further down the road. Nothing is more disconcerting than the walk from the elevator to the condo you bought six months ago and seeing all the wall and floor tiles along the way being replaced. Some buildings it’s common to hear a crash! And then you turn around, and a big tile has chosen that its time to let gravity take its course. Why not do it on your own dime and supervise the building crew if it negates the need to replace the same materials X number of months removed? Still, the Vietnamese market is attractive to foreign buyers for a number of reasons.

For those interested, South Korea topped foreign investment for property buys in Vietnam at registered capital over $50 billion USD, with Japan and Singapore not far behind.

Price

So why Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and not Bangkok or Manila? The real estate and housing costs are not what they were 10 years ago, but still quite reasonable relative to major cities in other countries. In Toronto, you’d be hard-pressed to find a condo for 1.5 billion VND (roughly $75,000 USD) anywhere close to the city, whereas some are still available in District 7. Of course, being able to circumnavigate Vietnamese property laws can be tricky for many foreigners. Those with Vietnamese family members, a spouse, for instance, are able to make more complicated purchases in their names; beyond that, land buys are very involved in the current legal landscape.

Vietnamese Dong VND

Law and Order

The State holds the ability to get the short-term cash, but retain the legal hold on the land, and this can scare off potential investors who want ownership without drama or loopholes. From experience, banks are also poorly equipped to explain the process when they’re approached for any lending transactions, whether it’s through poor understanding of the process or an inability to explain it clearly.

The key is to ride the real estate rocket before prices balloon beyond affordable levels. Chinese interest has proven to be city-changing in markets like Vancouver, with locals largely unable to buy properties outright and forced to the outskirts or out of the city altogether. Chinese money is often at the heart of any buying frenzy (or bubble), so it’s important to do your due diligence in areas favored by those investors. After trying to buy in Hong Kong or other Asian markets like Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are relative bargains.

When it’s all said and done, buyers will see a “get out what you put in” result when it comes to returns on playing the property market. A measured, well-researched approach in an up-and-coming area with good infrastructure and you’re on your way. A plot of swampland in a hinterland backwater and… Well, you get the idea.

By Harry Hodge

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