Lands of opportunities

Homes The credit crunch has hit housing markets across the globe, but some places remain good investments.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by James D. Morgan / Rex Features ( 801096l )

Hong Kong, China.

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Take a peek at the property markets outside of the UAE, and it's not a pretty picture. House prices in the US are experiencing a swift decline, the UK is faring little better and prices in much of Europe are either stagnating or suffering painful drops. The property market in Latvia appears to be in free fall - dipping by 40 per cent in the past 12 months alone - and in Spain it has been reported that buyers are so desperate they are selling for 70 per cent below the asking price.

Not everywhere is doing badly, however, and there still are pockets of the world - such as the UAE, Singapore and Hong Kong - where the housing market is still doing well. "There are isolated hot spots that are bucking the trend of slowing house-price growth around the world," says Nick Barnes, the head of international research at Knight Frank estate agency. "While much of continental Europe is now seeing low or negative growth, prices are still rising rapidly in several locations in Asia and Eastern Europe, for example."

So, where best to invest in these credit crunched times? "If I had a pot of money, I'd be looking for property in countries where there is a healthy economy, evidence that property hasn't been oversupplied and that the market hasn't been investment-driven to a level where it's peaked and might now be slowing down," advises Barnes. "I think the best move is to invest some of your money in a fast-growing high-risk property market - somewhere in central or eastern Europe, such as Slovakia or Russia. The rest of it I'd invest on a steadier bet: prime markets like London or Paris. If you buy prime, then unless something radically changes the economy, prices in these countries will start increasing again."

"In terms of hot sectors, the UAE is certainly up there," says Stuart Law of property investment advisory Assetz. "The world's business centres - such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Singapore - all seem to be doing extremely well currently. Personally, I'd be nervous about investing in any holiday locations at the moment." We've taken a look at the countries still registering growth and that could still prove a good investment if you've done your homework.

Knight Frank's latest Global Price Index - listing the countries that are showing the best growth in the world - ranks Bulgaria in its number one slot. Said the report: "While the rate of growth in the price of flats was lower than in previous quarters, it was nonetheless maintained at over 30 per cent, again being driven by the performance of areas bordering Romania, such as Ruse and Vidin, as well as the capital Sofia, where year-on-year price inflation exceeded 60 per cent."

Much like the property market in the UK, however, real problem areas are hidden within these rosy statistics: newspaper reports are emerging about unscrupulous developers and agents, and stories about people unable to sell their unremarkable newbuild flats in Black Sea coastal resorts make for sober reading. In its report, Knight Frank highlighted issues of oversupply in these places - Sunny Beach, for example - and some of the ski areas, such as Bansko. It's likely that Bulgaria's growth will dip in the future, so potential investors are advised to buy with caution.

Singapore ranks second on Knight Frank's list - prices are very close to Bulgaria's, going up by 29.9 per cent in the last 12 months. Its market is fuelled, says Nick Barnes, by its economy. "Singapore is a very wealthy country," he says. "Both its local population and affluent buyers from all over Asia are investing here." "It's not dissimilar to Dubai," adds Stuart Law, of the property advising company Assetz. "There is a wealthy expat community and a strong business community with a limited amount of property available."

Hong Kong has experienced astonishing growth in prices of late, fuelled by the fact that it is a small geographic area with a heavy population density and a strong economy. Overall, prices were 28.8 per cent higher in the first quarter of 2008 compared to 12 months ago - in the prime housing areas this figure can go up to 44.8 per cent. Serviced apartments are in particularly high demand. "Hong Kong is undoubtedly benefiting from China's economic expansion," says James Hickman, of Caxton FX, currency exchange specialists. "The territory rivals Singapore as the Asia Pacific's property hot spot. With the Hong Kong Dollar pegged to the US dollar, it forces Hong Kong to track the interest rates in the US, making cheap mortgages readily available in an economy that is already booming. As such, the territory is awash with cheap mortgages. With the economy and housing market still sluggish in the States, the Hong Kong property market seems set to continue to burn bright."

Russia's growth may be slowing, but it is still a tremendous growth relative to the rest of the world. In 2007 the rate of capital growth was around 30 per cent, early 2008 is looking more like 22 per cent, with St Petersburg doing particularly well. "Russia is experiencing a period of substantial growth in all sectors including economy, tourism and property values. The outstanding capital appreciation recorded in the country's property market presents some highly lucrative opportunities for overseas property investors" says James Gonzalez, a market analyst for Obelisk International. "Sochi's successful bid for the Winter Olympics will only to go aid the outstanding growth trend, further driving the expansion of Russia's property market." Stuart Law advises caution, however. "A lot of Russian oligarchs lost a lot of money during the banking crises we've seen recently," he says. "An awful lot of wealth has been wiped out and this will undoubtedly have an effect on the top end of the market, which might well filter down to the bottom."

Those who thought the price-growth in Dubai couldn't last have so far been proved wrong. Massive foreign population growth combined with a growing economy unaffected by the credit crunch and a limited supply of built apartments and villas has meant, so far, huge price growth, an increase estimated at between 10 and 20 per cent a year. The issue in Dubai is infrastructure: can its power plants and roads keep up with such rampant building - and will there be an oversupply in the future, when the millions of apartments being built are finally completed?

Again, an undersupply and a surging economy has meant an increase in property prices. Properties in the past 12 months have increased by 25 per cent, according to research by the investment bank EFG-Hermes.

This sport-mad country recorded a highly respectable 13.8 per cent growth between 2007 and 2008, according to Knight Frank, compared with 8.6 per cent from 2006 to 2007. Interest rates have been going up - with 12 consecutive 0.25 per cent interest rate increases since May 2002 - but it hasn't impacted the housing market, as rising construction costs have meant the rate of building has slowed. "Not everywhere in Australia is doing well," points out James Hickman. "However, there are certain cities that have seen prices rise. Melbourne, for example, has shown a resilience throughout 2008. Data revealed that Melbourne recorded the strongest growth in property prices in the June quarter in comparison to other capital cities. The median price of a house increased in Melbourne by 4.9 per cent. Darwin recorded the second highest level of growth, with a 0.6 per cent increase. With interest rates looking likely to fall in Australia it seems these areas would be worth looking at for investment."